Video equipment: What you need to get started

Aerial view of video equipment on a table

If you’re brand-new to the video production game, you really don’t need much to get started: maybe just a smartphone and a decently lit room. But as you learn the ropes and your content starts to find an audience, you’ll want to start thinking about upgrading your gear. The good news: video recording equipment doesn’t require the big bucks that it used to — there’s gear out there for all uses, skill levels, and budgets.

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10 tools you need to produce quality videos

If you want your videos to look and sound professional, you need to get your hands on a few essential pieces of production gear, which you can borrow, rent, or buy. The rest is mostly inessential but nice to have — though some of it is necessary in certain situations. We’ll start with the must-haves:

Essential production gear

  1. Camera. As you might expect, your video camera is the heart of your video production rig. Again, starting with your phone is a perfectly acceptable and smart way to go. An iPhone, for instance, offers 4K recording and multiple creative controls, such as a depth of field effect, when using Cinematic mode. When you’re ready to upgrade, a modern mirrorless camera is a relatively affordable option, as nice cameras go. It also doubles as a still-image camera.
  2. Microphone. The best mic for video is a shotgun microphone, which offers highly directional sound — that is, it picks up sound mainly in the direction it’s pointed. The Rode NTG4+ Shotgun Condenser Microphone is a great option, but because it’s a condenser mic, it needs a power source to work. Luckily, it comes with a built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery. You might also consider the Sennheiser MKE 600, a small-diaphragm shotgun condenser from an iconic microphone brand. Listen to demos of each mic to decide which better suits your taste. Both models go for about $400.
  3. Lighting. The simplest way to light a shot is to shoot in daylight and use a reflector screen to bounce natural light onto your subjects. But in most other cases, you need lights. Consider a three-point lighting kit, which usually features three units; a key light, a fill light, and a backlight. A good kit comes with diffusers to subdue the intensity, and barn doors to partially or wholly cover the lights or direct their glow. These lights need stands and can be positioned anywhere on your set. Most affordable three-point kits use LED bulbs, making them power efficient and lightweight. GVM makes a $450 kit with three 800D-RGB LED lights.
  4. Tripod. Whether you’re shooting on a phone or a camera, you need a tripod to hold it, keep it stable, and allow you to position it easily.
  5. Headphones. Whether you’re monitoring a shoot in real-time or listening back to what you’ve already recorded, you’ll need a good pair of headphones. Sony’s MDR-7506 headphones are a wired, closed-back set, ideal for shooting video. They’re known for their neutral soundstage — no artificially boosted frequencies — and their reasonable price tag, around $100 per pair.

Nice-to-have production gear

  1. Gimbal or stabilizing device. If you plan to shoot on the move, you need a gimbal or another device to steady your camera and keep it from shaking or jittering. You can mount a camera on a gimbal to keep it balanced. For a more ambitious project, you can get a name-brand Steadicam system that attaches to the camera operator’s body. Typically you would hire a Steadicam operator (who provides their own gear) for a daily fee. As a more affordable option, you can opt for a handheld gimbal like the DJI RS 2 or the Moza Air 2, which can support up to nine pounds, more than most consumer-grade video cameras.
  2. Boom pole. To get the mic close to your subjects — or you, if you’re a one-person operation — you can mount your mic onto a boom pole, also known as a boom arm. The Rode Boompole is a good choice for this purpose. You can also mount your microphone to your camera, though it won’t be close to your subject, and will produce noisier, lower-quality audio.
  3. Digital audio recorder. For truly professional sound, you’ll want to record an audio track separately from your video. That’s where a digital audio recorder comes in. Most of today’s models are compact and handheld. The Zoom H5 and H6 units are industry leaders. You need XLR cables to connect your mics, though these Zoom models also have built-in stereo mics, meaning you can record directly from the device.
  4. Multiple memory cards. Your digital video files go onto your camera’s memory card, and your sound files go to your audio recorder’s memory card. You then transfer the contents of the memory cards to your computer for video editing. Your camera probably already has a memory card, but as you record more footage, you may want to add to and upgrade your collection. Most modern video equipment uses standard SD cards. At the very least, you want a 64-gigabyte memory card. But the more memory, the better. If you’re shooting long videos or high-resolution 4K footage, go for a 128GB card or more.
  5. Capture card. This is important mostly for live-streaming. To route a camera feed through your computer, you don’t use a memory card, but a different device called a capture card. The Elgato Camlink 4K is an excellent option for live-streaming in 4K resolution. It has an HDMI input and a USB output.

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