Having a great idea for a YouTube channel is only part of the battle, actually bringing that idea to life can be a rough ride for some, and an expensive one if you don’t do your research.
Jumping into buying equipment without doing proper homework is one of the worst things you can do when getting started in YouTubing. For one thing, you probably won’t get the best gear for your videos, but you may also end up spending more money than you would have done if you’d researched a little. More expensive equipment plus inferior results are no one’s idea of a good result.
Fortunately, there is plenty of help out there, whether you are starting a new channel on a shoestring budget, or you have an enviable wad of cash to invest in your new life as a YouTuber.
And this post is one such example of that help. So let’s get helping!
What Equipment Do I Need?
Covering every possible type of YouTube video out there would multiple posts, so in the interests of brevity, we’re going to break things down into distinct kinds of YouTuber—on-camera and off-camera.
These terms are not referring to you necessarily, but rather the presence of (or lack of) a camera in your setup. For example, if you created a channel where you filmed people while you interviewed them, but you are never onscreen, that still counts as an on-camera video.
Regardless of the fact that you are not being filmed, you still need a camera to create your videos, and that is the only relevant detail as far as this article is concerned.
Examples of off-camera videos include any kind of video where the visual component is handled entirely in software. This could include news breakdowns, top ten lists, trailer reactions, and much more.
It would be easy to assume that the difference is one needs a camera and one doesn’t, but the truth is there is a lot of related equipment that you will have to consider if you are going to be filming.
I Can’t Afford Lots of Equipment, Where Should I Focus?
Not being able to afford all the fancy equipment that the best YouTubers use is perfectly normal. Most people can’t. As your time on YouTube progresses, you may find your circumstances allow you to invest more in your channel. You may even find that the success of the channel itself is such that it can pay for that investment.
However, the future plays out; you will understandably want to know where to put your time, effort, and money in the beginning. So let’s get the obligatory caveat out of the way first.
All the high-quality gear in the world won’t help your channel succeed if your premise is terrible, or your heart isn’t in it. Making YouTube videos is not as easy many believe, and if you don’t want to do this, you will almost certainly fail. Success—especially in the form of financial gain—does not come quickly with YouTube and is far from guaranteed. So, if you head into this without really wanting to do what you are doing, you will likely end up as one of the millions of abandoned channels that inhabit the unsearched depths of YouTube.
Similarly, no matter how good your video looks, you will struggle to get traction with bad ideas. If your channel doesn’t grow the way you’d like, don’t fall into the trap of assuming it must be because you need a better camera or a new microphone.
Another trap that new YouTubers can fall into is assuming that you need to upgrade your setup. It can’t hurt, of course, but once you get beyond the beginner tier of YouTube gear, the cost of that gear starts to skyrocket.
Contrast this with the diminishing returns that better equipment will net your channel, and you have a strong argument for not rushing out to get that new DSLR camera.
In the beginning, only look to improve things that are objectively below par. If you are recording at 720p through a budget webcam, by all means, look to upgrade as soon as you realistically can. But if your video is fine, don’t stress too much about making it great.
If you need help to compare cameras, audio and other tools – check out my resources page where I have compiled a list of all my equipment and dream equipment for future upgrades.
When it comes to equipment, your first priority should be audio. If you are making off-camera videos, then the audio will be your primary concern with regards to equipment anyway. However, even with on-camera videos, the sound is often more critical than video.
This is not an absolute statement, of course—if your video is unwatchable, that’s going to be a turn off no matter how good your audio is. But when you have below-average quality video and audio, it is quite often the audio that will make the difference.
I use a Boya By-MM1 Shoutgun microphone on my Canon 200D Camera. Its cheap, cheerful and very powerful. I did a full unboxing and review – you’ll be amazed how fluffy it is!
Consider this—can you think of a noise that rubs you the wrong way? Cutlery being scraped on a plate, for example. Or nails on a chalkboard. What about the sound of someone chewing with their mouth open? Most of us have a sound that cuts right through us. Now think about all the times you have watched a video in less than optimal conditions and been okay with it.
Your phone isn’t exactly ideal for watching video content. What about old 240p YouTube videos that you have sat through because the content is valuable to you?
Now, we’re not saying you should settle for 240p content, of course. But if your image is a bit fuzzy and dark, and your resolution isn’t quite 1080p, that might not be the turn-off you fear it will be. But if your audio is full of noise, artefacts, random background sounds, and unpleasant sniffles and lip-smacking, you will likely find viewers clicking away from your content very quickly.
