In Parts One and Two, we’ve learned what specifications (or settings) a camera must have to produce great web video. To really blow a web video out of the park, you could simply shoot with the best camera you can afford.
Most web video content producers can’t afford expensive cameras, even on rent. Even if they could, they might want to ask themselves these two questions:
- Can I sustain the cost of expensive gear over a period of months or years?
- How can I monetize a video that costs thousands of dollars to make, even if that video went viral with a million views?
Why cheap cameras are the best video cameras for web videos
If Google pays you $5 for every 1,000 views, you’ll earn $5,000 per million views. It costs about $200 to rent cheap gear, and about a $1,000 for expensive gear, per day. Let’s say you spend another two days for editing, finishing and uploading your video. A million views is not even break-even, if you’re planning on shooting with expensive cameras.
What about internet viral wonders? That’s where the el-cheapo quality is extremely important. Here are some of the limits of web video business:
- One or two person crew
- Small portable lights and DSLR camera
- Audio on camera
- Quick post production workflow
- VFX limited to green screen and some motion graphics (pre-made and repeated)
- PowerPoint or Screenflow presentations
- 24-48 hour turnaround
- A great script
- Commitment to live without pay for almost a year
- A single set or location; or public locations shot guerrilla-style
You can’t pay crew, and you can’t carry a lot of gear. You can’t afford to spend a lot of time on post production, and you’ll have to create all of the material yourself.
I don’t know about you, but it takes me a minimum of a two days to write a script for a 2-minute video. Good copy takes time, no matter which industry you’re in. There’s always polishing and rewrites. At full speed and under pressure, I can’t see anyone doing it well under 3 days, assuming they have to do it week after week for years. I prefer to have at least a week to perfect a 2-minute video, but I rarely get that much time. Quality suffers.
To get fast turnarounds you’ll need to outsource your work or hire extra crew – that costs money.
If it takes three days to shoot the script, you’ve just spent 6 days in total. At this rate, you’re doing 4 videos per month. This is not a number I made up. Youtube itself advises every content producer to create and publish at least one video per week.
If you get a million views a month for your Youtube channel, and Google pays you $5, you’ll earn $5,000 that month, spread over four videos and shared between one other crew member. Is that a living? And we haven’t even begun to address the reality that unless you hit a million viewers, it’s unlikely you’ll see any money.
Obviously, you would need a brilliant value proposition or talent for sustained internet success. But if your success is due to your ‘talent’ (in spite of your talents), what will you do if he or she decides to jump to greener pastures once they’ve tasted fame?
Important: I want to make it very clear that I’m not discouraging anybody from making web videos. Quite the contrary. We are trying to find excellent quality for as less as possible, so we can weather the initial slump and create a viable business. The fact that people make money is good enough motivation. You can too, just be smart about it. Forget expensive gear.
Should you rent your gear?
Should you? At $200 per video, four videos will cost $800. In six months you’ll have spent $4,200. In a year you’ll have spent $8,400.
If you want to sell off this gear after a year, you will get at least half your investment back, so you’re only spending what you would be spending on renting in 6 months. You don’t even have to pay upfront, if you get a 12 month or 24 month financing from Amazon, or the like.
You can see how renting gear is financial suicide to a web video producer. If you’re planning to go at it over the long term (what other choice do you have?) you’re better off owning gear. Business is half risk-taking.
The message is clear: For web video producers, own your gear.
Now that you know you’ll have to buy gear, the next question you’ll be asking is: Which gear should I buy, and why?
The Best Video Camera for Web Videos
I’m going to divide this section into three parts:
- The best video camera you can buy for web videos, period.
- The cheapest video camera that meets all the minimum requirements for a great web video.
- The best compromise between these extremes.
Let’s start with the best.
The best video camera you can buy for web videos
The best video camera, bar none, that will give you all the quality you need is the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera.
Let’s test it against our requirements to make sure:
- 1920×1080 with an aspect ratio of 16:9 and pixel aspect ratio of 1:1
It does this and more, with 2.5K video
- Progressive video, with a minimum frame rate of 24 fps
It does up to 30p
- Color space: Rec. 709, with a color bit depth per channel of 8
It shoots RAW – choose your color space
- 10 stops of dynamic range, with a film-like gamma curve
It does 13 stops, choose your gamma curve or LUT
- Good in low light, usable ISO of 1600 at least.
Check, if only barely.
- Interchangeable lenses, with the ability to shoot at f/2.8 at least, throughout the entire range of focal lengths.
It comes in both EF and MTF mounts – choose your lenses
- H.264 codec, in whatever wrapper it comes in, with the best bit rate offered by that camera for this codec. If you need to push your images in post, then opt for an intraframe codec or RAW or uncompressed. No, simple color grading is not a good enough ‘push’.
It shoots RAW and Prores – choose your workflow
- 16-bit audio sampled at 48 KHz, 2 channels minimum (stereo) at a minimum bit rate of 128 kbps (CD quality or better). Ideally, you’d want to master your audio as uncompressed, which will give you a bit rate of 1,577 kbps.
This camera hits every requirement out of the ball park, and maybe out of the state. At only $3,000 it’s a very good investment to make. Does it have disadvantages? Yes, but which camera doesn’t? None of the disadvantages need worry you too much if you’re making web video. You can make it work.
To learn which lenses, recorder, and accessories are best for this camera, read the Master Guide to Rigging a Blackmagic Cinema Camera.
In the next and final part of this series, we’ll take a look at the cheapest video camera that meets all the minimum requirements for a great web video, and the best ‘compromise’.