Best Video Camera For YouTube

Best Video Camera For YouTube

As you know fitness is my passion but I am an engineer with a lot of other passions as well. You know about the airplane I am building but something I realize I have never mentioned is how much I love photography. As a teen my mom let me use the pantry as a darkroom where I developed film from my Argus C3 and made enlargements with my Omega B-22. That love for photography translated into video and as started my fitness website. Hollywood will never come knocking at my door but I do all my own filming and editing so I DO know a thing or two about video.  I started digital video 15 years ago and have been a YouTube partner since 2006.   I have used six different video cameras so I can give you some practical advice about what video cameras are best for YouTube.   Not that I am not an artist.  I am not a director.  You wont ever see one of my films as Sundance BUT I do understand YouTube and how to convey information with video.

Camera or Video Camera?

It used to be clear.  You bought your video camera for video and bought your still camera for stills, not so anymore.  The lines are really blurred.  The very high end professional videos camera ($30,000 -$100,000) are still look like video cameras –   the Sony HSC-300R is a good example with a price of $43,000.  Once you drop down of the stratosphere in cost though, many of the good video cameras are actually just plain cameras, either DLSR or mirrorless.  The best example of this is the Canon 5d Mark III which is well known as one of the best, relatively affordable still cameras and its also a fantastic video camera.  Another example is the Panasonic GH4, its not quite as good as the Canon 5d Mark III but it more than makes up for it by its incredible feature set, its low cost, and its ability to shoot 4k video.

The Best Video Camera

Before we get started with my favorite cameras, let me ask you, what is the best nail? Galvanized or coated, common nail, brad, or finishing nail, short or long, ringed spiril or smooth? IT DEPENDS! No one nail is best, it depends on the application – same with video cameras, there is no one best camera. Different cameras for different applications. If your filming is always in the studio then your camera is going to be completely different than a YouTuber who has a skatboarding channel.  There is no BEST camera but there is a best camera for every specific situation and goal – its why most people have multiple cameras.  So what does Scooby own?  I actually have NINE cameras and each has its purpose:

Apple iPhone The best camera is the one in your pocket because then you wont miss important photo opportunities.  Smart phones win here hands down.  If I am walking or cant take a backpack/fannypack the smartphone is #1
Nikon Coolpix AW100 Great all around travel camera when size, weight, and durability are required.  Much better video than a smart phone and much more rugged
GoPro Hero 2 Durable, waterproof, shockproof … and cheap.  This is the camera I use when its destruction is a real possibility.  I actually have four of these, they work great as extra cameras when you are shooting videos.  There is nothing more annoying than filming an entire video and finding your primary camera barfed but with these cheap GoPros running I can always salvage the shoot shouldand I might even use the alternate angles in the main video.
Canon 5d Mark III I used this camera for studio videos for 2 years, its absolutely beautiful and has some of the worlds best lenses available for it.  Absolutely the best arrow in my quiver for still shots.
GoPro Hero 4 Black This is the cheapest entry point if you want to shoot 4k video, there is nothing cheaper!  Its got GoPro durability and reliability as well as vastly improved image quality over the Hero 2.  I use this for action video while biking etc.
Panasonic GH4 This is an awesome travel camera.  Its much lighter and smaller than the Canon 5d Mark III, takes 4k video, and is more rugged.  It also has an incredible feature set, great autofocus, and can be remotely controlled from an iPad or iPhone.  I currently use this as a studio camera and my travel camera.


One last thing before we get started with my favorite cameras, the most expensive is not always the best. The best camera is the one that is around your neck or in your pocket. Many a great video opportunity has been lost because someone didnt want to take their expensive, heavy camera to the beach or on a hike. Also realize that expensive cameras with amazing quality video will not get you a single view. Quality isnt everything. Cruddy smart phone videos go viral all the time and videos with amazing quality sit unviewed. Content is #1, quality is #2. Frank Yang is a great example of this. He makes amazingly beautiful and artistic videos and all he uses for many of them is just a cheap GoPro. Could he make better quality videos with a $50,000 camera, sure!  Would he get any more subscribers because of better dynamic range and 4k images?  Probably not.  An artist is not limited by their medium but rather, finds ways to embrace it.

What about auto-focus?

