Creating video for publication, whether on YouTube or other distribution options, is one part art and one part science. The science portion of video creation also includes the gear that is used to shoot and edit the video footage. This article will break down the gear and editing software that I use to shoot and edit video both for my own projects and for clients.
A camera is the most obvious piece of gear for video creation. It’s the camera that records the actual video footage that will be used to make a completed video. While you don’t need the latest and greatest camera except in limited professional situations, a camera that is capable of recording good-quality video does make a big difference.
Over the years that I have been creating video for YouTube and other social media platforms I have used a number of cameras. These cameras include an iPhone 5, several Canon camcorders, several Canon D-SLRs and mirrorless cameras, a FujiFilm mirrorless camera, a Sony mirrorless camera, DJI and GoPro action cameras, a DJI Osmo Pocket camera, several webcams, an iPhone 11 Pro Max, and an iPhone 13 Pro Max. There’s probably a good chance that I’m also forgetting a few in this list.
One important detail when considering gear is that camera video quality has improved considerably over the years. Improved sensor technology, enhanced image stabilization, and more powerful processors allowing much more powerful AI functions have transformed the quality of videos and photos that modern cameras are able to produce.
After using a multitude of cameras over the years, recording video for other creators using a variety of cameras, and editing thousands of videos, my goto camera for video these days is my iPhone 13 Pro Max. The difference in video quality even from my previous smartphone, an iPhone 11 Pro Max, is incredible. I’ll likely upgrade to the iPhone 15 ProMax once it is available, but that decision ultimately rests on the camera enhancements.
Why an iPhone? Modern iPhones create stunningly good video even in less-than-ideal lighting conditions. Of course, better lighting always helps, but I’m consistently amazed at how well my iPhone performs in a variety of conditions.
To be fair and completely honest, there are occasions when I will still break out another camera because it is more appropriate for something I plan to film. On a day to day basis, however, it’s the iPhone 13 Pro Max that is my default camera for photo and video.
Does an iPhone produce the best possible video? No, of course not. But it’s more than good enough for social media and YouTube where the quality is compressed on upload and most people view it on a small mobile device or possibly on a computer with limited resolution and internet bandwidth. It’s also convenient and always in my pocket which counts for a lot.
There is an axiom in the video production world that viewers will put up with bad video quality far longer than they will put up with bad audio quality. That may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true. Poor audio quality will lead to viewers hitting the back button or swiping away far faster than will poor video quality. This is not to say that video quality is unimportant, but audio matters at least as much if not more.
The built-in microphones on many modern smartphones and digital cameras have been improved considerably in recent years. In some cases, particularly when there is no wind or ambient noise and you are close to the microphone, a built-in mic may be adequate. Oftentimes, however, the audio will still require some processing to clean it up before using it.
The best option is almost always to use an external microphone when recording video. This may include desktop mics, lav mics (that clip onto your shirt), shotgun mics (that mount on the camera) and wireless mics with a receiver that attaches to the camera and a separate mic that you wear on clothing or position close to your mouth. I’ve used all of these mic styles over the years and continue to use all of these options today.
My default option when recording with my iPhone is to use a wireless mic with a receiver that connects to the Lightning port on the phone and a small mic/transmitter that I wear on my shirt. The wireless mic kit that I am currently using is the Ulanzi J12 that includes the receiver and two mics/transmitters as well as a charging case. This kit works exceptionally well for the price, but it is still basic.
At the time that I purchased this wireless mic kit in 2022 it was around $50 which was a bargain for a wireless mic setup. As of August 2023 the price had dropped to only $40 on Amazon. More expensive options like the Rode and DJI wireless mics offer additional features and enhanced performance, but are quite a bit more expensive.
My default option for recording directly into the computer for voiceovers, livestreams, etc. is a Samson Meteor Mic. This mic connects to any computer via USB and produces decent audio.
I chose the Samson Meteor Mic over a Blue Yeti simply because of the size. The Blue Yeti is an outstanding mic for podcasting and other desktop applications, but it is larger and heavier. Studio space in a van or travel trailer is, unfortunately, quite limited. At the time that I purchased the Samson Meteor Mic several years ago I believe it was selling for around $60. The best price on Amazon now is just over $30.
