Online Video, Vlogging & Live Streaming Essentials
Maybe, like many right now, you can’t open your business’ doors or entice people through them. Maybe you want to take your product, service, art or knowledge to a wider audience. Or maybe you just need a creative outlet or way to engage.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re seeking an online audience by choice or necessity. Posting and live streaming videos online offers simple and effective ways to get seen and heard, run your business, and stay connected.
Online Video, Live Streaming & YouTube Equipment Checklist
Luckily it doesn’t take too much equipment or technical genius to make an online impact with video. Whether you want to share vlogs on YouTube or live stream a class, gathering or event to audiences in real time, you’ll need just a few key elements:
a camera that can record video
an encoder (for live streaming)
a delivery platform like YouTube or Facebook Live
Live streaming via Wi-Fi or 4G is possible, but connecting directly via Ethernet to a dedicated network is much faster and more reliable. This will minimise any fluctuation in bandwidth and thus any chance of your stream freezing, buffering or dropping out.
The upload speed you need will depend on what quality you want a stream at and whether you’re using a wireless or shared network.
Best Cameras for YouTube Videos & Live Streaming
Unless you just want to broadcast or stream video of your computer screen, you’ll need some kind of camera and microphone.
Cameras for YouTube Video & Vlogging
Getting good reviews and more subscribers on YouTube and other platforms relies on quality content, but quality video is another big advantage. Polished video and audio will not only make your work or brand look professional but also set your uploads apart from the millions of others.
A smartphone or webcam is the minimum you need for a video conference among colleagues, a YouTube video or an Instagram story. However, phone and web cameras offer limited controls so often it’s harder to get good results with them – whether it’s sharp, consistent focus; a flattering viewing angle; or smoothly captured fast action.
Full HD (High Definition, a.k.a. 1080p or 1920x1080) resolution with a frame rate of 24 or 30 fps, which is the standard for broadcasting digital video
An inbuilt microphone or, better still, an external microphone port for higher quality audio
A larger sensor for superior indoor or low-light shooting performance and shallower depth of field, if desired
A flip screen to help frame yourself in vlogs
A compact, durablebody and in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) for smooth results if you’re recording handheld (though you could also use a gimbal – see below)
Live Streaming Cameras
Again, webcams and smartphones are the simplest solutions when it comes to live streaming. Neither requires an encoder (see more below), although you’ll need at least 1000 subscribers to stream from mobile to YouTube. The drawbacks? Webcams and smartphones offer few manual controls, and average picture quality in all but ideal lighting conditions.
Higher end action cams and compact cameras, DSLR and mirrorless cameras, and camcorders offer significantly higher image quality plus better controls and connectivity, often via HDMI. Note, however, that not all cameras are designed for the extended use that live streaming requires. (See ‘What to Look for in a Live Streaming Camera’, below.)
Camcorders, action cams and premium compact cameras are somewhat more straightforward options in that they have built-in lenses. On the other hand, DSLR and mirrorless cameras are more versatile, as they can accept a variety of different lenses to for different purposes.
Whichever camera you choose, the bigger your budget, the better the image quality, controls and build you’ll be able to afford.
What to Look for in a Live Streaming Camera
Ability to record for longer – Live streaming requires a more video-oriented camera that won’t overheat or automatically shut off after extended use. (It may be possible to connect the camera to continuous AC power via a continuous power system.) If your live stream is likely to last for longer than 30 minutes, consider a camera that offers unlimited recording time.
HDMI output – Look for a HDMI output that is clean (i.e. lets you switch off the monitor display) and can transfer audio.
Bitrate – Bitrate (the amount of video data uploaded per second) depends upon your chosen frame rate and resolution. The higher your frame rate and resolution, the higher the bitrate you’ll require to get a smooth and high quality live stream. You’ll need a bitrate of at least 1000 Kbps (kilobits per second) for live streaming, but rates up to 8000 Kbps are common.
Sensor size – The larger your camera’s sensor, the better your camera will perform in low light (e.g. indoors). A larger sensor will also produce shallower depth of field to help nicely emphasise your subject.
Direct live streaming – For maximum ease, look for a camera that lets you live stream direct to Facebook or YouTube. Some recent cameras (like the Canon G7 X III and GoPro Hero 8) have this feature.
Best Lens for YouTube Videos & Live Streaming
So what kind of lens do you need for YouTube and live streaming videos? Whether your camera has a built-in lens or accepts interchangeable lenses, the lens will determine:
how close your camera can get to the subject
how much of the background you’ll capture
how good the image quality will look
how much of the picture will appear in focus.
