I received an email yesterday asking what equipment I would personally suggest for a starter video kit. I get that you can produce great video quality simply from a smartphone, but what the user is asking is for a kit that offers ease of use while providing better video quality for sit down interviews when out in the field and at various locations.
What this means is we don't need RAW, nor do we need the best sounding microphones. We just need something to capture simple interviews to post mainly on social media channels - yet with somewhat of higher production quality. So what i'm going to recommend is just coming from my personal opinion, but you're all welcome to make suggestions of your own. In this post i'll also include a little insight on why i've selected some of the equipment for a Basic Video Kit. Also, while trying to keep it low cost, some of the equipment might not be the cheapest. Sometimes it's worth spending a little more to get the features in equipment that I believe would make for better efficiency and have less issues during live production.
I've personally used many cameras from Panasonic, Sony, Canon, Blackmagic Design, etc. In fact I own all the brands to this day because they all have different use cases for me. Each has pros and cons, and smaller gear is easier to navigate with, but larger gear typically offers features not found in the smaller equipment (SDI, Timecode, XLR audio, etc). While I would recommend the following equipment below for anyone just starting out doing simple interviews, there are reasons you'll eventually want to upgrade if you plan to do more professional work, but we'll save that conversation for another day.
LET'S START WITH THE BASIC CAMERA
For sit down interviews, a camera that's easy to travel with, and fast to produce video edits from, I recommend starting with the Sony A6600. This is not even one of Sony's latest cameras, so besides being a bit budget friendly, this camera offers ease of use and plenty of features for quick on location video interviews.
Sony A6600 Mirrorless Camera
Why do I recommend the Sony A6600? Sony is known for it's fast autofocus and quick face / eye tracking. This is one big reason I would choose the A6600 over a Panasonic GH5 for simple interviews. The A6600 is also a larger sensor over micro four-thirds which can offer a different aesthetic and help to blur out not so ideal backgrounds. Though I believe the in-camera recording quality is better in the Panasonic GH5 (bitrate and codecs), the A6600 I think overall is easier to work with.
Sony is also known for decent quality in dim lighting conditions which means being able to work with ambient lighting, and being able to work with smaller less powerful lighting kits. The A6600 doesn't have time limits on video clips (something even smaller Fuji cameras have), and offers both a microphone input and headphone output (again something some Fuji cameras may lack). Those two audio features are very important to have for video interviews.
If you're wondering why not save money on an older Sony APS-C bodies like the A6400, here's why. Even though final image quality is not much different from an older body, the Sony A6600 was redesigned to use the larger Sony battery (longer run times), and also includes in-camera image stabilization. The IBIS is something that would benefit anyone doing interviews handheld or recording b-roll handheld. It will allow you to work with more lenses that may not have IS built in. The older A6400 for example also lacks a headphone output. So while you would pay more for an A6600, these features I feel are worth the extra investement. There's plenty of other reasons why I would choose the A6600 over other cameras, but let's move on to which lens I think would be great for general use.
MOST VERSATILE LENS FOR INTERVIEWS
My first pick for an overall versatile lens on the Sony A6600 would be the Sony 18-105mm F4. Although this lens does not have the same aesthetics as one that can shoot at F/1.4 or even F/2.8, you get a lot of focal range. This can be helpful when you need to choose between a wide angle or longer focal length to compress the background and frame tight. It has built in Image Stabilization and coupled with the IS of the A6600, will allow you to easily get handheld footage into your projects. If I had one lens to travel with a Sony A6600, it would be this one.
Sony 18-105mm F4 G OSS Lens - via B&H
SECOND CHOICE FOR A LENS
My second option for a versatile lens would be the Sony 16-55mm F/2.8. This is more of an expensive lens, so I left this as a 'second option'. It's not imperative to just making simple interviews, but it does add a higher quality of aesthetics. A lot of great looking content is often related to having better lenses. It's somewhat equivalent to popular 24-70mm F/2.8 lenses on full frame cameras. You get great wide angles and zoom, but also a constant F/2.8 which helps to blur out backgrounds, isolate your subject, and keeping them as the main focus. This all helps to add a more pleasing aesthetic to sitting interviews. Though this lens does not have image stabilization, the A6600 does have in-camera stabilization (another reason why I would choose the A6600 over earlier Sony bodies).
Sony 16-55mm F/2.8 Lens
STARTER AUDIO KIT FOR INTERVIEWS
Boom microphone or Lav microphone? Because audio is incredibly important for interviews, I'm going to suggest both. There's good reasons you may need one or the other, and at times both simultaneously. For really simple sit down interviews where the camera and subject aren't moving too far apart, I would start with a small wireless system such as the Comica BoomXD Wireless Audio Kit. While the frequency and dynamic range is not going to be at Hollywood standards, most clients can't tell the difference, and audio from these systems is perfectly fine for content that ends up on social media and consumed through mobile devices. It's a fair price for the features it offers and easy to use for those mobile interviews.
Comica BoomXD Wireless Audio Kit - via Amazon
A Lav mic will help to get more focused sound and send the audio directly into camera - so no worries about audio sync in post. And since the Sony A6600 offers a headphone output, you can monitor the wireless audio for any issues.
