Best Gear to Make Professional Videos (2023): Mics, Lights, Tripods, Tips
For portable shoots (or even just convenience) you might eventually want to consider a cage for your camera, like the Smallrig VersaFrame, which WIRED reviewer Eric Ravenscraft has tested and likes. This lets you mount everything you need, like lights, microphones, batteries, and storage devices, right to the camera itself. It takes some work to get everything set up right, but it’s a lot easier than trying to wrangle 15 gadgets while running around a park. Depending on your camera, you may also be able to find cages that fit your model specifically.
Aside from your camera, the microphone is arguably the second most important tool in your arsenal. Good-quality audio makes a lackluster video watchable, and poor audio can ruin even the most beautifully shot clip.
What’s great about Rode’s SmartLav+ is its plug-and-play nature. I’ve plugged this microphone into my mirrorless camera and into my iPhone, and it worked like a charm (for professional cameras, you’ll need to add this adapter). It’s a lavalier mic, the kind that clips to your shirt collar to capture the sound of your voice. The quality isn’t amazing, but it’s a big step up over the built-in microphone on your phone. Just know that connecting it to an Android phone is tricky—it doesn’t always work. And if your phone doesn’t have a headphone jack, you’ll need a dongle.
If you’re willing to spend more, we’ve had a great experience using Røde’s wireless systems over the past few years. I used the original Wireless Mic Go for all my WIRED videos, but the company has since added the Wireless Go II, which lets you choose to add a second transmitter if you want to record two people separately. The slightly better range lets you move away further from the camera without worry.
Plug the receiver into your camera’s mic input or your phone’s headphone jack (you will probably need a dongle), and clip the transmitter somewhere near your collarbone. Turn both on, and they should automatically pair. That’s it! The microphone quality is excellent, but having a tiny box on your shirt can look a little awkward. I hooked up Røde’s Lavalier Go ($79) to the transmitter, which I put in my pocket for a more natural look. Røde recently released a simpler, more budget-friendly model called the Wireless ME ($149), but we have not tested it yet.
A Simple Shotgun Mic
If you don’t want a microphone resting on your body, then get a shotgun mic. Just hook it up to your camera or your smartphone (3.5 mm or USB-C) and flip it on. I filmed an hour-long improv show in a small classroom theater, and the audio quality was pretty excellent—especially considering I was sitting more than 15 feet from the performers. I barely had to configure any settings, though I did utilize the headphone port to monitor sound levels while recording.
It runs on battery, but even an hour of filming didn’t seem to make a dent (Joby claims a 30-hour run time), and you can easily recharge it via the USB-C port. What I love most is how compact it is. It barely adds much weight to my camera and is easy to stow in a backpack.
Inevitably, you’ll need to rerecord some dialog or add voiceover to your project. While the King Bee II (8/10, WIRED Recommends) isn’t super portable, the rich sound it captures makes it a perfect desktop or audio booth companion. WIRED reviewer Eric Ravenscraft frequently uses this one to add narration to a video or for the occasional voice acting. Check out our Best USB Microphones guide for more options.
Other Great Mics:
- Rode VideoMicro for $42: Trying to spend as little as possible? This shotgun mic will satisfy. It’ll beat any phone’s built-in mic, and it’s super lightweight and compact.
- AnkerWork M650 Wireless Lavalier Microphone for $250: I really love Anker’s wireless mic system. It comes in a wonderful case that lets you magnetically recharge the two transmitters as well as the receiver. Even better, you have the option to plug the system into a variety of devices. There’s a Lightning adapter and USB-C adapter in the case itself, or you can use the Aux cable to plug it into your camera. The audio quality is great too.
Consider a Recorder
If you’re using more advanced audio gear—and there are a lot of good reasons you should—then you’ll need an interface to connect any XLR microphones you have. But if you shoot away from home (or just need a flexible setup), one convenient option is to get an interface that’s also a portable recorder. WIRED reviewer Eric Ravenscraft likes and uses the Zoom H6, which can connect up to four XLR inputs, as well as two more inputs through attached mic modules.
The included X/Y module is great for recording on-the-spot interviews. It can also record audio directly to the device itself, while it sends audio back out to your camera. This is the kind of life-saving backup option you won’t regret having around. Plus, it frees you to separate your mic and camera and sync them up later, if the situation requires it.