Wider angle lenses (24-35mm equivalent) are popular for vloggers and live streamers as they can capture a good deal of the scene. They’re ideal if you’re shooting in a tight space with the camera fairly close to you. (If you’re vlogging and holding the camera in your hand, you’ll likely need something around 24mm equivalent or wider.)
50mm equivalent lenses are also popular because they offer a ‘standard’, undistorted view close to natural vision – though they will need to be positioned a bit further from whatever or whoever you’re filming.
24-70mm or 24-105mm equivalent lenses are also great options, as they give you the flexibility to zoom from a wide angle to a closer crop if needed. If you want to capture a faraway subject, you’ll need more zoom, depending on the distance involved.
Unless you’re filming outdoors in good light or indoors with additional lighting, it’s worth choosing a lens with a large maximum aperture (i.e. a lower f-stop value) – e.g. an f/1.8 or f/1.4 prime lens. These lenses gather more light, so your video will look cleaner and less ‘noisy’ in dimmer lighting conditions. They’ll also help blur the background softly.
Just make sure that your chosen aperture setting doesn’t make your depth of field too shallow, as any movement of the camera or subject may cause your subject to slip out of focus.
Unless you’re just using a smartphone or webcam to live stream, you’ll need an encoder. This is a type of hardware device or software application that converts video content for the web and sends it to the internet. (Smart devices can encode as well as record video content, but their live streaming capabilities are very limited.)
An encoder will also let you do things like use external audio or video equipment, use more than one camera, and broadcast gameplay.
If you’re planning to live stream video using a computer, you’ll also need encoder software and a capture card. A capture card connects to your camera on one side and to your computer via USB on the other.
Hardware encoders have built-in capture cards so can connect straight to a camera or other video source.
Tripod or Gimbal
The easiest way to hold your camera in a secure, stationary position is to use atripod. A tripod also helps you to get just the right angle, framing and focus for your video or live stream.
The heavier your camera and lens setup, the stronger a tripod you’ll need. For simple vlogs with a lightweight camera, a sturdy tabletop tripod may be all you need. For more flexibility, you’re better off with a freestanding tripod that can be raised or lowered to the required height.
If you’re recording or streaming video by hand or while on the move, a gimbal is the ideal way to get the smoothest picture possible. A gimbal will absorb any camera shudders or jerky footage caused by your movement, ensuring a more professional end result and a more comfortable viewing experience for your audience.
Good lighting is often the difference between average- and good-looking videos. One or more continuous lights will ensure you’ll have access to consistently good, flattering lighting wherever and whenever you shoot.
You’ll need continuous light (as opposed to flash) to illuminate a subject for video. If you don’t have access to nice, reliable natural daylight, a continuous LED light or two with a soft box or built-in diffusion panel will help you replicate it.
Continuous LEDs can usually be attached to your camera, or handheld or mounted on a light stand off-camera.
In terms of lightingsetup, start angling one key (main) light towards one side of your subject. Then angle some fill light (either a second, dimmer LED light or a reflector) towards the other side to eliminate unsightly shadows. The bigger the space or group of people you’re filming, the larger or more numerous the lights you’ll probably need.
Research has shown that audio quality matters even more to viewers than video quality. While audiences might notice the odd picture glitch, such imperfections shouldn’t bother them too much. Distorted, tinny, faint or echoey audio is a whole other story.
Your camera’s internal microphone will do an acceptable job, but you’ll get the best results from an external microphone.
For high-quality audio and ultimate video versatility, you can’t go past a shotgun microphone. Shotgun mics are highly sensitive to sound in front of them and will pick up little sound from behind or either side, thereby blocking out ambient noise.
If your talent is going to be, say, within arm’s length of the camera, you can mount the microphone on the camera (provided the camera has a 3.5mm mic port). If your talent will be further from the camera, it’s best to mount the shotgun mic on a boom stand off-camera.
Designed to clip discreetly onto a shirt or belt, lavalier microphones (lav mics) are best for capturing speech at close range while blocking out unwanted sounds. To allow your talent to freely move, go for a wireless lav mic, which comes with a receiver that can pick up the transmitted audio signal from a significant distance.
Memory & Power
To record a video you’ll need high capacity, fast-reading memory cards. Video files tend to consume a lot of space in a short time. A card that’s too slow will stop recording as it can’t clear the buffer fast enough.
You don’t need a memory card to live stream video, though it is possible to record a live stream to a memory card, computer or capture card, depending on the equipment you are using.
If you’re shooting over a long period, consider investing in a continuous power system so your camera won’t run out of battery mid-session.
The right equipment and setup are all it takes to get your video to the masses – be it on a free platform like YouTube or Facebook Live, or a paid one like Vimeo. Start shooting and get yourself out there!
Need more advice on choosing gear or the best camera setup for YouTube or live streaming?