How to Get Started with Video for Less than $400

Maybe it's the new year on the horizon, but I’ve been getting a lot of questions about gear and tools lately. Since a lot of you are planning to create video courses, I decided to share my two cents on the tools you need to get started with video.

Video can be expensive. So I wanted to create a list of tools that would be significantly less than the cost of a new camera. Grabbing all of these will run you less than $400. Keep reading for the deets!

Rent a camera and tripod

This is the biggest hurdle for most people. But it doesn't have to be. Here are two options to get you started.

Option 1: You don't have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a DSLR camera. In fact, if you're just getting started and have a young audience, I'd caution you against doing so. Instead, rent a DSLR camera. Most people don't even know this is an option. In addition to your local camera shops, you can go to BorrowLenses.com or LensProtoGo.com and borrow what you need for fraction of the cost it would take to buy the equipment.

Option 2: If you have a smartphone, use it. As long as you stabilize it and have solid lighting you can get solid video. For example, here's a cool video shot entirely on an iPhone. I'm partial to the Panasonic GH3 and GH4 cameras for video. Of course, Canon is great too.

A Word About Lenses

Lenses are often more expensive than the camera body, so I'd also recommend renting them when you're starting out. But how do you know which lens to rent? If you're using a Canon, you want a 50mm lens. If you're using a Panasonic or Olympus, grab a 25mm lens or a 45mm and see which works best for you. Again, this is a great reason to rent first so you can test out different lenses without dropping major money and paying for return shipping. (Yes, I've unfortunately done this and it still makes me sad.)

Here's what it would have cost me to rent a camera, lens and tripod from BorrowLenses.com

Here's what it would have cost me to rent a camera, lens and tripod from BorrowLenses.com

Got Bokeh? 

Fuzzy backgrounds (bokeh) are all the rage! If you just have to have one in your videos but don't know how, here's the secret: it all comes down to the lens aperture. You want a low number so that the lens focuses on you and blurs the background. Anything between 1.4 and 2.8 should do the trick.

Order the rest of your video kit

You can order this stuff from Amazon or rent it along with the camera. Personally, I recommend owning this stuff because you never know when you'll need it. Plus, some of these items come in handy for audio work. Here's what you'll need:

Recording tips

So, you've got all of your gear and now you have to actually shoot the thing! Here are my tips for shooting your online course videos without going too crazy. 

  • Place a blanket down and tape an X where you need to stand so you have consistent distance in each take.
  • Type your lines for each take on one sheet of paper. Use a big font so you can read them. If they don’t fit on one sheet of paper, shorten them. Tape the paper to your camera so it hangs to the side.
  • If you don’t have the budget for an external mic, use the one on your camera and a recorder.
  • Snap three times when you mess up a take instead of stopping (unless you run out of recording time). Always practice before you shoot.
  • To get added depth and separation from your background, place a light behind your body. I use a small desk lamp that I sit on a stool or box. I turn the light upwards and place diffusion paper around the bulb. This nifty trick will save you at least $50.
  • Get rid of all natural light. Turn off overhead lights. If you need to use overhead light, use daylight bulbs.
  • Don’t use a ring light if you wear glasses. The circle will reflect in your lenses and distract viewers.
  • See if your digital camera has an smartphone app that will allow you to hit record remotely once you get into place. THIS IS A LIFESAVER.
  • Light stands come in different sizes. Grab the 7ft.

Let's Tally it Up

  • Camera, lens and tripod rental - $72.00 (no damage waiver); 3 day rental; or if you use your smartphone $0
  • Amazon - $285.24
  • Extension cords and duct tape - $20 (assuming you don't have these lying around the house)

Total: $377.24

Want to see the finished product?

Here's a video I shot using all of the equipment I shared with you. I wanted to give you a sense of the quality you'd get with this gear.

Editing Software

I didn't include this in the mix but if you're looking for an entry-level option, here are your options: 

On a Mac, Screenflow or Camtasia will run you $99. To get started, you can use a 30 day trial, then purchase when ready. I'm a big fan of Screenflow. It's incredibly easy to use and works for both simple video editing and making screencasts. 

For Windows, Adobe Premier Elements should do the trick. It's also on sale right now.

Bonus Resources for Shooting and Editing Tips

  1. Check out Caleb Wojcik over at DIY Video Guy for tips on gear, shooting and editing video.
  2. Here's a link to Wistia's extremely helpful DIY Lighting video. This is the kit I used to get started.

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