If you’re starting or growing your YouTube channel, you’ve probably heard the phrase “gear doesn’t matter”. This is true, to an extent. You don’t need fancy camera equipment to succeed on YouTube. But there’s no denying that production value does help. It’s not the most important thing, but if your videos can look and sound good, you’re stacking the deck in your favour. So in this article, we’re going to take a look at different YouTube gear for different budgets.
As such, this page is your ultimate YouTube gear guide for different budget levels – enjoy 😀
- Basic Setup
If you’re just getting started on YouTube and you’re not trying to blow up as quickly as possible, don’t worry about gear.
As a total beginner, you can get away with using your phone and propping it up on a stack of books. More advanced gear only really matters as you get more comfortable with YouTube and want to take your channel to the next level.
So, if you’re thinking “YouTube is cool and I’m going to try this out for a little bit”, my advice is to make some basic videos using a phone and get comfortable with being a YouTuber. And you should be able to produce something pretty reasonable doing this:
If you later decide that we want to begin taking YouTube super seriously, then that’s the time to double down and invest in better gear. Starting with audio.
Audio’s the most important part of video quality and the very first thing you should upgrade.
The problem is that the mics built into our cameras and phones are garbage. So the key to good audio quality is to buy an external mic and have it as close to your mouth as possible. A $100 mic will sound better 10cm from your mouth than a $5000 mic 100cm from your mouth.
🎤 Beginner Audio Setup – External mic with normal mic cable
Level 1: Lavalier Mic ($20-40) – Start with a cheap Lavalier microphone and plug it into your phone / camera. This video explains how to do this nicely and gives some good recommendations. Lav mics are great for when you’re moving around (eg: my apartment tour video) or when you’re on a super tight budget. But, I personally wouldn’t use a Lavalier microphone as they’re annoyingly visible and lots of things can go wrong with them.
Level 2: Rode VideoMicro ($50-70) – As soon as possible, graduate to a shotgun mic like the Rode VideoMicro, and use any cheap microphone stand to get it as close to your mouth as possible while staying out of frame. Do what this guy does. You can use a mic extension cable (like this one) to plug it into your phone / camera, or you can use an external video recorder (eg: Tascam DR05) and sync audio in post (“in post” means “during post production”, which means “during your editing phase”). Check out my Skillshare class on editing for more about how to sync audio (it’s super easy).
Level 2.5: Rode VideoMic Pro+ ($250) – You can replace your Rode Videomicro with something like the Rode Videomic Pro+. That’s what I used for over a year. You can still use your standard thin mic cable to plug it straight into your camera, or into an external recorder. I was using this microphone setup from the start of my channel until June 2019 (250k subs). Whether this upgrade is worth it is genuinely debatable.
🎚 Advanced – External mic with XLR cable and recorder
When you’re ready to upgrade your audio, the next level involves getting an XLR microphone. All the “pro” mics use XLR (a thick audio cable) rather than the tiny thin microphone ones. The issue is that most non-cinema cameras don’t have XLR audio input, so you’re going to have to record audio separately. To get around this issue we have the following setup:
XLR Microphone ($200 – 800 ish)
Although it doesn’t really matter which XLR microphone, I’ve found these to be pretty good:
Level 1: Rode NTG4+ ($230) – The Rode NTG4+ is what I’ve mainly been using since June 2019 and has a decent price to quality ratio. However, there are loads of great XLR microphones out there and it doesn’t really matter which one you use. So hunt around and check out the comparison videos on YouTube. This one by DSLR Video Shooter is very good.
Level 2: Sennheiser MKH 416 ($800) – The Sennheiser MKH 416 is what most pro YouTubers use (eg: MKBHD, Peter McKinnon etc) and I also decided to buy one in December 2020. If you’re interested, check out this video where I compare the audio between the two XLR microphones:
External Audio Recorder ($150 – 800 ish)
You won’t notice much difference at different price points here. Just find something that has XLR input if we’re keen to use an XLR microphone (ie a fancy one).
Level 1: Zoom H5 XLR ($230) – the Zoom H5 XLR is the one that I was using from June 2019 to Dec 2020. I’ve also been using it for my Podcast, Not Overthinking. I would’ve stuck with it, but in Dec 2020 I switched to the XLR-K3M just so that I wouldn’t have to record audio and video separately. Here’s a great video review about the Zoom H5.
Level 2: XLR-K3M ($800) – Sony cameras now have the XLR-K3M available, which is an external audio recorder that sits directly on top of the camera and plugs into the hot shoe mount. This means you can run an XLR cable straight into your camera to avoid having to use an extra external recorder. This massively reduces friction in the production process so I now use this (from Dec 2020) for my YouTube videos. Here’s a great video by Gerald Undone reviewing it.