One final thing to consider is your surroundings. If your recordings are picking up a lot of echoes, or you are getting lots of background noise from outside, you may want to look further afield than your microphone.
Things like acoustic treatment can significantly reduce echo, while a thick blind can reduce outside noise. If these are not practical solutions for you at this time, you could fashion some improvised acoustic treatment/soundproofing from thick blankets.
Video: It’s About More Than Just Your Camera
Once again, we’re assuming your camera is not absolutely shocking. If it is that bad, you should make that your next priority. If it is serviceable, however, but you feel you can do better, do not assume that buying a new camera is your only option.
Once you get deeper into filming techniques, you will quickly find that lighting is a crucial part of filming a video, and you may be surprised at how big a difference a fair-to-middling lighting setup can make to your video quality.
If you plan to continue improving your channel in the long term, you are going to need lighting at some stage. So, if your camera isn’t too bad, consider opting for lighting before upgrading your camera. It will almost certainly make a big difference to your shot, and you will be able to continue using the lighting rig when you do eventually upgrade your camera.
YouTube Equipment for Beginners: The Bare Necessities
So, we’ve talked about your microphone and your camera—two things you undoubtedly need to record video—but are there any other essential bits of kit you need when you’re getting started on YouTube? Yes! Well, kind of. There are essential bases you need to cover, though, like the thick blankets we mentioned above, you can probably make do with ingenuity if you have to.
Stability (Tripods and Stands)
Firstly, your cameras and microphones should be steady. If your camera shakes and there’s a mighty clang every time you catch your desk, it’s not going to make for a pleasant viewing experience. Consider getting a tripod for each, or even an adjustable arm if you can afford it.
Microphone shock mounts are very inexpensive these days, and many budget microphones also come with them. As for your camera, try to set it on something that isn’t likely to move while recording.
If you are filming in your bedroom and there are some questionable floorboards in there, don’t put it somewhere that will move when you shift your weight from foot to foot. You can make do with a pile of books or a shelf if you can’t get your hands on a tripod, the key is to make sure it’s a stable pile of books or shelf!
Again, you can absolutely make do with a regular room in your home as a backdrop to your video, just put a little time into making sure it looks good on camera. But if you’re not happy with any of the options available to you, you might want to get a screen backdrop.
These tend to be plain black or white, though there is no set rule to what you should put behind you in your videos. You can even go green screen and get fancy with the recording software, but that’s a whole other topic.
Whether you opt for a physical backdrop, a screen, or a green screen, make sure that the backdrop is not distracting. If viewers attention is being drawn to something that is not relevant to the content, not only could they miss what you are trying to tell them, but they could become annoyed at the distraction.
Lights and Pop Shields
This section is a little bit of a roundup. Two things you should consider essential pieces of equipment that need adding to your setup as soon as possible are lights and pop shields.
The lighting we’ve touched on already. It doesn’t need to be a professional studio lighting rig, of course. Even a single inexpensive LED light panel will do wonders. And pop shields—small filters that sit in front of your mike to dampen the harsher blasts of air from your mouth (“plosives”)—can make a massive difference to your audio.
The Secret Weapon
There is a device that most of us own that can, in a pinch, be the answer to all of your YouTube recording woes. If you own a relatively modern phone, you already have a device that is capable of recording both audio and video at a decent enough quality to get started on YouTube.
Is it as good as having a proper setup with lighting, acoustic treatment, and an expensive camera and microphone? No. But the quality of video a decent modern phone can output is leagues above most webcams on the market, and the audio quality is on par with a budget condenser microphone. You might even get a rudimentary lighting rig going with the flash on your phone, and the Internet is full of inexpensive stands, cradles, brackets, and holders for mobile phones. What’s more, you would have to spend a surprising amount of money on gear to match the quality of, for example, an iPhone X, or a Pixel 4.
Of course, using your phone is not ideal, but the takeaway here is that not having the best equipment should not be a roadblock to you bringing your ideas to life on YouTube. Success takes works and planning, sure, but you certainly won’t succeed if you don’t get started.
Having the right equipment is important, but it is not the be-all and end-all of YouTubing. If you are on a budget, plan where you put your limited resources first. Think about the areas your channel would most benefit from improvement, and start there. You can also check out this list of YouTube equipment for beginners as a good starting point, as it includes a nice range of options spanning a broad range of the price spectrum.
And if all else fails, use your phone, and don’t let a lack of equipment stop you from bringing your ideas to life.
Just remember, having the best equipment will only get you so far, and it won’t be that far if your videos are not engaging for your potential audience.