So you want to make videos? Maybe you’re starting a YouTube channel. Or perhaps you need to make a video for your own business. Or maybe you want to make the next binge-worthy Netflix series.
Whatever your reason for wanting to make a video, we’ll try to help you understand the essential equipment needed to get started. While we do recommend some specific gear that are perfect for most budgets, we do keep a current list of equipment that we use and recommend here at Video School Online on our resources page.
First, we’ll list most of the equipment you may eventually want/need.
Basic video production equipment:
- Video camera
- Fast Computer
- Editing software
Extra video production equipment (that you may need):
- Lens Kit
- Boom pole
- Audio (XLR) cables
- Microphone shock mount
- Wireless microphone
- Portable digital audio recorder
- Light reflector, diffusion, gels and bounce card
- Extra batteries
- Extra memory cards
- External hard drive
- Camera bag
- Gimbal or other steadicam
- Monopod or other camera mount
Now let’s break down each piece of equipment, and why you may want it.
The camera is obviously the most essential equipment you need for making videos. Nowadays, cameras come in all sizes and shapes – and for any budget. Professional films are being shot on everything from iPhones to high-end digital cinema cameras. The truth is that we are living in the golden age of video content production because you can capture high quality video with any modern camera – including the one in your pocket! We’ve broken down the most common types of cameras in this article.
A tripod is another recommended piece of equipment to stabilize your footage, making it more professional. Fluid-head tripods are ideal for video production to get smooth panning and tilting shots. Manfrotto is a standard high quality tripod company that we recommend, but there are also several great fluid-head tripods on Amazon from other brands.
While using a stack of books is one way to get started, a tripod should be on the top of your video equipment list.
Great audio is crucial for any video production. Some say it’s even more important than the video quality. The reason for that is that many of your viewers will be watching your videos on a small mobile screen or on a web browser tab (smooshed to the side of their screen), while trying to multitask. This means they’re focusing on the audio more so than the video itself.
Most cameras come with an internal microphone, but we recommend getting an external microphone to up your audio game. There are several types from shotguns and lavalier microphones to studio and headset. We’ve broken down the most common types of microphones with our recommendations in this article.
One of the lower priorities for many budget video creators is a video lighting kit. We think lights can truly separate the amateur from the pro, because your videos need light! While you can get away with using natural light outdoors, it’s harder to get a clean shot indoors without some sort of additional light. Yes, camera sensors are getting better and better – meaning you need less light to get a high quality image. But lights can still help you expose your subject properly, and also create a style and feeling in your video.
There are several types of lights for every budget. Many DIY filmmakers start with work lights that can be bought at your local hardware store. Here at Video School Online, we’ve made hundreds of videos using big paper lanterns (like you can get at Ikea) with bright fluorescent bulbs in them. Eventually, investing in a lighting kit with at least three lights is a good idea.
Why three lights? The three-point lighting setup is the first basic lighting style you should learn and use for talking head videos, interviews or lighting any subject in your video. We have a complete guide to three-point lighting here.
There are many types of lights from the older incandescent, to the recent fluorescent trend, to the most popular LED panels. Currently, we’re using an amazing video lighting kit from Dracast.
A Fast Computer
One of the things many video creators disregard is the post-production process. Having a fast computer is essential to speeding up your editing workflow. As 4k resolution video becomes the norm, this means you’ll need a computer with enough processing power to smoothly edit 4k footage. Believe me, not having one is such a time suck!
Should you get a Mac? Should you get a PC? What about Linux? We’re not here to say that you need an Apple computer to be a video editor. We do use Mac products, and have always enjoyed using them for our creative endeavors. But we know many editors who swear by building out their own PC.
No matter what brand or model you get, make sure it’s built for speed. This means a fast processor (Intel i7 or faster… whenever they come out with something faster). Cram as much RAM memory as you can in there – 16 GB minimum. Get a fast graphics card that works with your computer. Because the brands and specs will be different for every computer, we don’t have specific recommendations.
If you want to make it easy on you (with the additional cost), get an iMac Pro. These are built for speed and will be perfect for any of your video needs.
Video Editing Software
On your computer, you’ll need a video editing application to actually edit your videos. Again, there are dozens of popular options out there. Usually your computer will come with some sort of pre-installed video editing app like iMovie on Macs.
We recommend Adobe Premiere Pro for video editing – great for both PC and Mac users. It comes with the cost of a monthly subscription. But it’s what most professionals and semi-pros use. Final Cut Pro X is another great option for Mac users.
There are many other cheaper and even free alternatives. But the above suggestions are the ones we use every day and can recommend without hesitation.
If you buy an interchangeable lens camera like a DSLR, mirrorless or digital cinema camera, you’ll want to invest in a variety of lenses. Initially, you’ll want a set that can cover the general focal lengths of about 16mm – 200mm. From there, you can invest in higher quality prime lenses and super telephoto lenses for extreme close ups.
Your lens choice is more important to the style and look of your video than the camera body itself. For example, if shooting in low light and having very shallow depth of field (i.e. blurry background is the look you’re going for), you may want to invest in a nice prime lens that has a very wide aperture. Learn more about building your starter lens kit here.
The boom pole is the stick you see on a film set with a shotgun aka boom mic on the end of it. These are great for narrative films where you don’t want to use a microphone that is visible in the video frame, such as a lavalier mic. You’ll need a boom operator if the subject is moving. Boom poles are also good in your home video studio so that you always have a microphone set up ready to go.
