The best gear for creators on the move.
Wanna make content on the go? Here’s what you need to know.
We get it. You want to be a creator not a tech person. But the reality is, if you aspire to make great videos you will need at least a tiny bit of knowledge about video equipment. That doesn’t mean you have to become a complete gear-head, but there’s no avoiding spending a little time getting familiar with a few knobs and buttons. Because there are many options, and each creator has his or her own visual style which can translate into different production needs, it’s always smart to do your own research. (For example, if your vibe is raw and handheld you will want a different set up than someone who is seeking to produce super-slick looking videos.) To help cut through the clutter and get you started, here are some helpful tips on quality but affordable cameras, microphones, lighting and editing gear.
It goes without saying that plenty of creators are shooting videos on their iPhone cameras and many people are having considerable success with that. But if you’re ready to step up your production quality, the first and most important piece of equipment is to invest in a camera.
Depending on your budget, there are a dizzying array of options. The two basic categories to choose from are point-and-shoot versus a DSLR.
The advantage of a point-and-shoot camera is, they tend to be simple, don’t have a steep learning curve and are affordable--usually around $500. Tip: If you choose a point-and-shoot camera, look for a model with a reversible LCD screen so you can see your shot without having to have a camera person filming you.
If you’re aiming to create videos with higher production values and can afford to invest more, consider getting a DSLR camera. The advantage of a DSLR is you can change the lenses, which allows you to get a variety of looks, and you will definitely be able to achieve a more cinematic quality. The downsides are, they’re not as easy to operate, they tend to be bulkier and heavier, and of course, they cost more (expect to spend between $750 and $2,500). Before making a purchase, read reviews and you can even reach out to creators whose videos you like and ask them what kind of camera they use.
Many factors in the world of video production are subjective and there are some areas where you may be able to get away with cutting corners or some low-fi aesthetics. Audio is not one of them. Viewers may forgive you if your props are cheap or your lighting isn’t great. But if your audio is distorted or your voice sounds like it’s underwater, that’s a non-negotiable sign of being amateur.
You have three basic options for microphones: your camera’s built-in mic, a shotgun mic and a wireless lavalier.
The advantage of using your camera’s onboard mic is that it comes with the camera so there’s no additional cost and you don’t need to worry about compatibility or cables or forgetting to bring your mic along to a shoot. The limitations of using a built-in mic are that they only tend to work well in quiet environments and when you’re within a few feet of the camera.
A shotgun mic is highly directional, so it allows you to capture sound from farther away without a huge amount of ambient noise. You can pick one up for between $150-$250 and they will give you more freedom to shoot at a greater distance from your camera.
Wireless lavalier mics are the kind of thing you’ve seen guests on talk shows use--or maybe you haven’t seen them since they’re designed to be inconspicuous. They usually clip onto your clothing and are helpful if you’re doing a fitness or dance video and want to be able to speak to the camera and have complete freedom of movement. These mics offer the best audio quality because they are closest to you wherever you move, and they also cost the most (generally between $200 and $600).
Lighting is one of those things that you may not notice when it’s done really well, but if it’s bad, it can wreck a great performance. Lighting is also extremely subjective, and great film directors use a wide range of looks, so there’s no right or wrong but if your video is too dark and shadowy or too blown out and bright, it’s not likely to go viral.
You have many options as far as how to light your videos: perhaps the most common is a “two-point” system, which means you light your subject with two lights pointing from opposite directions. The main light is called the “key light” and the other is called the “fill light,” which is used to balance out shadows.
If you tend to shoot mainly close-ups and head shots, you can save money by using soft lights, which tend to cost less and consume less electricity (don’t forget about your electric bill!) Soft lights, as the name suggests, provide softer lighting so they can be less harsh and more flattering. Another bonus is you may be able to get away with just using a single light, especially if your videos are primarily close-up shots.
There is a third option, which is completely free. It’s a nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma, heated to incandescence by nuclear fusion reactions in its core, radiating the energy mainly as visible light, ultraviolet light, and infrared radiation. You may know it as the sun. Benefits include making all life on Earth possible, and providing awesome natural lighting for TikTok videos. If you’re aiming to become a star, you may want to consider using the star at the center of the Solar System as your primary source of light. Natural light has a specific feeling to it, and many people prefer it because of the authentic mood it creates.
Downsides include rainy days and nighttime.
After all the hard work that goes into conceiving and shooting a video, the key to greatness often still depends on the edit. Most of what makes an edit great comes down to your creative judgement. The good news is, you can do amazing things with really simple, basic editing software that comes free with many computers.
However, if you’re aiming for a slicker look, you may need some more fancy effects, and if you’re ready to spend money, you can get quite a bit of editing firepower for not that much money. You can buy individual editing effects for a few hundred dollars or editing packages for around $1,000 that will allow you to elevate the look and feel of your videos but there’s a learning curve required to use the more advanced editing software. Beyond cost, the downside is it takes time to learn how to take advantage of all the digital bells and whistles, and while they can be slick, don’t forget that at the end of the day what makes a video great is something timeless: story.
The bottom line: Technology and gadgets are fun, and software will always continue to evolve. But if you’ve got compelling characters and a story to tell, with even the most basic set-up, you have everything you need to connect with an audience.