When I need a mic to mount on top of a camera and capture more than two people talking I typically use a Rode VideoMicro shotgun mic. Similar to the other mics that I have mentioned, the price on the Rode VideoMicro has dropped quite a bit since I first purchased it. The price on Amazon as of August 2023 is only $42.
Which mic is best for you depends on the type of video you plan to be shooting. If you shoot video in a variety of circumstances you may find that over time you need to add several different styles of microphones to your kit. Wireless mics are great if you are only recording one or two people and want the cleanest, loudest audio. Shotgun mics are great for recording a larger area, but the audio will not be as clean or loud so it may require some finessing during the editing process.
A good wind screen (dead cat) is essential if you plan to record video with audio outdoors. If you’re only recording “b-roll” outdoors – where you will not use the audio – or if you have the luxury of only recording outdoors when the wind is now blowing at all then you may not need a wind screen. However, if you need audio and the wind is blowing even a little you will want a wind screen for your mic.
A wind screen fits over the microphone and uses a very low-tech mass of fuzzy material to protect the mic from wind. Stronger wind may require a better wind screen. The difference in audio quality is substantial.
My Rode VideoMicro included a wind screen (one of the reasons I purchased it) and it does a respectable job of limiting wind interference. This is important for me as I frequently record video outdoors.
Some mics will have wind screens commercially available. If yours does not, you may be able to engineer a DIY solution from a similarly-sized commercial wind screen or from material that you assemble yourself.
A hack that I often use with my wireless mics is to position the mic underneath my shirt. Sometimes this means wearing a t-shirt underneath a collared shirt or sweatshirt, but you can also tape the mic to your chest beneath your shirt. Depending on the weight of your outer layer that is protecting the mic you may find that it works as well as a wind screen or that it is less effective.
Tripods and Mounts
A good smartphone clamp is essential if you plan to use your phone for shooting video. These clamps are plentiful on Amazon, but can sometimes be found in retail stores as well. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a smartphone clamp, but you probably don’t want the cheapest model you can find either. Cheap clamps tend to be cheaply made (surprise!) and may not hold your smartphone securely.
Smartphone clamps typically include one or more 1/4-20 mounts so that they can be attached to any standard tripod. Some also have a handle that makes it easier to hold the phone for filming.
I’ve used quite a few smartphone clamps over the years, but am currently using a model by Joby. My preference is for clamps that have a locking mechanism to help hold the phone securely while I am recording.
Tripods are available in a variety of sizes from pocket-sized to full-sized, with a variety of features, and at a variety of price points. A small tripod may work well to start as it allows you to set the camera down to film yourself or to record a scene without movement, but it can also double as a “selfie stick” for recording yourself. A larger and heavier tripod will be required if you want to mount a larger or heavier camera, but most will support a smartphone or action camera. Be aware that very cheap tripods are famous for falling over and not properly or safely supporting even light gear.
My current tripod collection includes an inexpensive desktop tripod with flexible legs, a vintage aluminum tripod, and a Benro carbon fiber tripod.
Drones have, at least in some styles of video, been revolutionary. The ability to shoot photos or videos from an aerial perspective like is now commonly done with drones was previously only possible with the use of manned aircraft. Of course, manned aircraft for a photo shoot or quick video clip was prohibitively expensive and not an option for most people.
Over the years I have amassed a small collection of quadcopter drones that I use for both still photos and videos. My collection includes a DJI Mini 2, a DJI Mavic Air 2, and two Skydio 2s. Each of these drone models has different features, capabilities, and price points. Which drone I use on a shoot depends on which is best suited to the project.
Drones do involve a couple of important considerations. The first is cost, while the second is regulatory.
Drones that are capable of shooting decent photos and videos are not cheap. In my opinion, the DJI Mini is the minimum for anyone wanting reasonably good photos or videos. The Mini 2 with the Fly More Combo (extra batteries that you will probably want) retailed for around $650 when I purchased mine in 2021. The price on the Mini 2 has since dropped if you can find one since the Mini 3 is now available. Higher quality drones easily cost thousands of dollars.