Don’t spend hundreds of dollars on a solid camera-and-mic rig and then balance the whole thing on a stack of books. A stable tripod is a smart investment. This is one area where you might want to spend more, because a good tripod will keep your equipment from crashing to the ground.
I tested a slightly different version of this monopod, which was discontinued and replaced by this newer model. This new one can extend up to 59 inches tall, a full foot more than the last version, yet it weighs the same. I love how compact it is, and you can even convert it into a mini tripod at a moment’s notice if you don’t need the extra height. It has three little feet that extend out at the bottom, so you can use it hands-free, and the design is great for tight spaces. It usually takes me mere seconds to set it up and start shooting. Since it’s made of carbon fiber, it’s a lightweight travel option too. (It weighs less than 3 pounds.)
I recommend pairing it with the company’s Komodo K5 Fluid Head ($139) if you plan on panning, tilting, and capturing a lot of B-roll (more on the Komodo below).
The Cobra 2 above might be a bit much if you’re using a phone, so snag Lume’s mobile tripod instead. It’s very stable, but the best part is that the ends of the clamp double as cold shoe mounts, so you can hook up a microphone (like the Rode VideoMicro or Joby Wavo Plus above) and a compact video light for a full on-the-go studio. It’s fairly comfortable to grip and carry if you are moving around as you film. My only gripe? You can’t adjust the height.
There’s a solution to this: the Mobile Creator Stand 2.0 ($200), which we’re currently in the process of testing. It can get up to 55 inches high, making it a great and compact tripod for stand-ups, and this one includes a light and microphone.
If your videos aren’t restricted to your home, this is one of the most compact tripods on the market that can deliver the height and stability most people need, yet can fit in the bottle pouch of your backpack. It’s relatively lightweight (the pricier carbon-fiber version sheds even more weight), and there’s a built-in phone mount. If you want to attach a fluid head for smooth pans, you’ll need this universal head adapter.
Other Great Tripods:
- Joby PodZilla for $31: You can make do with a tripod like this one from Joby if you’re trying to spend as little as possible. It doesn’t get very tall, but you can contort the bendy legs to keep the whole thing attached to various surfaces. It can fit most phones in its clamp, and the ballhead lets you rotate the angle easily. There’s a cold-shoe mount on one end to attach a light or mic. If you have an iPhone with MagSafe support, you can pair it with this mount for a hassle-free setup.
- Benro TMA27A Series 2 Mach3 for $165: This is a traditional tripod I’ve tested that’s weighty, sturdy, stable, and all-around reliable from a well-established brand. I’ve had no issues with it after more than two years.
- SwitchPod Tripod for $99: I like using the SwitchPod when I’m moving around and talking to the camera. You can hold it selfie-stick style, and its curvy design keeps the camera away from you and pointed at your face. You can open the magnetic legs in one swoop to make it stand up on a table. Each leg has threads you can use to attach accessories like a video light or a mic. I also recommend grabbing the ball head mount to easily move the camera around.
- Sandmarc Tripod Pro Edition for $200: This is a solid tripod for phones It’s made specifically for the iPhone, but it’ll work with Android phones too. It’s a good option if you don’t have a camera but want the benefits of a traditional, full-size tripod. The ball head isn’t super smooth for panning in video—I wish there was a fluid head option—but it’s a good option for stills (perhaps even overkill at this price).
Light is a crucial ingredient for making your videos look professional. Pro tip: If you think your current ambient lighting is enough, there’s a good chance it isn’t. Unless you’re filming in your backyard in the middle of the day, your cameras will need a supplemental light source. For more recommendations, read our Best Studio Lighting Gear for Photos and Videos guide. We also have advice on how to light your photos and videos like a professional.
I film most of my WIRED videos in a tiny, dark room. This 60-watt Godox LED has been a godsend. There’s a knob on the back to tweak how bright it gets. You can also use the included remote to change the light’s color temperature, making it appear more orange (warm) or blue (cold). I paired it with this light stand ($55), which worked well for me.
