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So you want to start making videos...
And maybe you already have a few ideas on which videos you are going to create. Great!
What you have not figured out yet is how you’re going to produce these videos. You might not want to spend a lot of money yet, but you don’t want to make a compromise on quality either.
If you’re trying to find out what equipment you should get to produce your first videos or how to improve your video quality without spending a lot of money, this guide is for you. In this guide I will answer questions like:
- Can I use my phone to shoot YouTube videos?
- What is a DSLR and do I need it?
- How can I improve my video quality without spending a ton of money?
- What to do if I can’t afford to buy equipment right now?
- And more…
One word before I start: instead of giving you a list of all the equipment you can possibly use to record videos, I’m focusing on tools that are easy to set up and are easier to afford - so definitely expand your research if you feel you want to invest into more high-end gear.
Let’s get to it!
Nowadays, almost everybody has at least one camera – if you’re aware of it or not.
- Your computer probably has a camera (hello webcam!)
- Your phone probably has a camera (if not, congratulations - I used a dumb phone from 2002 until last year so I know how that feels).
- If you have a tablet, it most likely has a camera.
- You might even possess a video camera in addition to that (point-and-shoot camera, DSLR, camcorder etc.).
The question: which of these are suitable for recording videos?
The answer: all of them.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at all the options.
A webcam is the cheapest camera option you have. Even if your computer doesn’t have one, you can get one without going broke. Many YouTubers start their YouTube career by recording themselves via webcam. One advantage of a webcam is that you don’t need an extra tripod and setting everything up is usually fairly easy. Most webcams also come with a microphone.
The question is: Are webcams good enough to create quality YouTube videos? It depends. First of all, for many video types webcams are the go-to camera. The best example are Let’s Plays where video gamers are commenting on a game while they’re playing it. A webcam is the most convenient solution in this case.
There are more examples, though. Many business owners, vloggers, travelling bloggers and online marketers use webcams to create videos. Often webcams are used when the focus is on the message and the video doesn’t rely on visual content or clever editing techniques.
Using a webcam can even create a feeling of intimacy and create the illusion that you’re having a conversation with a friend. That said, most professional webcam users do own either high-end computers (with an integrated webcam of the same quality) or have bought a high-end external webcam.
A popular choice is the Logitech C920. Here’s a test by Justin Tse:
One of the biggest problems with webcams is the sound. Below I will share with you what you can do about that.
Cellphones or tablets
You own a smartphone or tablet? Depending on what you have, this could already be the perfect starter camera for your YouTube career. Smartphones have the huge advantage of being super mobile – that’s why a lot of vloggers start out making videos with their phones. Another advantage is that the microphone quality of phones is usually quite good compared to other cameras.
The decision to use your phone will probably depend on its quality. I personally spent less than $130 on my phone, so the quality of the video footage doesn’t quite compare to what the newest iPhone can do.
However, if your phone is more high-end, you might not need to buy an additional camera at all (for now). The channel Eat Away used to film most of their videos with an iPhone 6. Here’s an example:
Remember the time before smart phones when people would have "digital cameras" to take photos?
They still exist! I know, I was shocked, too!
They're called point-and-shoot cameras and while they’re mostly for taking photos, they usually have a video function, too. A point-and-shoot camera like this can be a possibility if you don’t want to spend a lot of money and would like to be mobile a lot.
Having said that, they are usually more optimized for photos and less for video. So if you’re thinking of buying a point-and-shoot camera, put some hours into the research to make sure you’ll buy something you can use.#
The Canon G7x is a very popular choice for vloggers. Check it out here.
Now we are entering the terrain of video cameras. Camcorders were specifically created for shooting video. I actually started my channels Queer German Girl and Why Stuff Is Great with a used camcorder that I had bought for only 100€ (approx. $110) in 2012.
The advantages camcorders have are that they’re usually easy to hold by hand and they usually have better microphones than DSLRs (see below). They tend to also have a much longer recording time than DSLRs.
