This post has been updated to reflect recent YouTube camera recommendations.
Video is huge. In 2019, YouTube stated that each day more than 700,000 hours of content was uploaded and over a billion hours of video were watched on their service. And yes, that is each and every day. While 2020 YouTube statistics haven’t been released (as of the time of writing), these numbers are likely even higher.
COVID-19 has seen more and more businesses jump to YouTube in an effort to supplement or even pivot away from their existing business models as they try to reach consumers who can no longer physically come to them. Add to this the expanding number of vloggers entering the space and even making full time careers on YouTube and the amount of content being produced and consumed each day isn’t so shocking.
But getting started creating videos for YouTube is not without its challenges. There are a lot of factors you need to consider when starting out, such as what kind of equipment you need and how to put together a video once you’ve shot it.
In this article, we’re going to help you think about how to choose the best camera for YouTube videos.k
Table of Contents
- How to Choose the Right Camera for YouTube
- Best Inexpensive Cameras for YouTube
- Best Intermediate Cameras for YouTube
- Best Advanced Hybrid Cameras
- Best Cinema Cameras and Camcorders
How to Choose the Right Camera for YouTube
Factors like what type of videos you want to create, what camera form factor you prefer, what your budget is, and how much editing you want to put into your videos will all shape what kind of camera you should choose.
Vlogging or Live Streaming
Traditionally, when people talk about creating video for YouTube they would generally be talking about vlogging.
Vlogging (short for “video blogging”) covers a wide range of styles but ultimately it comes down to shooting and editing videos on certain topics that you post on a regular schedule. Vlogs can cover virtually any topic and follow a wide range of approaches including both strictly entertainment and highly educational.
Live streaming, on the other hand, is broadcast as it’s being filmed. You can add complexity to live streams through techniques like multi camera setups and on screen graphics, but live streams are not going to be pre-edited like vlogs will.
Live streams are certainly not new, but they are seeing a significant expansion particularly among brands trying to go online. For example, many fitness studios have expanded into offering live virtual classes while unable to be open during COVID-19.
While there is certainly overlap, there will also be differences between the camera setup you might use for a live stream as opposed to a vlog.
Considering different camera formats is very important for deciding on what kind of video camera to use. Do you want something incredibly simple, in an all-in-one package? Do you want hybrid capabilities, allowing you to shoot both video and still photography? Do you want the ultimate in customization and bleeding edge quality even if it means more expense and more work?
Let’s look at why you might choose each of the different common camera formats.
A lot of people will be turned off of the idea of using a smartphone for creating videos or think that there’s no way to put out professional quality work using one. The reality is that many smartphone models have surprisingly capable cameras in them.
In addition to what a smartphone can do on it’s own, the number of available options for accessories to take smartphone video to the next level is enormous. Stabilizers like the DJI Osmo can help you get smooth footage rivaling far bulkier (and more expensive) setups. Microphones like the Rode smartLav+ or VideoMic Me can seamlessly connect to your phone’s 3.5mm headphone jack to give fantastic audio. You can also find a wide range of aftermarket lens addons for more focal length flexibility with a smartphone.
While smartphones definitely have their limitations, if you want the most portable setup possible and don’t want to spend much on a video kit, they can be an enticing option.
Webcams are another category that may not come across as the most enticing option but can be a great choice for certain uses. In particular, webcams are ideal for creating live streams when you also want to be able to show screen captures from your computer. They are largely plug and play, simplifying your setup and newer models have surprisingly good video and audio.
If you like the idea of the simplicity of a webcam, but also want more flexibility out of your camera, there are some newer solutions as well. Video capture cards (such as the Magewell USB Capture or the Elgato Cam Link) and devices such as Blackmagic’s Atem Mini can accept HDMI signals from cameras (such as DSLRs and mirrorless cameras) and convert them into a signal that your camera reads as if it were a webcam. Some camera manufacturers are starting to offer similar capabilities directly as well, such as Canon’s recently released EOS Webcam Utility.
Action cams such as GoPros have been popular for a while, but they are also often overlooked. Older models didn’t always offer much in the way of focal length flexibility, instead focusing on super wide angle views in order to capture as much of the environment as possible. Newer models, though, offer more flexibility and better image quality than earlier ones along with some perks like impressive stabilization, a wide range of accessories, and an extremely portable setup.
Point and Shoots
Point and shoots offer a great format if portability and price are very important considerations. They are small, you don’t have to worry about switching out components (like lenses), and are generally (but not always) on the lower end of the camera price spectrum. It can be a misconception that point and shoots are always low end cameras. They can offer surprisingly high quality and give you video features you wouldn’t expect from the format.