You’ll also want to use it with a softbox to diffuse and direct the light. You can get something as affordable as this one from Godox ($40), but it takes forever to set up and put away. I much prefer using this 48-incher from Angler ($259), which intuitively collapses like an umbrella. It takes only a minute to hook it up to the light, and when I’m done I take it off in seconds and stow it in the included bag.
The Amaran P60X might be all you need. It comes with a softbox and can illuminate up to 5,070 lux at 1 meter. You can adjust the color temperature between 3,200 and 6,500K, and use a knob to adjust the brightness. I’ve used it to light up several unboxings and product videos to great effects. I’ve paired it with this excellent desk clamp, but you can use it with any light stand.
It comes with a neat carrying case, so you can always pack it up to go for outdoor shoots. I only tested it directly to my wall outlet, but it supports up to two Sony NP-F batteries, which you’ll need to buy to power it when you’re away from an outlet.
Portable Light Panel
This light gets remarkably bright despite the compact size (1,480 lux at 0.5 meters), has multiple color options and effects (like a fun effect that mimics a lightning strike), and you can match the color temperature to your lighting conditions. It comes with a cold shoe mount so you can attach it to the top of your camera or other compatible gear. It’s been my go-to mobile light for several years and has held up well. Even better, it recharges via USB-C. Just know that battery life on a mobile light like this (or the others below) isn’t going to last for several hours at a time.
A Ring Light
I am typically not a fan of ring lights because of the harsh light they put on your face. But I can’t deny they are super simple, especially for mobile-only setups. The 12-inch Lume Cube Ring Light Mini is not battery-powered, but you can use the included USB-C cable and adapter to light it up. It puts out 960 lux at 0.5 meters, and you can adjust the color temperature from 2,700 to 7,500K; the light it produces is pretty nice. There’s a universal smartphone mount in the center for your phone, and you can twist it horizontally or vertically. It comes with a desk clamp, which is what I’m using it with, but you can also use the included tripod. You can tilt the light 180 degrees.
I prefer putting my lights off to the side to create dynamic shadows, and you can certainly do that with this light, but I think the above picks are better options if you are going that route.
Other Great Lights:
- Aputure MC-4 RGBWW for $90: Aputure makes a lot of fantastic lights, but the MC is a versatile little one. It puts out around 400 lux at 0.5 meters, which isn’t a lot, but with a lot of them, you can do some creative stuff. That’s why we recommend this travel kit with four lights. On top of coming with four MCs, the case itself contains four spaces to wirelessly charge the lights, as well as two USB outlets that can charge other devices as well. Each MC has adjustable white light color temperatures from 3,200 to 6,500K, as well as an RGB mode. There are also a few built-in effects for lightning, fireplace, and other basic lighting staples, or you can connect the lights to a mobile phone app for even more control.
- Lume Cube Panel Pro 2.0 for $180: This is a solid light with an app you can pair it with via Bluetooth to control it remotely. It recharges via USB-C, has several color options, and puts out 835 lux at 0.5 meters. But it’s nearly double the price of the Aputure MC-4.
- Lume Cube Tube Light Mini for $150: The Tube Light Mini isn’t the only light source I’d ever use in any shoot, but it’s great for accent lighting. It’s RGB, so you can change the colors via the display and controls on the back of the tube (or the app). The ends are magnetic, so you can mount it easily on different surfaces, or use the ¼-inch 20 threads to screw it to a tripod. It puts out 920 lux at 0.5 meters.
- Canvas Lamp for $184: If you have to do a lot of top-down shoots, then the Canvas Lamp is a no-frills option. It’s somewhat like a ring light mixed with a lamp—you can mount your phone in the center to get a nice even light on your surface, no need to set up another tripod. You can snag a desk clamp if you don’t want to use the wood base. Just know that it doesn’t work great with subjects that are reflective, like phone screens.
- Viltrox RGB Portable LED Panel for $49: These aren’t the best or brightest lights around, but they’re cheap, while still providing full RGB and color temperature control, so you can buy quite a few for the same price as one of the other lights we’ve featured. It also uses standard NP-F550 batteries and chargers that many other camera accessories share.
Other Helpful Gear
There are so many other tools I use when making videos, from external monitors to fluid heads. Here are more items you might want to check out. And if you need a way to tote your equipment around town, read our Best Camera Bags guide.
