The complete guide to vlogging

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What is a vlog?

The word ‘vlog’ is a portmanteau of the words ‘video’ and ‘blog’. Given the fact vlogs rose to popularity along alongside the rise of smartphones and selfies, there’s an association between vlogging and grainy phone footage with bad audio, but it doesn’t have to be that way!

You can get some incredibly capable vlogging equipment, from accessories for your phone through to compact system cameras. At the top-end, there are even premium DSLRs and CSCS with flip-out screens like the Panasonic GH5S and Canon EOS 6D Mark II for even higher-end vlogging, as featured in our guide to the best cameras for vlogging.

This guide will help you figure out what type of vlog you want to create if you haven’t got that far yet, and match your vlog with the appropriate equipment to make your vlogging dreams a reality. 

Inspiration for your vlog setup

‘Vlogging’ is a dirty word for many. Synonymous with YouTubers with too little reverence, it’s easy to dismiss vlogging, vlogs and vloggers as a self-involved medium, platform and collective.

The vlogging style has, however been around a lot longer than YouTube. Whether you’ve watched a wildlife photographer’s travel diaries or a terminally ill patients’ touching, humanising video updates, that all involves self-shooting, diary-esque video, i.e. vlogging.

So before you even start with equipment, if you think about vlogging as storytelling and an art form in its own right, it will help understand your vlog’s purpose, identify the type of footage you’ll need and get the right equipment off the bat.

What style of vlog?

Where you shoot and where you post will make a huge difference to the amount of gear you will need to shoot you video blog. So will you be shooting your vlog updates indoors, in a studio or outdoors? Will you want to edit your footage or send it straight off from your smartphone? This will be a big deciding-factor when it comes to what equipment will be best to turn your vision into a reality.

There are three main set-ups to consider: 

• Personal, cheap and cheerful,

• Studio/indoor shooting

• On-location shoots.

Personal, cheap and cheerful

Price: No additional purchases required

This setup can consist of you, your iOS or Android phone and a mobile tripod. The last item is totally optional if you’re just recording a video diary for you, yourself a few other people. 

As a result, you may already have everything you need for this already. If you don’t plan on editing your vlogs and just want to upload single takes to YouTube, that can all be done over a smartphone. iPhones also offer a mobile version of iMovie for some basic editing that even supports up to 4K footage on the new iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

Amateur enthusiast

Price: $200-600

If you want your footage to look a bit slicker, feature b-roll that contains some depth of field and have better quality audio, you could purchase a separate camera. There are compact cameras that have excellent optics like the Sony RX100 series. The newer models can even shoot up to 4K. Where this setup will fall down is when it comes to audio as compact cameras don’t tend to have separate audio ports.

Footage shot on a compact camera will also benefit from being edited. You can use packages like Premiere Pro for the video and Adobe Audition to tidy-up the audio. If you have a MacBook, iMovie is included and there is also free editing software available online too.

High quality vlogging

Price: $600-2000

If you want your video and audio to be decent wherever you are, are prepared to invest in some lenses and don’t mind the idea of clipping a to your shirt or using an external shotgun mic on the top of your camera, this will set you up for premium success.

Your vlogs can live on Facebook if they’re for personal consumption and YouTube if you want to share the love with the wider world. Both platforms are free to use and are linked to an email address. 

Now you know what type of vlogger you are, where you’ll be shooting, what you’ll be using to edit and where you’ll be uploading to, you can start looking at equipment. These are the questions you should be asking yourself:

Technical considerations

Do you want to shoot selfie video?

If you are shooting yourself, then you need a camera that allows you to see yourself as you shoot. With a mobile phone, you will need to look for a model with a decent front camera – most save their best photographic capability for the rear camera (or cameras).

With compact cameras, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, you will need to look for a model with a flip screen – an LCD that can be rotated so that you can keep an eye on the framing as you shoot. For a full buyers's guide, see our rundown of the best cameras for vlogging around right now

Do you need smart autofocus?

Vlogging usually means no camera crews, just one guy with a camera and as a result, the more work the camera can do for you, the better. This is especially helpful if shooting product footage as b-roll video for your vlog.

Smartphones generally have great continuous autofocus in video. These support both tap-to-focus and intelligent tracking of moving objects. This is also the case for most smaller digital stills cameras such as the Sony RX100 range.

Mirrorless cameras like the Panasonic GH5 and Canon EOS M6 also offer excellent autofocus mid-recording. With these cameras that support detachable lenses, the dictating factors when it comes to focus-speed are two-fold: the camera body and the lens attached. An excellent combination for focus, for example is the Canon EOS M6 combined with an EF-to-EOS M adapter and a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 lens.

