I originally scheduled this particular work day to start in on a shop project. However, my hardware grew legs and decided to hide somewhere in my pretty organized shop. I’m still trying to figure that out actually… But instead of wasting too much time I decided to establish and implement plan B and hopefully produce a productive day.
A somewhat common topic for most everyone who regularly uploads videos to YouTube is the camera gear and editing software used to create the video. Ask ten YouTube content creators what gear they use and you will probably get ten different answers. It’s really a subjective topic. So for that reason remember that what works well for other people may not be the best setup for me and what works for me may not be the best setup for you. To give you a better understanding of what aspects I personally do and do not value I will go over my cameras, audio setups, lighting, my editing computer, and the software I previously and currently use to edit my videos and explain the “why” behind each of the choices I’ve made.
Probably the very most important thing to note before getting into specifics is to know that the video, audio, and lighting quality all take second place to the actual story of the video. If the story isn’t interesting enough to keep the viewers attention than all of the extra work on the video, audio, lighting, and even editing won’t matter at all. All of the extras will only add to the viewer experience. Plenty of people have made incredible videos with minimal hardware. For example, Kyle Toth started editing on an iPod, Izzy Swan grew his channel to over 100k subscribers using a cell phone as a camera, and the first 99 videos I published on my channel were recorded on a first generation Samsung Galaxy S camera and edited on the free Linux video editor KDEnlive. Don’t let the lack of fancy camera gear stop you from telling your story.
Samsung Galaxy S – As I previously said, the first camera I used for recording YouTube videos was my Samsung Galaxy S cell phone. On the plus side, it was incredibly convenient and I always had it on me. Unfortunately, dust always migrated behind the lens cover which resulted in very, very fuzzy and low contrast videos. And the lack of a forward facing screen made positioning shots a little cumbersome. The camera only shot in 720p. After making 99 videos on my main channel with this camera I decided to invest a little bit of shop money on something better that would record in 1080p.
Canon Rebel T3i – (you can get the newer version for less than what I paid for the outdated T3i two years ago so I linked to them) I have been using this camera as my main camera since video 100 on my main channel. The two main advantages of this upgrade are the front facing screen and the ability to use a zoom lens. Shortly after getting it I found out about Magic Lantern firmware that can be used on the camera to unlock a lot more settings. For example, I currently use Magic Lantern to dial in the white balance by K value instead of Auto, Shade, or Sunny. Magic Lantern also allows me to use ML negative ISO values to produce a video with less noise than with regular ISO values at higher levels. The camera shoots in 1080p which even though 4k video is starting to catch on I think 1080 will be the standard for a while. It’s been in a dusty shop environment the entire time and I still haven’t needed to clean the sensor. Every video shot in my previous shop with this camera was recorded with manual exposure settings. I experimented with auto exposure in my current shop and due to the walls being white and it being pretty bright in there the auto exposure made everything dark which really crushed the shadows. I tried experimenting with auto exposure compensation but ended up ruining the quality of a few videos. After the addition of more ceiling lights (I’ll get into that later) and closing the garage door I’m currently able to shoot with manual exposure and not change anything the entire video. It’s a very consistent recording environment now. I’m very pleased with the performance of this camera after using it several times a week for the past two years. I’ve used the following lenses for this camera:
- Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens – This is the stock lens that came with my camera. It’s a great starter lens but the reason I upgraded later was the fact that it only went down to f3.5 which in my previous, darker shop made me use higher ISO values which resulted in noisy footage at times. Also, the aperture is not constant across the zoom range so in situations it would get dark as I zoomed in.
- Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II LD Lens – I bought this lens after a lot of recommendations from other people. It was basically the same zoom range as before but has a lower and constant aperture which allowed consistent exposure settings through the zoom range and also a lower aperture to allow more light and therefore allow a lower ISO setting to produce a less noisy video.
- Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens – This lens was purchased while I was in my new shop. The lighting in the new shop is MUCH better than the old shop so the aperture is no longer a priority. What I wanted to get was a wider angle lens to include more of the shop in each shot and also allow me to be closer to the microphone which will result in clearer audio. I was blown away at how much more is included at 10mm vs 18mm. The only downside is that if you are close to the camera and get near the perimeter of the viewing area you will be distorted a bit.
Keep in mind that the Canon Rebel T3i uses a crop sensor with a 1.6 crop ratio. Basically multiply the lens zoom value by 1.6 to get the full frame equivalent. So the 10-18mm lens on the T3i is equal to a 16-28.8mm lens on a full frame camera. Anyway, the following images will give you an idea of how much more can be included in the shot by using a wider lens. Both images were shot with the 10-18mm Canon lens. The first one zoomed in all the way at 18mm and the second zoomed all the way out at 10mm with myself and the tripod in the exact same position. I was able to change the zoom without moving so I was pretty close to the camera.
GoPro Hero 3+ Black – I originally bought this camera to get into tight spaces and maybe use the super wide angle for time lapses of the whole shop in one shot. I’ve used this camera in maybe 5 videos though. The lack of a screen or viewfinder make it difficult to setup the shot. You can WiFi to a phone or a tablet to use as a monitor but enabling WiFi drastically reduces the battery life. The other major downfall for me was the lack of being able to really tune in the finicky white balance. Most of the shots taken in my shop were very cool in temperature and needed to be color corrected quite a bit. I never did get it to be a match to my main camera. This camera is obviously made as an action camera so it’s no surprise that I’m not too fond of it’s performance in my shop. However, it does take great video when outside.