Your cheap smart phone does auto focus.  Your $100 point and shoot does auto-focus.  Of course a $2000 or $5000 camera would do auto-focus …. wouldnt it?  Nope.  The problem is that although cheap cameras DO autofocus, its never great.  The lens hunts for the focus as objects move in an annoying and obvious way that screams ‘UNPROFESSIONAL’.  Cameras like the Canon 5d Mark III do not even have any auto focus available while shooting video.  My Panasonic GH4 does have video autofocus and its pretty good but not good enough to use, I always use manual focus even with it when doing video.  Before you run out and buy something to shoot your YouTube videos with, think long and hard about focus and the tradeoff between having a fantastic video image and having auto-focus.  If the thought of having to focus scares you, then consider sticking with a point and shoot or a GoPro.  If you really want the artistic control that a manual focus allows, go with a more expensive camera.

Is 4k video worth it?

In contrast to 3D which turned out to be a fad … at least for now, 4k is real in my mind.  In my opinion, by Christmas 2015 the majority of TV sets sold will be 4k.  All those TV sets and nothing to watch.  Netflix doesnt have 4k content.  The major networks dont have 4k content. Sony pictures has about 30 films available in 4k but its expensive.  Wanna know where most of the 4k content is?  Yep, on YouTube.  In my opinion, if you are not shooting in 4k video now then you are already behind.  You need to be building up that content so that when the TV sets arrive, your channel is the one people tune into because YOU have the 4k content.  I have been shooting in 4k ever since the affordable Panasonic GH4 became available.

To those naysayers of 4k, I ask you if you have ever SEEN 4k on a big TV?  Nope, I thought not.  On a big TV, if you are closer than about 10 feet you see individual pixels in HD – not with 4k.  With 4k it looks like you are looking out a window its so sharp and realistic.  The size of televisions has grown faster than the pixel density and now that most consumers have the largest TV that will physically fit on the wall, its time to catch up with the resolution.  Naysayers also say that with YouTube, people watch on smart phones and laptops where 4k resolution is wasted, true, BUT more and more people are watching YouTube on their televisions as the blueray/AppleTV type boxes provide streaming content directly to the television.

Pixels are important but thats just the start.  If pixels were all there was to it then Indy film makers would be shooting with the $500 GoPro Hero 4 black instead of the $4000 Blackmagic EF Production camera.  Dynamic range, noise, and color quality are some of the things that separate good video from bad video.  Not all film makers are sold on 4k and would rather have high quality 1080p with excellent dynamic range than simply more pixels.  Quality costs money, how high of quality do you want?

So you say that 4k televisions are too expensive?  You are very wrong, check this out, here are a bunch of inexpensive 4k televisions. I know these are real, why? Because the 50 inch 4k resolution Seiki is sitting right in front of me and I have been using it for 6 months – price, $550. 4k is here, and its here NOW.

 Memory cost!

4k video is awesome and its the wave of the future but lets talk about memory cost.  Memory costs drop all the time but 4k video sucks memory like its going out of style.  Not only that, its gotta be FAST memory … which is more expensive.  You can get a basic 64GB SDHC card for $20 but if you want one that will work with the 4k video on a GoPro Hero 4 Black then its $66 for 64GB SDXC.   It gets even more expensive for the Panasonic GH4, those 64GB SDXC cards cost $230.  The Blackmagic Production Camera $2700 uses a whopping $500 960GB SSD for storage.

With 4K video you EAT disk storage. I have 24TB and its not enough. High performance is a must so I like RAID 0, just make sure to set your Time Machine Backup to back it up because its is not fault tolerant. The most cost effective ones I have seen are from G-tech, they have a 12TB system for $1200 G-Technology G-RAID Studio Thunderbolt-2.  If you have more money for storage and want flexibility to change the RAID level so that you get speed and fault tolerance, consider the Promise Pegasus2 R6, its $2215 for 12TB and $3400 for 18TB.

My point here is that its not just the cost of the camera you need to think about, its everything around it and memory is a big part of the cost.  For example, I am biking across Burma in January and will be taking my Panasonic GH4 ($1600).  Since I am biking I cant be taking a computer so I need enough SDXC cards to do all my filming.  Each 64GB card takes 2 hours so I figure I need four, and four at $230 each is $920 – nearly the cost of the camera!

Video camera choices from cheap to expensive

So lets get started. A smart phone is a great video camera! Its easy to use and you always have it! As I mention, smart phone vids go viral all the time. The problem with smart phones is that you have little to no control artistically and there are many situations that they suck at – for example, low light conditions and with strong back lighting. In good conditions though, they make fine video although its only 1080p for most phones.

So, next step, a point and shoot. I have used the cannon sure-shots but the problem is that with their telephoto lenses they are just too fragile. This is the one I like and there are many like it, its a Nikon Coolpix AW100. If I could only own one camera then a waterproof point-and-shoot would be it. Its waterproof and its shockproof. It has an internal telephoto lens that goes from very wide angle to telephoto with minimal distortion. It takes better much video than a smart phone and works much better as a still camera as well. Its about $270 so its cheaper than GoPros and more versatile.

