I am not a vlogger, although I have made a few over the years but only for big things like NAB. That being said I frequently film myself out and about holding a camera vlogging style for my reviews. I have used all sorts of different cameras from a GoPros to something like a Sony A7III but I have never been fully happy with them. I personally think this set up in this post is currently the best vlogging type set up and this post will explain why.
Last year I made a video about the Sony RX100 VII and how it was a fantastic vlogging camera but wish it had that F1.8 lens like the RX100 V (make sure you check out my epic video about this camera at the bottom of this post) and of course the battery life is shocking. It is still a great camera though and not just for vlogging!
So this is the set up that I think is the best you can currently get; the Sony A6600, Sigma 16mm F1.4, RØDE Video Mic NTG and the SmallRig cold shoe relocation plate which is essential so the mic can be mounted and not get in the way of the flip-up screen, plus one new thing that came out this week…
This is the new Bluetooth grip from Sony which is catchily named the “Sony GP-VPT2BT wireless shooting grip.” It also doubles as a mini tripod. What does it do other than let you hold the camera for vlogging? First off there is a zoom rocker for proper actual optical zoom, you need it to be a Sony servo lens which there aren’t many of, the 18-105mm is the only APS-C one I can think of, BUT if you have clear image zoom enabled then it will operate that. I love clear image zoom, the digital zoom which can zoom in up to 2x depending on the camera and shooting mode without losing quality. It is such a HUGELY useful feature.
There is, of course, a record button for when you want to record video, I bet that is surprising to you! There is also a photo button (for taking stills!) which will only work when not in movie mode, an annoying quirk of the Sonys. You can be in photo mode and hit record and it switches to video but not the other way round. Additionally, there is a C1 custom key which I have set to AF/ MF toggle so I can switch between autofocus and manual focus. I prefer this to the focus hold function as you have to keep pressing that to hold the AF where it is whereas this is one tap and the AF stops, another tap and it restarts. This function is probably more useful when on a tripod or normal operation. If you are new to autofocus having the ability to hold your focus at times is essential as it stops it changing focus when you don’t want it to. To be honest, I don’t think there will be many occasions when I would use it when doing the vlog filming thing, but you never know.
You can also use as a straight remote separated from the camera which is good for filming yourself on a proper tripod or controlling the camera from afar. It’s not as good as the Sony RMT-P1BT, the stand-alone Bluetooth remote, which I think is brilliant. That has a switch to turn the zoom rocker into a focus rocker so you change focus remotely whilst in manual focus mode, as long as you aren’t using a fully manual lens! It also has an AF ON button which I have set to the AF/ MF toggle that I talked about above leaving my C1 to be set as a FF/ S35 (APS-C) toggle for my full-frame cameras, a feature I use a lot when shooting video. I wish there was a quick way to do this on the Sony FX9 camera but there isn’t. For an APS-C camera like this for some reason you cannot switch between full-frame and APS-C, I wonder why!? Then you would just set it to a different function that is useful for you, perhaps change the focus modes?
The other really important feature of that remote is it has a red tally light so you know when you are recording. It may not sound like much but it actually is really nice. Imagine you have set up the camera to film yourself and you have a non-flip screen, the only way you know you are recording is the camera beep. I use it a lot. I wish the grip had this.
With the grip, you can easily tilt it whilst bushing a button and there is another one to rotate it. This way the control can always be facing you rather than having to do a fumbling reach around to press the right button!
If I was going to use this regularly I would probably fit a small Arca-Swiss QR clamp as I have in the photo below. It’s a thin Peak design plate and something I found on Amazon called an Andaer CL-50LS. This is so I could leave my plate on the camera and not have to keep screwing and unscrewing when I switch between tripod shooting and this style. It adds a little weight but not much. The only other thing is I would like is for the grip to be a little bit longer.
So why do I think this is the best vlogging set up? Well let’s compare it to the camera that seems to be the most popular for vloggers, the Canon EOS-R (which I have.)
I shoot in 4K, yes this isn’t full frame it is APS-C so the 4K is cropped but Sony APS-C is a 1.5x crop. The full-frame EOS-R in 4K is a massive 1.8x crop. Just put on a wider lens you say, well yes you could but that will increase the depth of field and if you switch to stills mode the field of view is either so massively different or if you set the stills mode to be the same as the 4K crop then you lose A LOT of megapixels. From 30mp to 8mp. I shoot stills and video and I want my FOV to match. Shoot HD you say to which I reply, no…it’s 2020. The A600 is APS-C in stills and video, whether HD or 4K.
The screen is flip up on the Sony A6600, the Canon is, of course, flip out. I find a flip-up screen is way better for filming yourself. When you look at a flip-out screen to check composition you are looking quite off camera. It’s distracting. A flip-up is much more natural as your eye-line change when looking at it is almost imperceptible.
