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The Internet: where would we be without it? While I could spend an entire afternoon pondering that conundrum, the truth of the matter is that for the time being—barring some sort of global catastrophe—the Internet is here to stay. Not only is it staying, it’s growing fast, and you are a part of that growth. Building your own independent media empire brick by brick, as it were, takes time. And like most other crafts, proper tools of the trade are required. I am under the impression that you would like to create content for other people in the hopes that those people will consume and enjoy it. Therefore, knowing what tools can produce media of acceptable quality is of paramount importance. So where to start?
If you want to produce content, you will need hardware that can capture the content you wish to produce. Basically, you’re going to be building a tiny video studio of sorts, one that will provide you with the equipment necessary to make high-quality content. On video, you will be presenting yourself in two ways—visually and aurally. While those presentations are combined in the end result, they have their own processes for capture and should, ideally, be captured and edited/processed separately for the best quality results. Speaking of quality, before I dive into my equipment recommendations, high quality does not always correlate with price. Yes, generally speaking, a $10,000 camera will (or at least should) be objectively better than a $500 one, but my point is you don’t need a $10,000 camera to achieve results that are good enough for presenting online. Expensive gear has its place, and maybe one day you might be able to justify an expensive gear purchase as you hone your craft. So let’s look at some solid options that won’t break the bank.
Depending on what kind of content you want to create, the decision of what kind of video gear you may wish to own can be a tad complicated. For most people, a standard camcorder (like a palmcorder) will be fine. These cameras almost always record in HD resolution, providing sharp video that’s ready to go, right out of the camera. If you are a more advanced videographer, you may already own a camera. However, if you are trying to advance your video craft, you may want to try a video camera that offers more creative possibilities. For more information on other options, you can have a look at my article, Interchangeable Lenses versus Built-in Zoom: What Filmmakers need to Know, which explains the differences between various types of cameras. In my opinion, a good option to look into is the Panasonic HC-V750. It offers good image quality, and features like 5-axis image stabilization for handheld shots and a back side illuminated sensor for maintaining a high-quality image in less-than-ideal lighting situations. Perhaps just as valuable, though, is the fact that palmcorders like the HC-V750 are extremely portable and generally don’t eat through batteries all that quickly. This makes them easy to take outside your mini-studio and on the road or to other locales to acquire your footage.
Camcorders are not for everyone, however. You may want to start with a smaller setup, or your channel may not focus extensively on live video. Now, I probably shouldn’t have to tell you that a webcam would not normally be the ideal choice for creating cinematographic content (well, I guess I told you anyway…), but for someone who only needs a streamlined video workflow, a decent webcam might be just the ticket. For example, YouTube has a very large, tight-knit community of content creators whose channels are dedicated to broadcasting recorded video-game footage of their personal exploits. In this case, most of their essential content is coming from a video game console through a capture card or a screen capture utility on a PC. With varying frequency, depending on the channel, the content creator may want to feature some live-action content, perhaps relating to a review of a new piece of kit. For this purpose, a high-quality webcam will be sufficient. I recommend one that will output HD-resolution video of at least 1280 x 720 (also referred to as 720p). Higher resolution helps your videos hold up better when posted to the Web.
The next part of the formula is audio. Good audio quality is essential in content creation; some even argue that good audio is more important than good video, so don’t sell yourself short in the audio department. While good audio equipment can be had for relatively affordable prices, don’t just buy the cheapest stuff, as even just a few extra dollars can go pretty far here. The first piece in your signal chain will be your microphone. Since we’re discussing a studio for smaller projects, a high-quality USB microphone will fill the bill. I like the Yeti Microphones from Blue. They sound great right out of the box and offer multiple polar patterns (for controlling the directionality of the sound capture), latency-free headphone monitoring (more about this below), and sturdy build quality so you can prepare for just about any recording situation.
If you are really strapped for cash, do not rely on your computer’s built-in microphone. Even the better built-in microphones sound tinny and will pick up a lot of room reverberation. Instead, I would recommend looking at the Samson Go Mic. It’s tiny, inexpensive, and still has reasonably good sound quality. Even if you have another microphone, it might be worthwhile to have the Go Mic because of how portable it is. Since this is a purchase that shouldn’t be taken lightly, be sure to take a look at the current selection of microphones. Perhaps there’s one that works better than my recommendations, for what you want to do.
The next part of your audio signal chain is the headphones. While they may not look great on-camera, although they do seem to be coming back into fashion, a good set of ol’-fashioned “cans” are great for listening to your audio playback. If you require monitoring, plug them right into your USB microphone’s headphone out, if it offers one. Otherwise, you could run into latency issues that can make your headphone feed sound like listening to a distant echo of your voice. I recommend a decent set of circumaural (over-the-ear) headphones to anyone doing listening work, as I find them to be more transparent than in-ear options. They will also be more comfortable for long listening sessions.
So now you have all your mini-studio hardware together, it’s time to look into some software. The center of your production runs on your computer, and that is your video-editing software, also referred to as an NLE, for Non-Linear Editing system. If you don’t have an NLE installed on your computer, there are many options available, depending on the operating system you’re running. For starters, Adobe Premiere Elements is a good option if you’re running Windows or Mac OS X. It offers a feature-rich editing environment that’s easy to learn, and when you’re ready to advance, you can then move to Adobe’s professional Creative Cloud version of Premiere with knowledge of Adobe’s workflow. Other good options include Apple’s Final Cut Pro X (only available for Mac OS X through the App Store) and the various editions of Sony’s Vegas Software (currently only available for Windows OS). All of the software programs mentioned above will accept most modern camera recording formats and will all export video in a format for easy uploading to sites like YouTube.
Vegas Pro 13
You will also need software to record audio from your microphone. For starters, or anyone not really needing to go past basic recording needs, the open source audio editor Audacity is a great option that offers a basic, yet high-quality set of recording, manipulation, and exporting facilities. Once you’re finished recording your audio, just export the file into your NLE of choice and begin editing!
Hopefully, after reading this article you will have an idea of the essential tools you need to start producing your own videos. I just want to close with a few notes. First, concentrate on writing and preparing high-quality content. No amount of expensive gear can save a sub-par effort. Use your gear advantageously to complement your creations; as I wrote above, my gear suggestions are only tools to help you create quality content, so now it’s your turn to get out there and bring in an audience.