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 fifteen gadgets while running around a park. Depending on your camera, you may also be able to find cages that fit your model specifically.

The Microphone

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. 

Top Pick

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.

Upgrade Pick

If you’re willing to spend more, this wireless system is fantastic. I’ve been using it for all my WIRED videos. 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! You can start recording with no pesky cable running between you and your recording device.

The microphone quality is excellent, but having a tiny box on your shirt can look a little awkward. I hooked up Rode’s Lavalier Go ($57) to the transmitter, which I put in my pocket for a more natural look. Rode has a newer version, the Wireless Go II ($247), which includes an extra transmitter if you’re making videos with a friend. 

Other Great Mics:

  • Deity V-Mic D3 Pro Shotgun Mic ($139): Standing directly in front of your camera? Consider a shotgun mic. I like this one from Deity. You can pop it onto the shoe mount on the top of a camera, plug it in, and you’re ready to go. (Yes, it plugs into phones too.) It picks up audio really well and recharges via USB-C.
  • Rode VideoMicro ($47): 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.

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 that 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.

The Tripod

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. 

Top Pick

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 amount. 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 ($119) if you plan on panning, tilting, and capturing a lot of B-roll (more on the Komodo below).

Phone Tripod

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 Deity above) and a compact video light for a full on-the-go studio. My only gripe? You can’t adjust the height. But there’s a solution to this: the Mobile Creator Stand XL. It can get up to 60 inches high, making it a great and compact tripod for stand-ups. Both these tripods are fairly comfortable to grip and carry if you are moving around as you film. 

Upgrade Pick

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 GorillaPod 1K ($27): 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. If you have an iPhone with MagSafe support, then you can pair it with this Joby tripod for a hassle-free setup.
  • Benro TMA27A Series 2 Mach3 ($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 ($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.

The Light

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 here.

Top Pick

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 ($124), 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.

A More Compact Light

The Godox lighting system above can be tricky to move around the home and is more suited to a fixed shooting location. If you’re more often filming on the go, you can try this video light from Boling. It gets remarkably bright despite the compact size, 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 Collection of Lights

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 3,200K 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. Best of all, each light has a pair of magnets on the back, making them easy to mount without stands. They may not be the most powerful lights around, but it’s hard to overstate how handy they are on a shoot when you need an extra fill or some extra color on a scene.

Other Great Lights: 

  • Lume Cube Panel Pro ($160): This is a solid light that’s similar to the Boling P1, but there’s an app you can pair it with via Bluetooth to control it remotely.
  • 12-Inch Ring Light With Tripod Stand ($31): Several members of WIRED’s Gear team use these ring lights to illuminate themselves on videos. You can attach your phone in the middle of the light, which makes for a great all-in-one and affordable solution.
  • Viltrox RGB Portable LED Panel ($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 some 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.

A Teleprompter

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.

A Gimbal

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.

Zhiyun Crane M3

Photograph: Zhiyun

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.

Handy Tips

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.