Let me very quickly get one thing out of the way. I will not share any precise lists, photos, or videos of what I use in my own studio for two big reasons:
- I don't want to give or in any way support the impression that you must use the exact equipment I do to get nice results, or that copying my methods will copy the popularity my work has been so lucky to acquire. Both of these ideas are miles away from reality.
- The overwhelming majority of my setup is home-grown and hand-built by me (with raw materials & tools) to my own design that's specifically tailored to my needs and quite different from any commercial product or industry standard arrangement I've seen. I also change & evolve it continually over time.
What should I use to make good-looking LEGO videos?It may seem cliche to say, but there are probably a million ways to go about producing high-quality videos. There is no one single "right" strategy nor any magic formula for success. I'll do my best to provide some fairly universal tips & suggestions that can work with many different video styles.
CamerasTruly amazing quality HD video recording devices are everywhere these days. Quite many fairly low-end camcorders and point-and-shoot digital cameras are capable of recording HD footage you can be proud to put on YouTube. Many smartphones will do the job as well. If you're just getting started, try to make the best of what's already available to you before you consider making a big investment. If you do want or need to step up to something new, consider bundling multiple needs into one device -- if you're going to get a new phone or digital still camera for other reasons, look for one that's well-reviewed for video use as well. You don't need to go high-end & expensive! Some folks will insist that a "prosumer" level DSLR is a must, but I've not used one for video production in the 10+ years I've been on YouTube.
Because many LEGO elements are very small, make sure your device of choice is able to focus on objects that are close to the camera ("minimum focus distance" is the term often used). Prioritize optical zoom range over digital zoom, as the latter resizes images after they're captured, rapidly degrading quality. When you're new, you'll want to leave a camera in full "Auto" mode, but as you gain experience, it's very helpful to have a full manual mode that lets you set your white balance, shutter speed, and aperture exactly where you want them. If you're planning to ever turn or move your camera while filming (as opposed to leaving it fixed and moving objects in front of it), you'll want something with built-in image stabilization to minimize shakiness.
Thankfully these days there are a ton of independent hobbyists who happily share not only their opinions of virtually every commercially available camera, but raw footage as well. When shopping, do your research, and then do some more. Put your hands on store demo cameras wherever you can. Before you make a purchase, you should have a very solid understanding of the capabilities of the product you're about to buy.
Camera mount/holderI could have called this section "tripods," but that would be a bit presumptive. If you're just starting out taking video with a phone, you may be able to rig up a simple stand that uses something as low-tech as rubber bands to secure the device. Again, there's no one right way to do these things. Do try to ensure that your camera won't wiggle around while filming, though, from either an unstable stand or wobbly table/chair/stack of books beneath. You can do a lot with something inexpensive like a Joby Gorillapod, from standing a light camera on your table to wrapping it around a lamp post or using it as a handle for self-facing shots.
Ultimately I do quite like tripods, myself, and I personally prefer 3-way pan/tilt heads to relatively unwieldy & inconsistent ball head designs. When buying a new tripod, make sure it's truly sturdy (many of the cheapest have thin, wobbly legs), accommodates both ends of the height range you need, and has feet that are compatible with the surface you're going to use -- wide rubber pads for hard floors or thin or spike-like tips to penetrate deep carpet & find a stable base.
LightingFew things are more important than this. Enough well-placed light can make a really cheap camcorder come to life, while a bad lighting arrangement can produce results that even a cinema-level pro camera and copious post-processing will fail to overcome. Thankfully this is another area where a big budget is unnecessary.
The best results on a budget these days come from compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). They last a long time, are very cheap, and don't heat up your working area as much as traditional incandescents or high-powered halogens & such do. I just recommend that you pick one color (not all "white" lights are the same!) and brand for maximum consistency. I prefer "daylight" bulbs, myself, which are more of a pure white than the typical "soft white" or "warm" home bulbs. Do note with CFLs that they need a minute or so to heat up and come to full brightness the first time you turn them on in a day.
LED lighting is also an option. It's more energy-efficient and gives off less heat, but it's costly. Also, most common LED lights have a pronounced high-frequency flickering which, although imperceptible to humans, can cause strange and irritating issues in videos and will limit the range of camera shutter speeds you can use. You can get even higher-quality LEDs specifically made for video use (and "flicker-free"), but they're even more expensive, still.
In addition to multiple lighting technologies, there are different physical designs of light bulbs and fixtures. Spotlights focus everything into a limited area, wasting very little, but they cast very strong shadows just like the sun does outside; if you use multiple spotlight bulbs, you'll get multiple shadows! To reduce shadows in general (regardless of the type of bulb), you'll want "diffuse" light, sometimes accomplished by bouncing your source light off a large surface to spread it out, or by passing it through a translucent sheet of some sort. Two common ways to accomplish this are with softbox units or a lighting tent.
BackgroundsWhen I first started experimenting with the "infinite white" background style on another channel in 2009, I didn't see anyone else trying it in the subject area that channel was about. A couple years later, a lot of folks were using it. When I first introduced that style on the JANGBRiCKS channel, again, it just wasn't the thing folks were going for. Years later, it's now practically the de facto standard. If I were to start a brand new channel about brick-based construction toys today, I'd personally do my best to avoid infinite white, as I wouldn't want my videos to look like all those other channels. Being unique and original is important to me.
That said, if you do want the "infinite" look, the above-mentioned lighting tent setup is a very common solution, or you can just curve a large piece of heavy paper or thin plastic sheet from your horizontal surface up to a wall behind it. Poster board works well, though it's limited in size. You can also get paper on rolls from some craft supply stores, photography shops, and online. Different colors are available, too. To make things rotate without putting your hands in your shot, most people use a "lazy Susan" (just search for the term) or a cake turntable. There are also powered ones available like this, but they get pretty expensive, pretty quickly.
Do consider trying something different, though. Everyone doing the same thing the same way gets quite boring and uninteresting, if you ask me.
I hope this was useful. Also check out my tips for new YouTube channels. Now go get to searching, reading, and experimenting!