The video gear you use defines how your social media followers perceive your project. A simple set up with a cellphone and a few well-placed lights might seem amateur, but it gives social videos a sense of intimacy and authenticity. More complex setups, including multiple cameras, microphones, and a professional lighting kit, can lend a more cinematic quality—but requires investment and a crew to keep track of.
Whichever route you decide to take for your social video project, it’s important you make the decisions up front during the pre-production planning process.
Macha Beard-Harper is the producer for The New School’s internal Blue Dog production company, but she also works as a freelance director and producer. You can see her food history videos and other work on her Vimeo channel.
Beard-Harper’s studio kit includes a Canon 5D Mark II SLR camera that she bought used for $850. “Even though it’s an old model, it still gets great quality video that looks good on the web.”
She recommends you make sure to also buy a good lens. She says the stock lens—the one that comes with the camera in retail stories—is “underrated” and usually pretty good. “It will be flexible, meaning you can adjust the frame without moving your camera position forward or backward.”
When she’s ready to upgrade, Beard-Harper has her eye on a Sony A7 mirrorless camera, which performs better in lower light. Images taken with the camera have less “grain”—the fine static you see when you don’t use a flash. She will also buy a Canon lens adapter so that her current collection of lenses will fit onto the new camera body.
Camera Pro Picks
Canon 5D Mark II with stock lens. ($850 used)
Canon 24-105 mm lens ($450 used)
Sony A7 mirrorless SLR with 28-70mm stock lens ($820)
Beard-Harper bought a cheap lavalier microphone from Amazon.com a few years ago, and it has held up nicely for her home studio work, where there is only one person speaking in her videos. She recommends lavalier mics, also known as “lapel mics,” because they isolate the subject’s voice from background noice. “You could also buy a good shotgun mic,” she says,” if nothing else will be going on in your house at the time of recording.”
When there’s more than one person on camera, Beard-Harper recommends a shotgun mic and enough lavalier mics for everyone.
“I tend to record all my single mic audio directly to the camera, because I can’t be on camera and monitor sound at the same time,” she says. “When I have someone to monitor sound, I would prefer to record audio separately on an H6 recorder.”
Lavalier mics are best for makeup tutorials, cooking videos, or other formats where a single subject is doing something active. Panel discussions, with more than one person, call for handheld mics and a multitrack recorder or mixer.
Gamers will want to look into a mic/headset combo to isolate the subject’s voice from the sound of the game. “Just remember, your audience will forgive bad video for a while, but they will never forgive bad audio.”
Audio Pro Picks
Cheap lavalier mic ($40)
With camera mount ($80)
For panel discussions ($90)
Zoom H6 Handy Recorder ($300)
Behringer 8-channel mixer ($100)
Beard-Harper has a full photo lighting kit so she can adjust her approach to a wide range of conditions, but she recommends newcomers start with a ring light. “This would be a great choice for anyone who will be doing mostly face-forward, portrait-style framing.
She also urges experimentation with daylight bulbs and other practical setups. “Lights don’t have to be expensive,” she says. “Half of gaffing is getting creative. One narrative film we made entirely with the creative use of practical light.”
When she travels for documentary interviews, Beard-Harper sticks to her camera, lav mics, single tripod and compact ice light. This minimalist, stripped-down kit saves her luggage fees at the airport.
Lighting Pro Picks
For single-subject studio work ($90)
A versatile handheld light for fieldwork ($150)
Be prepared for anything ($200)
Depending on your pre-production goals, you will want to budget for other gear to help make the video shoot go more smoothly. You’ll want to buy extra SD cards for your camera and hard drives for your computer. Also make sure you have plenty of notebooks and pens. If you are shooting a narrative video with a larger team, make sure you have a spreadsheet program to collect notes, a slate, grease pencils, and lots of tape.
Also consider how you’re going to edit and title the video. Beard-Harper uses Adobe Premiere for editing. You can also use iMovie, which comes free on every Macintosh computer.
For those just starting out in video production, Beard-Harper says you should start with what you have, what you can afford, and what you can borrow. Take stock of what you can accomplish with this set of gear first because “you will learn exactly what you need moving forward.”
For instance, you will learn that you can upgrade from your cell phone to a camera after you buy a second lavalier or decide that you need to be able to zoom in and out on your subject without moving the tripod. “You may learn that you don’t need to buy that $150 when a lamp or lightbulb works just fine,” says Beard-Harper.
“Use the cheap solutions as long as possible, because it will teach you about gear,” she says. “Expensive gear doesn’t automatically equal better video. Using gear properly and when it’s needed does.”