Technology Guide 2016-2017 | Columbia Journalism School

Technology Guide 2016-2017

Greetings from the technology staff at the J-school. We oversee the computers, cameras, recorders and related gear that you’ll be using here. This guide outlines what we have on hand for your use and what you need to bring. It also gives suggestions for those who want to acquire cameras and other optional equipment. And we’ll tell you how to obtain a student discount when making your purchases.

Computer & External Hard Drives

The J-school has six computer labs as well as workstations and video-editing suites located throughout the building. Our computers are Macs and are equipped with all the editing software, such as Adobe Premiere, Audition and Photoshop, that you’ll need while you’re here. Your J-school ID card will give you access to our building 24/7 and students are welcome to use any lab that is not reserved for a class. So strictly speaking, you can do our program without a computer of your own but that said, our labs are in heavy rotation between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays and some labs are in use on the weekends as well. So there’s no guarantee a computer will be available every time you need one.

For that reason, we strongly recommend that you bring a laptop computer if at all possible. That way, you can work anywhere: in the field, at home, in spaces inside the school that don’t have computers and, when the weather is nice, on the sunny steps of the Journalism building. Free wireless access is available throughout the Journalism School and the Columbia campus.

If you’re planning on buying a laptop, think first about what you hope to do while you’re here; the medium(s) you plan to pursue should dictate the specifications of your laptop. Here are our recommendations:

If you’re planning to purchase a laptop 

Minimum laptop specifications for video, photo and audio students:

If you plan to do a lot of video, photo or audio and other multimedia work, we recommend a MacBook Pro, which comes with the suite of editing software that you’ll need for multimedia work.

If this isn’t an option, a MacBook Air with the 128GB flash storage option will be sufficient.

Alternatively, look for a laptop with:

  • Operating System: Apple OS 10.9 or Windows 7
  • Microsoft Office 2007
  • Wi-Fi Connectivity
  • USB 2.0, 3.0 and/or FireWire 800 connectivity and/or Thunderbolt
  • 8GB RAM (minimum)

Note: Adobe Creative Cloud’s system requirements are an excellent benchmark for a laptop you plan to use to do multimedia work at the school. If a laptop meets Adobe’s specs, it will meet ours.

How to obtain a discount on laptop purchases

Minimum laptop specifications for print and data students:

If your interests lie in print or mobile journalism or you’re in our data concentration and don’t plan to take video-heavy classes, any laptop that meets the following minimum specifications will be fine:

  • Operating System: Apple OS 10.9 or Windows 7
  • Microsoft Office 2007
  • Wi-Fi Connectivity
  • USB 2.0, 3.0 and/or FireWire 800 connectivity and/or Thunderbolt
  • 4GB RAM (minimum)

If you want to purchase a Mac, the MacBook Air with the 128GB flash storage option will be sufficient.

How to obtain a discount on laptop purchases

External Hard Drives

Regardless of the medium you plan to pursue, you’re required to have a portable external hard drive, which will enable you to back up your work and transport it from one computer to another, whether on or off campus. Every year students come to us desperately seeking help in recovering material they’ve lost but unless they’ve backed it up, there’s rarely anything we can do. An external hard drive is required even if you’re planning to use your personal laptop for most of your work here.

When purchasing an external hard drive 

Your portable hard drive should meet the following minimum specifications:

  • FireWire 800, USB 3.0 and/or Thunderbolt connections
  • 1TB or more recommended for students enrolled in digital media (video, audio) classes
  • Speed of 7200 RPM (the speed is very important for students who are taking video)

We recommend the G­-Technology G­-Drive. It offers good value for the price and durability, does not require a power supply and supports USB3, FireWire 400 & 800 connections. The drive comes in a variety of sizes and prices. Before you make a purchase, you should consider what type of work you plan on doing. If you think you plan to do a lot of video work, you may want to purchase a larger drive. If you don’t expect to do much video or other multimedia, the capacity outlined above will be fine.



Apple’s iOS devices (iPhone, iPad) and the various Android smartphones available are great reporting tools. You can use them for mobile photo, video and audio capture; email or text your instructor if you encounter a problem (or just have a question) while you’re out reporting; file stories from the field; and do research while you’re on the move. They’re also great for organizing your schedule and even for taking notes when nothing else is handy. While a smart phone is not required for J-School programs, it is very helpful. We have a small number of iPod Touches available for short-term checkout in the equipment room for students who don’t have smart phones and need them for mobile-reporting assignments.

Digital SLR Cameras

Our equipment room stocks a large number of Canon Rebel T2i cameras and a more limited supply of T4i cameras available for student use for a small per-semester fee. (More on equipment fees below.) However, our equipment is in heavy rotation and it’s impossible for us to stock the quantities that would be needed to cover every contingency for every student. We prioritize equipment for students in classes that require it and can’t guarantee it will always be available for you when you want it for a project you’re working on outside of class.

For that reason some students choose to bring their own cameras. This is not a requirement and if you aren’t planning to seriously pursue photojournalism, there’s no reason for you to bring one. But if you are planning to pursue photojournalism, there are advantages to having your own camera. You won’t have to check it in or out of the equipment room. You won’t be charged equipment fees for using one of ours (more on equipment fees below). And since no one else is using your personal camera, it will always be in the condition in which you last left it. One other benefit: When you graduate, you’ll already own equipment with which you’re comfortable.