Audio (XLR) Cables
To plug in a shotgun microphone (and some other types like a studio microphone), you’ll need cables. Typically these will be XLR cables. Depending on your camera, you may be able to plug directly into the camera itself so it can record audio internally while you record video. Or you may need to record separately if you’re using a DSLR, mirrorless, or smartphone camera. This would be done with a digital audio recorder (see below).
Microphone Shock Mount
Especially if you do have a boom operator following a subject with a boom pole / shotgun mic setup, a shock mount is essential to decrease any rubbing or bumping sounds from moving the pole around.
If shooting documentaries, trainings, live events, or even budget films, a wireless lapel microphone (another name for a lavalier mic) is a great tool to have. They clip to a person’s shirt or can be stuck anywhere 6-8 inches below the speaker’s chin. And they don’t have wires! It comes in two pieces – a transmitter and receiver – with one on the subject and one connected to the camera or the audio recorder.
Wired microphones are fine if you are doing close-range interviews or similar. But if the subject is far away, or if you have multiple speakers and want a cleaner set, wireless mics are the way to go. Please check our recommended microphones on this page.
Digital Audio Recorder
If you shoot videos with a DSLR, mirrorless, or other camera that doesn’t have the right microphone input, you’ll need to record to a different device. These cameras generally only have a 3.5mm mini-jack audio input which doesn’t capture broadcast quality sound.
Devices like the Zoom H6N or Zoom H4N are small and allow you to more professionally monitor and level your audio. These devices have several inputs so you can record from multiple microphones. And they often have decent built in microphones as well. For run-and-gun documentary style filmmaking, you can get an adapter to attach this device to the top of your camera via the hot shoe mount, and record better quality natural sound (the sounds you hear wherever you’re filming) than from with the internal camera’s microphone.
The downside to recording audio with these devices is that during post-production, you’ll need to sync the separate audio and video files. After years of doing this, we invested in a higher end digital cinema camera (the Canon C100 Mark II) that has XLR inputs – streamlining our production process.
Headphones are necessary for both monitoring sound while recording, as well as listening to audio while editing. Do yourself a favor and invest in a decent pair – and remember to bring them with you on set! One of the best pairs for the cost is the Sony MDR7506 model.
Without overwhelming you, the key to nice video lighting is often using a very bright light source, and diffusing the light so that it isn’t as harsh. This can be done DIY style with white sheets or curtains. Different softboxes or diffusing gels can be used for different lights (look up what works with your light). Or you can use a big white bounce card (essentially a thick white poster board) to bounce light off of, rather than shining the light directly at your subject’s face. Colored gels can also make your lighting more warm or cool – depending on the style you’re going for or if you want to match the lighting temperature of multiple light sources.
Having extra charged batteries is a good idea for any video shoot. We recommend having at least two backups, more if you’re shooting a documentary in the middle of a jungle with no power source in sight.
Extra Memory Cards
Make sure to get enough storage for your camera. Most new cameras shoot on SD cards. But more professional cameras and older models may shoot on CF or other brand-specific cards. You’ll want to make sure you get enough memory cards for the amount you plan on shooting at one time. If you’re shooting in higher resolutions like 4k, you’ll need even more.
Thankfully, memory cards are very affordable nowadays. We recommend getting multiple 64 GB or 128 GB cards. SanDisk, Lexar and Samsung make reliable cards. Make sure that you look at your specific camera to see what speed of memory card is required. If shooting in higher resolutions, you’ll need a faster memory card that can process and record data to it in such high file sizes.
Even though you can get really larger cards that might never get filled up, we still recommend investing in multiple in case one is corrupted and you need a back up while on set.
External Hard Drives
Someday we’ll easily, reliably and quickly be able to store all of our video footage in cloud storage, and even edit off of the cloud! But for now we still recommend backing up your footage on an external hard drive. Like memory cards, these have gotten more and more affordable over time. While it’s okay to store footage on the computer you are editing on, that space will be taken up quickly. So external hard drives are a must!
While we’ve heard horror stories with all kinds of hard drives (read the Amazon reviews and pretty much any model will include one unfortunate soul who lost their data – that’s why we recommend double backups), we’ve had success every brand from Toshiba and WD to Seagate and LaCie.
With all of this gear, you’ll want a bag that can carry it all. Camera bags come in all shapes and sizes. Some are built for backpacking through a rainforest. Others are so hipster, they order their caramel macchiatos while vlogging on your fixie. Some clearly say look at me, I’m a filmmaker. While others can blend in with a crowd.
Get something that is sturdy, has enough pockets and sections for all of your gear, and is comfortable.
Gimbal / Steadicam System
Another recent innovation is the gimbal, which helps you get buttery-smooth shots while walking or even running. Smooth footage generally = professional-looking footage. There are several tiers and brands that can carry everything from a smartphone or GoPro to a heavier DSLR or cinema camera. This is something we suggest you run down to your local camera shop to test out with your camera before purchasing.
Monopod / Camera Rig
Monopods are great for filming events and documentaries, where you don’t have time or space to set up a tripod. You can get them with fluid heads for smooth panning and tilting. Or you can get some sort of shoulder rig, which helps stabilize the camera and makes it easier to carry for extended periods of time.
The reason why these might be a good idea is because DSLR, mirrorless and other smaller video cameras weren’t built with the best ergonomics for handheld shooting. The shaky look may be good for your own budget Blair Witch project, but not for anything that looks professional
What did we miss?
There are many more accessories such as backdrops, drones, lens filters, lens cleaning kits, dollies, etc that may be necessary for your type of filming. But hopefully the list above is a great starting point for you.
Let us know if there’s anything we missed in the comments below!
Remember, you can see our latest recommendations and gear we use here at Video School Online on our resources page.
Phil and the Video School Online Team