What do you need to get started? It could be just an iPhone. Or maybe it’s a DSLR and 50mm lens. Or maybe it’s a prosumer camera plus an expert in Adobe Premiere video editing software. It all depends on your need.
Please—before you run out and buy anything—read this whole guide. Promise us. Gear is fun, but not if your tricked-out 4K camera is only ever used as a paperweight.
Always buy your video equipment with your end goal in mind. For instance, what formats will you need to create? Where do those videos fit into the followers/buyer’s journey? What’s your budget and skill level? Let your needs dictate how you consider the equipment explained in this chapter. When in doubt, buy less and work your way up from there.
What’s your budget, skill, and team size?
Yes, we know people aren’t equipment. But your team’s size and skill level influences your choice of gear. Do you have a seasoned video production manager or is this your team’s first shoot? Do you have a strategist, director, script writer, and graphic designer, or are you one person wearing all the hats?
Example video production teams
- Beginner: Video producer (one or two people wearing all the hats)
- Intermediate: Video producer (usually two people), camera team, copywriter
- Advanced: Video producer, copywriter, video writer, storyboard artist, director, camera team, sound team, makeup team, editor(s), graphic designer
Small or inexperienced teams should start with beginner equipment. If you outgrow it, you can always upgrade. Larger or at least moderately experienced teams should consider intermediate and expert gear because they can actually make use of it.
Don’t have enough headcount?
Consider hiring freelancers. You can augment your skills and teamwith contractors to take on bigger projects when needed.
What equipment do you need?
The beginner gear set
Never be afraid to jump in and get started at the beginner level. As they say, do what you can, with what you have, where you are. Just start filming and see what works. Don’t let the equipment be a barrier of entry to creating engaging social media video content.
In many cases, it’s the fact you’re even using video that impresses people. With some formats like selfies, a little shakiness and low production value can actually make it more enjoyable because it feels real and personal.
Option #1: iPhone or smartphone
We get this question all the time: Can’t I just use my smartphone? Absolutely. But you’ll get better results if you add accessories such as a microphone, lens, or video app.
Smartphones are great for filming social media videos or informal updates. For example, when your CEO wants to record from a conference, or when you’re planning on posting your vertical video directly to social media with minimal edits.
Upsides of smartphone video
- It’s always with you
- Minimal setup
Downsides of smartphone video
- Limited storage space
- One small scratch and the lens is ruined
- Equipment and apps are often only compatible with one type of phone
When filming with your phone, always use the camera on the back, not the front-facing camera (the one above the screen)—it’s more powerful and will provide a cleaner image. And because your lighting equipment is limited, try to film your subjects while they’re looking at a source of natural light such as a window.
Recommended smartphone video kit:
- Selfie ring light kit
- Universal smartphone tripod
- Rode smartLav+ lavalier smartphone microphone
- FiLMiC Pro App
- (Optional) Moment Lens
Total cost: $200
The selfie ring light helps to partially compensate for poor lighting. You can find camera cases with this light ring built in. The tripod is great if you’re filming yourself—you don’t have to hold it, and it won’t shake.
If you only buy one thing on this list, make it the external microphone. Try recording yourself with and without it and you’ll understand—the smartphone mic picks up tons of background noise.
The FiLMiC Pro App allows you to adjust settings that you can’t normally adjust on your phone, such as shutter speed. And if you spring for the add-on lens, you’ll be able to take wide-angle shots to capture more background, which is great if you’re somewhere exciting with lots to see, like an event. Plus, it has the added bonus of adding some variety to your shots.
Webcams and laptops
Like smartphones, you likely already have a laptop with a webcam. They’re great for voice-over videos, talking head videos (just someone speaking to the camera), blog recaps, demo videos, social videos, prospecting videos, and webinars. Plus, laptop cameras don’t require a whole team to operate.
Vidyard’s Content Marketing Manager Hannah Cameron records her blog recap videos by placing her laptop and microphone on a stack of boxes.
