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Video Production Question


Nathan Parker
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I’m likely going to be frequently producing training videos and screencasts for Accordance. I may even resurrect the “Lighting the Lamp” podcast.

 

I have some production gear, but I probably need to invest in some other stuff to improve my production quality.

 

I don’t want to blow money on gear I won’t need and be a good steward of what I invest in, but I don’t want to produce low-quality videos either. The experience needs to be first-class if customers are going to watch them.

 

So far, I have an iMac Pro with excellent graphics, and I’m going to invest in an M2 MacBook Air for traveling. I’ll either invest in an Apple Silicon iMac Pro if Apple makes one, or if my iMac Pro becomes non-supported before then, I’ll invest in a Mac Studio and Studio Display.

 

I also have an iPhone 12 Pro and recently ordered a Belkin iPhone Continuity Camera mount.

 

I also have a Plantronics C970 USB Headset.

 

For screencasting, I generally use ScreenFlow, but I also have a license to Camtasia if I need it. If someone wants to show me what recommended export settings to use on ScreenFlow that will produce the highest-quality screencasts, that would be great. It’s been a little bit since I’ve used it regularly since in the past, I had to use Camtasia (or if I should still use Camtasia, I can, but I believe that ScreenFlow is higher-quality on video exporting).

 

What other gear should I invest in to build out my home “video production studio” that would strike the right balance between a solid longterm investment without wasting funds on poor stewardship?

 

Thanks!

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If you're going to be showing yourself on camera then lighting is probably the biggest thing to invest in. The iphone can shoot decent video for streaming/recording, but bad lighting will ruin videos on even the best cameras. A cheap softbox or ring light can go a long way. And if you're wanting to show yourself at the same time as you show your screen, then a green screen might be good as well.

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If I move my desk against the wall that I’m planning to do, lighting is definitely going to be an issue, as I become almost unviewable when I do. If I use the iPhone with the new Continuity Camera feature in Ventura, does that resolve the lighting issue, or do I still need to look into a cheap light? Is there a particular model you’ve used that you recommend?

 

I’ve thought about getting into a green screen. My office is pretty small. Is there one I could mount on a wall and roll up and down?

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ProMovie video recorder works great on Apple for recordings in low light. You just need to adjust the lighting setting.

 

A good microphone is also a good idea, much better than a headset mic.

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Is that an app for iPhone?

 

Sounds good on the microphones. Do you have a recommendation on a particular model?

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9 hours ago, Nathan Parker said:

If I use the iPhone with the new Continuity Camera feature in Ventura, does that resolve the lighting issue, or do I still need to look into a cheap light?

The iPhone’s AI can do wonders to enhance images taken in low light, but the lens is small, and so can physically only take in so much light. You could experiment to see if you get good video without lighting, but classically, you get much better images with lighting, ideally three-point lighting. Even (and especially) professionals using cameras that cost thousands of dollars use lights. I think it’s better to give the camera enough light than to hope the AI fixes your images. If your face is unevenly lit, AI will keep it from being too dark, but it will still be unevenly lit.


A ring light is adequate if you’re only shooting your face and are looking at the camera. Otherwise, look for a lighting kit with 2 or 3 lights and stands.

 

I’m in Europe, so the cheap brands here differ, but basically you just need to look on something like Amazon for a product with more positive reviews than can economically be faked. It’s not terribly hard to manufacture adequate lights: you just need to find someone who hasn’t cut costs so much that the light will fail prematurely. Or you could try someone more professional that only sells quality items: B & H Photo Video was such a retailer, but it’s been a decade or more since I’ve dealt with them, so I don’t know if anything has changed.

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I've done some video production (mostly church related but some other)....  An iPhone is adequate but clumsy to deal with and has a tiny sensor — I usually use a mirrorless camera but for budget consciousness, the iPhone will be fine.  My two recommendations — the first has already been noted multiple times:  if you want it to look professional, you can't bypass lighting.  Depending on ambient light, you might could get away with one soft boxed light, but more likely at least 2 (and 3 preferably) — there are a lot of good YouTube videos on lighting out there for live streamers that will be viable for what you are doing.  The second, and maybe even more important, is a good mic.  Some people prefer a lapel/lavaliere — and I've even used my relatively expensive countryman earset mic that I preach with — but honestly, there is a reason why an overwhelming number of live streamers use a Shure SM7B (or something very similar to it) mounted on a stand or articulating arm — it just sounds so much better.  Post-production is important too — I usually use Final Cut Pro for all my work (and have tinkered with Premiere) but iMovie is free and does an admirable job.

