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What do I need to make YouTube videos?

Guardian Technology 19 Sep 2019 07:00
Anyone can make a YouTube video with just a smartphone, but today’s stars use DSLRs, lighting rigs and tripods for higher-quality films. Photograph: Ed Alcock/The Observer

I’m a newbie. When people shoot YouTube videos, do they need a computer or laptop to do so? I don’t have either. Ed

People shoot videos with all kinds of equipment, from simple smartphones to professional movie cameras. Prices range from £50 to more than £40,000. As always, it depends on the job. Some people are taking selfies for Facebook while others are shooting blockbusters for cinemas.

Selfies are usually shot with handheld smartphones and uploaded directly with little or no editing. It takes seconds. Blockbuster movies are usually shot with teams operating specialised cameras on dollies. Shoots are followed by extensive editing that may require rooms full of computers to add CGI (computer-generated imagery). It can take months, if not years.

A lot of amateur YouTube videos are posted by vloggers (video bloggers) and consist mainly of “talking heads”. People can make vlogs with minimal equipment, and a decade or so ago, that was good enough. Since then, quality standards have risen dramatically, along with the potential returns. Today, YouTube channels can generate millions of dollars a year in revenues. People competing at that level are willing and able to spend the money needed to produce professional-looking results.

We love to say that “content is king”, and quality content can transcend technical flaws. With unique footage of terrorist attacks, floods, major fires and other disasters, terrible technical quality implies authenticity. But few of the millions of YouTube posters have unique content, so quality matters.

Most smartphones can now shoot video. In fact, some can shoot good-quality 4K video, though 1080p is still good enough for YouTube. Smartphones are very portable and almost always handy, which makes them very useful for travel and “roving reporter” applications. This is why media corporations like the BBC are interested. However, they should still be used on a tripod, whenever possible, or with a gimbal to stabilise movement.

Anyone who has used Skype knows that the vast majority of built-in webcams do not produce high quality video. They are also in the wrong place. For vlogging, the camera should be at eyebrow height or slightly higher. No one wants to look up your nose, and a slight downward angle is more flattering.

Most YouTube vloggers use digital cameras to capture their videos. The most useful camera features are an articulated screen and a microphone port. The screen should flip around so that you can see that you’re in frame. The mic port lets you use an external microphone, which is important because camera microphones can be even worse than smartphone microphones.

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