The autofocus is absolutely superior in the A6600 over the EOS-R. Canon pioneer video autofocus with their dual-pixel system but it has now been surpassed. It is still great BUT it is often let down by older lenses which weren’t designed for smooth continuous autofocus changes as they were designed for stills. Sony lenses tend to be newer as it is a much newer system. That doesn’t mean every lens is great but most are. I find the Sony AF goes off a lot less than the Canon when there is a brighter background. What really helps is the quite incredible eye autofocus system which the A6600 has, the same as the A7RIV, the A9II and the little RX100 VII. It is so accurate and with that little flip-up screen you can see the little box tracking your eyes so well. It isn’t foolproof and sometimes it can go off but if you have something that does cause the AF to go off that is where the AF/ MF toggle comes in handy. After all when you are holding your camera out in front of you then your distance from it isn’t going to change that much. Better to quickly switch to MF than for that whole part to be focused on the background. I see this SOOOOO many times in YouTube videos. There is no way I could put that into one of my videos.
The A6600 also has IBIS, the EOS-R does not. Now Sony IBIS isn’t brilliant, there are much better systems out there, like the Panasonic and Olympus ones for example. You can walk with it but it can sometimes look a bit jerky. This is, of course, better than micro-vibrations from the rolling shutter. When you are walking it’s great. The EOS-R has an OK electronic stabilising system. It can be very warpy at times and crops in a fair bit when you use it. Not good when you are already at a 1.8x crop.
The Sony has really nice 50p/60p/ 100p/120p all without additional cropping all in full HD unlike the EOS-R which is 720p at 100p/ 120p. Also, it’s HD so it is full-frame so if you are shooting 4K then want some slow-motion suddenly you are much wider. With the Sony, the FOV stays the same.
The Sony A6600 has very similar video quality to the A6500 and A6400 which is not a bad thing. The 4K is very nice as is the slow motion. It can shoot S-LOG 2 and 3 but avoid S-LOG 3 due it only being 8-bit. I think the image is gorgeous as are the stills. The EOS-R has a lovely image despite the crop, the dynamic range isn’t as good but the colours are lovely and it has C-LOG plus the codec is superior with a much higher bitrate and the ability to get 10-bit out of the HDMI. It’s a really nice camera, I just wish it didn’t have that abysmal 4K crop! Anyway, this post isn’t comparing all their features, it is specifically focused on the vlogging attributes.
You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned using a Panasonic camera like the GH5 for vlogging as it has some really fantastic specs. The problem is the AF sucks. Even with the new improved AF with the new firmware. I installed it and it sucked. If Panasonic can nail great AF then they would be almost unstoppable. No Fuji camera has a flip-out or up screen so I haven’t mentioned those either.
You need great AF and a flippy screen ideally so that means Canon or Sony…for now.
The other gear I have here is the excellent new RØDE Video Mic NTG. This is SUCH a great mic. Lovely sound, fantastic features like a safety channel so the right one is -20db lower in case of clipping, lot of roll-off modes, +20db boost for cameras with weak pre-amps (like the Canon cameras) a fantastic dial on the back to change the level of the mic which is way more convenient for adjust your audio levels than going into a menu on the camera. It can be plugged into your computer via USB-C and works as a USB mic. It also has a rechargeable battery and it will turn off when the camera is switched off or you unplug it and then will turn back on when you turn your camera on again.
Sony has an excellent top mic called the ECM-B1m. It is the cleverest mic I have come across. It has the ability to switch polar patterns, from directional to omnidirectional so if you are talking behind the camera the mic is pointing forwards but in Omni mode you sound good! It’s a switch on the back so easy to change modes. It also has noise reduction useful for filming in cars or planes.
It has an audio level pot on the back, has a switch for auto levels which Sony cameras do not have internally, and can be switched between analogue and digital, only a few cameras can support digital though and the A6600 is not one of them. The downside is it’s only for Sony cameras whereas the RØDE is for everything and it has to be plugged into the MI hot shoe which is of course dead centre of the camera and right in the way of the screen. The Smallrig plate doesn’t help as you need the MI shoe connection. Sony does make an extension cable for the MI show but only as part of their XLR module and even then it still hides the screen as you can see below. It’s a shame, the only way I can see this being used for vlogging is to don’t use the screen or for Sony to come out with either a camera with a flip-out screen or have the MI shoe to the side.
Now the lens I am using here is the Sigma 16mm F1.4 here, which in full-frame terms equates to 24mm. This might be a little too tight for some people for vlogging, but I much prefer it to a wide-angle lens. It looks nice, gives you a shallower background and of course is better in low light with the large aperture. I sometimes use the 10-18mm F4. I can, of course, match the 16mm field of view of the Sigma but it’s a slow lens in comparison but a lot of people use this to vlog. Do I mind using just a prime for this filming rather than a zoom? Not at all. It’s all handheld so if I need to change my FOV I zoom with my feet. Easy as that. It’s a lovely little lens, yes a Sigma lens CAN be little!
I would love a full-frame Sony with a flip-up screen but I doubt we will see it. I am absolutely sure that one day we will see a Canon mirrorless with no crop in full-frame and IBIS, after all the new Canon 1DX III has no crop 4K full-frame as well as crazy good specs. It’s of course not a camera for vlogging, no flip screen and no EVF of course. Plus it is big and heavy! Maybe we will one day see Panasonic sort out their AF too? For now, though this seems like the best option…in my opinion of course!
Check out the gear I mentioned in this blog below. They are affiliate links so it does help me out a little bit without costing you anything more. So thanks if you do. If you don’t then whatever! 🙂