Please note: We do NOT serve as a repair shop. You will be responsible for the maintenance and servicing of your own equipment.

If you’re planning to buy a camera

If you decide you do want to purchase one, make sure the camera you buy meets the following minimum specifications:

  • Records in standard formats .jpg, .tiff, RAW (no proprietary software required)
  • At least 10 megapixels
  • Offers full manual controls
  • Records to removable flash media

Here are some specific cameras that meet those requirements:

       Mirror-less cameras       


Canon G15

Nikon V2

Nikon Coolpix 7700

       Mid­-Level SLR:       

Canon 60D

Canon T3i

Canon T4i

Nikon D5200

     High­-Level SLRs     

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 5D Mark III

Nikon D600

Nikon D800


Audio Recorders & Accessories

Our equipment room has a large number of professional-quality Olympus recorders and accessories on hand for students working on audio pieces. All students will receive training on how to use these recorders in August and they continue to be available for student checkout during the school year. There is no equipment fee for checking out audio recorders. However, priority goes to students in classes that require them, so we don’t guarantee they’ll always be available to you for projects outside of class assignments.

If you’re planning to buy an audio recorder 

Make sure it meets the following specifications:

  • Records digitally, preferably to removable media (flash card)
  • Can transfer audio files to the computer via USB
  • Has an external mic input for plugging in a professional microphone (either XLR, 1/4” or 1/8” adaptable to XLR)
  • Records or converts to standard audio format (.wav) without third-party software

Important: Be wary of recorders that only record in WMA or other proprietary formats that require software conversion before being imported into Adobe Audition and other NLE Audio editors.

If you wish to buy an audio recorder, we recommend the Olympus LS-12 or Zoom H4n units. The LS12 is similar to the recorder we provide to students and the Zoom H4n adds XLR and 1/4” inputs.

A good source of information on audio recorders for journalists is


Video Cameras & Accessories

The Journalism School provides state-of-the-art Canon EOS C100 cameras for video classes that require them, along with tripods, lighting, microphones and other accessories. Fees apply for camera checkouts in certain courses. (More information on equipment fees follows.) There is no fee to check out accessories such as tripods, lights or audio equipment, but we prioritize them for use in classes that need them and can’t promise they’ll always be available when you need one. You are neither expected nor encouraged to purchase your own video cameras but you are required to provide your own SD card.

When purchasing an SD card

This small, high-capacity memory card can be removed from the video camera when you return it to the equipment room so that the next person to use the camera doesn’t wipe out your work. The card can be an SD, SDHC or SDXC, but must be Class 10 or it won’t work with our cameras.



All software and software licenses that you will need during your year here are available to you on our lab computers and are covered under our technology fee. You do not have to purchase special software for our program.  Here is the full list of available software for your reference. 

Technology Fees

You aren’t required to buy special equipment or software for our program; rather, we make it available to you. However, our lab computers, DSLRs and video recorders are used heavily and do require constant maintenance. As a result, there are a series of fees associated with use of our technology and equipment as described below. The equipment fee is per­-semester, not per class. So if you need the same equipment for more than one class you do not have to pay the fee twice.

                                                                             Breakdown of Technology Fees                                                                            
Fee What does it cover? Who pays? How much?
Technology fee All computer-lab software licenses, access to tutorials on (a technology training site) & ongoing maintenance of our hard-working lab equipment, including computers and printers, edit suites and general-purpose computer stations. All students $1,200
Equipment fee: VIDEO (7-week class) Ongoing preventive maintenance and repairs to cameras and related accessories, such as lenses, lighting kits and microphones. Students who opt to take Video 1 or 2 as their Image & Sound Module $175
Equipment fee: VIDEO (15-week class and/or video-hybrid master's project) Ongoing preventive maintenance and repairs to cameras and related accessories, such as lenses, lighting kits and microphones. Students who take a 15-week spring video-production class; have an instructor’s permission to do video stories for a non-video class and/or are doing video-hybrid master’s projects. $275
Equipment fee: PHOTO (7-week class) Ongoing maintenance and repairs to cameras and camera accessories, such as lenses, lighting kits and tripods. Students who opt to take Photo 1 or 2 as their Image & Sound Module and want to use our cameras. (If you use your own camera, you won’t pay an equipment fee.) $50
Equipment fee: PHOTO (15-week class and/or photo master's project) Ongoing maintenance and repairs to cameras and camera accessories such as lenses, lighting kits and tripods. Students using our cameras for a 15-week photo class or to work on a photo-based master’s project. (If you use your own camera, you won’t pay an equipment fee.) $75


Online Technology Training

In addition to the training that you will receive, two online tutorial portals are available to you:

1) LyndaCampus: a very user-friendly training site that features more than 500 videos on a wide variety of technology topics. Topics include Adobe Photoshop, Premiere, Audition, Lightroom, Microsoft Office, Python, Perl, SQL, operating systems and many web languages. The training videos are available to all members of the J-School. To access the site, go to: Lynda and log in with your Columbia UNI and password. Lynda is also available on your at smartphone or tablet of choice.

2) offers a variety of tutorials and interviews with journalists who are working in visual media.

Student Discounts