Cheap Vlogging Camera in Your Future? Essential Features of the Best Cameras for Vlogging

With YouTube reaching more 18-49 year olds than any cable network in the U.S., it should come as no surprise that the network is positively exploding with opportunities for those who want to show something to the world via a vlog. While some channels are home to huge productions that could rival something out of Hollywood, the truth is a decent, but cheap vlogging camera and microphone are all you need to get started vlogging.

With so many cameras available at vastly different price points, it is hard to know where to start—especially when you’re on a budget. So, where should you start?

Step 1

Establish your working budget

Step 2

Understand what makes a good camera for vlogging

Step 3

Buy your new vlogging camera

Establish your working Budget

It can be tempting to blow your entire budget on a camera, but before you start down that path it is important to consider your audio. The difference between a $400 camera with a decent audio source and a $500 camera with the built-in microphone isn’t likely to be as noticeable visually as the vast improvement in audio.

If your camera offers an external microphone port, your audio source can be as simple as a decent external microphone like the Rode VideoMicro Compact or Rode smartLav+. Without the external microphone port, you’ll need something to record the audio as well; a couple of great options are the Zoom H1 or the Rode smartLav+ and your smartphone.

All of these options cost in the $50–100 range, but as with cameras, audio can get as expensive as you’d like. Assuming you’re trying to eat as little of your budget as possible, but still get decent sound, let’s figure your audio will take about $100 of your total budget. With that in mind, your working budget is the total amount you are planning to spend minus $100 dollars.

In order to help you find the best cheap vlogging camera for you, we’ve divided our recommendations into 3 main budgets:

  1. Under $100
  2. Under $250
  3. Under $500

If you already know what you’re looking for feel free to click through to one of those pages to see the recommendations; if you’re not sure what makes a good camera for vlogging, read the rest of this page.

Components of the Best Vlogging Camera

cheap vlogging cameraWith the sheer number of cameras available, there is no shortage of great cameras out there, but it is important not to get overwhelmed and not to just rush out and buy the first camera someone recommends.

Like landscapes or action sports, vlogging requires balancing a unique set of considerations; finding a camera that excels in these areas is key to setting up your fledgling vlogging operation for success with regard to equipment.

Cheap Vlogging Camera Features You Want

  • Recording Resolution and Frame Rate Options
  • Good Low Light Performance
  • External Microphone Input
  • Flip screen
  • WiFi

Features that Don’t Matter for Vlogging

  • Digital Zoom
  • Flash
  • High Megapixel Count
  • Continuous Shooting Mode

In order to keep this relatively short, we won’t go into a huge amount of detail on the features that don’t matter. For the most part, camera features directed at stills shooting have little benefit for vlogging. For example, a 40 megapixel camera with a 1080p video mode and an 8 megapixel camera with a 1080p video mode produce the same video resolution. Sacrificing in these areas will help reduce costs with minimal impact on your vlogging.

Essential Features of Vlogging Cameras #1: Recording Resolution and Frame Rate Options

Most modern cameras have some type of video mode, but the best vlogging cameras offer optimal video resolution and frame rate options. While you might feel compelled to jump right to the top of the heap and go for a 4k camera, that’s a quick way to add unnecessary expense if all you need is a 720p video for live streaming.

Sacrificing a little on resolution is a quick way to save costs with very little effect on your shooting. Frame rate, on the other hand, can have significant impact depending on the subject of your vlog. If you’re simply talking to the camera presenting information, a standard 24-30 fps will be more than enough, but if you’re vlogging your latest drone races or wingsuit flights, you’ll benefit from having 120 or 240 fps frame rates available.

Essential Features of Vlogging Cameras #2: Good Low Light Performance

While often a function of physical size of the sensor, good low light performance is essential for almost any vlogger who isn’t planning to shoot outside in the afternoon sun exclusively. Digital noise reduction has come a long way in the last few years, but the bottom line is a larger sensor offers more surface area to capture light. This means on its worst day, a cheap DSLR will usually outperform even the best smartphone in low light situations. That said, it is important to balance the need for low light performance with other considerations. For example, it wouldn’t make a ton of sense to focus on the low light performance and buy a Canon 5d Mk III and strap it to a skateboard to capture action shots for your skateboarding vlog—you’d be better served by finding the best low light performer in the action cam segment.

A couple of additional items to consider for low light performance include high-quality optics with a wide aperture and optical image stabilization. Optical, not digital, stabilization will help you get smoother, more professional looking footage by reducing or removing camera shake from your footage. High-quality optics with a wide aperture will allow you to really open up your aperture setting to let in the most light you can—this is an area where an interchangeable lens camera (ILC) can excel, but it isn’t a feature limited to ILCs.

Essential Features of Vlogging Cameras #3: External Microphone Input

An external microphone input will go a long way to allowing you to simplify your setup. While not strictly necessary, you can use an external recorder and microphone and sync the audio during editing, an external microphone input will let you wire the microphone directly to your camera. With the right microphone, this will vastly improve your audio over the built-in microphone. If there is one “secret” to keeping your viewers happy, it’s having decent audio; people will stick around for a so-so video with good audio, but even the best video with audio that assaults their ears won’t go far.

The other way we got to record better audio is with an external recorder or a USB microphone.

Essential Features of Vlogging Cameras #4 and 5: A Flip Screen and Built-in WiFi

A flip screen is almost essential for the one person vlogging crew. Being able to flip out the screen and see your framing and other settings from in front of the camera will really help the production of your videos. You’ll be able to see how your framing looks with you in it and you’ll be able to better monitor your video when you’re recording.

Built-in WiFi can also help when adjusting framing, if your camera outputs live video to the tablet or phone you are using. In some ways this is a little better than a flip screen in that you can use a much bigger screen. Additionally, this will usually allow you to manage your settings remotely and upload video directly to YouTube wirelessly.

Cheap Vlogging Camera Features that Don’t Matter

Many of the features strictly related to photography have little benefit for vlogging. Digital zoom, for example, typically works by cropping out portions of the image; this means your 4k sensor might only be capturing 720p video. Flash and high megapixel counts, and fast continuous shooting modes are other features that, depending on your camera, may be heavily promoted, but completely useless on a camera for vlogging.

Achieving Vlogging Camera Zen

The bottom line on the best camera for vlogging is finding the right balance. You need to have some idea of what you plan to shoot and where you plan to shoot so you know which features you can skimp on without ruining your footage. Once you know what features you require and your working budget, you’re all set to buy the best vlogging camera.