Ever since Canon’s 5D Mark II introduced high quality video to still cameras the popularity of hybrid interchangeable lens systems has exploded. DSLRs give you a huge amount of flexibility, allowing you to choose lenses to achieve virtually any look you want, and let you use one kit for both video and still photography.
There are tradeoffs for DSLRs, though. They can be fairly large and heavy, some models have extremely disappointing autofocus (newer DSLR models are vastly improved over those from 5+ years ago), and they have yet to offer in-body image stabilization in all but a few models.
Mirrorless cameras have become hugely popular among hybrid shooters because they offer most of the benefits of DSLRs while also eliminating many of the downsides. Mirrorless cameras are generally significantly smaller than comparable DSLRs, much of the new technical developments such as IBIS are widely available, and video-centric features like zebras and focus peaking are common in mirrorless cameras while being largely absent across the DSLR lineup.
In a lot of ways, camcorders are to the video market what point and shoots are to the photo market. They offer an all in one package designed to streamline the process of capturing video. They don’t have interchangeable lenses or often as wide of a range of accessories as some other formats, but what they do have is made to just work together.
Also like point and shoots, camcorders often have a reputation as being relatively low quality, but you can find models that are absolutely top notch. And unlike hybrid formats, camcorders can give you features invaluable to videographers that won’t be found on still cameras such as built in ND filters and more advanced input/output ports like XLR audio.
Cinema cameras are the video equivalent of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. They are systems designed to maximize the quality and give you nearly unlimited customization. With cinema cameras, you can add on exactly the components you want, such as lenses, video monitors, file storage (often recording directly onto hard drives as opposed to memory cards), power supplies and more. While you can find other camera formats that offer LOG or even true raw recordings, it’s far more common with cinema cameras. Just about anything that you want for your videos, you can find a cinema camera that offers it.
The tradeoff to this is that working with cinema cameras can be significantly more complex (and generally far more expensive) than any other format. You often have to not only figure out every component you need but also how to rig it all together. LOG video gives you far more editing flexibility but requires you to put the time into color correcting your footage.
Most cinema cameras are more than most YouTube videographers will want, and if you’ve reached the point that you are seriously considering a cinema camera you will probably want a deeper review of the camera than an article like this can give you. But if you’re curious and want to dip your toes into cinema cameras, there are some relatively low cost models coming out that can give you an introduction into that world.
Don’t Overlook The Importance of a Good Microphone
For most people, the camera is the exciting part of setting up a video kit. But you cannot overstate the importance of a good microphone. High quality audio is critical to creating video that stands out as professional.
Often, lapel mics (also called lavalier or lav mics) are the best choice. They clip onto a shirt or collar and sit close to your mouth. Being only a few inches away from your mouth they can isolate your voice from background noise better than other microphone types, and if you’re moving around or shooting different clips they will give you consistent audio.
Lapel mics can introduce challenges such as certain outfits being hard to attach them to, especially if you are being especially active (for example, fitness vloggers talking while demonstrating exercises). You also have to figure out how to connect a wire to either a transmitter (which you have to attach somewhere) or directly to the camera.
Despite these challenges, the cleanliness of the audio from lapel mics make them a great choice in many instances.
A shotgun mic is a standalone mic designed to only capture sounds from directly in front of it. You might attach one directly to the hot shoe of your camera or you can attach it to another stand if your camera is going to be stationary. Like lapel mics, shotgun mics do a great job of cutting down on ambient noise.
Because they are not attached to a person, they can be a great choice for mobile needs. However, if the distance between you and the camera is going to be changing (for exactly cutting between close up and wide angle shots), or if you’re not always going to be directly in front of the microphone while talking (such as turning the camera to show something in a different direction while continuing to talk) it can be challenging to match the audio between the different clips.
Condenser mics are what you think of if you’ve ever seen someone recording music or voice overs in a studio. They are designed to give you the cleanest and clearest audio possible, but do little to isolate sounds, requiring you to use them in quiet environments. They are a great choice if you are going to be sitting at a desk and recording yourself.
Microphones for YouTube
If you are wanting to improve the audio for your YouTube videos, below are some great microphone choices to check out:
- Rode NT-USB Mic – The Rode NT is a USB condenser mic that’s a great choice for live streaming or vlogging from a stationary position, such as recording at a desk.
- Rode RodeLink Wireless Filmmaker Kit – For a mobile setup untethered to your camera, the RodeLink Wireless Filmmaker Kit provides everything you need to start shooting with wireless audio, including a receiver, transmitter, and broadcast-grade lavalier microphone.
- Rode smartLav+ – Designed to plug directly into a smartphone’s 3.5mm headphone port, the smartLav+ is a great lapel mic for mobile setups that can also be connected directly to a camera or audio recorder via an adapter.