An External Monitor
I film with my Nikon Z 6, which doesn’t have a display that tilts out toward the front. That makes it harder to film when I’m in front of the lens, as I constantly have to go behind the camera to see if the framing is correct. If you have a fully articulating screen, then you can skip this pick, but if not, get an external monitor like this one. (You’ll need to grab batteries.) I mounted it to the top of my camera and connected it via HDMI, which allows me to see my framing and whether the focus is accurate.
A Variable Filter
When filming with a professional camera, you’ll want your camera’s shutter speed to stay at double the frame rate for the most natural-looking clips. So at 30 frames per second, your shutter speed should be 1/60. But what happens if you’re shooting outside and the camera is receiving lots of light? Get a neutral-density filter! It screws over your lens so you can better control the amount of light your camera takes in without forcing you to change settings. I like these variable ones from Moment; rotating the filter in different directions adjusts how much light is let in.
Tip: Make sure you check the thread size for your lens when buying a filter. You can find this information on the front of a lens or on the lens cap. (If you can’t find it, just look up the lens model on the web.)
A Fluid Head
I make videos about products, so I need to take a lot of supplementary footage of the products themselves. But just shooting an object head-on without any movement is very dull. You may as well just show a still photo. Fluid heads let you smoothly pan and tilt your camera so you can add some motion to your B-roll footage. The Komodo K5 fluid head does this really well.
If it’s too pricey, the Magnus VPH-10P Pan and Tilt Head ($45) is a decent cheaper alternative. Your footage won’t look as smooth, but it’s better than going hands-free or using the ball head mount on a tripod.
A Camera Slider
Once you nail down panning and tilting, you’ll want to branch out. Enter the slider. It essentially moves your camera from one end of a stationary track to the other, but quality sliders make sure this happens very, very smoothly. This one from Axler has spruced up the clips in my videos, and it’s easy to use.
If making up words as you sit in front of the camera isn’t working for you, then try writing a script. You can use your phone or tablet and a teleprompter app (I like this one for iPhones and iPads) to read it while your camera’s rolling. WIRED reviewer Eric Ravenscraft has good things to say about PromptSmart Pro too, which works on multiple platforms and can import scripts from services like Google Docs. Its unique VoiceTrack feature can scroll as you speak and pause when you stop. You can control it with a remote control app (although this only works if both the app and prompter are on the same platform.)
Reading from a prompter looks obvious if you’re not looking directly at the screen though, so it’s worth getting a device like the Glide Gear TMP100. It mirrors the text from a tablet or smartphone and displays it on a piece of glass that sits in front of your lens. This lets you read and stare at the lens at the same time, all while keeping the scrolling text from appearing in the image. The Glide Gear TMP75 ($149) is also a handy option that we like; it can attach to a laptop so you can use your computer’s webcam. though this smaller one only fits phones.
No matter how steady you think you are, your puny human hands are shaky and unstable. Tripods are great for stabilizing locked-off shots, but if you still want to keep some camera movement, a gimbal is what you need. These devices use motors to counter the minor movements in your body to keep shots steady even as you move around or follow subjects.
WIRED reviewer Eric Ravenscraft tested the Zhiyun Weebill 3 gimbal and says it was easier to use than his old Crane 2. The wrist rest and sling grip make it easy to control the whole rig. Its internal battery can run for more than 20 hours, so your camera is more likely to die long before the gimbal does. If you’re shooting on your phone, see our Zhiyun pick below, which also works great with smaller cameras. You can also find inexpensive gimbals like this model from Hohem ($99), which Ravenscraft has used to shoot videos for WIRED.
WIRED senior writer Scott Gilbertson says he had a hard time believing that something as small and lightweight as the Crane M3 gimbal would be capable of replicating 95 percent of what massive, professional-level gimbals do, but it worked surprisingly well in his tests. The caveat? This is best with smaller cameras or even a smartphone. It will support a full-frame camera—it worked with his Sony A7R II—but only with shorter, lighter lenses.
For vloggers who want to step up their game, and anyone who wants the ability to shoot steady motion video without (completely) breaking the bank, the M3 will do the job. The touch display gives access to frequently used settings. Zhiyun claims eight hours of battery life and says it recharges in two hours. In our testing, the recharge time is accurate, but the heavier the device, the worse your battery life will be. With the full-frame Sony, Gilbertson says he got about 5.5 hours out of it.
