So you want to start a vlog? Here’s a list of the bare essentials to get you started.
Vlogs, or video blogs, have been one of the fastest growing trends in the last decade, and there is certainly no sign of that easing up. Vlogs really took off in 2006 and it’s hard to say when the first one was. The trend has since helped connect millions of people to the greater world around them, whether it’s through sharing their knowledge or by receiving it. People vlog about everything: food, construction, music, movies, life, shopping, conspiracies, and so on. If you’ve decided to start a vlog, you’re not alone. And it doesn’t matter the subject, the only rule is that you have a solid interest in what you’re doing.
There is some barrier to entry for vlogging though, and here I’m going to let you now the bare essentials of what you need to get started. It’s not a cheap hobby, but knowing how to start right can save you a lot of hassle and energy, and help you to a successful launch.
First thing’s first: the camera. Probably the key piece of your setup, and it will also be the most expensive. The DSLR has been the mainstay for professional photographers and videographers since their invention, and you certainly can’t go wrong with using one as a primary. But also be aware that there have been two recent contenders that you might consider before making the purchase. That’s the micro four-thirds and the mirrorless. For those who do sports or traveling shows, a GoPro might also be a good idea.
Micro Four Thirds
The micro four-thirds (MFT) won’t have as flexible of lens ratios as a standard DSLR, but since their sensors are by nature much smaller, they have some particular advantages. For one, smaller means lightweight, and for a travel photographer this is a golden feature. The smaller lenses are actually better for videographers (and therefore many vloggers) as well, since they offer better FPS and stabilization and their larger cousins. Their biggest downside is that since the bodies are so small, they’re often without room for additional attachments for mics, flashes, and so on.
With the demise of Olympus though, it means the MFT suppliers’ market is about to get a lot smaller and you’ll be basically limited to Panasonic. Which isn’t a bad thing, as the Panasonic GH5 is perhaps one of the best cameras that can be offered to vloggers. Their -S edition has also received a mirrorless upgrade. It’s hugely expensive though, so you can also look downmarket at cheaper Lumixes and save your lenses until you can afford the pro upgrade.
Mirrorless cameras are basically the new generation of professional cameras. They’re smaller and lighter, and have improved focus and accurate viewfinder representations. There probably won’t be any DSLR cameras within 10 years, having been all been replaced by mirrorless. They are seriously impressive upgrades to DSLRs, and if you need to buy into a new camera system to start your vlogging, then this is where to start – though it will come with its price tag, it’s worth it. I’ve known plenty of photographers who’ve made the switch, and every single one of them have raved for hours about how awesome their new rig is.
Though I’m normally quite begrudging towards phone-based cameras, I’ve heard many a photographer friend going nuts about the latest iPhone’s camera. This is a serious contender, and for a vlogger might actually be worth looking into. I haven’t heard anyone saying that it’s good enough yet to replace their primary, but it probably is good enough to use starting out a vlogging show, especially for those doing travel shows.
The bare minimum
If you want to escape paying such hefty prices for new camera equipment and you’ve got a purely desk based show, it is possible to start off with a web cam (or a cheaper digital camera). There are some things you want to keep in mind, and you want to be sure to look at these statistics:
- 4K and HD video – Absolute musts. You might see 8K on the market soon, but that is currently a ridiculous level of overkill. These two aspects aren’t as important if your show isn’t camera dependent, like a gaming vlog, but if you or any videography is the center of focus, then there’s no compromise here.
- A fast Autofocus – Especially if you don’t have a partner available to do that, or you’re not that good with a camera, or you need to use your camera quickly and you don’t have much time to manage settings.
- Mic port – Something to keep in mind if you’re going to be on the move a lot.
Depending on your show, this actually is interchangeable when it comes to being the most important aspect. If you’re doing a gaming vlog, then you should look into improving your mic situation over your camera situation.
We’ve already a handy guide to understanding the differences in mics. If you’ve got a desktop-based show, look into that. Here I’ll outline some options for shows that are on the move.
You want to keep a mic port in mind when shopping for a camera because even the best camera has a subpar mic. Simply because they’re not made for that, they’re made for photography and videography. You have then two options: to plug in your mic (make sure your mic has a 3.5 mm plug), or to record it separately. Be sure to look further down in the “Audio recorder or wireless transmitter” section.
A lavalier mic is one you clip onto your shirt. This will allow you to be able to move around and still have your voice be picked up, whether you’re near to or far from the camera, or you’re turned around. An absolute must for any travel or shopping vlogger.
If you’re looking to have a fairly stationary set up outside, or if you’ll be behind the camera when talking to people, then a shotgun is a good choice. It will attach to your camera and you can aim it at the target. They have a very focused pick up area, so that noise from the sides will be mostly canceled out.
Pop filters and windscreens
Generally, you almost always want one of these. With a desktop mic, you want a pop filter to help reduce your plosives (p, g, and k, for example), and keep you from kissing it and getting all sorts of sloppy sounds. A good windscreen and some discipline can also be used.
