Welcome to Part 4 of our ongoing Online Video Marketing Basics series. It's intended to be a help—a sort of guide, if you will—for individuals and businesses just getting started with online video. We've already covered Why You Should Get Involved with online video, Choosing A Video Style, and the choice between Self-Producing Or Hiring A Professional.
Today's topic? Equipment.
Naturally, if you've decided to hire a professional, that person will have their own equipment. This fourth part of the series is aimed at those who choose to self-produce.
I've been where you are before. I've seen others go through it too. You're full of enthusiasm and energy. The idea of getting involved in online video is still relatively new to you, but has been marinating long enough that you're pretty excited about it. Which is great. You want to harness that energy. But you don't want to allow it to make you sloppy or rushed.
I have a friend who has a small music blog. Its readers are fiercely loyal and absolutely adore this friend of mine. Recently he decided to completely ofverhaul his website, changing the focus from written interviews with musicians to creative video interviews and performances. I clearly supported the idea, and even encouraged it. Video is where it's at, as we covered in Part 1.
But this friend is also an incorrigible optimist. You cannot slow him down once you get him revved up about something. So a day or so after he and I had been brainstorming about his transition, I was surprised to learn that he'd already bought a video camera. He breathlessly showed it off to me—it was pretty neat… your standard HD camcorder, I think maybe a JVC (I don't honestly remember). My first reaction was, "Wow, that was fast.”
He figured, why wait? He knew he wanted to start doing video, he got excited and energized, and before he knew it he'd already made a purchase.
A few weeks later, though, and he was lamenting the haste of that purchase. The audio, for instance, was not very good with that camera, which meant that he was probably going to need to find a secondary audio device for recording. And there were some strange things about the picture, which wasn't quite the pristine quality he had been expecting. That's not to say his camera sucked. But it was pretty clear that he was wishing he'd taken more time to compare and contrast the various options, instead of just buying one he liked.
So the main point of Part 4 is this: Research, research, research.
Because every video is different—different creator, different goals, different styles, different timing—there's no one answer for equipment that works best for everyone. If you came here hoping I was simply going to tell you what camera to buy and what software to use, you're going to be disappointed. I could ask every staff writer here at ReelSEO what the best camera is and I would probably end up with four or five different answers. There are great cameras at any price range, and they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. I can no more easily tell you which camera to buy than I can tell you what to make your video about.
What I do want to give you, however, are some guidelines that will help you make that decision on your own, and make it with confidence. (Please note that, while I spend most of the remainder of the article discussing cameras, these guidelines should be perfectly applicable to purchase decisions on the rest of the equipment you'll need to self-produce your video, such as audio recorders, lighting, editing software, etc.)
1 – Determine the Level of Quality Your Video Calls For
We already spent some time this week talking about the Rice University study which concludes that video quality is less important to viewers than overall entertainment value. So despite what the media and the advertising world might be telling you, you don't absolutely have to have the top-of-the-line HD camera. Even videos taken with an average cell phone can go viral if the content is compelling enough… like this one did:
So what kind of video are you making? Are you making a documentary? Because if so… then even an average picture quality will suffice. Is it an elaborate hoax video that needs to look like an average home movie? If so, then you might actually need a lower-quality camera, or at least an average one. In contrast, if you're making your own short film with heavy CG, you probably wan t a higher-end camera and the best possible quality.
Let your content guide your video camera purchase, but don't forget the future content you will create. This first video is just that—your first video. You'll likely make many more, and they might not all be the same style. So consider your future plans as well as the immediate video in front of you when purchasing a camera.
2 - Determine Your Budget
You can't buy what you can't afford, no matter how badly you might want it. And I'd guess that many of you reading this series do not have as big a budget as you'd like.
There are good cameras all along the spectrum. On the low end, you might check out the Flip HD cameras, or any of their competitors like this one from Kodak. These are very affordable—under $200—and you'll be surprised at how good the picture is.
The same is true for audio—there is good equipment up and down the line. Software? Yes, there is free editing software, and it's not as good as
Cut Pro, but it can often do the job for folks like you and me. Heck, YouTube has their own free editor now that has enough basic options for most video creators.
Start with your content—what kind of quality does it require? Then, compare that against your budget. What can you afford that fits the parameters dictated by your content?
3 – Let Your Experience (Or Lack Thereof) Be Your Guide
Even if you want the best picture possible, it does you no good to buy a high-tech camera with all the bells and whistles if you don't actually know how to use it. There's a reason for the existence of entire lines of "point and shoot" cameras and camcorders… and it's because a lot of people don't know what they're doing.