- Rode VideoMic Pro+ – The Rode VideoMic Pro+ is a small shotgun mic particularly well suited for audio capture for DSLR and mirrorless camera video projects thanks to a 20bd pre-amplifier that boosts the mic signal enough for these cameras to detect, preventing unwanted automatic gain inputs which causes unwanted noise to be audible with some other microphones.
- Shure Motiv MV88+ Smartphone Mic Video Kit – The Motiv MV88+ is a small, portable condenser mic designed to be used with a smartphone. It is powered directly through the USB cable (micro to USB-C or micro to Lightning depending on if you’re running Android or iOS) and can be connected to a computer with an adapter.
- Shure MX185 Cardioid Wired Lavalier Mic – The Shure MX185 is a fantastic, professional quality lapel mic with an XLR connector. It does require an external power source, which perhaps limits its use in a mobile setup, but it’s a great choice if you’re going to be relatively stationary while filming.
- Shure VP83F LensHopper Shotgun Microphone – The Shure VP83F is another great portable shotgun mic ideal for connecting to a DSLR in a mobile setup.
Best Inexpensive Cameras for YouTube (under $500)
As discussed above, smartphones can be a fantastic option that requires little or no additional investment beyond a device you already own. With the range of accessories you can add onto your phone, you can set up a kit that rivals many higher end cameras. Plus, as the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you, and for most of us our smartphone is always within reach.
If you want a high quality webcam for simple live streams, the Logitech Brio is hard to beat. You get 4K HDR video (provided your internet connection supports it), surprisingly good low-light performance, and a 5x digital zoom for some focal length flexibility. And while you will probably want another microphone, if you are on a particularly tight budget, the mic built into the Brio is surprisingly capable.
GoPro HERO8 Black
GoPro’s design has become classic, with only minor changes from their earliest models. Under the hood, though, the GoPro HERO8 Black offers a host of upgraded features. You get 4K 60 FPS, FHD up to 240 FPS, built-in stabilization, and 4 different digital lenses for more focal length options. The HERO8 Black is an affordable, customizable camera that, with the wide range of mounting accessories for GoPros, can be taken virtually anywhere you want to go.
Best Intermediate Cameras for YouTube ($500 – $1,000)
Canon G7 X Mark III
Canon’s G7 lineup is a perennial favorite among point and shoot cameras, and the newest model, the G7 X Mark III, brings some new features ideal for YouTube video creators. You get the same compact body design upgraded to shoot 4K 30 FPS or FHD up to 120FPS. Optical Image Stabilization built into the lens will help you get smooth footage. And for social media use, the G7 X Mark III will stream directly to YouTube and supports vertical videos for Instagram.
Canon Rebel T8i
If you’re looking for the flexibility of a DSLR instead of a point and shoot, the Canon EOS Rebel T8i includes feature-rich video options without sacrificing the sleek and portable form factor the Rebel line is known for.
It maintains the 24.2MP sensor with 7 FPS burst shooting, and allows you to shoot videos in 4k. The Canon Rebel T8i also has a timelapse feature, allowing you to create time lapses in-camera. The maximum continuous recording time is 29 minutes and 59 seconds.
Like Canon’s G7 X model’s Sony has perpetually been a favorite point and shoot option with their RX100 series. Looking at the growth in vlogging, Sony has now taken their RX100 cameras and reimagined them specifically for vloggers, creating the Sony ZV-1.
The ZV-1 keeps many favorite features including the extremely portable form factor and frame rates up to almost 1,000 FPS. On top of these, though, you get some exciting new features such as unlimited video recording (as opposed to the 30 minute limit of most cameras), built in ND filters, and a built-in 3 capsule mic for surprisingly good audio. You also get a combination optical and electronic image stabilization system and a fully articulating touchscreen LCD.
Best Advanced Hybrid Cameras (DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras $1,000+)
The Sony a6600 sits atop Sony’s line of APS-C sensor cameras, offering impressive features borrowed from their acclaimed a7 series (such as 5-axis image stabilization and Eye AF) in an even more compact body. Like with the ZV-1, Sony has built the a6600 to allow unlimited clip recording length, making it much more useful if you need uninterrupted video of longer events. Compared with earlier a6x00 models, ergonomics have been improved with a more comfortable, deeper grip and battery life has been significantly improved. And while you don’t get a fully articulating screen, it will flip up 180 degrees to allow you to see your framing and control more functions while in front of the camera, a necessity for many approaches to vlogging.
