Marketing Videos Too Costly? Build Your Own (Affordable!) Video Studio
It’s old news to you that video is a great tool to add to your marketing toolbox. But how do you justify the expense of hiring an outside agency for tens of thousands of dollars for one three-minute marketing video?
Well, you don’t have to. For little or no investment and using what you likely already have at your desk, you can create your own video studio and begin creating engaging marketing videos in a better than one-off cadence.
Web videos are great for B2B marketing
You can easily create videos for each stage of your customer’s buying journey, whether brand building and informational for the top of the funnel, product demonstrations for the middle of the funnel, or testimonials and case studies for the bottom of the funnel.
You know the numbers: Consumers are 39 percent more likely to share content if it’s delivered via video, and 36 percent more likely to comment and 56 percent more likely to give that video a coveted “like.” But here’s the kicker, according to studies reported in Psychology Today: “If you want your visitors to fall in love with your content, it makes sense to deliver it via video. That’s because it’s much easier for us to become emotionally attached to something we watch in a video than something we read in an article.” And people, especially B2B buyers, buy because of emotions.
It can be a game changer for your business if you’re able to create your videos in-house.
You can create marketing videos in-house
Creating videos in-house is cheaper than hiring a pro, even including the cost of getting set up. Creating videos in-house allows you quickly respond to trends and industry news. And creating videos in-house gives you the ability to leverage that video in several other types of content for your B2B marketing (such as podcasts, blog posts, infographics, SlideShare presentations and so forth).
Here are the most common questions I get asked here at Act-On:
“How did you build your video production studio?”
“What camera do you use?”
“What microphone do you use?”
“What lights do you use?”
With those questions in mind, I’ve compiled an equipment list you can reference to build out your own video marketing studio. We’ve split it into budgets for zero dollars, $1,000, $2,500, and $5,000.
Keep in mind, there is no “one size fits all” equipment package for everyone since there are so many variables (budgets, expectations, type of project, locations, and so forth). What I’ve tried to do is cover some basic gear you may want to consider.
What this is not is a sales pitch for one brand over another. I’ve used many brands over the years and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. I have also used equipment at all price points. While I would love to have a $10,000 camera and equally expensive lens and other gear, I don’t think they are needed for 99 percent of the videos you can produce. That holds true, if you’re considering getting a camera that shoots 4k or better. You probably don’t need it.
But if your CMO is willing to buy you a Canon 5D Mark III (or the Mark IV that is expected to be released soon), go for it.
That said, I’ve seen compelling, moving videos and movies that have been shot on a smartphone. And I have seen some tone deaf clunkers shot on an RED or Canon C300. The key to producing a great video is to begin by having a great plan.
What are the basics you’ll need for your own video studio?
At a minimum, you’ll need a camera, tripod, external microphone, lighting source, and editing software. If your budget allows it, get a digital recorder, extra batteries and memory cards, external hard drive, background, and light stands. The list could go on, and maybe even includes a drone.
We’ll review the equipment you could get for each budget.
Your (Nearly) Free Video Studio
Yes, you can create a video studio for free or for very little money. There are going to be some definite limitations in what you’re going to be able to pull off, but it can be done. Again, the key will be having a good plan.
Camera: For the camera, you can use your smartphone. Or even better, you can use several smartphone cameras. Watch this video from Act-On’s Rick Daino offering some quick tips for creating videos with what you have available right now at your desk. He shot it all on his smartphone. And this 2014 mini-documentary marketing video for luxury brand Bentley was shot on an iPhone 5s (although they did use some very expensive add-ons, like a Steadicam rig).
Here are a few quick tips for shooting your marketing videos with a smartphone:
- Shoot horizontal (landscape); unless you’re targeting the video for a platform like Snapchat
- Do not use the zoom. Instead, move the camera closer.
- Position you or your subjects so that the main light source is not coming from behind the subject, otherwise they will be in silhouette (this is true for all cameras).
- Avoid using any of the filters or other effects the camera offers (unless the intent is to be over the top)
Tripod. Whether you use a smartphone or DSLR camera, use a tripod to shoot steady shots. Without a budget, you can position your phone on a stack of books or something along those lines. If you have $50 or less, you can buy an inexpensive tripod and a gadget that will hold your phone and mount it onto the tripod.
Microphone: For a microphone, you can use your smartphone’s voice memo app. My recommendation would be to borrow a second phone and use the voice memo on that phone, which you can stick in a shirt pocket or place close to you. Then you would shoot your video on your phone. Later on, you will need to sync those files, which isn’t too hard if you have a good reference point such as a hand clap. If you have $20, you can get a wired lavalier microphone that you can plug into your phone.