My digital (still) camera is just a step above point and shoot, because I am mostly clueless on lenses and aperture settings and shutter speed (though I'm trying to learn more). If I want to end up with actual digital pictures, I need something simple. Otherwise, I'd spin my wheels learning the convoluted settings and controls and never end up with any actual finished product.
Know your own abilities as a filmmaker, and be honest with yourself about them. That can often whittle the field down to a much more manageable set of options when you go to purchase equipment.
4 – Read User Reviews
An excellent way to learn more about a piece of video equipment than the manufacturer's website will tell you is to read user reviews on sites like Amazon.com. While there are plenty of "planted" reviews—of both the glowing and negative variety, there are a lot of real ones too.
And I wouldn't just use Amazon. I always start there, because they seem to sell everything and I can usually find the product I'm considering. But try some other online stores as well like Buy.com, Overstock.com—heck, even the major retail chains like Best Buy and Wal-Mart now have user reviews on their product pages. Get a wide sampling of reviews from multiple sources, and you can usually get a great sense of a camera's pros and cons—from people who have actually used it instead of just from the people who sell it.
5 – Find Online Content You Like & Imitate
Did you know that you can search Flickr by a camera type? Well, not exactly, but you can make it work that way for you. I do it all the time. A lot of photographers on Flickr will tag their video by the name of the camera they use, and you can then click that tag on a particular picture you fancy to see a ton of images created by other photographers using the same device (such a results page might look like this).
You can do the same kind of approach (at least in thinking) with video, particularly on Vimeo. Vimeo's user community seems to have a higher percentage of professional videographers and artists, many of whom openly share their equipment specs. You can simply search the site for a camera model, say… the Canon 7D, and instantly see a list of videos created with that device.
This is like looking at a web designer's portfolio before hiring them to do your redesign. You can check out examples of the finished product before making a final purchase selection. Maybe you've narrowed your options down to a handful of models that fit your needs and budget… why not go and view some video samples of what each is capable of to help you make your final decision? (Note: you can do similar things with audio devices, lighting equipment, screen capture software, and editing programs as well.)
I've even emailed a Vimeo user before to ask a question about the equipment they used, and they responded, giving me more detail on how they captured a particular look or effect.
- Don't underestimate the importance of audio. I am just one man, but I will probably never again make any kind of video without running a secondary audio device to capture the sound. Part of the reason for this is that video cameras don't always have the best microphones--they're often video devices first, with audio being a secondary concern. Of course, I also run secondary audio as a backup solution, should anything go wrong with the audio recorded by the camera.
- Don't underestimate lighting either. You can have pristine audio and a sharp HD picture, but if the stars of your video have their faces shrouded in darkness, you've just shot yourself in the foot. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to use professional lighting equipment to make a good video--but you should definitely be aware of the light in your shooting location, and make certain it matches your video's needs.
- Don't neglect your content. As I mentioned in this recent post about video quality, split your time evenly when self-producing so that you don't skimp on the actual content itself. It doesn't do you any good to have the very best video equipment if your actual content is lame. Content still matters more than the video quality—they're both incredibly important, and you definitely want the best equipment you can get to help your video stand out from the pack, but quality content has to come first. Otherwise, you're just throwing money away on fancy cameras.
- Output options can be important. You want to make sure you transition smoothly from filming to editing, and while it's not as big a deal as it used to be, some cameras have more options for output format than others.
- Bargain hunt. You might catch a break from a deal site like Fat Wallet. Or you might find a company hoping to burn through excess stock by offering deep discounts. It's probably worth checking eBay and Craigslist, too—particularly if you feel your project requires a piece of equipment that costs enough brand new to be just out of the reach of your budget.
- Beg, trade, and borrow. Find friends who have gear you can borrow. Trade someone something of yours (time, objects, etc.) in exchange for the use of their high-end equipment. I have a friend who is wrapping up a feature-length independent movie where not one ounce of his modest budget had to be spent on gear because he was so diligent about making deals with friends.
Video is important. It's popular. But in your rush to join the trend and start making videos, don't move so quickly that you make poor decisions. Your videos are worth the extra time you put in on the front end in choosing and purchasing your gear. I'm not aware of a single person who ever said, "Gosh darn it, I love my finished HD video, but I wish I'd spent less time researching the equipment and just bought the first thing I saw.” Contrast that with the legions of video producers who have learned lessons the hard way—by screwing up—and ended up regretting the fact that they didn't do more research.
Stay tuned for Part 5 of our Online Video Marketing Basics: Distribution Decisions