When I’m faced with doing something I’ve never done before, I like to find someone else who’s already done it so I can see what they created before I attempt to dive right in. Who knows, there may be a hidden sandbar I wouldn’t know about without the research, right? So I spend some time analysing their creation – for the sake of this example, let’s say video – and I try to work out why they created it that way. I figure out what I like, what I don’t like. And I try to see if I can duplicate what they created, so that I can learn the techniques behind it.
When it comes to video creation, copying the style of popular or successful videos seems to be the thing to do. And that’s okay, so long as you’re not copying the content. Copying the content is technically theft but without the technicality. So don’t do that. Steer clear of that. But there’s only so many lighting techniques, backdrop colours and shot sizes available to videographers, so seeing something you think is beautiful and working out how to replicate the look of the lighting (was it dreamy? Was it edgy?) and applying it to your own content in your own way is a-okay in my book. Don’t you agree?
Where things become a little foggy, for me, is when people think they need to use the exact same kit to get the exact same look to get the exact same results as that well-known and immensely popular blogger they love. For a lot of people it seems that having the right kit is make or break when it comes to creating video content. There’s a reassurance that, if they have the same kit as another video creator then their own content will be just as awesome. And that’s a little true, but it’s also really not. I’m going to let you into a little secret; when it comes to creating great videos, the kit actually has very little to do with it.
In fact, when it comes to choosing a video camera the best camera for shooting videos is the one you already own.
Why? A number of reasons spring to mind but most important is that you need to learn how to make videos before you’ll get good results. Once you’ve learned what you need, you’ll then know what to upgrade (spoiler alert: it won’t always be your camera that needs upgrading first).
And unless you live in the Dark Ages, are completely technophobic (in which case are you in the right place?) or just hate communication then you totally absolutely do already own a camera that’s capable of shooting high quality HD video. Chances are it’s in your pocket.
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Modern smartphones are a great choice for anyone who’s just starting out in video content, especially because there’s no budget required for the camera. If you’re just dipping your toes into the video creation pool, then do you really want to spend several hundred on a camera that you may or may not continue to use if you hate filming video?
Using your smartphone to film is like wearing water wings when you first start learning to swim. You can learn the basics, give yourself a solid foundation in shot sizes, framing, and lighting, while letting yourself focus on what’s actually important: your content. Save learning about aperture, exposure, and the more technical aspects until you’ve got the content creation side down. If, once you’ve got a few vids under your belt, you decide you love it and are throwing yourself into deep end with abandon, that’s the time to decide if you need to upgrade. Yes, I said if, you’re not going to get chucked off of YouTube or Vimeo if you’re not using a ‘proper’ camera.
You may already have one, in which case hurrah! Problem solved, the point above about the best camera for video being the one you already own still stands. If, however, you’re looking to upgrade to a DSLR then there’s a few things to keep in mind when choosing a camera for video:
Obvs, a biggie. It’s going to help you determine what’s the best for you and your requirements and is something I strongly suggest you figure out before you go shopping. Boundaries people, they’re important.
Budget extends to lenses too. DSLRs are often sold without a lens, so something to keep in mind when looking for a DLSR is the cost of lenses and what you’d be happy to pay for new ones in the future. When choosing a video camera, don’t overlook second hand, pre-owned camera equipment, it can help you get your hands on a higher spec camera and/or lens but remain in a lower budget. Cost for lenses first, then the camera body, you’ll thank me for it later.
frame rate (fps)
This really depends on the look you want your videos to have, and what sort of footage you want to shoot. This is a whole post all on its own, but basically if you want to slow your footage down then you need a camera that shoots 1080p at a minimum of 60 frames per second (fps), this is because it will make the slow-mo footage look an awful lot smoother. Most cameras, including your smartphone, default to 30fps. Try and slow that down and it’ll look choppy and not that great. For reference, film is shot at 24fps, which is why it looks so different to video.
YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, et al, all like their videos to be 1280×720. This is important for two reasons: 1) you want your camera to be able to provide that shot size so your videos look as amazeballs as possible on the various platforms and not surrounded by big black stripes, and 2) you want your camera to be able to provide a larger shot size, especially if you’re going to be filming a ‘talking head’ piece to camera video. This is mostly because you can film your piece in one size, but then crop into your picture throughout to give the appearance of motion, all while saving time and frustration by not having to film it the exact same way at a closer or wider shot size to get the same look. Check that 1920×1080 is an option before buying or buy your weight in tissues when you realise your error.
There’s a DSLR for any budget. I’m a fan of Canon, the lenses are generally cheaper and I’ve used a Canon for the last 15 years. That’s not to say other brands aren’t great, they totally are, but don’t rule out familiarity when making your choice, your learning curve will be steeper.
Here’s the thing, unless you’re planning on running off and becoming a professional videographer who also shoots for televised broadcasts or lots of professional interviews, camcorders aren’t really a thing you’ll need. Obviously you can, if you’d like (and have the budget) to have a separate stills and video camera, but it’s not necessary for videos created for online consumption.
In short, when looking to choose a video camera start with what you have and figure out how to get the best out of it. You’ll learn what kit you need as you go, often you’ll find that lighting or sound has a higher priority for kit upgrades than your camera, but that’s a whole ‘nother set of blog posts.