My Recording Equipment
Every time I post a new video either on YouTube or Instagram, there is at least one question regarding what recording equipment I use. So I thought I will write this post to share with you all the gear that has helped me make all the videos and recordings you've been watching and listening to in the last few years. Also, at the end of the post, I shared what I use for online teaching. The post includes links in the body of the text, but if you click on the pictures, they will take you to the product page for more details. Keep in mind that some of these items I bought more than 5 years ago, so the exact same model might not available anymore, but I hope these will give you some idea of what has worked for me and you can use these as a base for your own research.
I will start with the main camera that I use for my YouTube videos, which is the SONY a6300 that I bought when it first came out a little over 5 years ago. I chose this camera because it has really fast autofocus, which is very helpful when filming myself. I never have to worry about being in focus, or having to put something on the chair, focus manually, come back, record, and still find that the final video is blurry. However, an even more important factor when choosing this camera was that it has an external microphone input because the onboard mics in these cameras are terrible. This gave me an option to record my audio right onto the video file and not have to worry about external devices and syncing in post-production. 5 years later, there have been a number of newer models added to the Sony Alpha series, so I would suggest looking into those, like SONY a6400 for example that has a flip-up screen, so you don't need an external monitor to see yourself. More on that later.
In terms of mics, in all of the videos in the "Etude Series," and the instructional videos where there is no reverb added, I use a Rode Video Pro shotgun mic, mounted-on and plugged-in to the camera body. For those videos, I record the audio right into the camera, so I have only one file to deal with and don't have to edit and sync the audio to the video later like I mentioned before. It makes the workflow a lot simpler and faster. This mic does require a 9V battery, so make sure you don't leave it on after you're done with your recording session. You can also find a different version of this mic that takes from the camera and doesn't require its own battery.
In the videos where you hear reverb, these are mainly the stand alone performance videos of my concert pieces and the performance parts of my most recent "Guitar Favorite Series," I use an external recording device to record the audio at the same time but on a separate file from the main camera, then I edit the audio, add the reverb, and sync it with the video in Final Cut Pro, which is the video editing software I use. To record the audio, I used a SONY PCM M10 recorder that I've had for more than 10 years and it is now unfortunately discontinued. I actually recorded my entire first CD Paisajes with this recorder. It really does a beautiful job recording the guitar and it's a great device if you want to record on the go, like your LIVE concerts.
If I had to replace this recorder I would most probably buy a Zoom H4N or something like it. From what I've heard the Zoom recorders have amazing quality, perhaps even better than the SONY. When you record the audio on a separate device you will most likely get a better sound and more flexibility in editing, but you do have to do a clean job syncing it back to the video so the fingers match. Though it's not that difficult to do, overall, it does add more steps to the process.
Some of my videos have a separate angle for the right hand, for those angles, I use a second SONY camera, the a6000. It looks exactly like the a6300. Basically, it's my main camera's older sister. Having a second camera allows me to get a different angle without having to do multiple takes, saving lots of time. Since I don't use the audio from these files, I don't mind that the Sony a6000 has no mic input. I still make sure I record sound on the extra angle clips for syncing purposes, but its quality is irrelevant. I wouldn't get this as your main camera, it's good to have the external mic option if it's going to be the only camera you use. But if you're looking for a cheaper 2nd camera option, this one will do a great job. Also, no 4K on this one. Another thing to keep in mind when working with more than one angle, it's nice to have two cameras of the same brand, because the overall color of the images differs from brand to brand. I ended up with two SONY's because I wanted the images from both cameras to match. Otherwise, you find yourself color correcting for hours instead of practicing guitar.
Now on to accessories - which are equally important. As someone who records all alone, I use field monitors to assess the framing of the shot since neither of my cameras has a flip-up screen. Even if they did, those screens are so small, it's easier to use a monitor or even a TV so you can see yourself bigger. One of the monitors I use is by Neewer, shown on the left, and the second is no longer available but you can see it here. I actually like the second one better, it stays on even when I turn off the camera and the menus are easier, but I'm sure you can find better ones that fit your needs and budget. If you have a flip-up/out screen on your camera, you don't need a monitor, it's just nice to have.
What you absolutely do need for filming yourself is a remote! Make sure whatever camera you use has the capability to be controlled remotely, either through wifi with your phone or a designated remote. You don't want to constantly stand up and walk over to the camera(s) to press record or stop. Trust me, I've been there! So get a camera that you can control from your seat. The advantage of having two cameras of basically the same model is that I can use one remote, press one button, and have both cameras turn on at the same time. The remote that is compatible with my cameras is the Sony RMTDSLR2 Wireless Remote for Alpha and Nex.
