So you want to get started creating videos? Awesome! If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you want to know how to get started. I’ve worked with video gear for twenty years. This article will help you get started without wasting a ton of money on useless, hyped-up products.
Every one of these packages will get you great results. Remember, though, your tools are only as good as your understanding of them. This equipment only serves as a fix for any situational problems you might have.
The Smartphone Solution
Any smartphone will do for this. Almost every smartphone you could get has a decent video camera and mic. I prefer the iPhone 6s
The iPhone can record up to 4k video and has a great image without any extra equipment. As long as you can stay close to your subject, the onboard mic picks up most audio pretty well.
I always use reflectors and diffusers as much as possible. They are one of the easiest tools to use to shape your lighting. I recommend the Etekcity 32″ 5-in-1 Multi-disc Collapsible Photo Light Reflector. These can be used to reflect light from a window or diffuse the light so that you have a nice soft light instead of hard light and harsh shadows. ($13.99)
A steady shot is essential for great looking video. If you don’t have a tripod already, pick up one. You really don’t have to have anything expensive for a basic tripod, especially if it’s holding your smartphone. Honestly, a lot of people just prop their phone on a stack of books. You can pick up something like the AmazonBasics 50-Inch Lightweight Tripod with Bag for $16.99.
Don’t forget a tripod mount adaptor – here is a good one. ($5.99)
If you get the diffuser/reflector pack, some clamps will help you keep them in place. You can use gaff tape (not duct tape) but it gets messy and you might end up tearing the material. Just go ahead and use some clamps.
Insider tip: Any kind of clamp is fine. A lot of high production movies use clothespins, which they call C-47s, because they need to feel self-important (because they still live with their moms and all that). Don’t dare call them what they really are in front of them without expecting a lecture on the difference.
Optional – Lavalier Mic
You might also want to get a lapel or lavalier mic. This allows you to get good audio from your smartphone even if you’re not very close to it. The difference between a pro/expensive lav mic and a cheap one is so marginal, it really doesn’t make a difference what you get. The more important part of mic’ing is how you place it on your subject. I like this one. ($12.99)
For this package, you’re in for about $50. Using this package, you can get really good looking video if you learn how to use it well. Some limitations for this package: You will be limited to natural lighting, you won’t get that awesome, blurry depth of field a lot of people like and the dynamic range (the difference between contrast) will be limited. Still it’s an amazing setup for the money and a great place to start.
The Basic DSLR Solution
There are lots of preferences in this list. I’ll give you a couple of options and then mine as well.
A DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera is a great step up from a smartphone. It allows you use different lenses and provides a lot more control for different situations you might record in. Don’t be fooled by the mega-pixel size or any other technical jargon. Just find something that works for you. Again, it’s better to know what your gear can do with less capable equipment than to have lots of options and be frustrated because you don’t know how to operate it.
I’ve shot on cameras that cost thousands of dollars just for the body and the cheapest camera you could imagine. Knowing your gear is more important than expensive technology.
My Preference – Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7
Bang for the buck, this camera performs better than any other I’ve seen in its price range (and many others that cost much more). It can shoot 4k video, shoots very well in low-light, and has a flip-out screen so you can frame yourself easily if you don’t have a separate monitor. You can get the body for about $499 new (I found one on eBay for $399). Con – the Panasonic doesn’t have as many lenses as the Canon or Nikon cameras.
Other similar choices
You can also go with a Nikon D5300 for about the same as the T6i.
In some ways, you should really choose a lens before you choose your camera. A great lens on an average camera makes a way bigger difference than a crappy lens on a great camera.
For most of your work, you will want something that makes an image similar to the naked eye. The lens closest to that is a 50mm. The “mm” after a lens isn’t a chocolate candy that melts in your mouth, not your hands. It’s the focal length of the lens. The bigger the number, the farther the lens “sees” an image.
The second measure for lenses is the aperture, or the size of the iris in the lens. The lower the number, the more light is allowed through the lens. This is measured in what’s called an f-stop. Just to keep it confusing, the lower the number, the bigger the aperture.
The f-stop is also what creates an effect called bokeh (bōˈkā). This is where you see the subject in focus and the background out of focus. It’s beautiful and cinematic when it’s done well.
I recommend a 50mm f1.8 for most beginners. Canon and Nikon have great ones for around $150 each.
For the Panasonic DMC G7, I recommend the Panasonic Lumix G 25mm f/1.7. Their $185 at the time of my writing this, but I see them on sale for $130 fairly often.
Great lighting makes the biggest difference in video, even before the importance of the lens. If you’re not going to use natural light, which isn’t always the best, then you will need to invest in a lighting rig.
Most video uses a three-point lighting system. You will need to decide what you need before purchasing your lights. The best method I know is to just start shooting and see what doesn’t look right, then get the right lights to fix that context. If you have lots of experience in lighting, you get to understand what you need before you start.
I really like LED lights the best. They last longer, are more durable, more compact, don’t get as hot, and use less power. If you’r looking for a starter kit, this is the one. This three kit light setup just works wonders. ($105)
Another great system is this one. It uses bulb style lights and is a little harder to set up, but they unbrella light make a great, soft light for most purposes. ($55)
The ultimate way to make your awesome looking videos feel cheap is to have bad sound. Seriously, most people will put up with bad looking video, but few will tolerate bad sound.
You can still use the lavalier mic from the previous package, but a shotgun mic is probably better. Don’t be scared by the word shotgun. A shotgun mic is just a long mic that rejects sound that it’s not pointed at. This is great if you’re in a noisy location.
If you want an on-camera mic, the Rode Videomic ($159) is probably the easiest to use. lots of people love them, and they’re pretty good.
I recommend the VidPro XM55 ($75). It rejects more sound that the Rode Videomic and sounds better overall. You can get a mount to go on your camera, but most people use them on a boom stand (You can use any long stick though).
Add to the list some SD cards, extra batteries and cabling and you’re good to go.
I’m tempted to write out what I think would be a great, higher-end package, but if you’re ready for that, you already know what you should get.
Each of these packages will make great videos, but your videos will only be as good as your understanding of how to use the equipment. If you want to get the most out of your equipment, be willing to spend some time learning what it can do (and what it can’t).
You can always take your time and learn. It’s taken me 20 years to acquire the skills I use to make professional videos. You could also sign up for my upcoming Easy Videos On A Budget course. I’ll cover each of these packages and how to get the best shots from them.
If you’re wondering what to do with all this gear, maybe you’re just getting started or maybe you’ve already started and haven’t been able to get it right, consider pre-registering for my How To Make Videos the Easy Way course. It’s the best investment I know of to get into the video market.