Following on from the well-received ‘Does Video Work’  guest blog post written by Electronics Notes editor Ian Poole; I was more than happy to receive a second blog post from Ian, which explores the secrets of making good video on a budget.

Secrets of Making Good Video on a Budget

In our post a couple of months back I looked at whether videos were worth doing. Videos can be a great way of getting a message over, but sometimes they can look bad if they are not well made or at the other end of the scale they can be hugely expensive. So are there ways of getting a good video on a budget?

There are lots of things you can say about making a video, but one of the pieces of advice that was given to me and has stayed with me is that there are two important aspects to any video: lighting and sound. If you can get these right, then the video is going to be much better – get them wrong and the video won’t be a success and people will quickly move on.

So what equipment is needed.  Yes you can have a huge video camera on a large tripod with a couple of large lights and a huge fluffy microphone and two or three people to operate it and carry it around. But all of this is not really needed for most of the videos that are to be posted on the Internet. There are some very high quality videos that have been posted on YouTube and they have been made with quite modest equipment.

There are many YouTube video bloggers or vloggers that make technically very acceptable videos so it helps to take a look at what they use.

In terms of the camera some use a camcorder, and there are some very good camcorders, but a lot use DSLRs and many others just use a mobile phone. So let’s take a look at them in turn.

Today most DSLRs come with HD video capability and some can even capture 4k, although unless you ding a lot of post processing, this is not normally much use. Virtually all current DSLRs have the ability to take external microphones and also for headphones to monitor the audio. Even comparatively modest DSLRs are going to be able to provide video that is more than good enough for YouTube.

Mobile phones can also provide a good option. In recent years phone manufacturers have invested a huge amount of development into the phone camera technology. The latest phones give clear crisp video and the image stabilisation is second to none. I once heard that a BBC engineer looking at some footage shot on a modern phone was definitely broadcast quality.

The mounting used for the camera can also help. The wobble-cam video of years ago is definitely out of vogue now. The natural solution for most video shots would require a tripod. Fortunately as the cameras tend not to be too heavy, unless you go for a really top end DSLR, and they can be mounted on a very light tripod. If you don’t want to pan or have any other fancy capabilities, some of the really cheap tripods are light and easy to carry as they are plastic. They can be more than adequate.

For mobile phones you can get tripod attachments, but you may also want to consider a gimbal. These are handheld devices and hold the phone in place. They link to the sensors on the phone and keep it steady, straight and level as well as enabling smooth panning and other capabilities.

Audio is the next challenge. Forget the on-board microphones as they don’t have the quality required for video and they pick up too much surrounding sound as they are too far away from the subject. Even if you are in a quiet room, they pick up too much echo. There are several options. A good handheld microphone can work well. Go for a reasonably priced one from a well known brand and you cannot go wrong. For interviews an omnidirectional microphone is normally best. Most microphones for singing, etc, have a cardioid response and this may not work so well if the person talking is slightly off the main response.

Another idea is to use a shotgun style microphone. These can be mounted on a DSLR and are directed in the direction of the camera. Again, go for a known brand and you should be fine.

Lavalier or lapel microphones also work well. They have the advantage that they will be close to the speaker and won’t have so much background noise and this can be particularly useful when interviewing at exhibitions and conferences.

More information about microphones for video can be found here.

Lighting is the last issue. This is not quite so critical as it used to be as the camera technology helps out a lot. May be the first requirement is to position the interview in a place where there is plenty of light – not too much backlighting otherwise the speaker will be in shadow and the background will be blown. Also, these days it is possible to buy relatively cheap LED video lights that fit onto the camera on the hot-shoe. These can be used to provide fill in light or occasionally provide the main lighting. LED lights provide a really convenient solution, but make sure you have some spare batteries with you as they can quickly and suddenly run out of juice.

Just a few ideas for better videos. Check out some of our videos on our Electronics Notes YouTube channel.