Level 3: Mix Pre 3 XLR ($800) – the Mix Pre 3 XLR is the gold standard for external audio recorders. It’s what MKBHD uses. I personally don’t think this is necessary, but there are videos online to learn more about it.
If you want to find out more about the different gear I’ve used throughout my YouTubing journey, check out my gear page. Feel free to also explore these other useful resources about audio setup too:
- 10 TIPS to Improve AUDIO in Your Videos
- Best Video XLR Shotgun Microphone
- Which Boom Mics Do I Use? 2020 Edition
- MICROPHONES… Here’s what you need to know
- Best Cheap Mic for YouTube under $50
Once you’ve sorted our audio, it’s time to think about your camera and lens.
Level 1: Phone ($0) – if you’re just starting out on YouTube your phone works as a pretty good camera. This video from me explains how you can film YouTube videos on your smartphone. But if you want to take YouTube seriously, you’re going to need an actual camera.
Level 2: Canon M50 ($500) – the Canon M50 (Crop Frame) is a great budget camera. It doesn’t shoot in 4k, but this isn’t really a problem as it still shoots in 1080p. I still export some of my own videos in 1080p, so don’t let this put you off.
Level 3: Sony A6400 ($900) – the Sony A6400 (Crop Frame) is another solid choice. Like the Canon M50, this camera is a crop frame (otherwise known as APS-C). Crop frame cameras have smaller senses so don’t look quite as good as full frame cameras – check out this excellent video by Becki and Chris explaining the difference. This video also gives you a nice comparison between the Canon M50 and the Sony A6400.
Level 4: Sony A7c ($1700) – the Sony A7c (Full Frame) is the camera I’d recommend if we’ve got $2000 to spare. As a full frame camera there’s a big bump in quality compared to the crop frame cameras above.
Level 5: Sony A7Siii ($3800) – the Sony A7Siii (Full Frame) is the camera I currently use. It’s an amazing camera, but if you’re going to splash out I’d say go for the A7c. Unless you’ve literally got money to burn. Check out this comparison video if you’re still not sure.
Level 1: Phone ($0) – again, at the most basic level, your phone’s camera and lens will be enough.
Level 2: Kit Lens ($0) – if you’ve got a camera, the kit lens that comes with it will be absolutely fine for most things. This is a great video showing how good your video can look with a relatively cheap camera (Canon M50) and its kit lens.
Level 3: Sigma 16mm f1.4 ($300) – the Sigma 16mm f1.4 (Crop Frame) is (in my opinion) the best lens you can get for a crop-sensor camera, if you’re making ‘sit down and talk to camera’ style videos. I usually aim for a focal length between 16-35mm. I like the 16mm lens because it means I can be quite close to the camera, giving my videos a more ‘intimate’ feel and I achieve that appealing blurred background effect (AKA bokeh / depth of field). The lower the f number (e.g. f1.4) also helps increase the background blur. My highest performing video was shot using this lens:
Level 4: Sony 24mm f1.4 ($1600) – once you’ve made the jump to full-frame cameras, you’re going to need full-frame (read: super expensive) lenses too. The Sony 24mm f1.4 (Full Frame) is a solid choice, and I’ve been using this and the Sony 16-35mm f2.8 for some time.
Level 5: Sony 16-35mm f2.8 ($2300) – if I could only use 1 lens for the rest of my life it would be the Sony 16-35mm f2.8 (Full Frame). It’s incredibly versatile because it can zoom. 16mm is great for vlogging and chatting to the camera and 35mm is great for B-roll.
Over the last few years I’ve built up quite a collection of different cameras and lenses, which you can check out for yourself on my gear page.
As a beginner, the natural light through your window is probably enough. But, the ultimate lighting setup involves:
- A Dimmable LED Light
- A Soft Box, and
- A light Stand (i.e. a C stand)
I refer to this whole setup as having a “big-ass light”. Having a big-ass light makes such a difference to your video quality. In fact, even when I’m travelling and need to conserve space, I still bring my big-ass light with me because it makes such a huge difference to any studio setup.
Some of the pros say you need a back light and a fill light too, but I don’t think it’s necessary or does enough to improve video quality.
💡 Dimmable LED Light
Level 1: Random light box ($50) – if you’re just starting on YouTube, a random photography light box (like this) from Amazon may be enough. This video explains more. I used one of these cheap lights from June 2017 until September 2018 (65k subs). But, in hindsight, I wish I’d shelled out a bit more for Level 2 at the start. It would’ve made a huge difference to my video quality.