Canon G7 X – I got this camera hoping it would be easier to use a point and shoot for my second channel. I was pleased with the video quality and liked the auto focus but just like the GoPro the white balance was finicky in my shop which resulted in inconsistent results. It did, however, take great stills and video when I wasn’t in my shop. This was really an unnecessary, impulse purchase so I decided to get rid of it to recoup some of the cost.
Samsung Galaxy S6 – This is my current cell phone. I haven’t used it to record anything in my shop but I did make one update video on my second channel with it so I thought it would be nice to include it in the list so you could see an example of the video quality. This is by far the easiest route I’ve used. Just point and click with it set on full auto.
Audio can get really bad in a echo prone shop like mine. I’ve tried a few things to make the audio quality better though. The following audio setups are all used with my T3i.
Built In Microphone – Simply put, the built in audio on my T3i really, really sucks. Most cameras don’t have great microphones though so it is somewhat expected. I normally use the built in microphone set to auto whenever I’m recording something where I’m not talking like when I’m using a power tool.
iPhone Headphone Cable DIY Lav Microphone – I found this idea on YouTube and made a video showing my process to hopefully present the idea to more people. Basically it’s just a iPhone 5 headphone cable cut right above the microphone and glued to a clip to use as a lav mic. Then a free voice recorder app is used to record the audio. The results are GREAT and the fact that it’s pretty much free if you have an iPhone is a huge bonus. The benefit of using any lav mic is that you have consistant vocal quality regardless of how close or how far you are from the camera and it drastically reduces the amount of ambient shop audio that is picked up. Generally it is great at only picking up your vocals and very little echo. The two downsides are having to sync the audio when editing the video (not a big deal though) and physically having something attached to you.
Rode Lav Microphone – At some point I lost my iPhone lav mic and decided to see if the video quality would be any different if I bought an entry level Rode lav mic. It ended up not really worth the $75 investment as I actually think the iPhone headphone cable sounds a little less muffled and more clear. Oh well. Same two downsides as the other lav mic.
Rode Sterio VideoMic Pro – This is an external microphone that attaches to any camera with a hot shoe mount. It is battery powered and plugs into the camera for recording directly to the video. No post production audio sync with this setup. This mic will produce the best audio for me. Keep in mind that even though the audio sounds great from this microphone it does get worse the further you are from the camera.
Spot Lighting – My last shop was a relatively small space with a muddy tan color wall so lighting wasn’t that great at all. Generally speaking, the darker the space the more noise will be in the video due to higher digital ISO values being used. In that shop I used a bunch of utility bell lights with different size CFL bulbs from the common 13w household bulbs to some much larger (literally) 85w bulbs. The larger CFL bulbs produced a LOT more light but the downside of using them is that they produce harsh shadows. After being in that space a lot I preferred to use multiple smaller bulbs spread out than fewer of the larger 85w bulbs. The obvious solution might be to get a few budget softboxes but the money invested in my bell lights was much less and it worked just fine.
Overall Shop Lighting – While moving into my current shop I decided to put a bunch of light in the ceiling to hopefully eliminate the need for portable spot lighting all together. The end result worked. Not only do I no longer have to worry about moving a bunch of lights, light stands, and extension cords but my actual work experience is a bit nicer as I have zero problems seeing what I’m doing because it’s super bright in there. I have two light circuits in the ceiling. One circuit controls four 8′ fixtures, each with four 4′ 6500K T8 bulbs on the ceiling area that isn’t covered by the garage door in the open position. The second circuit controls two more identical 8′ fixtures occupying the space above the garage door. This way when the garage door is in the open position and blocking these lights I can turn them off and still work with the other set of lights turned on. I purchased all of these from a local electrical supply and averaged $50 per 8′ fixture including bulbs, the wire and connections to hook it all up, and local sales tax.
Custom Built Computer – If you click that link it will take you to the PC Parts Picker page showing the exact parts I used to build my computer. The price shown is incorrect as it doesn’t include some of the items. I believe I paid about $900 for this after rebates. I built it over two years ago in September 2013 and my needs have not outgrown it yet. Overall I’m very pleased with it’s performance and it hasn’t let me down yet. The graphics card I chose wasn’t the best decision and I’ve had a few driver issues with it but I’ve gotten it to a stable place now. I did add a second SSD drive for video editing and that made a noticeable difference in rendering time. If you are in the market for an editing computer or maybe a gaming computer I highly recommend doing a bit of research and building it yourself. It’s as easy as putting legos together and a lot less difficult as it may seem. Search around for recommendations for hardware based upon your budget.
KDEnlive – This is the first editing software I tried and ended up using it for the first 100-ish videos I made. It’s a free, open source program for the Linux operating system. So if you’re looking for a budget solution to get started this is a good option. This worked great and did everything I needed it to do until I built my editing computer. Things may have changed since then but I realized that it didn’t play well with multiple core processors so I could only render with one processor core working. This didn’t take advantage of my more powerful computer specs so I decided to venture back to the dark side and get a copy of Windows 8 and use something else.
Sony Movie Studio Platinum 12 – There are newer versions of this software now but Sony Movie Studio is basically a much more budget friendly and watered down version of Sony Vegas. I believe I paid $29 or $39 for the program. I crashed occasionally but I got in the habit of pressing Ctrl+S constantly to save my work as I went. I still recommend this software for anyone looking for a non intimidating video editor for Windows that will allow you to do a decent amount of stuff on a budget.
Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2014 – I purchased an Adobe Creative Cloud membership quite a while ago to give me access to Photoshop and InDesign. Included in the Creative Clound membership is every Adobe application including the highly regarded Premiere Pro video editor. Because I already had access to it and so many people say it is the best video editor out there I decided to give it a try and I haven’t looked back. I really, really like this editing software. I’m quite fast with it, it’s easy to use, and it has a ton of features that I really like.