Setting up a complete Youtube studio/on-location filming kit
I have been asked to help with setting up a small studio for creating content for the web. I figured the best way to do that is with a detailed article. I'll go over the parts needed, as well as a basic guide on how to use your kit. This is the kit and methods I use for my own youtube channel.
What we are aiming for is:
- Keeping to an affordable professional budget. I will also list lower-budget alternatives, sometimes they can be good too.
- Portability and compactness when put away. Two bags maximum.
- Ability to be used in fairly small spaces.
- Fast to set up and fold down.
- Fast to shoot with. For example, no walking back and forth to the camera to press record.
- As few distractions as possible. For example, no changing batteries, when possible.
- Does not require a cameraman. Having a friend behind the camera is helpful, but not a must.
- Avoiding as many issues as possible - Out of focus shots, bad audio, over/under exposure, etc.
- Professionalism. No DIY stuff here.
Okay, lets get started.
We'll need a camera with good automatic exposure (brightness), reliable auto focus and an audio input plug. The one thing we will leave manual is the audio, but luckily this is not difficult when working with high quality microphones that are set up properly. More on that lower down in the article.
The Sony A7s (£1400) fits the bill perfectly. Superb 1080p image quality and almost effortless to use as long as you have it in the correct settings. You will also need a lens, the Sony 28-70 is a nice zoom lens under £200.
- The Sony A7 (£650) is almost as good and costs much less. The A7S has a lot of improvements like low light capabilities, but most of these don't really apply for the uses needed here. This would be my second choice.
- The NEX-6 (£350) is nice but lacks an audio input, which extremely important for the fast workflow we are aiming for. But this is fine if you're also going for the budget audio option below (which is not what I would recommend).
- There are other nice cameras like the GH1/2/3, but these wouldn't be my choice.
You will need one Rodelink wireless microphone kit (£270) for each person you want audio from. If working with just one person this is easy, just plug the receiver into the camera and you're good to go. The RodeLink has fantastic audio quality and it's easy as pie to work with. Just turn it on, attach the receiver to the camera, clip on the microphone and you're good to go for the entire day. A little Lowepro case is recommended for keeping the small parts safe and organized.
If working with multiple microphones you will also need to add a Zoom H6 recorder (£270) which will record up to 6 microphones individually and also mix all of them together so you can output that into the camera. This way you have the camera audio ready to use, plus the individual microphones' recordings as a backup. A large audio kit like this is a bit too big to put on top of the camera, so the simplest way to organize it is to keep the recorder and Rodelink receivers in the camera bag with a cable going out to the camera. Or you can also get a dedicated audio bag if you prefer, but I don't think that's needed.
You will also need AA batteries (£15 for 8). Get four minimum for each Rodelink kit, per day of filming needed before chargeing. Get four extras for the Zoom H6 which already has four included. And a charger (£16) or two. (For example, if using x3 Rodelink kits with a Zoom H6 recorder, get 32 AAs. This gives you two full sets of batteries, which means either two days of shooting without charging, or a continuous rotation of batteries where one set charges while you're using the second set.) And if working with the Zoom recorder you will need one of these adapters (£6) for each microphone.
A Zoom H1 audio recorder with an AspenMics lavaliere microphone (£85 + $44) for each person you want to record. This is just as high quality as the wireless option above, and it is sort of "wireless" since each person just wears their own audio recorder, but there is no practical way to monitor the audio which leaves a huge potential for mistakes, empty batteries, volumes set too high or too low, etc. Then when you are done filming, offloading, organizing and syncing the audio in post production is a pain. You will also need one AA battery per 3 hours of filming, per recorder. Ideally get lots of spares, you will need them.
Large Pro lighting
If it's within budget and suitable in size, get yourself a set of Pixapro 100D LED lights. (Those of you in the USA can now get them too! Rebranded as Neewer. Here are eBay and Amazon links.)
They are by far the best lights I have used. A set of two will be nice, three will be great, and five will be amazing if you want to create some advanced lighting styles or light up a large green screen, etc.
They are about £350 each including a large "easy-open" softbox for each light. These softboxes are not optional, they complete the light. Without the softboxes you might as well go for the Aputure lights below.
