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Cameras by Budget

Your Laptop Webcam ($0)

Most of us have only scratched the surface of what our laptop webcams are capable of.

Dig into your webcam settings. Out of the box, I've yet to see a camera that has the color, contrast, and temperature dialed from the moment you hit record. Some webcams will come with a native settings app that lets you control things like white balance, hue, contrast, and saturation. While others, like MacBooks, require downloading a third-party app to access these settings.

It's hard to eyeball exactly what changes will be 'better', but here's a trick:

  • Find a video you like the coloring & overall look of
  • Put it alongside your own video, and tinker with the settings until you can get something close
  • Remember the darker your shot, the harder the camera will have to work, and the lower your image quality will be.

Logitech C920 ($80)

This workhorse has been around for a while, and for good reason. A terrific sensor that squeezes everything you can get out of 1080p, and works well in bright and dim light.

Perhaps most important, the Logi Capture software gives you great control over the video itself. No camera is optimized out of the box, and most don't give you control over settings like white balance, color temperature, and contrast.

While Logi Capture isn't perfect, it at least gives you control. Put your video feed alongside another that you like the look of, turn off all the auto adjustments, and tinker with the settings until you find something you like.

If you aren't a stickler for new hardware, these can be had used for as cheap as $50.

Elgato Facecam ($200)

If you're looking for easy, plug & play high quality video the Elgato Facecam is about as good as it gets. A high quality sensor with great software to back it up, and give you the control you need over your video settings. The 60 frames per second video, compared to the C920s 30fps, will also give your video a cool look.

Now, if you aren't interested in ever using a DSLR camera, this is probably the one for you. DSLRs do introduce added complexity, and if you aren't going to go down that path, look no further.

If you plan to someday purchase a DSLR, stick with the Logitech, and keep saving your money. The greatest upside of DSLRs is upgradability, and when we're getting this close to DSLR money, you're probably better off waiting until you're ready to make the stretch to a DSLR.

Sony A5100 ($400)

The best entry to the DSLR universe. 60 frames per second at 1080p, and it works with any E-mount lens in Sony's range of lenses. This gives you fantastic long-term flexibility when it comes to getting different types of shots, ultra-wide-angle or more narrow shots like we discussed in the 'Framing Your Shots' video.

Remember when you take the plunge into DSLRs you'll need a capture card and a tripod for the camera itself. If you've come this far, be sure to watch the camera hardware video in my video series before buying.

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In my opinion the best way to buy this camera is to pick it up used on eBay. This camera has been around for a while, so there are plenty of them in circulation, making used cameras a steal. By comparison, a new A5100 generally runs between $700 and $800, and another $300 in lighting equipment will get your video much further than the difference between a new & used camera body.

The 'kit' lens, or the lens that comes with the camera is flexible enough to get you started. For reference, the two lenses I use heavily today are a 16mm lens and a 30mm lens; the kit lens on the A5100 is adjustable from 16-50mm.

Sony A6400 ($800)

This camera will use the same E-mount lenses as the A5100 before it, making it a great upgrade and why I recommend buying cameras within the same ecosystem, but it comes with two main advantages over the A5100:

  1. It will shoot in 4k - If you're just making 1-to-1 videos this probably isn't a big deal yet, but 4k video gives you much greater control in post-production to rotate your video if it isn't square, and crop in on the video when necessary. It also just looks a lot better. Phone & tablet screens are all higher resolution than 1080p now.
  2. Great color profile control - This seems trivial, but it's actually a massive deal. Take a look at this video with my A5100, and this video with my A6400 to get an idea of the difference color profiles make in your video. It's the reason my videos have a signature look. I did not figure any of this out on my own, I used this video setting guide.
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I'd recommend picking up this camera used as well. For the $200-$400 you'll save, you can buy an alternative lens that will give your video a different look, and give you more flexibility for different shots.

What's Next?

There's a lot of hardware beyond this price range, but in my opinion you start spending exponentially more money for little incremental quality improvements. Check out YouTube if you do want to go further.

Complete this form, and I may give you feedback on your video setup in an upcoming YouTube video! Critique My Setup

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