YouTube Studio for Under $500! How to Make BETTER YouTube Videos

In our last article/video, we went over how to set up a YouTube studio for zero to 61 dollars. We also went over some tips and tricks for shooting with that gear and some small upgrades. If you haven't checked out that article/video, open it in another tab and watch it after this article/video. Here, we're going to level up that kit and go over the best youtube setup for under 500 dollars - and these upgrades may come as a surprise to you.

Camera

Jumping straight into our camera, and believe it or not, we're going to be using the same camera as our last article/video. We're going to still be using our phone or any camera that we already have, along with the Filmic Pro app and an affordable tripod with a phone adapter. At this price point, our camera would eat up our entire budget. Again, check out that first article/video, I give you a quick crash course on in-camera settings and best practices there to get the best results out of your phone's camera.

Lighting

When it comes to lighting, this is where we're going to make our first big upgrade. Good lighting is something I wish I learned about earlier, as a camera is only as good as the light you put in front of it. High-quality light sources really let your camera capture great images. There's a wide range of lights to chose from, but my favorite affordable light, and the one I started off with, is the Godox SL-60w.

Our First Light

This light is a great value light for shooting YouTube videos or for smaller productions. It isn't perfect, but for $135 dollars, you'll be very hard-pressed to find a better light. One thing to be aware of is that you can hear the fan noise if you put your microphone too close to the light. This can be remedied by knowing to put your light farther away from your microphone. I used this light for years and as long as I kept my mic away from the light, I wasn't able to hear any fan noises. The second drawback of this light is the total output. If you're using the light outside, it will be very difficult to overpower bright sunlight, but it produces great daylight-balanced light if you're using this inside or on a cloudy day. To shape that light, we're going to need to use a softbox, and I have a few you can choose from.

Light Modifiers

Glow EZ Lock

The first softbox we're going to make is to our Glow EZ lock 28-inch Bowens-mount, deep parabolic softbox. This softbox costs $70 and will allow us to take the hard light that is coming from our SL-60W, and turn it into a larger, soft light source that we can control with the included grid to direct our light. These Glow softboxes arent the most durable, but they can get the job done if you're really careful.

Laofas 90cm Softbox

If you're looking for a larger, and more durable softbox, laofas makes a 35 inch or 90-centimeter softbox that also includes a grid and the overall build quality is higher than the glow softboxes. The Laofas softbox is $50 more expensive than the same-sized glow softbox, but If you're going to be filming outside, I'd go with the laofas softbox since the build quality where the poles lock into the softbox mount is of higher quality than the Glow. There is a single locking mount in the center for the Glow, which makes it easier to use, but not as strong as each rod does not have it's own lock. I like the 90-centimeter softboxes, as they allow are large enough to let the light wrap around you in a natural way.

85cm Lantern with Skirt

Another modifier you might find helpful is the lantern with the skirt. Laofas sent me this to try out a while ago and I've been using it for a big soft light source for a while. This mounts directly onto the SL-60W or any bowens mount light, and will throw lots of softlight evenly around the room. The best part is that you can use the included skirt to control the light coming from the lantern. Be careful if ordering this lantern though, as some of the versions don't come with the skirt for controlling the light. The skirt and the size of this lantern are what make me use this specific modifier. This throws around tons of soft light evenly - so if this is the look you're going for, check out this lantern. I'd recommend using this with sand bags and a c-stand to boom over your subject, which could drive up the overall price - but if you're going to be using the softboxes, a light stand will be a better bang for your buck.

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Light Stand

I realize spending money on a light stand might not seem like the most exciting thing, but this is a stand that you'll have forever and there is a danger to buying cheap light stands for bigger lights. Cheap light stands tend to creep down over time the more you use them or tip over in the worst cases. Falling lights damage your equipment and whatever is under them, and this is often people.

To avoid this were going to buy an impact air-cushioned light stand, this is heavy-duty enough to support this light reliably while also not breaking the bank coming in at about $50 dollars.

The light stand is large and sandbags fit between the legs to keep the light from falling over. Side note, I'm a big fan of using large rocks or pavers in plastic bags in my sand bags. Speaking from experience, using sand or tiny rocks can be a nightmare if they rip on set or while transporting them.

Lighting Accessories

Reflector

I touched on a few tips for controlling light in my zero dollar YouTube set article/video, and in that article/video we were using black and white poster board to bounce and absorb our lighting, but if we're going to be investing in lighting, I can't leave out investing in a reflector. I take this reflector everywhere I go and it's great to reflect, absorb or diffuse light. It's still pretty affordable at 20 to 30 dollars, and it can be a great compliment to our single light setup for bouncing light to act as a fill. The best part is, a reflector perfectly matches any light that you're using since you're technically using that light source, were just bouncing the light back onto us. Very helpful to have.

Audio

Our next big upgrade is going to be with audio. To me, audio is more important than a camera or even great lighting, so knowing that we need to have a nice external microphone that can work with any camera we will purchase in the future, I went with the Deity D3 Pro. This microphone can be used directly with our smartphone, DSLR, mirrorless, or any camera with a 3.5mm or XLR input if you're using an adapter.

I reached out to diety to see if they would send me this mic to review, as I've been using my Rode Videomic Pro for the past few years, but since this article/video is focused on the best bang for your buck, the D3 and D3 Pro is a better value than my now outdated Rode VideoMic Pro. The D3 is $99, while the D3 Pro is $199, and my Rode VideoMic Pro was $299 when I purchased it. The D3 Pro location kit comes with a handle and XLR adapter for $288, which is cheaper than my Rode VideoMic Pro.

The D3 is a great budget option if you only want to use your microphone on camera, but I went with the D3 Pro for its internal battery and two different low-cut filters for noisy locations. The D3 Pro can also be used with the D-XLR and Rycote grip to mount to an XLR boom pole for simple booming of the mic so you can get it closer to your subject.

That's how we'll be using our microphone, but with a simple 3.5mm extension cable. It is boomed out to get the mic as close as possible to me for the cleanest audio. The closer the microphone, the clearer the audio will be. To do this, we'll be using a pretty affordable Amazon Basics mic stand to hold our microphone and cable. I'm using an iPhone, so I'll also have to use a lighting to 3.5mm adapter as well.

A nice feature of the D3's is that the mic detects which connection your camera needs, so you don't have to bring any TRS or TRRS adapters with you - it does it automatically.

Booming our microphone over the subject and plugging it directly into our camera will get us the best audio and it will be baked into our footage so we don't have to sync anything in post-production.

Conclusion

It's amazing how modifying our lighting and audio can give us such big improvements to our overall production, even if we're only using our phone's camera. This is also going to help with our future productions as well, as just buying a nice camera isn't going to make up for a lack of lighting or audio. If you can make iPhone footage look great, you can make any camera look great!

If you haven't checked out the previous article/video, be sure to do so even if already have the gear. There are some tips and tricks throughout that article/video that will help with any camera, audio or lighting setup.

About Keith Knittel

I'm a designer from Cleveland, Ohio and love to shoot photos & videos. I made my first website in 2004 to show friends photos & videos (before YouTube/Flickr/Instagram were things) and have been shooting and designing ever since! I have a deep passion for making and helping others create.

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