Upsides of webcam video:
- You already have one
- No need to upload video to your computer
Downsides of webcam video:
- Limited camera settings
- Can be awkward to set up
- Difficult to get the lighting right
You’ll notice in the image above that Hannah is using an external webcam. She does that for two reasons: It allows her to capture higher quality images (1080p, versus the MacBook Pro’s 720p) but it also allows her to position the webcam at a better angle.
Buy this kit (or similar):
- Logitech 1080p webcam
- Yeti USB microphone or a bluetooth microphone
- Ring light kit
Total cost: $300
You also might consider building or buying a stand for your microphone so you don’t have to clip it to your laptop. Just like smartphones, laptops do a poor job of capturing audio. The Yeti microphones are a cheap fix. (They’re also good enough that some recording artists use them.)
I really can’t stress the importance of audio enough. If you can only nail one thing, make sure it’s the sound quality. We really can’t stress the importance of audio enough. Bad audio can be the difference between a completed video and an abandoned view.
The intermediate gear set
The hallmark of the intermediate gear set is that you invest in a camera that’s designed to take video. A mid-range camera known as a DSLR (short for digital single-lens reflex, if you were wondering) with some basic support equipment is more versatile than a smartphone or laptop, takes higher quality images, and has more options to adjust to different lighting situations and environments. Plus, it’s pretty cheap, all things considered.
Upsides of DSLR video:
- Higher quality images
- More control over lighting
Downsides of DSLR video:
- Equipment takes time to set up
- Definitely doesn’t fit in your pocket
The intermediate gear is great for anything a smartphone or laptop can do, plus recording interviews, culture content, and internal communications. The kit below is what Vidyard’s own team had when Video Production Manager Mat King first started here.
Recommended DSLR video kit:
- Canon EOS Rebel T7i
- Canon EF 50mm Lens
- Rode RodeLink FM Wireless Microphone
- Rode VideoMic GO
- Manfrotto Video Tripod
- Neewer Lighting and Backdrop Kit
- Additional items: SD cards, extension cables
Total cost: $1,500 – 1,700
The Canon EOS Rebel T7i is a classic. It takes great video, but also great photos. Use it for employee headshots and images for the blog, and zoom in and out with the detachable 50mm lens. Why 50mm? That’s a versatile range and yields a similar perspective to what we see with our own eyes.
The RodeLink wireless microphone clips to your subject’s clothing to capture great audio (DSLR audio is about as good as smartphones, which is to say, terrible), and the RodeLink GO is for when you have multiple people on camera. Simply dangle the mic above them, just out of camera view.
The lighting and backdrop kit here is also a big step up from the beginner set. The lights with softeners allow you to create flattering, daytime-quality light inside, and the backdrop includes a green screen so you can do neat things in post-production like replace the background. Plus, it all packs down for easy travels and storage.
The advanced gear set
Advanced gear is for when you have some budget and videographers on the team who feel constrained by what the intermediate gear offers. In the right hands, advanced gear will give you agency or studio-level production quality, in-house.
This kit may seem like a big step up in terms of cost, but conduct your own research and you’ll find that a full kit could easily run you as much as $50,000. We’ve pieced together just the budget-friendly essentials.
Upsides of a full studio setup:
- Highest quality images
- Greatest versatility
- Greater control over lighting
- Studio-level production quality
Downsides of a full studio setup:
- Costs money
- Lots of equipment to lug around
- Requires training
Expert gear is ideal for company-wide videos, the kind of things you’d want to post on your website’s homepage, use for commercials, or continue to use for a full year (or longer). You’ll get higher quality audio and video and, in the right hands, it’s a great investment.
Recommend expert-level video kit:
- Sony PXW-FS5 4k
- Metabones Canon Lens Adaptor
- Canon 50mm f1.8 Lens
- Canon 24-105 f4 Lens
- Sennheiser MKE 600 Shotgun Microphone
- Sennheiser EW-100 G3 Wireless Lav Microphone
- Manfrotto Video Tripod
- Ikan Bi-Color LED Light Kit
- Additional items: XLR Cable, SD Cards, Extension Cables
Total cost: $9,000-10,000
Did you notice that our list includes a Sony camera but a Canon lens? With the Metabones Canon Adaptor, you can use your old lens from your intermediate gear with your new camera, saving you thousands of dollars. (You’re welcome!)