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I don't work in production or anything, but I teach online and agree completely about audio being more important. If a video looks great but has horrible audio, people are less forgiving then if the audio is great and the video is bad. An external microphone is imperative. I use a good mic with an arm, but it needs to be plugged into something other than an iPhone. I agree that going to YouTube and searching for mics is  good idea since you can hear samples. I would just recommend a dynamic microphone as opposed to a condenser mic.

 

Concerning lighting, 3-point lighting is the way to go. I personally don't use specialized lighting designed for this, I just have three flexible lamps which I have placed to make 3-pointing. Then I am able to check my work in PhotoBooth which you can also do on the iPhone by just flipping the camera over to see what it looks like. The idea is not "brighter" per se, but rather eliminating shadows which you can do in 3-pointing.

I don't personally recommend green screens. AI often causes things to be cut which are not intended. Examples we have all seen are people's ears being blocked out, people's heads becoming unusual shapes, and things being held up to show being cut out. This of course depends on the quality of the AI, but stuff like this does happen. Also, green screens really need to be FLAT. No wrinkles or anything, so if you are looking for something flexible to fold up, not only would it be a pain getting every single wrinkle out, but you would need to do it every time. I think it is far better to just have a real background that is clean. It does not need to be empty, just clean.

 

I hope this helps some,

Kristin

 

 

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Honestly, what might be best is to watch some of the many video tutorials on YouTube designed for live streamers and gamers. Typically the equipment/software recommendations will crossover just fine.

 

One thing I will recommend from personal experience is that if you go with an external mic don't fall into the trap of getting a blue yeti. They're okay, but they will pick up every sound in the room if you don't do some heavy settings tweaking and/or soundproofing. I use one for my Sunday School streams at church specifically because they pick up questions from the room, but the audio isn't what I'd want for professional video production. Also, get a shock mount for the mic, and a pop filter if it doesn't come with one, as those two things will help reduce a lot of the audio problems that most low budget set-ups have.

 

Basically, lighting and audio would be the areas I would invest in most, followed by camera, and of course editing software.

 

Another idea would be to look at videos you like and check the descriptions. Often, the creator will list their equipment/software, since "what's your setup?" is an incredibly common question for content creators.

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Great discussion! Thanks for all of this!

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My first thought would have been a mic but that was mentioned. 

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On 1/6/2023 at 3:00 PM, Nathan Parker said:

Is that an app for iPhone?

 

Yes, it's an app for iPhone. 

 

We use Rode desktop microphones for recordings... they plug in with USB and are easy to use, good sound.

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Great. Thanks!

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If you are going for professional quality, don’t use a USB microphone. A much better option would be an XLR with a preamp/interface.

 

The standard mic used in Podcasts is a SM7-B. It is a quiet mic, so most pair it with a Cloudlifter. As for a preamp, there’s a ton of options out there. I use a SSL2 and am very happy with it.

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I can probably help you without spending a fortune at B&H.

First, are you going use the built in camera on the Macbook? If so then test record whatever situations you want to use and the built-in Apple camera will almost surely be perfect for the job. Apple is all about cameras.

Second, you must have adequate lighting, without exception, and not even the most amateurish of videographers would try to fix it post production. The lighting system is called three point lighting and there are zillion Youtube videos demonstrating this most basic skill. But start with the light fixtures you already own arranged to produce the effect before buying any new stuff. The test is that you record yourself on your computer and you don't look like a Frankenstein monster with a hangover. This is a podcast not a Hollywood motion picture.

Third, you must have a microphone that produces a clear, crisp audio stream that everyone can comprehend without stopping you to repeat yourself. You do not want the podcaster boom box standard that makes every squeaky voice sound like Pavarotti. Desktop USB models from Samson and Blue Yeti produce very professional results for less than a hundred dollars and less expensive models can be perfectly adequate. I own both and set them on the desk on a folded wash cloth to block feedback to my left off camera. All the electronics are built in and powered from the USB connection to the computer. These models provide many settings and adjustments for any room setting. Check this out at a local store for demos.

You have two distinct software choices. Direct live streaming is one application. Editing videos for later posting is a separate issue. For editing you may want to start with the free software which comes with the Mac which is very capable. I really can't advise you about the live streaming.

Hope this is helpful.

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I also bought a Belkin Continuity Camera mount, so I can use my iPhone’s camera over Apple’s webcams if I need something a little nicer. Might as well get some extra use out of my iPhone 12 Pro’s camera!

