LockerGnome reader John asks:

“I am going to start doing video podcasts and am in the process of picking out what gear [I want to use]. I don’t want to use my MacBook Pro iSight as the quality just isn’t there. As I am not up to speed with the current equipment available these days, I was wondering if you have any suggestions? My budget is around $400.”

Well John, you’re definitely entering the world of online video at the right time. The trick to finding a good video setup is determining exactly what you want from your vlog. Do you want it to be a pro-level rig with green screen and 1080p video? Would you want something a bit more along the lines of you sitting in front of a camera, giving your thoughts on various topics? If you’re looking for a good setup without a lot of investment, here are some ideas that might help you out:

  • Audio is Key – Even if your video looks fantastic, and your edits are absolutely perfect, your audio can make or break your ability to maintain an audience’s interest. Weak volume, echos, background noise, and overdriven audio are clear indications of a poorly planned production and can drive your audience away.
  • Check Your Lighting – You won’t find too many most watched videos on YouTube that have poor lighting. If your subject is lost in a shadow or covered in low lighting artifacts, you’ve got to add another lamp behind the camera. Chris Pirillo, Ray William Johnson, and Philip D. Franco are all fairly well lit in their relatively simple productions, and that small detail makes a huge difference in their overall quality.
  • Keep it Modular – As your video podcast grows, so should its budget. Investing in an all-in-one solution may be a great solution in the short-term, but that means reinvesting in every aspect of your show’s equipment when it comes time to upgrade.

Budget Video Podcast Setup

So, what kind of setup can you put together on a tight budget? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Using an iPhone
    • iPhone or iPod Touch ($200-250)
    • AT2020 or Blue Yeti ($60-120)
    • PC or Mac
    • Windows Live Movie Maker or iMovie (Free)
    • GarageBand or Audacity (Free)
    • With this solution, you’re going to want to record audio separately using GarageBand, Audacity, or any other quality audio recording software. The iPhone and iPod touch provide decent video, but their audio could use some improvement. Once you’re set to edit the video, simply sync up the two audio tracks, detach audio from the video, and mute it. This way you’ll have your best audio track in play. This may not work in situations where you’re out and about, but the audio at your primary filming location should be your best.
  • Pocket Camcorder
    • Bloggie Duo Camera ($165) (Alternatively: The Kodak Zi8 and PlaySport) ($130-150)
    • AT2020 or Blue Yeti ($60-120)
    • PC or Mac
    • Windows Live Movie Maker or iMovie (Free)
    • GarageBand or Audacity (Free)
    • This solution is a lot like the first, only using a dedicated camera which can give you slightly better results. If you decide to go with the Kodak PlaySport, you’ll have the ability to go underwater with your videos as well. One advantage to the Bloggie Duo is its self-facing monitor so you can position yourself as you’re recording for best results. Audio is a bit better on the Bloggie Duo though it’s always recommended to have the best possible audio when recording. Room echo can kill a good video.
  • Webcam Solution
    • Logitech C910 or Pro 9000 ($60-80)
    • AT2020 or Blue Yeti ($60-120)
    • PC or Mac
    • Logitech Recording Software (PC) or Photo Booth (Mac)
    • Windows Live Movie Maker or iMovie (Free)
    • This solution only works in front of your computer, but it does fall in line with your original setup. The C910 gives you 1080p recording capability with a quality camera while the 9000 pro is incredibly simple to use and delivers remarkable 720p video. In some cases, I’ve found the 9000 to be more reliable software-wise and have used it over the C910. This will hopefully change as Logitech tweaks the software. Because audio should be recorded live with the video and you can set the source, you may not need to do any difficult audio edits after the initial recording.