Lighting: For zero-budget lighting, you can use natural light. You can also shoot indoors or outside. You can also use poster board (that every office tends to have somewhere). This can be used as a bounce, which you use to bounce light from one source onto your subject. And you can use the lights in your office or warehouse. Before shooting under office fluorescents, see if you can set a custom white balance on your smartphone camera. And avoid shooting directly under the lights, as this creates harsh shadows that make everyone look like an extra from The Walking Dead.
Editing: For editing your video, you can use the free programs such as iMovie or Microsoft’s Movie Maker. There are free apps for your phone that you can use, too. You can also purchase some cloud-based video editing tools for less than $30.
So, if we figure the cost of the iPhone can be left out of this equation, you’re spending: $40 for the tripod and smartphone connector; $20 for a wired lavalier mic; and maybe $30 for low-end editing tools. $100 or less.
Your $1,000 Video Studio
Camera: For the camera, I recommend purchasing an entry level DSLR camera. The DSLR gets you a few things:
- First, you can swap out lenses as needed. Are you shooting a wide shot for a tour, a medium shot for a testimonial or a close up for a product demo? You’ll be able to swap the lenses accordingly, as well as use a zoom lens for all three shots.
- DSLRs are great for creating cinematic videos with the subject in focus and a fuzzy background (called “bokeh” or shallow depth of field).
- Having a DSLR and assorted lenses also gives you the option to use the camera for still photos, whether those are head shots for your executive team, product shots, or your own stock photos.
That said, you could also buy a prosumer-level video camera like the Panasonic full HD camcorder. One key benefit of a camcorder like the Panasonic is it’s a short learning curve. You basically point and record your video. These can be great for testimonial videos, or talking head videos that you’re shooting on a regular basis. The Canon T5 or T6 DSLR camera will set you back $399 or $499. The Panasonic camcorder will set you back about $230.
Lens: Let’s say we purchased a mid-range DSLR camera for about $500. You will also need a lens. These cameras often come with a kit lens, which will work in a pinch, but you can do better. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens is a decent lens (and even a greater value) for $125.
Tripod: For a tripod, I really like the Magnus VT-4000, which costs $150. You can buy something cheaper or more expensive. The thing to look for in a tripod is to ensure it can support the weight of the camera you will be putting on it; that it is well built and can take a beating; and that it has a fluid head (for tilting or panning). Read the recent reviews of any product you’re considering, whether it’s a tripod, camera or light setup.
Microphone: For your microphone, I recommend buying a wired lavalier microphone, Audio-Technica makes a good one for $25. The wired lav isn’t the best, but it’s great for the time being and for this budget. Once you upgrade, it’s great to have this in the camera bag as a backup (I learned this from experience).
What should you get first, a lav mic or a shotgun mic? I recommend the lav mic, which will give you great sound and can be used in interviews, testimonials, talking head and even voiceovers. The shotgun mic is great when more than two people are going to be speaking in your video.
Et alia: That gets our total to about $800. We’ll spend the remaining $200 on your lighting and support equipment. That would include a light stand (set of two for $23), two portable LED lights ($66 for the Yongnuo YN300111), and batteries for the lights ($33 for a set of two with a charger).
Your $2,500 Video Studio
Camera: If your budget is $2,500, I recommend investing $999 of it in getting yourself the Canon 70D DSLR camera, or a comparable camera. One of the reasons I like this camera is the autofocus feature, which allows you to be a one-man show if you are both recording the video and being the star of the video (similar to the popular YouTube vloggers). Another reason I like this camera is the flip out LCD monitor, which just makes it easier to see what you’re doing, whether you are in front or behind the camera.
Lens: For your lens, I would keep the Canon 50mm lens for $125. I would also add a zoom lens, such as the Canon 18-135 STM lens for $549.
Lighting: I would get the lighting kit mentioned above, as well as add another light and support equipment (light $66, light stand $23, battery $33).
That gets our total to about $1,983.
Microphone: I would add the Azden wireless lavalier microphone for $144. There are better wireless microphones, but I bought a set (it comes with a receiver and transmitter) when I first started making business web videos seven years ago and it’s still working. I would also get a shotgun microphone. Rode, Azden, Audio-Technica all make good shotgun mics for about $150. You will have to decide what is going to work best for you. Do you want it mounted on your camera, or on a boom pole attached to a light stand?