If you’re doing any audio recording outside, then you’ll want to put a windscreen or wind muff over your mic. The wind muff (also known as a “dead cat”) is the fluffy thing that goes over the mic. It breaks down the wind and keeps all that noisy blowing from interrupting the sounds you do want. You’ll want to reduce wind sound as much as possible, because even using RX it’s almost impossible to clear it up in post-production.
Gimbals and tripods
These two options depend on how mobile you want to be. If you’re fairly stationary, a good tripod will do the trick; if you want to take a lot of videos outside and moving around, you should look into getting a gimbal.
You can get a full tripod, or a miniature desk tripod, depending on your needs. My favorite is what is known as a “gorillapod”. As I like to take videos and pictures on my travels, I use this mini-tripod to basically attach my camera to all sorts of things, from chairs and tables to trees and hand rails. You certainly can’t get as perfect of a shot as from a regular tripod, but you save in a lot of space and weight. They also make for great desk tripods.
I don’t care how steady you think your hands are, they are no replacement for gimbals. A good gimbal will move your show up from a clear amateur level to a professional production, especially if you’re doing travel or shopping shows, or anything else that might require a lot of movement.
Gimbals are basically a system of swings and balances that keep your camera from knocking around as you move. You can go from huge, shoulder mounted gimbals to keep the weight off your arms, to smaller handheld gimbals and even gimbals for your phone. Once you see the difference between your shooting with and without a gimbal, you’ll thank me later for telling you to get one. You might feel a bit self-conscious when you first start using one as well, but again, once you see the difference…
Audio recorder or wireless transmitter
There are two ways to get your voice from a lavalier microphone to the video. Either to send it there or to add it in later. To do this, you’ll need either an audio recorder or a wireless transmitter.
This is actually my preference. There’s less things to plug in while you’re on the go and one less setting and feature you have to worry about on the camera. Simply plug your lavalier in, put the recorder in the mic and forget about it. The difficulty here is that later you’ll have to line up the audio and video in the video editor. A good way to do this is to clap just after you start filming. The clap will have a visual on the screen, and a visual on the editor as a spike in the audio.
Of course, if you don’t want to go through the trouble of lining up the video, you can have it directly plugged into the camera. Either you’ll have a very long cable to do this, or you can have a wireless transmitter, with the receiver plugged into the camera. No need for synchronizing it later.
If you’re doing a desktop vlog and you’re not doing it from a great environment, then you’ll want to look into a greenscreen. Especially true if behind you are typically loads of laundry or stacks of dirty dishes. There are three types to choose from: backdrops, curtains, and chair attachments.
The backdrop is the best option, but it also takes up the most room. If you don’t have a dedicated room for your productions, it might be the hardest to pull off, since it’s pretty much a permanent fixture. It allows enough space between you and the backdrop however, to have optimal lighting so the greenscreen works its best. It also gives you enough room to film your whole body and do a variety of other shoots and scenes.
The thicker and fluffier texture of a curtain will have great benefits for you when it comes to your sound. It does come with the downside that curtains allow for more shades of light given the diverse angles, which might make it harder to trim out of the picture. You’ll need to get it as straight as possible or have some lights to cover all those angles and get an even shade of green. Mainly just good for filming at your desk.
A few companies have started to offer attachments for your chair that you can flip out when needed and put away when you don’t. This is probably the best option for gamers and those with tight living/filming situations. The downside is that since it’s quite close to you, you can’t optimize lighting as well, which makes it harder to get a better cut.
When you’re doing a show that’s mostly at home, then it’s a good idea to optimize your lighting. This is even true on the road, but you’re more limited on what you can do. An absolute must is to have a portable ring light to take with you that you can use when you’re set up at home, in a bar, at a hotel, or so on. A ring light – especially with a soft box attachment – will give you the most natural and even look. Best is to have a light with various lighting settings, but if you can’t afford that, go with one that hits around 5500K, which is equivalent to daylight.
One thing I’ve learned, is that you always want a spare of everything, especially when you’re on the road. Make sure to cover yourself with an extra camera battery, a charger, an extra SD card with a lot of capacity, an external harddrive to store everything on in case your laptop crashes or runs out of room, and a powerbank if you’re going off your phone. The last thing you want is that you get to a great location and set up and then you run out of batteries or space.
Having the right music for your show is almost as important as the equipment. You want something fresh and original, and you want to make sure it fits your work. You’ll also want to make sure it’s royalty free and have no copyright issues. That’s where Create Music comes in. You can find a track in nearly any genre and customize it to your project. Check out our blog on using music on your vlog.
And you’re set
If you keep all these things in mind for your budget, then you’ll be off to an excellent start on your vlog. Do well and make sure to follow our Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter keep up to date with our blog and discover more of our great stock music.