The Sony camera takes higher definition 4K video, which is huge advantage because it essentially allows you to take multiple shots at once. Here’s what we mean by that: If you take a wide-angle shot of someone presenting, and the editor wishes they could cut to a close up, they can by editing the entire video on a 1080p timeline and scaling the shot up. The image quality is so high they can zoom in and make it look like you took both shots.
The shotgun microphone and wireless microphones give you a few options for capturing higher quality audio than the intermediate gear. The Ikan Bi-Color LED Light Kit also beats the intermediate lighting kit for three reasons: The lights are thinner and easier to pack into tight spaces such as conference rooms, they’re battery powered and travel friendly, and they’re adjustable so you can set the brightness.
Now, good equipment alone doesn’t make good video. If you’re reading this and thinking of investing in top-tier equipment because, hey, you can afford it, know that this gear requires some training.
If we were to measure the difference between intermediate and expert gear by the total number of dials, switches, and knobs, expert equipment is at least 4x more complicated. Plus, if you start at a lower level, you’ll be forced to learn good habits, such as finding great natural light, which will make you a more agile videographer in the long run.
Video editing software
With your new hardware comes the need for software to cut your footage into enjoyable, useful video sequences. But before you go out and buy a license to Adobe Premiere, be sure you actually need it.
If all you need to do is share your screen for a product demo, you can do that for free with QuickTime, which is included on all Macs, or Vidyard’s GoVideo, which is a free Chrome extension. If you’re sharing a webinar, you can probably do that through your webinar provider.
But if you need to cut scenes, include subtitles, or add music, you have three options:
Beginner: iMovie or Windows Movie Maker (free on most computers)
These no-frills options cover most of the basic features. You can cut clips, reorder scenes, add stills, add audio, create titles and credits, and insert some (very) basic transitions and special effects.
Beware: These special effects are about as subtle as PowerPoint’s notorious star-wipe fade. If overused (or used at all, says Mat), they can ruin your video.
Intermediate: Camtasia or ScreenFlow
These options aren’t free, but they give you significantly more control over cutting and splicing your video. You’ll have more options to adjust audio and lighting, crop scenes, zoom in and out, and add annotations.
The Vidyard team prefers Camtasia, as it has a little extra functionality, such as the ability to draw on the screen, add watermarks, and freeze regions of the film. But both tools are great options. You won’t be able to edit too heavily, but they’ll do the job for most marketers.
Advanced: Adobe Premiere and Adobe After Effects, Final Cut, or Avid
Advanced video software isn’t a big leap in cost but it’s a huge jump up in functionality. It’ll let you add more professional graphics, animations, and audio effects.
If you’re used to intermediate software, an advanced tool can be a bit like stepping into an airplane cockpit and seeing a wall of gauges. Advanced software probably isn’t something someone running a small team is going to learn on the fly, especially on a deadline. But you can figure them out with enough time.
“You can definitely learn Premier on your own watching YouTube videos,” says Mat. “But you should watch someone who already knows how to use it or take an online class.”
So what happens to your video once it’s ready? You need to get it out to the world! And you’ll need to do a lot more than just upload it to YouTube.
While video social networks can be a great way to build search engine optimization (SEO), they’re designed for audiences to get lost in a labyrinth of fun but unrelated videos. Plus, the only data they give you on your videos is how many people watched them, which isn’t very useful for businesses.
Consider investing in a video platform that allows you to easily host, manage, and distribute your videos. You can embed them on websites and landing pages, send them in email campaigns, personalize videos to the viewer, auto-optimize them for SEO, and A/B test which thumbnails earn the most clicks.
Video platforms also capture data on how individuals interact with videos—information that you can pump into your customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation platforms (MAP) to profile leads and accounts.
In the next chapter, we’ll explain how to plan and prepare for filming.