Audio recorder: Related to that sound, I would get a digital audio recorder, such as the Zoom H1 for $100. While your camera has an onboard microphone, you want to avoid using it if you can. And while you can attach these microphones to send the sound straight into your camera, you also want to avoid that because most cameras don’t have a way for you to plug in a set of headphones to ensure you are actually getting sound (another lesson learned the hard way); as well as they don’t have an easy way to measure and adjust they sound coming in.
Tripod: I would buy the $150 Magnus tripod, which should get us to about $2,500 give or take a few dollars.
Your $5,000 Video Studio
Think about this for just one moment: how far would $5,000 go toward what an agency charges for a marketing video?
Camera: For the $5,000 budget, I would add an additional Canon 70D to our kit for a total of two. One of the reasons to have a second camera is that it allows you to record two-camera interviews. These are great for a couple of reasons.
- The first is that it helps with the editing, allowing you to blend multiple takes together.
- The other reason is that you want to avoid having just one talking head in your video droning on and on from one angle.
Pay attention the next time you are watching a web video, a movie, or your favorite TV show. You will notice that the shot is changing about every seven seconds (I’m not saying you have to change the shot every seven seconds, but you do want to mix it up using a second camera angle, close ups, medium shots, wide shots, product shots, and so forth).
Lens: You could stick with the two lens mentioned earlier, the Canon 50mm lens for $125 and the Canon 18-135 STM lens for $549. I would get two of the Magnus tripods for $300 total.
Lighting: I would get the updated 3-point lighting kit mentioned above. This would be ideal for taking your video marketing on the road, shooting videos at a client or customer location or at a trade show. For the studio, I would spend $300 for a softbox light kit.
That gets our total to about $3,600.
Microphones: I would upgrade our microphones, buying the Sennheiser wireless lav microphone set for $630, and stick with the $150 shotgun mic. I would also upgrade the digital recorder to a Zoom H4 or a Tascam DR-60DmkII for about $200.
Et alia: With the remaining $420, I would buy SD cards to store the video files ($40 for four); a muslin collapsible backdrop and mount for ($60); extra batteries for the camera ($140 for two); portable backdrop support stand ($50), and a roll of seamless backdrop paper ($50).
What about Video Editing?
Great question. In all the above options, you can continue to use the free software you have on your computer, or that you can download to your smartphone or tablet. However, you are eventually going to want to upgrade to a more robust option.
I use the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, which includes all the Adobe programs such as Premiere Pro, After Effects, Audition and so forth. That’s a subscription and it runs $49 per month, although there are discounts if you prepay. You can get just the video editing Premiere Pro app for $19 a month. Or you can get the barebones Premiere Elements for a one-time $60. There is also the Final Cut Pro editing program, as well as countless services you can find on the web.
Something to remember with these more advanced video editing programs is that they are going to require a more robust computer to run them. That means having more than 16 gig of RAM, having a better than average graphic card and processor, and having plenty of internal or external hard drive space. If you are considering one editing option or another, make a point to see what hardware requirements they require to run as designed.
There you have it: four buying lists for four budgets of zero dollars to $5,000 for building your own B2B video studio.
Of course, you can spend tens of thousands more for really terrific cameras, lenses, lights, tripods, microphones, and more. The list goes on and on (so don’t email me complaining I didn’t mention your favorite). If you have extra money to spend, I would always recommend buying better lenses, such as the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L, which is my go-to lens and a real workhorse. You can also look around your community to see if there is a business where you can rent the gear. This can be a great way to really see the differences between one brand or another. And some shops will discount the rental fee if you purchase within a certain time period. There is also at least one business that offers video and photo equipment rentals online and will ship to your location.
At the end of the day, having fancy equipment isn’t going to result in great marketing videos. Fancy equipment only raises the hurdle you will need to clear to justify to your coworkers, your boss, and her boss the capital and ongoing expense for your studio, and to show a return on that investment.
However, with a well-thought out plan, you can create a great marketing video for only a few dollars. And that lower bar to creating videos may entice you to experiment and take a few chances that you wouldn’t otherwise.
A bit more
In the past, we’ve shared quite a bit with you about creating your marketing videos. I strongly recommend you review:
- How to write a creative brief for your next marketing video project
- How to optimize your marketing videos for YouTube
- Why you shouldn’t fear creating your marketing videos in-house
And about that plan? Stay tuned, we’ll get to that blog post soon.
For a complete list of all the equipment mentioned in this post download Act-On’s, Build Your Own In-House Video Studios Equipment Buying Guide.
Curious where video fits into your content plan? Download Act-On’s Free Workbook – 4 Steps to Develop a Content Plan.