There are many similar small wireless kits like the Rode Wireless Go and Movo WMX-1-DUO. Whichever you choose I think it will work fine, so long as your subject and camera are in fairly close distance. The Comica BoomXD does come with dual transmitters just in case you need to interview two people, and also has a standard 3.5mm TRS input (not TRRS) in case you want to upgrade to better sounding LAV microphones. The transmitters can also be used without a LAV mic connected for quick setups. A pretty versatile kit for ease of use.
YOU MIGHT NEED A BOOM SETUP OVER A LAV MIC
So if you have to use a Lav microphone outdoors with a slight breeze, you could easily end up with wind noise or wind rumble. One trick that can help is to mount the lav microphone under the subjects shirt or jacket. But without the proper equipment to conceal and protect the capsule, you could end up with clothing rustle (rubbing against the microphone) if the subject moves about. Some lav mics offer furry covers, but I personally don't like the look of a fat furry object on a subject during interviews. These are just some reasons when I would suggest using a boom microphone overhead with a quality wind cover - (no more wind noise or clothing rustle issues).
Since we're still talking about a basic almost entry level kit for interviews, and because the the Sony A6600 uses a 3.5mm mic input, I would suggest the Azden SMX-30 Switchable Stereo microphone. You could use this microphone directly on camera when doing handheld interviews. With a 3.5mm extension cable, you could use it as an overhead boom setup. It's also self powered which typically leads to better audio than trying to increase the gain in smaller cameras. It automatically sleeps when plugin power is not detected which means longer battery life (as it doesn't accidentally stay on when you pack it away). It's also two microphones in one - stereo and mono which can be helpful depending what you're trying to record. It's a versatile mic with great sound.
Azden SMX-30 Switchable Mic - via Amazon
BASIC LIGHTING KIT FOR INTERVIEWS
Lighting. Wow, this topic I think is one of the most difficult to suggest. Because no matter how good a lighting kit I could recommend, it still boils down to the experience level of the person setting up the lights. Lighting is also something very subjective. Do you always need splashes of color? Not enough contrast? Lighting too flat? For these reasons, i'm not going into detail about how to light an interview or jump into theories. I'm just going to suggest equipment that I feel would to make it easy to setup, be less of a hassle, and that can help with overall general exposure.
First, I love being able to work with lights purely off of battery power. This means no extension cords to deal with, and easier to setup in remote locations where AC power may be difficult to find. Also, i'm a huge fan of v-mount batteries. They run much longer than smaller Sony batteries, so you don't have to worry (as often) about a light shutting off in the middle of an interview. And charging 3 large batteries is much easier than charging a set of 12 smaller batteries. So I would recommend finding lights that can somehow be powered by v-mount or through a d-tap cable (connected to a v-mount battery). For this i'm going to recommend the Boltzen Q-55 portable Fresnels.
Boltzen Q-55 Bi-Color LED Fresnel
Each light is about the size of a Canon 70-200mm lens, so they can travel in a backpack if needed. The lights can be powered via AC outlet, Dual Sony Batteries (if you prefer Sony batts), or through a D-tap cable for the longest possible run time from large Cine batteries. The lights have a lens that can work as a tight spotlight getting the lights in just the right places (and not everywhere else) and barn doors for flagging the lights (another layer of controlling spill). But you can also remove the lens for more of a broad flood effect.
On the Yoke itself is an umbrella holder, so you can quickly throw a shoot through white umbrella to soften up your light and increase the size of your light source for softer shadows. Umbrellas are easy to pack and easy to setup / breakdown. Or you can also add the optional Bowens mount adapter so that you can work with soft-boxes and a million other Bowens mount accessories.
The Q-55 also has built in WiFi to control through a smartphone app, or a handheld remote. They are also available in an adjustable color temp, so that you can dial between Daylight, Fluorescent, or Tungsten temperatures. These are incredibly versatile lights and easy to work with for interview setups where you may want a Key, fill, and rim (hair) lighting.
While there are tiny powerful LED lights out there, smaller source lights create more defined (harder) shadows. Just remember, if you're trying to achieve a more 'flattering' soft light, you need to find a way to create a larger source. So whichever lighting kit you choose, make sure you have a way to modify them. And if the lights are too small throwing up modifiers will often cut down the power (output) of the light reaching the subject. I find the Boltzen Q-55 fresnels offer a good balance and lots of versatility.
To be clear, I know there's no such thing as a perfect single camera, audio, or lighting system. I myself own various lighting kits, various cameras, and various audio equipment. Through my own personal experiences, I constantly switch up my equipment based on the project and my client's needs. What i've recommended here (though not the most budget friendly kit) is just a personal recommendation of what I would use myself. Even though these products might be slightly dated, I feel they offer versatility, ease of use, and great quality while still remaining somewhat budget friendly. You could certainly go cheaper, but you may sacrifice many features and reasons (many of which I have not have even touched in detail) of why I selected these products.
Anyone reading this article is probably here for research and advice, so if you have suggestions for a camera, audio, and lighting product that would work for quick and simple interviews, leave a comment below.