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The Digital Director Experience: Video Editing Fundamentals

What gear does an amateur really need?

Rating: 3 votes, 2.33 average.
Amateur film-making is a ludicrously expensive hobby. Buying the latest must have gear will set you back a small fortune, but as amateur, do you really need all that gear? I've made some poor investment in gear choices over the years, so I thought I'd share my experiences with fellow enthusiasts and newbies to the hobby. So what do you really need if you're filming for fun?

It may sound ridiculous, but you may not need a camera. Chances are your smartphone will be a capable alternative, and in many respects better suited than a camera. The ultra-portable, always with you, advantage of a smartphone means you'll always have it to hand to film when you need. There are plenty of examples of excellent videos using an iPhone, so quality isn't really an issue. If you're a hobbiest photographer, you may even have a DSLR to record video.

So why bother with a camera? I've tried many times to use my iPhone for video, but I rarely feel it's a viable alternative to a "proper" camera. And I regularly use a DSLR for video, but it just doesn't quite have the same ease of use. I also have a go pro, but that's only used where I wouldn't want to risk my camera (on the sea, by the beach or sports).

Verdict: Spending on a dedicated camera is a sensible solution, but not an essential. A go pro is a great addition, but not an alternative.

There's a vast array of software choices for video editing, and you can easily spend over £1,000 on professional gear you simply don't need. The "pro" video editing suites such as Sony Vegas and Adobe Premiere have consumer orientated versions, which do everything you'll need to edit and provide a great future upgrade path if you really need additional features.

Having tried various free and low cost solutions, my personal preference is to go with Premiere Elements or Vegas Movie studio. The alternatives at the same price bracket tend to dumb down the video editing process. I also have various iPad editing apps, but have never produced a video on any of them.

Verdict: You don't need to spend any more than £50 on video editing software. To future proof, choose an editing app that can be upgraded to a professional version such as Adobe Premiere Elements

There's a bewildering array of tripods on the market. Bottom line is that it will be your second most used piece of gear. You need one, but which one? As an amateur film-maker, you'll want a light-weight solution, so that will mean spending a bit more than the cheapest option. You'll also want one that will outlast your camera (technology in the tripod market rarely advances), so again, that pushes the price up. Manfrotto aren't the cheapest, but do offer light weight sturdy constructions. I have a monopod and gorilla pod in my arsenal, but these rarely get an outing. The monopod is mainly used as a steadicam alternative to filming low angles - hold it upside down and flip in your video editing app!

Verdict: Spend upto £100 on a lightweight, solid tripod which will last you many years to come.

Quadcopters, jibs, steadicams...
Anything else expect a camera and tripod really aren't needed when you first start out. They can add a new level to your videos, but until you learn the basics of filmmaking, you'll be buying an expensive toy that gets limited use. If you can't think of how you would use the tool to enhance your videos, do you really need it? Or will it gather in dust after posting a "test" video to YouTube? Too often I've bought gear because I want a new toy, not because I need it.

Verdict: Try before you buy. Hire or borrow before you invest to make sure you'll use the new gear.

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Updated 07-23-2013 at 09:13 PM by Marc Peters

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  1. SSCinema's Avatar
    Nice post, Marc. One thing I might add:

    When buying a more affordable not-so-top-of-the-line camera (as I have always done), I'd like to suggest not only reading reviews but also checking what kind of footage you can find on Youtube. You can often find low-light tests etc which can give nice idea of how good footage it will shoot in non-perfect lighting conditions (that's were us amateurs dwell, I believe?). I'm guessing most of us didn't have 3-point lightrig with us on our starting projects (I still don't have), so low-light/indoors quality might mean surprisingly much in camera.
  2. Theycallme_Jane's Avatar
    I'm a bit concerned about you not mentioning microphones, because it's currently my main issue. I watched a few "how to" videos on youtube, because I personally couldn't stand - and still cannot stand - the quality of my videos. I have an extraordinarily low budget and I'm basically vlogging for a kind of charity project of my own, so I couldn't spend much. But, based on the tutorials on youtube, I got myself a Flip Pure Digital HD video camera and the older version of a Rode shotgun microphone, both very cheaply on Ebay. I haven't even started thinking about software, because, to be honest, I'll also be the person in front of the camera, preparing content all the time and writing blog posts. So I'm thinking: how am I supposed to take all this time off to edit each video (next to a full-time job and ...a life)?

    However, as it's a language vlog and I'll be switching between the languages, I'll at least need a couple of subtitles (doing that with Movie Maker is a pain in the neck, doing it with an external software is also a pain in the neck for the whole import/export and shifting between windows kind of issue). I'm ideally aiming at a video quality and some few fancy effects like in this video by charlieissocoollike. However, I'm not sure my camera will produce that and really, I'm simply not able to afford anything fancier for this project.

    I'm also just learning how to appear more natural in front of the camera, which would involve a bit less touching my hair and a less "uhm". Being able to spot the right times to cut this out is also an issue. I'm doing a really shitty job at the moment. But I've only got limited time. I am, however,hoping I'll get this to look decent, so people feel attracted to the blog and are more inclined to donate for my charity project.
  3. zenithcinematography's Avatar
    Nice post Marc.
    One thing I would like to share with you the way you explain videography by smartphone for Amateur film is flawless. If you're a hobbiest photographer, you may even have a DSLR to record video. and gave suggestion not spend much more on video editing s/w.
  4. Nova Red's Avatar
    This may sound stupid.... but, HOW DO I MAKE A POST ON HERE!!!!!!!!!!?????
  5. Hook's Avatar
    Thanks for the run down!
    Rock On!
  6.'s Avatar
  7. Charles Feroz's Avatar
    Great Post Marc! Enjoyed your post thoroughly. Keep it up. We've just started with a new Corporate Video Production Company in NYC and hope this Forum will help us along the way.
  8. geradmada's Avatar
  9. eicvideo's Avatar
    Great tips for an amateur or somebody who is just venturing out in the world of videography. I've written some tips and advice on video editing and corporate video production on my blog too.
  10. Thejigsaw's Avatar
    The blog was absolutely fantastic! Lot of great information which can be helpful in some or the other way. Keep updating the blog, looking forward for more content.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Corporate film Makers
  11. villagetalkies's Avatar
    Lovely tips and helpful for me. Thanks for the great share

    Village Talkies
    Corporate video production company in Bangalore
  12. JuanRavina's Avatar
    Hi Iím sorry Iím a sound guy trying to get some practice and some material to do Sound Desing.I have looked thru the web and found nothing and Iím trying to get a reel built, the reason Iím posting here is to know if someone would like to help by cheaping in with some sort of short material, short films or short documentaries in order to do some sound desining, thanks for your help! My name is Juan!