How to Make Professional Quality Videos on a Shoestring Budget

Video is the number one engaging media for websites and social media channels. But how can you put together professional quality videos without a huge investment in equipment? Here’s some basic information on the equipment that can produce high quality videos on a shoestring budget.


You need a camera that can shoot both indoor/studio video and field video. It should be lightweight and easy to set up. HD capability is a requirement.

iPhone: The iPhone 4S and 5 both have HD capability and can shoot professional quality video. Shooting in HD takes more space on your phone, so plan on your 16GB model being able to hold about one hour of HD video and your 32GB model holding about four hours. This is also assuming you are using probably 10GB of space already for your personal use. You should also invest in a tripod. You can get a decent quality tripod for less than $30. If you use an IPhone, invest in a Glif which is an attachment that allows your phone to sit on a tripod:

Glif for iphone

Flip Camera: You may still own a Flip camera. I actually bought an HD Flip before they quit making them. I carry it with me all the time—You never know when you’re going to get a video opp. The downside of the Flip is there is no external mike jack which limits its effectiveness in the field where there is a lot of environmental noise. It has great self-editing features so you can upload from the field, or you can import video into an editor if you like.

Kodak Play Touch
The Kodak Play Touch is the old Kodak Zi8. It functions a lot like a Flip but has that important external mike jack. The camera is easy to use, small, and lightweight. It has some built-in editing functions and can be mounted on a tripod. It retails for less than $100.kodak-play-touch

External Mikes:

I’m only going to make one recommendation here as there are tons of inexpensive microphones out there, but I found this great one after taking a video class from Films About Me: the Audio-Technica lavalier. This clip-on lapel mike is less than $25 on Amazon and delivers great audio quality. It has a couple things I really like. It is self-powered, not wireless, so you don’t need to juggle bulky wireless attachments. The cord from the mike to the camera is long enough to give your subject some movement and keep the cord out of the picture. Also, it has a separate volume control mechanism built into the cord. It operates on a simple “watch-type” battery (included) and comes with a wind protector as well.

Software & Apps

Two inexpensive film editors to use are Sony Vegas (consumer version for less than $100) or Final Cut Express (for MAC is less than $200). Both are good for laptop or computer editing and contain more bells and whistles than most people need. Both Windows Movie Maker and iMovie are fine for basic video editing as well and come loaded on most laptops and computers.

I also recommend taking a look at a couple video apps that are especially great in the field for immediate uploading. The first is Ptch (review here). The options for editing, incorporating pictures and other media on the fly are great. Biggest downer: no Android version yet. Don’t forget Vine—the six second video app for Twitter. Experiment with this. I think it has a lot of great potential if done well. Another new iOS only app is Montaj. Here’s an interesting collection of photo and video free apps you can try as well. Here’s more info on the best video engagement apps from Social Media Examiner.

Obviously there’s a lot more to creating great video than just having the right equipment, but this will get you started. One of the best ways to learn how to create engaging video is to look at what is already working online. Take a look at the websites and YouTube channels of your competition and see what they’re doing that is engaging. Check out the big dogs as well to see if there is anything you can scale there.  Take note of the elements that catch your eye: great intro, good lighting and good sound, proper length, propelling content. Lots of videos have good stories, but don’t propel the viewer to keep watching. Make notes on how you could make their content better.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Please add your shoestring budget equipment suggestions in the comments.

  • Chris Syme

    Thanks so much for adding your thoughts. For those of you that don’t know Derrick, he is the creative brain behind the new media for the Missouri Valley Conference. If you want some good examples of how to do it well, follow the MVC on social media.

  • I’ve learned at lot by trial and error and there’s a lot of good info here. Some things that have helped me:

    1. I invested in a DSLR camera that shoots both photo and video. For example, the Nikon D5100. Takes great photos but exceptional video. The camera has a mic input as well so I can add whatever type of microphone I want. The good thing is, once you feel comfortable shooting with the camera, you can make the step up in lenses and it can help your photo and video.

    2. I’ve gotten some great uses from a shotgun microphone similar to this one:

    3. Don’t forget about your lighting. Once you get comfortable doing video, light becomes a very important element for you going forward. It a lot of cases, it can make or break your production. You can go small (attached to your camera) or large (stand-alone lights).

    3. I taught myself video editing and Sony Vegas was what I started with. Don’t be afraid of iMovie or any of the “lesser” software products out there. You can accomplish many different things with different types of software. Find what works for you (and your budget).