The first thing to make sure of before starting a YouTube channel is having all that you need to record and upload high-quality videos regularly. That doesn’t mean you have to take out a loan and spend thousands to purchase a brand new camera and all other gadgets that professional filmmakers use.
The smartest way to get started is to go through a list of necessary equipment for YouTube and check whether or not you already own some of it. Once your channel starts growing, you can then start thinking about whether you want to invest in upgraded equipment. Here is a quick overview of all items that you need to start entertaining your online audience and gaining subscribers to your YouTube channel:
The short version: Use whatever you already have, even if it's your phone or webcam. It's nice to have sharp, fine-tuned, 4K footage, but viewers will forgive lower visual quality if your content is good.
The long version: You will need a camera, but there are a lot of different devices you can use including DSLRs, point and shoots, webcams, and your smartphone.
Your choice of camera will have a tremendous impact on the visual quality of your content and might drive your decisions regarding other pieces of equipment. However, you shouldn’t feel obliged to work with a top-notch camera from day one, especially since cheaper options can produce great results if used the right way.
On one end of the spectrum, you have basic smartphone cameras and web cameras, which are easy to come by and simple to operate. These days, high-end phones come equipped with quite powerful cameras that are more than sufficient for the needs of the average YouTuber. Better webcams can also do the job, although high-performance webcam models can get pretty expensive too. It is probably wise to resist the urge to start broadcasting with the built-in camera in your laptop and at least get a webcam or use your phone, but your computer’s camera is still always an option. Not having a better camera should never stop you from making YouTube videos.
If you already have a DSLR camera then it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with it. You have far more freedom to adjust the settings and achieve a professional look for your videos with a DSLR, but that does mean it’ll take some time to become an expert at using it. Ultra-high resolution is not required for YouTube, but it certainly won’t hurt to have additional sharpness and more detail in the scene. If you’re shopping for a DSLR, look for one with a flip screen that allows you to quickly check what your viewers see.
The long version: Sound capturing is every bit as important for your success as your video feed. In fact, poor audio can be even more damaging to your subscriber count than grainy video, since people won’t spend their time listening to something they have to put effort into understanding.
Again, most YouTube video makers have a limited budget at their disposal, so professional microphones are mostly off the table. However, investing in a directional microphone (‘shotgun mic’) that can pick up your voice clearly and without background noise is certainly a smart move. Such microphones can be pointed towards you while you speak, and since most YouTubers sit still while doing their shows there won’t be too much need for in-session adjustments.
If you’re not ready to invest in a shotgun mic, you can also find very inexpensive (often under $20) LAV mics. These small microphones can be pinned to your shirt, which allows them to record very clear dialogue because they’re so close to your mouth.
Lights for YouTube
The short version: You need as much light as you can get. Lighting kits can be affordable on Amazon, but you can also achieve a great look using daylight/windows and 'daylight' lightbulbs.
The long version: If you’ve ever tried to make a video indoors, you already know that it’s necessary to have additional light. Often just filming with the normal lights in a room will cause your footage to look dark and grainy, and possibly be tinted orange. To overcome these problems you need to increase the amount of light you have available.
Sometimes, it is enough to film near windows and/or bring more household lamps into your filming area. For any household lamps or lighting fixtures you use, make sure to put in white or ‘daylight’ lightbulbs instead of using the orange/tungsten bulbs that you might have for everyday use (this is how you avoid tinting things orange).
If you have the budget available to get some lighting equipment, you can find softbox lights or LED panel lights available fairly inexpensively online. Softbox lights are great because they provide even, diffused, light.
Another useful piece of lighting equipment to have is a reflector. A reflector is usually a piece of white, silver, or gold fabric stretched over a frame. You can use it to bounce light from one light source back towards yourself (this is a great way to fill shadows cast by your main light). Reflectors tend to be inexpensive, but you can also use white cardboard or tinfoil in place of purchasing a reflector.
Tripods and Camera Stands
The short version: You need something to hold your camera. If you mostly film in your own home that can be a desk or a stack of books, but if you make a lot of videos while you're on the go you probably need a tripod or gimbal. Heavier cameras need heavier tripods.
The long version: While handheld cameras can deliver solid results for vloggers and casual streamers, viewers do expect reasonably stable footage. For many types of videos, the camera needs to be completely still and flatly positioned on a horizontal plane. Tripods and camera stands can cost very little, so it’s a good idea to look into getting some kind of stabilizer.
When you are choosing a tripod, pay attention to how much it weighs. If the camera that needs to be mounted on it is very heavy (like some DSLR models), you want to ensure that the structure itself weighs enough not to be easily tipped over. Too thin tripods can put your camera at risk, and that’s the last thing you want. Smaller cameras such as GoPros are more flexible in this regard and can be placed on a wider range of tripods.
Even if you are using a phone or a webcam to record YouTube videos, you should consider mounting the device on a stable stand. It is possible to find mini tripods ideal for smartphones for as little as $10. These tripods are small enough to carry in your pocket, so you will be prepared to start making a video no matter where your adventures take you. If you are using a web camera, you should attach it to the stand so that it won’t move accidentally after you touch the surface it is placed on.
Smartphone Camera Gear
The short version: There's a lot of gear out there designed with smartphone photos and videos in mind, including clip-on lenses, tripod mounts, phone-mounted LED lights, and inexpensive microphones that plug into the audio jack.
The long version: Recording your videos with a mobile phone can be a good decision. It all depends on the phone you have and the range of add-ons and apps that you complement it with. Almost every high-end model released in the past five years can shoot videos in 1080p or higher. Some can even produce 4K footage. If you perfect your smartphone filming technique, your YouTube videos could look as if they were made with pro equipment.
On the flip side, smartphone cameras typically perform poorly in low light. It is possible to download an app that lets you play around with settings to overcome this, but a phone-mounted LED light is probably a better solution. An external microphone might also be a necessity, but there are some good (inexpensive) options that can simply be plugged in through the headphone jack.
Another common downside of smartphone cameras is that most of them use digital zoom, which is vastly inferior to optical zoom. If you intend to shoot anything that’s further away than a few feet, you need a clip-on lens that goes on top of the built-in camera. This inexpensive device will give you a lot of freedom to work in space, and allow you to make spectacular shots even without high-end YouTube equipment.
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Richard Bennett is a writer and a lover of all things video.
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