The disadvantages: Since camcorders use a smaller imaging chip than DSLRs, they don't offer the same image quality - eventhough they can be as expensive as DSLRs. They also have fixed lenses, which can limit you creatively (this really depends on what kind of videos you're doing, though).
Camcorders are often used by small businesses, vloggers who need to be mobile, and in interview settings.
I have reviewed 5 affordable HD camcorders here.
Here comes the camera type that is used by most famous YouTubers. DSLRs are really created for taking photos but are used as video cameras by many people.
They’re able to create beautiful, cinematic images with a shallow depth of field. They can also be set up in a way that makes color grading easier, which can add an extra cinematic quality to your video. DSLRs aren’t only used by YouTubers but by many indie filmmakers.
Although all of that might sound fantastic, DSLR cameras also have a few disadvantages: you can only shoot 12 minutes at a time, the cameras overheat relatively quickly, and they’re a lot more complex than the cameras I talked about so far. In fact, the wrong setting on a DSLR might give you worse footage than your computer webcam.
Another disadvantage is how clunky and big DSLRs are compared to their alternatives. That means they are harder to carry around. And because they’re harder to control, they’re not great if you want to be mobile and record yourself a lot.
Many vloggers who use a DSLR at home, use their phone or a digital camera when they film themselves outside.
Another big disadvantage is the sound quality, which doesn’t match the footage quality in the least (I’ll talk more about sound below).
Mirrorless digital cameras
Mirrorless digital cameras are relatively new on the market. They have large image sensors like DSLRs, which is why they offer similar image quality. However, they’re smaller and more lightweight than DSLRs which make them more mobile.
If you want to go out or travel with your camera a lot, a mirrorless camera might be a better alternative to a DSLR – it really depends on your video style and your goals, though. Mirrorless cameras start at a lower price point than DSLRs, however, if you want a quality model, you might spend the same or even more than on a DSLR.
Which camera type to choose?
Which camera will be the best fit for you depends a lot on your goals. And as goals tend to develop, it makes sense to use what you have before you go out to buy a $2,000 DSLR and two $500 lenses.
Do you need to be mobile a lot? Then it makes sense to stick with a phone, a small camcorder, a digital camera, or even go for a mirrorless camera.
Do you want to film from home? A webcam can be a nice start and a DSLR can be an amazing upgrade when you feel that you want to take your YouTube career to the next level.
What camera I use
At the moment I use a Canon 700D (Rebel T5i) with the kit lens EF-S 18-55mm.
Don’t have a camera? THIS is how you can still shoot videos
Not every type of video needs camera footage, btw. If you’re creating tutorials, presentations, slideshows, gaming videos or magazine-style videos, you can avoid using a camera completely.
Instead you can use screen capture software to record the content of your screen, or use photos, stock videos and even base your entire video on animations. Many of my videos consist entirely of footage from TV shows, for example.
In my YouTube Tool and Resource Kit I talked about which screen capture software you can use (it also contains 35+ other tools and resources to build your YouTube channel). You can get it here.
If you decide to shoot your own camera footage but don’t want to rely on a webcam, you will need some sort of tripod. In the following section I want to go shortly over your options.
- Attention: Always make sure that your camera/device will fit the tripod you’re buying. Phones, for example, aren’t compatible with regular tripod mounts.
Clearly an advantage of using a cell phone: you need nothing else than a selfie stick. A selfie stick is especially awesome when you’re out and about. For longer video sessions at home, you might want to use a more stable solution, though.
Gorillapods are small, super flexible tripods that can be placed in a lot of areas where regular tripods can’t. A big advantage is the size (great for travelling!).
“Regular-sized” tripods are an option, too, of course. A general observation: the more stable the tripod is, the more money it will cost. You don’t need a super stable tripod if you’re only using it at home. If you want to use it outside, though, or in crew situations, it can make sense to invest in something heavier.
What tripod I use
I use the Cullmann ALPHA 2500 for all of my videos.
Proper lighting might be the most underestimated aspect of low-budget video making! When I started shooting my first videos in 2014, I noticed that my camcorder was pretty much useless inside my apartment: the video was dark, noisy and looked like I shot it with a potato.
