If you are new to YouTubing, you do not need to invest vast sums of cash on every gadget imaginable for your filming. First hone your skills in creating material of interest to you and your audience. Start off with some of the basics. Those basics also work well, really well, as a compact filming kit for travelling, remote touring and daybags. It’s often what I bring with me to produce my video material.
How much will this compact filming kit cost?
It all depends what items you buy and if you buy a second (a back-up) of a particular item but if you buy two types of microphones, one mini tripod, and a cellphone mount, you can have a strong recording kit for about $100 or less. My go-to kit has an extra tripod and mount for peace of mind.
If you buy something, make sure you are buying it to do a certain job and that it works with your type and style of filming, and very importantly, your cellphone. Learn how to use it properly and test using it before you need to record important footage.
Sometimes one can’t bring the DSLR
Away from home, I film many of these videos with my cellphone. I have a Samsung S7 and love the camera and it’s usually with me. But what about my Canon EOS Rebel SL2 (200D) DSLR? (Reminder: a DSLR stands for digital single lens reflex, and it is a bulkier and heavier full-body camera with interchangeable lenses.) Yes, it can often do things better than most compact cameras, phones, and so on, although that can be debatable as technology keeps improving across the board, especially with cameras like the new GoPro Hero 8 Black.
The SL2 is brilliant and in my opinion, one of the most affordable and quality DSLRs out there but for me to bring it, I have to worry about it getting broken or exposed to the elements, and the kit that goes with it is also bulkier, heavier and more costly. And when travelling with our kids, space is at a premium. I prefer the Canon when filming at home or if the extra bulk is not a burden, but when on the road, the Samsung S7 works like a charm.
I’ll do a separate video on affordable filming kits for a DSLR and put a link here in due course.
Using your cellphone for YouTubing
Just about everyone has a cellphone these days and odds are that it has a pretty decent, if not excellent, camera. That camera is excellent for YouTubing and creating video and photo material. If you master the use of it, a cellphone can produce expert video material. The thing is that you will benefit from having a few items to mount, hold and record better audio. That’s what I will look at below.
Phone Case: Spigen Tough Armor Phone Case for Samsung S7
Firstly, if you do not already have a protective cover for your phone and if you plan to use your phone for YouTubing, I highly recommend you get a case. I often pull my phone out while I’m biking, running, hiking or travelling and take a quick clip or photo. In doing that, you run the risk of dropping your phone or it can fall over. A cover adds a bit of bulk and weight but trust me, the time you drop your phone and it breaks or doesn’t break you will see the value of these things. I use a Spigen Tough Armor Samsung S7 Phone Case and it’s done well despite a few drops or falls.
Be picky about the phone case you invest your money in. Make sure it is a good balance of bulk, level of phone protection, and user-friendliness (i.e. easy use buttons) and it’s the proper case for your cellphone.
On that note, I also have a screen protector that covers my phone’s screen. I think it’s been a good investment since one is constantly touching the screen. Both dust and finger grime can damage or scratch the phone’s screen. There are soooo many options out there and I mounted mine without much difficulty.
Mini Tripod: Pedco UltraPod Lightweight Camera Tripod
I like having two mini tripods in my kit. The first is a Pedco Ultrapod Lightweight Camera Tripod. It has ball head under the mounting screw, 3 solid legs, and a long Velcro strap. The Velcro strap means you can strap it to a pole, branch or whatever. This is useful to get the camera at head height or to get a different perspective. The ball head allows me to tilt the camera in many ways.
Mini Tripod: Mini Bendy Lightweight Tripod (PicsClix)
The second mini tripod I use is made by Optex and has bendy metal legs. I’ve had this Optex tripod for 15-20 years and so this link is for something comparable.
What I like about this tripod is that it has a bit of weight, it works well on un-even ground, I can adjust the levelness of the camera by bending one of the legs, and I can also fold the legs more outwards to lower it to the ground if there is a breeze or light wind. For holding the camera like a short selfie stick, I can also bring the three legs together and that makes an easy way to hold the camera.
Caution with these mini tripods
Be very careful if you put a DSLR on a mini tripod as that set-up will likely be tippy due to the high center of gravity. I once mounted my Canon on the Optex tripod and it tipped over. I was lucky and nothing broke. Any tripod can become tippy in wind or on uneven surfaces. Be careful and consider anchoring the tripod.
There are a variety of cellphone mounts. I got one of mine with a cheap selfie stick (like this one) and the other more bulkier one (like this Manfrotto) came with a full-size tripod. Make sure which ever mounts you buy work well with your phone case and that the phone/case can’t pop out of the mount. The mount needs to grip it well and be user-friendly.
Just about all my shooting is horizontal but if you shoot vertically, make sure your tripod and mount work well together to allow you to mount it vertically.
For this kit, I mainly use two different microphones as they perform differently.
I’m a big fan of the Boya by M1 Lavalier Lapel Microphone. It’s a small lapel microphone (it gets its name from a shirt lapel as a clipping location) and is linked by a 5m (about 15ft) cable to the cellphone or DSLR audio jack. A small after-market fury wind cover helps shield the microphone from wind, a must for outdoors.