In the past, Nikon has lagged behind when it comes to video, but with their new Z series of mirrorless cameras, Nikon has roared into the picture with fully capable tools for videographers. If you’re wanting to get into video as a Nikon shooter, the Nikon Z6 is a fantastic choice. You get powerful video autofocus that is competitive with the best systems from Sony and Canon. You get uncropped 4K video with N-Log capabilities (perhaps the biggest advantage of the Z6 over the Z7). And unlike the Canon EOS R, you get fully integrated 5-axis in body image stabilization.
Canon EOS R
The Canon’s 5D Mark II introduced high quality video to the DSLR format, and Canon has been a staple for hybrid video use ever since. In essence, the Canon EOS R is essentially a 5D Mark IV in a mirrorless body, making it a great addition for vloggers. With the EOS R, you get access to Canon’s impressive new RF mount lens lineup and all of the advantages of Canon’s highly regarded Dual Pixel AF. C-Log is integrated directly into the EOS R, giving improved dynamic range and wide flexibility during post processing and color grading. The EOS R is also one of the few full frame options available with a fully articulating touchscreen, a huge benefit for vloggers standing in front of the camera.
Panasonic Lumix GH5S
The Panasonic GH5S boasts most everything there is to love about prior models but includes essential features aimed at videographers. The GH5S is capable of unlimited internal capture of 4:2:2 10-bit C4K video recording plus the ability to simultaneously feed 4:2:2 10-bit out through the full size HDMI port to an external recorder (rentable separately). Variable frame rate options have also been expanded with a maximum of 240 FPS in Full HD and 60 FPS in DCI and UHD 4K, allowing for up to 10x slow motion footage. But it omits built-in stabilization, so for that you’ll need to check out the GH5.
Sony a7S III
Like Canon’s 5D line, Sony’s a7 cameras have become staples for shooters wanting video capability that is top notch. The Sony a7S III takes most of the top features of the other a7 models into a single phenomenal package. You get Sony’s fantastic video quality in 4K with 10-bit 4:2:2 recording, and can shoot at full-frame with no crop. You get 12.1 MP stills, so this camera may not be a fit if you’re also looking to capture high-resolution imagery.
Sony’s Eye AF gives you top notch video autofocus. You can get an optional adapter for the multi interface hot shoe that allows you to use professional grade XLR microphones, a feature not generally seen in non-video specific formats. Focus Peaking has also been greatly improved compared to earlier a7 models.
Best Cinema Cameras and Camcorders ($2,000-$3,000)
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K
As discussed earlier in this article, cinema cameras offer a unique experience for videographers, focusing on the absolute highest quality video and full customization. Blackmagic has tried to take the cinema camera approach and streamline it for the masses. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K (BMPCC 6K) is an exciting option for videographers wanting to start with cinema cameras.
Compared to earlier BMPCC models, the 6K offers a larger Super 35 sensor with an EF mount, giving you the options of the full line of Canon EF lenses. As the name tells you, you get a huge 6K resolution video as well as the ability to use Blackmagic’s RAW codec, which pairs particularly well with their DaVinci Resolve software.
While the advantages of the BMPCC 6K are incredibly enticing, keep in mind the quirks of the format. Carefully figure out what additional components you need in order to fully assemble your camera kit. Also be aware that battery life is not great, so you might be limited if you’re wanting a mobile video setup.
Canon XA55 Camcorder
If you want to simplify and streamline your video setup without compromising on quality of features, a camcorder could be the ideal choice, and the Canon XA55 is a great option. It gives you an ultra compact camcorder format, making for a very portable and usable camcorder. Low light performance is very good, with wide aperture options and wide dynamic range. Like Canon’s DSLR and mirrorless options, you get Dual Pixel Autofocus, but unlike those cameras you do get 5-axis optical image stabilization. The XA55 offers dual SD card slots and 4K 30FPS (or 4K 60FPS through HDMI output) and the wide range of I/O that you would expect on a camera designed specifically for video.
Sony PXW-Z90 4K HDR
If you like the idea of an ultra compact camcorder, the Sony PXW-Z90 is another fantastic option. You get 4K HDR footage with Hybrid Log-Gamma profiles as well as super slow motion modes with up to 1,000FPS. You can keep your footage clear and sharp with fantastic autofocus and built in electronic and optical image stabilization. The PXW-Z90 offers a host of invaluable video tools including dual XLR inputs for professional audio and built-in ND filters. Dual SD card slots let you either record longer or have automatic backups as you capture footage.
It’s no secret that more people than ever are looking to start creating videos for YouTube. Whether you want to create a personal vlog, share home videos with your family, or bring your business to a new audience, there is a camera that will be perfect for your specific needs.
**All quoted pricing is at the time of this writing and subject to change.Tags: Best Camera for YouTube, Cameras for Beginners, Crop Sensor Cameras, DCI 4K, UHD 4K, vlogging Last modified: October 13, 2020