So I bought two soft boxes and directed them towards my face. You can see the result here:
Not so bad for a camcorder that I bought used for $110 in 2012, is it?
How much lighting you need, depends on your camera. My DSLR doesn’t need additional light if natural lighting comes in from the window or the room is lit relatively bright, but does definitely need it in darker rooms.
Also, having an additional light source can help you control the light better, so it lights you and whatever you want to show more evenly.
If you’re using a phone camera or a digital camera, you might need some additional light sources, as well (depending on the capabilities of your phone and the circumstances you want to shoot in). You have a couple of options for that.
A softbox is a tripod with a light bulb that’s covered by a box on four sides to be able to direct the light. It is also covered by a translucent fabric in the front, which helps diffuse the light and make it softer. You might have seen softboxes in photo studios, for example.
As a video creator you need a softbox with “continuous light” – so make sure you’re getting that. Softboxes can be relatively cheap. They do take away quite some space, though. Despite that, they normally can be transported quite easily as they’re lightweight and foldable.
Light panels are a more professional, more expensive option which will give you more lighting power and a more stable color temperature. They’re less clunky than softboxes but weigh a lot more. If you want to increase the quality and possibilities you have with lighting, go for one of them. If you’re still in the beginning of your YouTube career, they might be too much, though.
What lights I use
I bought two softboxes from TecTake®, but since I have a DSLR I’ve only been using one. They’re still in stock in Germany where I bought them, but you might need to do some research to find them in your country (for reference here’s the Amazon UK version). Any similar softbox will do, though!
If you have a camera already, you might think that you don’t need any more sound equipment. After all, your camera already records sound, right? Well, it depends on your ambitions.
Yes, you can record everything with your camera and people will most likely be able to understand you. text here...
However, most people have a much lower tolerance for low sound quality than they have for low camera quality. Weird noises, room echo, thin sounding voices will tell your viewers: LOW QUALITY.
This might not only make them less likely to watch your video but will also make it harder for them to watch/listen until the end. So if you want to record yourself or other sounds, it’s important to find ways to produce decent quality sound. In this section I’m going to tell you how you can do that:
Headsets are the number one choice among YouTubers with gaming channels.
The reason: in order to listen to the game, gamers need to wear headphones anyway. They are also fairly cheap, super convenient for gaming and easy to use.
The downside: cheap headsets are one of the worst sound sources you can impose upon your watchers’ ears.
If you think about buying a new headset, it makes sense to spend a few bucks more (you won't regret it).
Check out the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset, for example.
Earbuds with microphone
Headsets are nice for gamers but you, usually want to avoid them for other videos. They’re clunky, cover a huge part of your face, and can look out of place in most videos.
An alternative are earbuds with an integrated mic. If you have an Apple device, you might even own a pair without realizing.
Like with headsets, quality in the lower price ranges can be even worse than your built-in camera mic. In this category I found it quite hard to find reviews and tests (most tests center on the sound quality rather than the recording quality), however, tons of people have used earbuds by Apple to record sound for their videos, especially when they’re using their webcam or phones as a camera.
One example is my friend Niall Doherty who has used them in many of his videos:
Unidirectional camera microphones
Another option that is popular with YouTubers is to use unidirectional microphones that arespecifically designed to be mounted on top of your camera. One advantage of these microphones is that you can plug their output directly into your camera. This means that you can record the sound directly onto your footage and don’t have to sync it before editing.
Another advantage is that they’re automatically directed at the same place that your camera is. This makes them super convenient for quick shootings because you don’t need to set up your first.
While the quality of an on-camera mic can be quite good enough concerning sound quality, it can be a disadvantage if your mic is tied to a camera: unidirectional mics don’t only pick up sounds in front of the camera, but also behind them.
This means they can pick up noises from the camera operator as well. This might be less of a concern if you’re recording yourself at home but can be inconvenient if you’re shooting short films, for example.