Focus systems for most DSLRs are excellent when it comes to photography, but video requirements are different. As a result, most DSLRs, especially older models don’t offer fast continuous autofocus in video. DSLR lenses are also very noisy, problematic if you plan on using the on-board camera microphone.

Newer premium cameras are wising up to this gap for zippy autofocus, with two frontrunners being the Canon EOS 80D and EOS 5D Mark IV. 

If however you’re shooting in a studio, will have a camera man supporting you and don’t need newer features like face detection or continuous autofocus, you can opt for an older model DSLR with manual focus only that shoots Full HD, benefiting from the improved optics.

Audio quality

It isn’t only what viewers see that can make or break a vlog - audio is just as important. If the quality isn’t on-point and the background noise drowns out the spoken audio or levels across different cuts are too different, your video will be a jarring experience that creates distance between the viewer and the vlogger.

As a result, unless you’re indoors in a controlled environment or are only planning on recording for yourself, you should definitely factor audio options.

Smartphones can work with external microphones. These range from 3.5mm lapel mics that clip onto your shirt to isolate your voice through to general external mics that record higher quality sound.

These can plug in through the headphone jack if your phone has one, though are also available in USB-C or lightning connector variants. If you have an Android phone, you’ll want to double check compatibility between the microphone and smartphone before you buy, forums are an excellent starting point.

Sony ECM-CS3

Sony ECM-CS3

The good thing about the 3.5mm headphone microphone options like the Sony ECM-CS3 mic and the Rode VideoMic is that it also doubles up as a digital camera lapel mic too.

If you want to go high-end with your vlogging, you can look to recording audio using an XLR connection and a higher-end microphone. None of the cameras on our lists feature these inputs, so you will need to pick up an external audio recording box like a Tascam, or record using a USB mic like the Blue Yeti into your computer and then sync the audio in post.

To tripod or not to tripod

Image: Hero Images/Getty Images

Do you want your blog to have movement and dynamism or are you going for a more measured, still framing?

If you plan on holding your camera, whether it’s a smartphone of digital camera, you’ll want to make sure the camera body or lens you’re shooting with has optical image stabilisation. This compensates for handshake and keeps the image nice and steady.

In addition, you may also want to consider buying gimbal such as the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 for mobile or a Zhiyun Crane V2 that supports mirrorless and DSLR cameras and even has a vlog mode for some silky smooth self-recording.

For anyone planning to shoot all vlog entries on a tripod, you won’t need OIS on your camera or smartphone. You can opt for a traditional tripod, a mini tripod or a Gorillapod that will hold your recording device so you don’t have to.

Tripod recording is especially useful in a studio environment in which the tripod can simply be set up with the same framing every time. 

Live streaming - clean HDMI out

The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV offers clean HDMI out from its HDMI port

The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV offers clean HDMI out from its HDMI port

Only top-end Canon DSLRs offer this, as well as high-end Panasonic mirrorless cameras.

You will then need to output from your camera to an HDMI capture card which you can pick up for between £100 and £200, then output from the card to your PC or laptop so the footage can be encoded.

Think we’re done? Not quite. Encoding software for PCs like Wirecast can cost in excess of £400, making DSLR live streaming a pricey proposition.

As a result, it isn’t uncommon for live streamers to opt for cheaper solutions for live streams and slicker solutions when vlogging and editing footage.

Mixed weather conditions – weather sealing

Shooting out and about? The last thing you’ll want is £1,500 of waterlogged equipment. As such, if you know from the start that most of your footage will be shot in wet conditions or somewhere with a strong chance of rain, you may want to opt for a weatherproof, or even waterproof option.

GoPro footage can look amazingly stylised thanks to the ultra wide angle. Audio recorded from GoPros isn’t great, but if you’re using the footage against audio captured separately, whether it’s a backing track or a voice over, it can be very effective. The fact GoPros also support waterproof housing and even drone attachments means the breadth of footage you’ll be able to get from one could make it a GoPro an ideal second camera.

GoPro HERO6 Black

GoPro HERO6 Black

Many smartphones are also water resistant today, from the iPhone X to Android options like the Google Pixel 2, Huawei Mate 10 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Note 8.

If you can’t part with your DSLR, you can also get protective seals to shield your premium video kit from the elements such as the Peak Design Shell to save it from environmental conditions and Aquapacs for more more submerged adventures.

4K, 60fps and other nice-to-haves

With all that in mind, you’re 90% of the way to deciding what kit you should be picking up; a smartphone or a camera, a tripod, some audio equipment and additional peripherals depending on where you’re shooting.

The last piece to the puzzle are the nice-to-haves like 4K and 60/120 frames per second (FPS) video. 4K video records at a higher resolution, thereby producing a sharper picture optimised for 4K TVs and monitors. Even if you’re outputting 1080p (Full HD) video, 4K still has a host of advantages. It can produce crisper looking footage while also giving you freedom to crop into parts of your frame without losing out on detail.