A Quick-Release Mounting System
I frequently am attaching a slider, teleprompter, and fluid head to my tripod, which means I’m constantly screwing things on and off—all of this takes up valuable time and is just plain annoying. That’s when I discovered the Manfrotto Move quick-release mounting system. I attached the base to my tripod and the plate to my fluid head, teleprompter, and slider, and it now basically takes me two seconds to mount those items to my tripod. They still stay secure, mind you, but to release them, just rotate the top of the base and the plate will pop up. It’s an ingenious system that I now can’t live without.
You likely just need a single Move system, which includes a base and plate, and then you can purchase additional plates for all the other items you’d like to quickly mount.
An Editing Companion
Nothing helps a video editor be better at their job than speed. The quicker you can make a cut, adjust clips, or add effects, the easier it is to stay in the flow and get the project done. The Loupedeck CT can take your workflow to the next level. It packs a bunch of programmable buttons, including 12 keys and two side panels with built-in LED displays. You can tweak these to give you quick access to your most-used tools.
It also has one giant dial, also with an LED display, and six smaller dials along the sides. These are useful for adjusting color and audio tools like contrast or gain more intuitively than you can with a mouse. The device comes with several premade profiles for several Adobe apps, but you can (and in my experience probably should) customize these profiles to your specific use case.
A Full Editing Keyboard (for Davinci Resolve)
If you use Davinci’s incredible (and mostly free) editing suite, Resolve, then it’s hard to beat the company’s own editing keyboards. WIRED reviewer Eric Ravenscraft loved the Resolve Speed Editor (8/10, WIRED Recommends). It makes quick work of assembling rough cuts, picking shots from multi-cam shoots, and adding basic transitions.
However, if you’re willing to spend some extra cash, the full-size editor keyboard is perfect. In addition to having most of the same tools as the Speed Editor, it has a full regular keyboard (including a numpad, handy for entering time codes and whatnot), with keycaps labeled for the Resolve tools they correspond to. Both editors also come with a free upgrade to the Studio version of Resolve, which adds features like the new Relight tool that can create depth maps from video to alter the lighting of the scene in a physically accurate way.
I learned how to make videos by trial and error, by collecting feedback, and (mostly) by looking at YouTube videos in the dead of night. Seriously, there’s a wealth of free tutorials and tips you can find on YouTube for almost any question you have about improving your video output. Search away. That said, here are a few parting tips I try to adhere to (and sometimes struggle with) as I film.
- Position your key light properly: You usually don’t want your key light (the main light source) to face your subject directly. Put it off-center, which means a part of your subject will be in shadow. You can use other lights to “fill” in those shadows if you like. We have more guidance here.
- Keep an eye on reflections: I wear glasses, and it’s easy for the key light to reflect off of them, which creates a distracting effect in the finished video. The way to handle this is by heeding the advice above, and by tweaking your light’s height and angle. Run a few tests to see what position nails the fewest glares.
- Monitor your focus: The last thing you want to do is film a whole video and realize your focus was completely off. External monitors or cameras with flip-out screens have features like focus peaking, which lets you easily see where your lens is focusing. If you’re using autofocus, you should run a few tests to see how well it works before you use it for the first time. Your camera might have face detection or eye detection to help with autofocus too.
- Listen to your audio levels: I usually keep a pair of earbuds plugged into my camera while filming so I can listen back to my clips instantly and make sure the microphone is running and I don’t sound too loud or too soft.
- Get the right framing: Reviewing your footage and realizing half your head is chopped from the frame is a terrible feeling. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us! Just make sure to look at your framing before you hit record.
- Shoot more pixels than you need. If your camera and editing gear can handle it, shooting in a higher resolution than you need gives you flexibility in the edit. You can reframe shots or even zoom in, without losing picture quality. This is a handy way to alternate between medium and close-up shots without having to reposition the camera between takes.
- Make the cut: If you’re editing your video on a desktop PC, make sure your computer has enough brawn for the job. We have some guidance on how to upgrade your PC for video editing, even if you’re on a budget.