Level 2: Godox SL60W ($120) – the Godox SL60W is what I’d recommend to most people due to its decent price and quality. I use this as my main key light above my desk (it’s ceiling-mounted). I could replace it with one of the options below, but it does the job fine and I don’t think it would make any difference. This video was shot using the SL60W:
Level 3: Godox VL150 ($400) – the Godox VL150 is also very, very good. Check out this video by Gerald Undone which compares it favourably to the Aputure 120D.
Level 3.5: Aputure 120Dii ($800) – Aputure used to be the gold-standard of lighting. It still sort-of is, but they charge a premium for the brand, and Godox is doing a very good job of making identical lights for half the price. Aputure is sort-of like Apple, and Godox is sort-of like OnePlus.
🔅 Soft Box
Okay, so now that you’ve got a big-ass light, you need a “soft box” to make the light softer. By default, the light that comes out of our LED light is very harsh, so a large soft box will make the light look more natural and flattering. The soft box will also make up the bulk of your lighting setup (the lights themselves are usually pretty small).
Level 1: Space Light or Light Dome ($50) – If you need to light a very tight space, a space light soft-box might be best. I use the Aputure Space Light ($50) mounted to the ceiling above my desk. It’s amazing, and a great way to light videos if you’re up against a wall. Here’s a picture to show you what I mean. I also show it off in my Apartment Tour 2020 video (I’ve linked the appropriate timestamp for your convenience):
If you’ve got a bit more space, a light dome is probably best. This is what we think of when we think ‘studio lights’. The Neewer Softbox ($50) or Godox Softbox ($50) are both amazing.Level 2: Aputure Light Dome ($250) – the Aputure Light Dome ($250) is the gold-standard brand. Therefore, they’re priced at a premium. The Light Dome II is what I use with my 120D LED light for most lighting situations.
Level 2: Aputure Light Dome ($250) – the Aputure Light Dome ($250) is the gold-standard brand. Therefore, they’re priced at a premium. The Light Dome II is what I use with my 120D LED light for most lighting situations.
📍 Light Stand
To use your light and soft-box you need a light stand. Just search Amazon for “light stand” or “C stand” and pick anything that’s cheap and has good reviews. It doesn’t really matter what you use. Once this is all setup, you just position the light 45 degrees from your face, elevate it about 35% so it’s pointing down at you, and you’re ready to start filming.
Other than that, you can use practical lights in the backgrounds to add some visual interest and create the right atmosphere. My practical lights are about 5800-6000 kelvin, but sometimes I use blue lighting in the background (10,000 kelvin).
5. Editing Resources
The final (and least important) part of improving your video production quality is the editing.
🎬 Video Editing
As a beginner, the free editing software on your laptops (such as iMovie) is enough to do some basic edits to your videos and get them on to YouTube. But if you’re looking to do something more advanced, then you’re going to have to invest in paid software like Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro.
Using this software, the three edits that will make the most difference are:
- Tighter a-cuts – whenever we hear a pause in a video it sounds weird, so you want to minimise them.
- Titles, lower thirds & transitions – these make your video more engaging, easier to follow, and are useful ways to include branded elements. I buy all my titles, lower third, and transitions from Videohive.
- Subtle sound effects – sound effects can massively elevate your production value when used subtly. They make your videos feel polished. I tend to use a sound effect whenever something appears on the screen.If you’re interested in learning how I edit my videos, I made a video editing Skillshare class that’s totally worth watching.
🎵 Background Music
If you’re just talking to the camera, having a bit of background music is another brilliant way to up the production value. It makes such a big difference to the vibe of your video as long as (again) we keep it fairly subtle. I like to use relaxing or acoustic music, which I download from Epidemic Sound – this is totally worth it. Just be careful that you keep the background music at a level that doesn’t interfere with the main audio because then it becomes distracting and detracts rather than adds to the video itself!
As I mentioned at the start, if you’re a beginner you can ignore a lot of this information for now. Just start making videos and uploading regularly to YouTube.
If you’re ready to invest more time, energy, and money into your YouTube journey then gear is a great way to improve your odds of success. And this article has hopefully been a useful overview of the gear I use and recommend.
If you’ve been thinking of starting a YouTube channel (something I’d highly recommend – it’s completely changed my life!), then I’d recommend you check out my YouTube courses. We’ve broken the Part-Time Youtuber Academy into 3 different courses for different levels. In the course, we’ll teach you everything you need to get going or get good on YouTube. And with the Accelerator course, you’ll even get direct access to my team to help you on your journey.