4K video recording is cropping up on an increasing number of cameras

4K video recording is cropping up on an increasing number of cameras

Fast frame rates are also handy, especially for action shots. Standard recording is roughly 30fps, so with the 60 or 120fps, you are able to half or quarter the speed of the footage without the need to go below 30fps, resulting in a dreamy, slow motion look that suspends time and heightens drama. 

Nokia 8

Nokia 8

If so, then you will need a smartphone with a decent front camera or compact, mirrorless or DSLR camera with an articulating screen. Smartphones to consider would be the Nokia 8, which not only has OIS on the front camera but can also shoot 4K video. Cameras that feature tilting screens include the Sony RX100 series of compacts, while the likes of the Panasonic GH5, GH5s and the Canon EOS 6D Mark II offer more flexible articulating ones.

In addition to a tilting/articulating screen, a wide-angle lens will help ensure you’re in-frame in all your selfie video, while optical image stabilisation on that lens will keep your handheld footage as steady as possible. An excellent vlogging lens range is 15-25mm.

If so, then you will need a smartphone with a decent front camera or compact, mirrorless or DSLR camera with an articulating screen. Smartphones to consider would be the Nokia 8, which not only has OIS on the front camera but can also shoot 4K video. Cameras that feature tilting screens include the Sony RX100 series of compacts, while the likes of the Panasonic GH5, GH5s and the Canon EOS 6D Mark II offer more flexible articulating ones.

In addition to a tilting/articulating screen, a wide-angle lens will help ensure you’re in-frame in all your selfie video, while optical image stabilisation on that lens will keep your handheld footage as steady as possible. An excellent vlogging lens range is 15-25mm.

Camera options for vloggers

1) Smartphones

If you are looking to upgrade your phone with vlogging in mind, you should decide which camera you plan on using, the rear or front camera. Very few front cameras, also known as selfie cameras have optical image stabilisation. As a result, the Nokia 8 is probably the best selfie camera for vlogging on the market today. The audio it records is also great for a smartphone, with a surround sound proprietary technology called OZO.

If however you’re looking to use the rear camera, the best smartphones on the market now are the iPhone X, iPhone 8/8Plus, Samsung Galaxy Note 8/S8, Google Pixel 2/2XL, LG V30 and the Huawei Mate 10 Pro.

All these phones have optical image stabilisation, record up to 4K video and have weatherproofing, so can withstand a splash and keep things relatively steady. 

Sennheiser Lightning Digital ClipMic

Sennheiser Lightning Digital ClipMic

For an even steadier experience, the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 will keep things looking incredibly professional and smooth, and coupled with a lapel mic such as the Sennheiser Lightning Digital ClipMic (£169) or the cheap and cheerful Sabrent Condenser Mic Lavalier (£8.99) that plugs into a 3.5mm headphone jack, you really will be getting the most vlogging clout from your smartphone.

Where will smartphones drop the ball? When shooting in low light of course. With their tiny sensors, despite being incredibly capable, they’re also always going to perform worse than larger dedicated cameras when the lights go down.

2) Compact cameras

For a step above smartphones, you may want to look to a compact camera. Like smartphones, these are generally speaking nice and small, but because they are just cameras, offer better optics, optional zoom and a larger sensor. 

If you’re okay with capping out at Full HD, you can opt for something like the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II. This is a solid bit of kit with plenty of manual support and a nice wide f/1.8-2.8 3x zoom lens.

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

The other key contender in the compact space is the Sony RX100 Mark IV, which offers similar strengths to the PowerShot G7 X Mark II but supports up to 4K video. Its low-light performance across photos and videos is solid, though it has slightly less zoom than Canon’s alternative.

Read more: Sony RX100 III vs RX100 IV vs RX100 V

If you like the idea of 4K but not of the MK4’s hefty price-tag, you may want to opt for the Panasonic LX15/LX10. At its widest angle, it has an f/1.4 lens and offers great sound recording for a compact camera, especially indoors.

The main downside of compact cameras is the fact most don’t have any audio ports, so sound is recorded on the onboard microphones. While this isn’t the end of the world in a studio environment, when outdoors in windy, noisy conditions it can be the difference between a usable and unusable vlog.

3) Mirrorless cameras and DSLRs

It used to be the case that mirrorless cameras sat below DSLRs in terms of quality, but times have changed and when it comes to video, many videographers would choose mirrorless cameras over even dedicated video cameras like the Canon C-series.

As a result, we’ll recommend some vlogging setups, interspersing DSLRs with mirrorless options, starting with your Full HD options from Canon.

Canon vlogging cameras

If you’re not prepared to pay the big bucks for 4K video, you would be very well served with a Full HD Canon camera. If you don’t mind a bit of extra bulk, you can opt for the Canon EOS 200D. It’s the most affordable option that has a microphone jack for some inexpensive, improved audio quality.