Speaking of GoPro, lets talk about the new amazing GoPro Hero 4 Black edition which I am filming with now. This is the lowest price 4k video camera you can buy now. 4k is a big deal. In my opinion, if you are filming for YouTube now and not using a 4k camera then you are behind. My prediction is that by next christmas 1080p TV will be out and 4k TVs will be in and those people will be looking for 4k content to play on their big new TVs. A lot of people have said that my 4k videos on YouTube like this one dont look any better – THATS BECAUSE YOU DONT HAVE A 4K MONITOR! I have four of the Hero 2 cameras that I have been using for years and just got this GoPro Hero 4 Black – amazing improvment! At $500 its a way to get into 4k video really cheap. Downsides, first the horribly distorted wide angle image that screams GOPRO. Second, complete lack of control – its just a point and shoot which means there are a lot of lighting conditions where it just wont work well.

Now lets talk about DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. It used to be that cameras were for still and video cameras were for video – not any more. Cameras have virtually killed the traditional video camera. The advantage of a Digital Single Lens Reflex or mirrorless camera is the incredible control you get as well as the interchangable lenses. For someone like myself who shoots in a very small studio without bright light, this is the perfect camera. I can use fast wide angle lenses that dont distort the image and provide good low light capability. I always shoot video on full manual, its the easiest way to get high quality footage without fighting the camera. This is the camera I have been shooting with for the last 8 months and its awesome for not only studio video but field work and as far as high quality 4k footage, its by far the only game in town. This Panasonic GH4 is $1600 for the body – lenses go from $100 to $1000 but a complete GH4 package deal can be had for $2000. May sound like a lot, and it is, but not when you see what the next cheapest 4k camera costs! So, what do I like about this camera. Its a micro 4/3s which means everything is smaller and lighter than a traditional SLR and equivelent quality lenses are much cheaper because there is less glass. Its a fake SLR meaning that there is no mirror, when you look thru the eyepiece you are looking at a display. Why bother? Because when you shoot outside, those display backed cameras become completely unviewable. So what else do I like, its a next generation camera that nobody else comes close to in features. The camera is remotely controllable from an iPad app that lets me have full controll of everything the camera is doing. Incredibly powerful and helpful when you are shooting video of yourself in a YouTube video. Set the speed, F stop, focus, all from your filming marks. Although this camera is $2000 ish with a lens and the GoPro Black 4 is $500, in my opinion you get a LOT more for your money with this camera. But it depends again on your use, you are not going to strap the GH4 onto your skateboard.

Next up, the Canon 5d Mark III. This is the camera I used for several years to shoot video. Its primarly a still camera but despite that it takes some of the most amazing video. Then cannon lenses are some of the most amazing pieces of precision manufacturing around. You can get more expensive lenses but IMO they are a waste of money. The problem with the 5D Mark III is that it doesnt shoot 4k video. The follow on product is rumored to be coming out early in 2015 with 4k video but that camera is also rumored to be 4k for the body alone, thats about 3x what the Panasonic GH4 costs.

Finally in the roundup is the Blackmagic Production Camera EF $2700. I have never used one of these but its quite a camera. Personally I am waiting to see what the Canon 5D mark IV turns out to be and what Blackmagic has for offer then before I make up my mind. My GH4 is fine in the meantime but I really want something to hang my amazing canon lenses on – I am leaning toward the Blackmagic.

Video Camera Purchase Advice

For someone wanting to position themselves to be making quality studio videos for YouTube, my #1 choice today (12/12/2014) would be the Panasonic GH4, even though its about $2000 with a lens, its an incredible value.  Its got an incredible feature set, its got amazing remote control operation which is awesome if you are a one person company like me and do not have a camera man. Oh, and it shoots amazing 4k video.

If I had more money and wanted top quality video, I would move up to the next level by getting the $2700 Blackmagic Production Camera.  By the time you get a good lens, a reasonable battery, and a SSD with this system you are probably looking at least at $4000 which is about twice as much as the Panasonic GH4.

If both those cameras are too expensive, I would go with the $500 is GoPro Hero 4 Black because its the cheapest option available to get 4k video despite the annoying distortion from the wide angle lens, its still a great little camera.

If you want one single camera that can do everything from snapshots on a backpacking trip to studio video and running in the rain then get the awesome Nikon Coolpix AW100, 110 or 120.  For about $200 these cameras are a video bargain.

If you are just starting out and don’t know how your YouTube channel will be received, DONT BUY ANYTHING!  Just use your smart phone.  Remember, quality video does not assure views!


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