Let me start by saying there’s no such thing as a cheap camera if you have no money. And if you want the best camera, it certainly won’t be cheap. So I’m defining the best cheap camera for YouTube and vlogging simply as good enough for creating videos of reasonably decent quality, at the lowest possible price points for the type of camera chosen.
But first, the compromises. If you want 10bit 4K, 60p, a flippy flappy screen, creamy bokeh, and mic input from a new camera for $100, forget it. All those features together will come at a premium price point. And I know you’ve been looking for that perfect camera. We’ve all been there.
But here’s the thing: you don’t need those luxuries if you’re starting out. In fact, you don’t need those cinematic luxuries at all to create engaging, entertaining videos for your YouTube channel.
Before we get started, don’t forget to check out my camera guide if you don’t know the difference between a ‘mirrorless’ from a ‘micro four thirds’. Or know what a camera is.
See that thing in you’re likely clasping in your hand right now? The little device that never leaves your person? That’s a camera. A video camera. A video camera with a large monitor screen you can look at while filming yourself for your YouTube channel. And it probably shoots 4k 60p too if it’s a high end model!
What’s more, you can also skip the requirement for a PC or Mac by editing and publishing straight to YouTube from your phone. So it’s not just the cheapest camera for YouTube, it’s the cheapest all-round editing and publishing workflow. Huzzah!
- Carry it everywhere.
- You already own one!
- You already know how to use it!
- Poor video in low light, even on the best phones.
- Fixed lens.
- Video editing is limited and fiddly on a phone.
So, vlogging with your smartphone is an affordable option, but you may need to consider a few accessories to improve the quality of your videos. Smartphones have buuilt-in speakers, but I would recommend plugging in an external mic for clearer, deeper sound. For example, a Rode SmartLav+ or Rode VideoMic Me cost around $40-$50, but will make a big difference to your audio.
Stabilise your smartphone video
Next, you may want to consider a gimbal. These are clever devices that stabilize your phone (keep your phone level) while you walk around, and prevent that shaky cam effect that can make watching your videos a turn off. A cheap(ish) gimbal for your phone could cost around $90-$150.
So what are you waiting for, pull out your phone and start vlogging.
* OK, your phone isn’t free but lets be honest: you already own one.
Another camera you may already own if you have a laptop. That little eye above your screen may not be the highest quality video camera you’ll use, but it’s better than no camera. And the great about a laptop camera is that you’re recording straight to your computer, so no cables, and you can read your script while looking at the screen.
- It’s a camera with a built-in computer 😉
- Filming, editing and publishing all on one device.
- Quality can vary greatly depending on model.
Tip: Raise your laptop up so the webcam is eye level to prevent an unflattering shot.
External PC or Mac webcam
If you don’t own a laptop with a webcam, but own a PC or Mac, external webcams have been the go-to accessory for vloggers and video game streamers for over a decade. One of the most popular webcams for a number of years is the Logitech C920 which can be picked up new for $50. But the newer model, the Logitech C922 Pro Stream, further improves on the performance for around $70.
- Relatively cheap.
- Decent quality for under $100.
- Designed for vlogging.
- Quality suffers in low light.
- Very little manual control.
Canon EOS M100 EF-M
Finally, we get to an actual camera! And the Canon EOS M100 EF-M is a treat if you can’t stretch your budget within range of a premium compact like the Sony RX100 III or Canon G7 X Mark II. But don’t think the M100 is any less a camera than those feature-packed pocket shooters. With this little Canon beauty you’ll have a camera body with an interchangeable lens mount, 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor, full HD video @ 60fps, Wi-Fi and NFC with Bluetooth, and – wait for it – a flip-up screen, just like all those popular YouTubers rave about!
But, of course, there are downsides. The M100 lacks 4K video, a mic input, and in-body image stabilisation (IBIS). But don’t let this put you off because 4K video requires a far more powerful PC to edit, and eats up far more storage too. And when you consider the majority of YouTube viewers watch video content on a phone, or sub-4K PC monitors, it makes no sense to obsess about vlogging in 4K. Especially if you’re trying to save the pennies.
But what if you have a little more than $400?
A few words back I mentioned the Canon G7 X Mark II, a camera I proudly own myself. The G7 X is one of the most popular compact cameras for vlogging, mostly due to its high quality Full HD video, stabilisation, and forward-facing flip-up screen. And with its touch screen display, and ease-of-use controls, it nails it as a pocketable vlogging camera for anyone. And with the G7 X Mark III releasing shortly, prices should fall, so you should be able to pick one up for well under $500.
So there you have it – vlog camera gear on a tight budget. From (virtually) free, to $400 or a little more. You shouldn’t need to re-mortgage your gran to get started. And with a little skill, experience, and planning, even the cheapest set-up can look professional.
In a future post, I’ll be looking at cheap studio set-ups, so bookmark the site, and follow me on social media for updates.