To some degree they are a little bit overkill, but in a good way. The results from them are just fantastic and they are easy to work with. They are a little on the large side and also require a bit more room due to the large softboxes, but they set up and fold down in seconds and if you get a large lighting bag you will love working with them. Large strong light stands (£33 each) are a must. A large boom stand (£60) is recommended as one of your stands.
Budget/compact pro lighting
A set of Aputure H160 lights are a great budget alternative at about £50 each including a mains power adapter.
You are not losing any light quality with these lights, but because of their lower brightness they are not ideal for using together with softboxes to create a softer light. (A soft light means light with smoother transitions between bright and shadow, which usually makes people look better on-screen.) They can still create soft light, just not as well as the lovely Pixapro softboxes above.
A set of three will do the trick for some nice basic lighting, but a set of 5-8 is much better.
They are extremely compact and easy to set up, and they are almost indestructible so you can connect them to almost anything using with Gorillapod tripods or use them with the lovely ultra-portable light stands from Faith or Lollipod without worrying about them dropping. Or get some regular light stands (£10 each) if you don't need everything to fit into a single camera bag. These ball heads are very useful, I recommend one per large stand (they are not needed for the Gorillapods) and I recommend a softbox that will hold two of these lights inside it and be your main light.
The power supplies for these lights need to be bought separately. For each light unit you will need one battery adapter (£5 each. Unfortunately the only item in this article that needs to be ordered from China) and one power supply (£15) which also doubles as a backup power supply for your camera if needed. Suitable power supplies can be bought for £5 or so from China but they are a pain to find and their cable is very short.
You can spend a little more for the Aputure 198 but you're mainly just getting some nicer accessories with it.
- Power supply for the camera (£15).
- Batteries (£14 each). Get one battery for every 1.5 hours you need to use the camera away from a mains supply.
- Two 64GB SD cards (£24 each) will give you around 10 hours recording.
- I recommend a Lowepro Flipside camera bag (£120), which allows the wearer full access to the bag without putting it on the ground. This is fantastic on some locations. Of course there are countless budget options from £15 or so.
- A Gorillapod SLR-zoom (£38) is thoroughly recommended. There are hundreds of uses for these around the studio and on-location. I have about 7 Gorillapods in various sizes and they get used daily. The large ones also double as a shoulder support for when you have a camera operator who needs to move around a little while filming.
- Pretty much any tripod will do, here's a nice affordable one from Benro. Or if you're on an even lower budget, literally any £15 tripod will do, or stick the camera on a Gorillapod.
- Pop-up reflector/background (£55) for green screen or plain backgrounds. It's portable and opens/closes in seconds. Clamp it (£16) or lean it (free) on a light stand and you're good to go. This is large enough for one person, maybe two in a pinch. Larger pop-up reflectors can be found, but are very pricey, or you could get a huge paper roll in almost any colour needed for around £80 including stands or wall mounts, but this not portable and it's slower to set up unless it's a permanent installation.
- These little screw adapters are a must. Three is a minimum, six recommended.
Using the kit
Now what about a monitor? If working with a friend or camera operator this is not needed. If filming yourself this is very important. It makes filming much easier. The best way I have found is to simply connect my mobile phone to the camera using Sony's own wireless app. I find it so much faster and easier than working with a "real" monitor that requires cables to run to the camera. I clip my phone to a Gorillapod or Lollipod stand using a Joby GripTight phone mount and open app on both the camera and phone. From here they connect automatically and give me a nice wireless monitor with a record button and exposure controls. If filming for a long time I'll plug my phone's charger in too.
Here are the settings I use most often when filming in my home-studio with the A7S. They will be almost identical on most other cameras.
- Autofocus: ON.
- Focus area: Wide.
- Face tracking: ON. (Very important, and the A7S does a fantastic job at keeping focus with this turned on.)
- Exposure mode: Manual
- Shutter speed: 1/50
- Aperture: Whatever you want. If in doubt, set to f5.6, that should be good for most uses.
- ISO: Raise or lower as needed to control brightness. Or just leave it on auto and control the brightness using the c.
- Metering mode: Wide. This reduces unwanted changes in brightness if using an automatic exposure setting like auto ISO.