The regulatory environment around drones has also changed considerably over the years. All drone activity in the US is regulated by the FAA. Broadly speaking, the FAA classifies drone usage as being either recreational or commercial. It is imperative to understand that even recreational drone usage is regulated and the rules clarifying what qualifies as recreational usage are strict and narrowly interpreted.
Recreational drone usage will require that you obtain a TRUST Certificate (it’s free and can be done online) and fly under guidelines established by a Community Based Organization (CBO). Drone activity that exceeds the limited parameters of recreational usage requires that you obtain and maintain a Part 107 certificate. Obtaining your Part 107 certificate involves registering with the FAA, passing a comprehensive knowledge test at a recognized testing center, paying the test fee, and obtaining recurrent training at least every two years.
All drone operators, whether recreational or commercial, are required to comply with all applicable regulations. The bottom line is that it’s up to you as an operator to know when and where you can fly, and what rules govern those drone flights.
In most cases, you will also need to register your drone with the FAA through the FAA Drone Zone website.
The FAA has been cracking down on drone violations. Now, with mandatory remote ID on drones, we can expect further enforcement actions against drone pilots who do not comply with FAA regulations.
Once you’ve shot your video footage, you will need to edit it using a video editing program. While I mostly edit on my computer, there are even apps available now that allow for basic editing on your smartphone. I’ve used a number of editing programs over the years, including Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro X, DaVinci Resolve, CapCut, and a few others in my early days of editing.
While this list is far from exhaustive, the three that I currently use are Final Cut Pro X, DaVinci Resolve, and CapCut. Why use more than one program?
One reason is that sometimes a program will do something that others will not. Since I edit videos professionally, I sometimes need a feature that is not available in Final Cut Pro X (my primary video editing app).
The other reason why I always have at least two video editing programs available is that developers all too often push out an update that breaks something. I’ve experienced the most trouble with this when using Adobe Premiere Pro, but it has also happened with Final Cut Pro X. An update that results in a program being unstable is a crisis for anyone who edits professionally. By having more than one program available, I’m at least able to keep working if there’s a problem with one of the programs.
Final Cut Pro X
My primary video editing program is Final Cut Pro X by Apple. Final Cut does require a Mac computer and costs around $300, but at the time that I started using it was also by far the fastest option available and did not require a subscription like Adobe’s Premiere Pro. Final Cut has its own approach to editing that some people love and some people hate. An iPad version of Final Cut is also available.
DaVinci Resolve has been around for quite a while, first as a color grading program and now as a full-fledged video editing program. Resolve feels more complicated than Final Cut, but it includes powerful tools for color correction and grading, audio adjustments, animations, and more. Resolve is available in a free version that will meet many people’s needs, or in a paid version with additional features that is priced about the same as Final Cut.
CapCut (Desktop & Mobile)
CapCut is an interesting video editing program that is available in both desktop and mobile versions, and also has a web-based version. CapCut is created by the company behind TikTok and was originally available only for mobile. Like DaVinci Resolve, CapCut is available for free, though a paid version unlocks additional features. CapCut is easy to use compared to many other video editing programs and includes a surprising array of features. The downside to CapCut? It’s created by the same Chinese company that owns TikTok which may make some people uncomfortable.
There are plenty of other choices now available if none of these options work for you. The alternatives include free and paid programs. Apple’s iMovie is available for free if you have a Mac computer, iPad, or iPhone. Adobe offers Premiere Pro, Premiere Rush, and After Effects (motion graphics). Several other software companies also produce video editing programs.
It has never been easier to get started with creating videos. Any modern smartphone is capable of recording decent-quality video, and basic editing is possible on that same smartphone. More advanced editing capabilities are available in desktop editing programs that range from free to relatively affordable. A modest investment in some accessories will allow you to improve your video footage and make the experience more enjoyable.
There are many videos available on YouTube that cover every imaginable aspect of video creation. Like any discipline, however, developing a high level of proficiency and skill will take time and study. You can still start today though with nothing more than your smartphone and a free video editing app!
Note: This article includes links to products that were mentioned. Some of these links are affiliate links which may result in me earning a small commission if you purchase a product after using the links.