Dynamic mics are the microphones of choice for many professional YouTubers. Due to the proximity of the mic, the sound you can get with a dynamic microphone can be much richer and direct than with other sound sources. A lot of podcasters use dynamic microphones because of that.
A disadvantage is that they’re usually not as mobile and you need some sort of stand to hold them. I used a dynamic mic in the beginning of my YouTube career but never had a proper stand for it, which made it really hard to set it up.
Important: Before you buy a dynamic microphone, make sure you buy one with the right outputs. XLR outputs require an audio interface. In the last few years more and more microphones with USB outputs have been released – so you might wanna look for one of those instead.
Mobile Audio Recorders
Need good sound but also need to be flexible with your mic? Then a mobile audio recorder could be a good option for you.
Mobile audio recorders don’t just have a microphone, they also record sound to an SD card. That means you can literally record sound anywhere (as long as you have enough batteries) and are tied neither to a computer nor a camera.
They’re less often used by vloggers and YouTubers that speak directly to the camera but are standard equipment for filmmakers. So if you’re planning on shooting footage in many different places and want to make sure you’re recording high quality sound, it’s worth thinking about buying an audio recorder.
Audio recorders don’t only have built-in mics (that often sound great already), you can also connect external microphones (like a shotgun mic or a dynamic mic) and you can even mount it on top of many cameras.
Which microphone I use
I currently use the ZoomH4N to record sound for all of my videos.
Which equipment to buy?
When it comes to deciding what equipment to buy, I found that the most important aspects to making good decisions are
- Knowing how you’re going to use the equipment
- Knowing the quality of the equipment
1. If you’re just starting out, you might not know exactly yet what you want to do. Before you decide to buy a specific camera because you’ve seen other YouTubers use it, make sure you know what you want to do with it. It can be tempting to just go for the most expensive and flashy equipment options – but these often are the most complex ones to use. For example, the dynamic microphone I used in my earlier videos gave me great sound but often needed a lot of time to set up and required an audio interface (I already owned one so that wasn’t a problem but travelling with it is nearly impossible).
2. Also, although I gave you a couple of options and recommendations, make sure you do your own research. This is where YouTube is super helpful: look for “[equipment name] test” (instead of “review”) in order to find videos that show the equipment in action.
In which order should you buy/upgrade your equipment?
When you’re just starting out, you might not have much money to invest or maybe you simply don’t want to spend much just yet. In this case, there are certain priorities that make sense sticking to. Obviously, this depends on what you already own. But let’s say you currently own a phone as your only camera and sound recording device (= which usually means that neither camera or mic are great but they do their job).
- 1. Sound: I mentioned it before but sound is likely going to be the aspect you want to upgrade the earliest. Bad sound is pretty much unforgiveable and good sound can actually give your viewer the impression your video quality is better than it really is.
- 2. Lighting: You can spend thousands of dollars on a camera but if the lighting isn’t right, your footage might still look like crap. Buying lights is usually much cheaper than upgrading your camera, so if you’re trying to improve the quality of your footage, buying some lights can be the first step.
- 3. Camera: After upgrading your sound quality and lighting, it’s finally time to think about upgrading your camera (if you need to at all). An exception is obviously if your camera is absolutely horrible (I’ve seen a few YouTubers with those) – then getting a new camera is a priority, of course.
What about the equipment I didn’t mention?
If you have a filmmaking background or have looked into video equipment for other reasons before, you might wonder why I don’t talk about boom mics, lenses, camera accessories and more. The reason is: most of that is not necessary for most YouTubers.
One of the great things about YouTube is that recording videos with a phone or even webcam is completely acceptable. Instead of giving you a full equipment guide of anything video-related, it makes sense to focus on the things that are most convenient to use (and affordable!).
Having said that, you can totally buy a the latest RED camera for tens of thousands of dollars if you want to. 😉 Might just be a pain in the ass to use it.
If you want to produce scenic content like short films, sketches etc. and feel like you need to know more about filmmaking equipment, you can check out filmmaking websites and books to add to your knowledge.
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Currently this page is getting a revamp. 🙂 Please check back later, though!