After many years of recording videos, I've learned that dealing with batteries is annoying, so to solve that problem I use a dummy battery adapter so I can have constant power supplied to my cameras. Gone are the days of dead batteries while recording the best take you're ever going to get. I've been there, too! The one that is compatible with the Sony a6300 and a6000 is the Sony ACPW20 AC Adaptor.
For lights, I haven't gotten too fancy, for the main key light I use a pair of umbrella lights by Neewer with a simple 5500K light bulb. The exact one I use is not available at the moment but I'm sure you can find something similar. In my old set, I used both of these, one on each side, but after moving and changing my recording set up, I realized I only need one of these, and I place it to the left of the camera.
More recently I added a Neewer RGB LED panel to light my background in different colors. This one allows me to dial whatever color I want through my phone without dealing with any gels.
As for the lenses, in almost all the videos the wide shot is filmed with the 16-50mm kit lens that comes with the Sony Alpha cameras. Since my background was so close to me in my old recording set up, having a wider aperture wouldn't have made any difference in terms of blurring the background. So the F3.5 aperture on the kit lens was enough. However, in the new recording set up, I started using my Sigma 16mm F1.4 lens for my wide shot. I've used this lens in older videos before, but you probably won't be able to tell which is which.
The close-ups are shot with the Sony 50mm F1.8
Keep in mind, the Sony Alpa cameras have APS-C sensors (crop sensors), so these focal lengths aren't "true" 16mm and 50mm, the field of view is more like 24mm for the 16mm lens and 75mm for the 50mm lens.
Now on to audio. As I mentioned earlier, my first album was recorded with the Sony PCM-M10. However, my newest album, Grand Solos, was recorded with a stereo pair of Neumann KM 184 microphones with the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd gen) audio interface plugged into my Mac.
I used Logic Pro X to record and edit the entire album. In the past, I've also used the Sony Sound Forge, but with the update to macOS Catalina, my sound forge stopped working, so I went with all Apple software so I don't have to deal with that mess ever again.
To monitor the audio while I'm recording I use a pair of SONY Studio Monitoring headphones. I don't like to use noise-canceling headphones for recording and editing, because I don't want any enhancement/distortion of what I'm hearing. I like to edit with
headphones, but then I check the recording with studio monitors, just hear how everything sounds on different audio equipment. The ones I use for that are the Presonus Eris BT 4.5. These fit my limited space and got the job done.
As for the Instagram videos, I don't use any fancy equipment. All of them are done either with my iPhone XS or the iPhone 12 Pro. I use a selfie ring light stand for my iPhone to make those videos better lit and to allow for easy camera placement. Putting the phone on the music stand never really worked for me. The one I use is nothing special but it does the job. I used to use a Rode VideoMic Me-L
for some of the videos, but I found that though the sound quality was better, the volume was a lot lower. The native camera app on the iPhone doesn't have mic volume controls. I didn't want to spend even more time fiddling around with a 3rd party video recording app that does have audio level controls, so I just don't use it. I'm more likely to post more frequently if the process is faster and seamless and doesn't interrupt my actual practicing too much.
And finally, what I use for online teaching. When I first started online teaching about 8 years ago, I just used my iPad and as long as both my students and I had fast internet connections, it worked out just fine. It really amazing how good the microphones and cameras are on these devices, given that they are so small. Later I upgraded to a 15" MacBook Pro (2015) and started using that as my teaching computer as well. I used that for 5 years. Since March 2020, I've upgraded my teaching equipment because I found myself teaching all my students online, and sitting in front of a relatively small screen all day was becoming physically tiring. So now I use a 27" iMac, which allows me to sit up straight when teaching and make my students almost life-size on the huge screen. For audio, I use the Blue Yeti external microphone. They come in different colors. This one is nice because it's relatively inexpensive and it just sits on my desk without requiring any stands.
For the camera, on my laptop, I just used the built-in camera, and because of its lower placement, it was easy for me to move, get close, turn, etc... to show students different angles. Since the placement of the camera on the iMac is so high, I opted for an external webcam. The one I use now is nothing I chose specifically. It was probably the last camera left available after the webcam shortage started in the spring of 2020. What I use is the Avater HD Webcam.
I hope this answered some of your questions and that this post gave you some ideas for your own home studio set up. Thank you for watching my videos and for all the comments and messages I receive on them.