The 5m cable allows me to stand at a distance from the camera or DSLR, and to still capture great quality audio. It’s best to run the cable under one’s shirt and then clip it to one’s shirt collar. The only hassle is, well, the 5m cable since it’s a hassle if you need to fetch something or sometimes the cables get caught on something. For the low cost, it has worked like a charm for me.
Audio: Shotgun Directional Mic: Rode VideoMic Me Mini-Shotgun Microphone for Smartphones
The second microphone is the costliest item in the kit but well worth it. The Rode VideoMic Me mini-shotgun microphone is designed to plug into the audio jack and clamp on the smartphone. A shotgun microphone is a directional microphone which means it captures the audio directly facing it and only a bit of the audio to the sides.
For any out recordings, you need to use the wind protection sock that slides over the microphone.
This Rode microphone, per my experiences, works best for capturing dialogue at less that 1m away from the speaker(s). It does fairly well for nature sounds in forest, by the ocean and at concerts.
Lens Cleaning Tissue
I recommend having a lens cleaning tissue in your kit to keep that cellphone lens clean. These phones get fingerprints and dusty, and that can definitely ruin your video clips and photos.
There are many other potential items and you can have these at home and then add which ever you need to your kit to suit your needs.
I keep an old pair of cabled-earbud headphones in the kit so I can listen to test clips to make sure the audio is good. These compact headphones don’t add much weight or bulk to my kit.
An option to hold your phone at a slightly further distance is a basic telescoping selfie-stick and there are many models out there and different features.
Additional Microphone Option: Corded Dual-Microphones
What you put into your kit should reflect your needs. If I am going to be interviewing someone, only the Rode VideoMic Me would work but we’d have to be way too close to the phone and mic, in my opinion. A good additional, affordable, compact and pretty inexpensive option is also to have a corded dual-microphone such as the Boya By M1DM(the DM stands for Dual Micrphones). This cable microphone allows you to capture quality dialogue audio for two people. It will work with just about any cellphone and DSLR. Yes, it uses a cable which is ideally routed under a person’s shirt but the main alternative is a wireless system which adds a fair bit of cost, complexity and bulk to your kit. I may get a wireless system one day but at the moment, I haven’t felt the need.
Battery packs to make sure you still have a working phone
I highly recommend if you’re going to be shooting video with your cell Phone that you have a battery pack or two because it is taxing on your phone’s battery and you will drain your battery. Have at least one battery pack (and cable!) in reserve so that it you’re not left without an operating phone. This is emergency preparedness…
Extra memory if your phone can handle it
Invest in a good memory if your phone allows you to expand the memory. The Samsung S7 was appealing because of that feature and I added a 120 Gigabyte memory card. I can film an amazing amount of material. Make sure you backup your data on a hard drive, the cloud, your home computer, and so on.
Lightweight larger tripod
If I can fit it in, I certainly appreciate my lightweight nearly full-size tripod but it is not a necessity. Given that I am pretty tall, I still have to use this larger tripod on top of something to get my cellphone camera at the height of my face.
My 190cm tall tripod is definitely not in the categories of lightweight or compact, and that stays at home or in the car.
How to carry this kit?
There are fancier ways of transporting this kit but my preference is in a simple sandwich/food bag. In North America, their often referred to by the brand name of Ziplock baggies. It is transparent so I can see if any of the items are missing, and it provides reasonable water protection.
A real drybag would be wise in a damp or wet environment and there are plenty of compact drybag options.
Have a Back-up of Important Items: Redundancies
One of the things being an Emergency Management specialist is that I understand the benefit of having redundancies. If I’m travelling and counting on filming photographing a variety of things, I need to know that I have my gear. In my kit I have 2 mini tripods, 2 mounts, and 2 microphones. If I ever lose one item or it breaks, I have a back-up. These items are so compact (and affordable) that having a second is not going to add to much weight, bulk or cost.
One weakness in the above set-up is the fact that I do not have a back-up phone in case it was to get lost or stolen. I’d no longer be able to film or use my phone for the dozens of other uses these days. That is definitely a risk and so I have to be careful not to lose it or leave it lying around.
A benefit of bringing my DSLR set-up is that I have two filming devices which means I can get two camera angles and also have a back-up filming device.
“Cheap” quality will likely mean cheap performance
There is a big difference between inexpensive quality vs non-performing cheap items. An example is an additional mini tripod that came with set of mounts and brackets I bought mainly for my GoPro. The tripod is the same size as the two quality ones above but it is so cheap and light. Mounting any device such as a cellphone or a GoPro on this cheap tripod would make it very top-heavy and more likely to fall over.
In terms of these mini tripods, you need a bit of weight to lower the center of gravity and ideally the ability to spread the weight over a wider area (using the legs) in case there is some wind. There are a variety of mini tripod styles and some decent quality ones for about $8 to $25 and each style has its merits. Test them out and decide which ones work best for you.
Do a Test Clip (if time permits)
Make sure you do a couple of test clips before you invest all of your energy in that full episode clip. Things to check:
- Lens is clean
- Audio is working well
- Lighting is good
- Frame composition and zoom factor are what you’d like
- No food bits in teeth
- No shirt collar bent in a weird way
What’s in your Compact Filming Kit?
What are some of the key items in your compact filming kit? Any recommendations?
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