Read more: Canon EOS 200D / Rebel SL2 review

If the EOS 200D is a bit on the bulky side and you don’t need a viewfinder, the Canon EOS M6 has amongst the best autofocus around and is very portable for an APS-C camera. It’s an EOS-M series camera, so doesn’t use the array of standard Canon lenses, but if you pick up £90 adapter it does which means a huge amount of versatility. The in-body IS (for video) and its compact form also make it a good option for handheld video.

Canon EOS M50

Canon EOS M50

The newer EOS M50, which is equipped with 4K video recording and has a flip-out LCD screen, is also worth considering, although 4K video has a heavy crop factor and it's shame that you can't use Dual Pixel CMOS AF while recording.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

If you have a lot more money to play with, the Canon EOS 6D Mark II is the most affordable full-frame DSLR with a flip-out screen, so you can grab selfie video with maximum depth of field and optimal low light performance, but at £1,750 for the body only, you’re talking about a lot more than most vloggers would be looking to shell out.

Read more: Canon EOS 6D Mark II review

Panasonic vlogging cameras

Panasonic takes a very different approach when compared to Canon, specifically when it comes to sensor size. Having stuck with a Micro Four Thirds size for the last few years, Panasonic has honed its sensors across a range of smaller cameras starting with the Lumix GX800. 

For a little more money you can get the the beefier Lumix G7, which has an articulating (rather than tilting) screen and 4K video recording. Panasonic has an extensive collection of lenses for its Micro Four Thirds cameras and as with Canon and Nikon options, these lenses will work when you come to upgrade to a shiny new model within the same system.

Prices creep up very quickly when you look at other Micro Four Thirds options. The Lumix G9, for example, features a much more premium mag alloy construction along with 4K video, incredibly good continuous autofocus and excellent photography chops too. 

And if you want a video first Panasonic camera, the GH5s offers even more advanced features like timecoding and clean HDMI out, making it ideal for live streaming from as well as your basics like an articulating screen and microphone jack.

Some of the advanced features in Panasonic's GH5s

Some of the advanced features in Panasonic's GH5s

Sony and Nikon

Sony has also embraced mirrorless form-factors, which keeps their cameras small and ensures they are a good size for vlogging. That said, in the world of Sony, flip-out screens seldom marry with microphone jacks.

While Sony mirrorless APS-C and full frame cameras offer among the best low-light performance around and incredibly good 4K video, the fact remains, for vlogging, unless you’re shooting with a camera person, you’re probably better off with Canon or Panasonic.

The video centric A7S II is a fine choice for pro-grade video recording, but the fact that the screen can not be pulled out to face the front makes it less ideal for vlogging

The video centric A7S II is a fine choice for pro-grade video recording, but the fact that the screen can not be pulled out to face the front makes it less ideal for vlogging

The same can be said of Nikon. Cameras like the Nikon D7500 are arguably best-in-class for photography in many respects and the 4K video is stunning. That said, less automated continuous autofocus paired with screens that don’t articulate 180 degrees mean vlogging on Nikon cameras is just that bit harder than the competition.

Lenses and accessories

Whichever system you go for, you will will also want to pick up a wide angle lens in the range of about 15-22mm as your main ‘talk-to-camera’ option. If you pick a prime lens, this will massively reduce the weight.

Having a range of lenses will also help for b-roll, with a wide aperture lense for low light situations and a few focal lengths, from ultrawide 11mm which will likely distort for added fisheye-esque effect, through to a zoom lens that can double up as a macro, at around 100mm.

Getting a gimbal like the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 for smartphones or the Zhiyun Crane 2 for mirrorless and DSLR cameras will help keep your footage smooth as butter and looking significantly more professional.

DJI Osmo Mobile 2

DJI Osmo Mobile 2

As for tripods, a decent range will have you covered for more composed scenarios: one mini tripod, one Gorillapod and one full-sized tripod, so whether you have a surface, a railing or a floor, you’re good to shoot.

What now?

You should now have a comprehensive idea of what your vlog will look like and the kind of equipment you’ll need to get it off the ground.

Vlogging can be virtually free, if you discount the cost of the phone you already own. In the same breath, vlogging can also cost thousands of pounds if you want to make a things look and sound more professional with a high-end camera and a range of lenses and accessories.

The key is to marry your message with the equipment you pick up, and remember, you can always upgrade as you go along. 

So the next step if you haven’t already done so, make a YouTube account if you want to vlog for strangers, get on Facebook to vlog for friends and family or just hit the record button on your smartphone if you’re doing it for yourself.

Read more:
Best cameras for vlogging
Best gimbals for your iPhone, GoPro or camera
Best tripods for video