Camera gear I use to record myself and document my work

I've talked about the importance of documenting your work before. I believe that documenting and sharing your processes and workflows can only help you to improve them.

One the mediums I choose to document and share my work is video. I've been uploading video content to YouTube for a few years now, and I've learned quite a few things on the way.

I will be sharing some advice, tips and tricks in the next few days. Today, we'll talk about the camera gear I use to make those videos.


Sony a6500

I bought this camera solely because it can record 4k. I wanted to capture my American Road Trip in the highest resolution. Why? Because everyone said so: "you might want to crop", "it's future-proof"...

The Sony a6500 is an amazing camera, but don't buy it just for the 4k. It can do 4k at 24 and 30fps. For slow motion, you have to "step it down" to 1080p (60 and 120fps).

Sure, the footage does look amazing. So as long as you don't move the camera: the rolling shutter in the a6500 is horrible (and it looks like it hasn't gotten any better in the new a6400), making the clips unusable if you are handholding your camera and trying to vlog. It's fine on a tripod, though.

It overheats when recording 4k, and the screen is very hard to see.

Besides those problems specific to this camera, 4k comes with huge requirements: you'll need a speedy internet connection to upload the videos, powerful computer to edit the footage, big memory cards, bigger hard drives, and a big wallet if you want to have a backup of those files.

Nowadays, I shoot everything in 1080p. You'll read a lot of things about the quality of 1080p footage from this camera, but I find it just fine. I decided to not worry about these things a long time ago, I'd be replacing my equipment every other month otherwise.

The battery life isn't great, I always carry a bunch of spare batteries with me. Depending on the day, I can use up to 4 of them.

I wish the camera had a flippy screen, but I won't be replacing it with a new one just because of this.


Sigma 16mm f/1.4

For the longest time, I used the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens to record my videos. It's cheap, tiny, light and it comes with OSS. Everyone talks trash about this lens online, but I find it very convenient and more than enough for most cases.

One of the things I really disliked about the kit lens is that is a power-zoom lens. Every time you turn on the camera, it takes just that extra half a second to be ready to start shooting. Not a huge deal, but it gets annoying really quick.

Ever since Sigma announced the 16mm f/1.4, I knew I was going to get it, eventually. I finally bit the bullet last October during a trip to Andorra and man, do I love this lens!

The quality is outstanding. It's a really fast lens so I can capture those low light situations without having to bump the ISO that much. Depth of field is extremely shallow when wide open.

There's another reason why this lens has made me a better videographer: it's a prime lens, I can't zoom. I should have realized much earlier about this, but I didn't. My videos are much calmer and easier to watch thanks to this. Less movement and more photography.

The lens is not perfect, though. It has two flaws: it's big and heavy, and it's a bit loud when focusing. I like to film landscapes where there's not much noise, and this can ruin your audio. I try to capture sound with my Zoom H1 as well, just in case this is an issue.

I absolutely recommend this lens to anyone shooting with a Sony APS-C camera. It won't let you down.

If you want to use large apertures in bright daylight, you need an ND filter. I use this Zomei variable ND filter and it works great.


Rode VideoMicro

When I first started making videos, I was mostly worried about the quality of the footage. Big, big mistake. I've come to realize that the most important element of a video is the audio.

Don't get me wrong, I still mess it up every once in a while. I'm just one man after all, and I can't record some of the shots again. But I am aware of the huge importance of audio in our videos.

The Sony a6500 has a mic input, and my microphone of choice is the Rode VideoMicro. I love the small form factor and that it doesn't use any kind of battery. I really try to keep the amount of devices I need to charge to a minimum.

The quality is pretty good as long as you are close enough to the mic. The furry wind shield that comes with it eliminates most of the wind noise, which I love.

This mic lives permanently on the camera now.


Zoom H1 + Rode SmartLav+ Mic

As I said, the Rode VideoMicro is just fine as long as you are close to the camera. Of course, that limits the type of shots you can record.

That's why I got a Zoom H1 audio recorder and a Rode SmartLav+ Mic that I can have on me at all times. This way I can record my voice no matter how far I am from the camera.

Even when using the Zoom H1, I still leave the Rode VideoMicro on the camera to have an audio backup. You never know when something might go wrong and with audio, believe me, there are many things that can go wrong.

Lavalier mics are much more sensitive to ambient noise than shotgun mics, and a slight breeze can ruin your audio. If you don't rub it against your shirt or jacket first, of course.

I've fixed most of those problems by using this wind shield -similar to the one I use on the Rode VideoMicro.

When everything goes well, the sound is very good.

Oh, you'll also need this adapter to connect this specific microphone to the Zoom H1.


Fotopro FY-583

My favorite tripod ever, period.

This tripod, along with a prime lens, is the single piece of equipment that has improved my footage the most.

Before using the Fotopro FY-583, I used to carry a GorillaPod with me. Those are fantastic as well, but they are just too low. When I was on the field and had nowhere to put it, I had to record from ground level resulting in very awkward-looking footage.

This tripod is not the most stable tripod out there. The build quality could be... let's say, much better. Be careful if you use a heavy camera: my Sony a6500 and Sigma 16mm feel very unstable -it was just fine with the kit lens, though.

Recently, I found out about a newer model - the Fotopro FY-683. It's twice the price, but taller and more stable. I will be checking it out soon.


GoPro Hero 7 Black

Lastly, I always throw the GoPro in my backpack... just in case. I don't use it every time I go out, but it's very useful to capture some time lapses and different angles. I will use only the GoPro if the weather is bad, the Sony a6500 is not really weather-proof.

The image quality isn't the best but to be honest, more than enough for a video documenting our work.

I record video at 2.7k using Linear mode (so I don't get the fisheye look) and Hypersmooth stabilization, the best feature this camera has to offer.


Gear I do NOT recommend

I've tried gimbals in the past and they didn't work for me. Sure, you can create amazing footage with them, but that kind of footage might not be what you want / need.

As I said, switching to a prime lens forced me to think of my videos more as a sucesion of carefully composed static shots, rather than non-stop movement that can make the viewer tired.

For the same reason, I don't see the need for a slider. They are either big and heavy or really expensive. People use them to add motion to shots that maybe, and just maybe, should've been static.

Once again, it all comes down to what we want to do. This post reflects my specific needs in order to document my work, nothing more.


Don't worry about the (video) gear!

It might sound like a lot of gear, but it's just a camera with a lens, on a small tripod, with a microphone on top. The Zoom H1 in my pocket and the GoPro 7 in my bag.

We will talk about practical tips when recording videos on the field soon, but trust me on this one: don't worry too much about the quality of the actual footage. If you are on a budget, I'd recommend to invest in audio first. Much more important than having sharper footage!