 

I am aware on three-point lighting, but it’s been a while since I’ve researched it, so I probably need to brush up on it.

 

For now, my videos will be pre-recorded and edited. I’m familiar with iMovie and have a license to Final Cut Pro X as well. Although the bulk of my videos will be screencasting with me on screen just a little bit, so I’ll probably do the bulk of my editing in ScreenFlow.

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Excellent.

Just a hint on editing screencast tutorials that are not live broadcast. If you just record the video by itself stopping when stuff breaks and rerecording  you can edit the video part later so that it is perfect. Every keystroke, menu pulldown, etc. is perfect. You are the man with Accordance. Then do an audio voiceover with the video playing in background. There is no stress trying to match audio with video and getting stuff aligned. Use video transitions where needed. This is a standard practice in the movie industry for translations. The results are very professional and you experience minimum frustration trying to get it right.

I look forward to your work.

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Thanks for the feedback!

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18 hours ago, justinjevans said:

If you are going for professional quality, don’t use a USB microphone. A much better option would be an XLR with a preamp/interface.

 

The standard mic used in Podcasts is a SM7-B. It is a quiet mic, so most pair it with a Cloudlifter. As for a preamp, there’s a ton of options out there. I use a SSL2 and am very happy with it.

 

I have a Shure SM7B and a Cloudlifter (along with a few other mostly vocal / singing oriented mics)... it sounds amazing... it's my preferred mic for speaking (and isn't bad for singing) unless I'm in an environment where I have to walk around (the Countryman headset mic is hard to beat for movement).

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Great. Thanks!

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Hi @Nathan Parker,

Yes, when I first started teaching online I used that microphone, and unfortunately I would not recommend it. The sound quality is "ok" but not almost $100.

 

That was several years ago, and since then I have learned a lot about microphones and have learned that there are two types. The first is "condenser" (like this Shure), which is good for musical instruments but not good for voice. Then the other is "dynamic" which is better for voice.

 

The mic I use which I have been really happy with is Samson Q2U. The only problem with it is that it uses a USB, so I am not sure if it would work on an iPhone (which I think you are using). It might with a USB to mini converter, but I don't know.

I hope this helps some,
Kristin

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Thanks! I'm mainly using a Mac, so USB is fine. I thought it was neat that it did both iOS/iPadOS, but not at the expense of inferior sound. 

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I’m finally getting somewhere on this setup. Here’s what I’ve decided to do:

 

Audio:

 

1. Short Term: I ordered a Samson Q2U. The reviews on it were great, and it gives me a starter mic that supports both USB if I need a direct connection and XLR when I’m ready to wade into a preamp. At $55 on B&H for the podcasting kit, it’s a low-cost way to dramatically improve my audio quality quickly. This’ll give me something to get my feet wet with better audio, and give myself a little room to grow. Plus, since the gear kit is pretty compact, I can store it in a laptop bag and take it with me if I need to do any audio recording on-the-go.

 

2. Long Term: When I’m done with my PhD program and working full-time for Accordance and have more time to experiment with recording gear, I’ll probably invest in a preamp. Try it with my Samson S2U first so I can get the feel for working with a preamp. I can then later invest in a Shure SM7B. That way I’m starting off basic and slowly growing into using higher-end gear without having to throw myself into a steep learning curve right away, plus the gear I’ve invested in already still won’t go to waste.

 

Lighting/Camera:

 

Right now, I’m just performing screencasts and not on camera, so lighting isn’t an issue at the moment. However, once it looks like I’ll be on camera, I’ll start experimenting with three-point lighting before I start recording myself on camera. That way I’m ready for it. Continuity Camera on my iPhone is higher quality than the webcam on my Mac, but it does seem to “white out” my face a little bit and give me a little overly pale (almost “angelic” look). I’ll work with adjusting it in casual Zoom meetings, and once I know I’ll be on camera in professional videos, if I need to invest in a different kind of camera, I can.

 

Software:

 

Right now, since I’m just doing screencasts, my goal is to really brush up on ScreenFlow (I used it years ago, then had to learn Camtasia when I was working with Windows users, now I’m back to using ScreenFlow full-time) and get the most out of it. Once I start recording videos of myself, if they’re in line with screencasts, I’ll continue to use ScreenFlow to edit. If they’re standalone, I have access to both iMovie and FCPX, so at that time, I’ll see how much effort/learning I need to put into it and what features I need for video editing, then I’ll go with it.

 

Thanks everyone for your feedback on all of this! It’s been much appreciated.

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