Sean Chandler
CNN —  

Welcome to Influenced, where we interview creators of all kinds about the gear they use to do their job — and their advice for those looking to follow in their footsteps. This week, we chatted with YouTube movie critic Sean Chandler about how he’s upgraded his home studio over the years, and why you probably already have better equipment than you think.

Here’s the cool stuff Sean Chandler does

Chandler shot his first video — a review of the highly polarizing 2016 Ghostbusters movie — on a whim, using his old MacBook’s built-in webcam and a Blue Spark microphone he had borrowed from a friend and plugged into a USB interface.

“The audio was nice and crisp, and then just terrible picture from an old webcam built into a computer,” says Chandler. “And didn’t have any lights in front of me, anything fancy, anything that would make it look good. So I just started with what I had.”

As his hobby grew into a legitimate source of revenue (and eventually, a full-time career as a movie critic), Chandler gradually made upgrades that have allowed him to produce high-quality videos that are decidedly sharper-looking than those early MacBook clips. Here’s what Chandler’s setup looks like today, and what he recommends for folks interested in taking a shot at talking into a camera for their YouTube channel.

Sean Chandler’s favorite gadgets

For simple, sharp sound: Blue Yeti Microphone ($129; bluemic.com)

Mike Andronico/CNN

One of the first big purchases Chandler made for his YouTube setup was the mega-popular Blue Yeti microphone, which he says he’s “recorded like 1,500 videos with” as of this writing. It remains his go-to mic to this day, and provides a much simpler means of getting high-quality audio than his previous setup that consisted of an audio interface and a high-end Blue Spark microphone.

“I wanted an audio setup that was easier than an interface and a Spark mic that was on a stand in front of me, [which] wasn’t really designed for this purpose,” says Chandler. “It sounded great, but it was just a clunky setup. So I bought a Blue Yeti. It’s a USB mic plugged straight into the computer. It made it much simpler.”

Chandler is one of countless creators who use the Blue Yeti — which is our pick for best microphone — thanks to its accurate and crisp audio, four handy recording modes, useful controls and solid construction. We’ve also found the Yeti to hold up well throughout years of heavy use, delivering reliable sound for Twitch streams, podcasts and long days spent on video calls in a remote-work world.

For coming alive on camera: Fancierstudio Lighting Kit ($99, originally $109.99; amazon.com)

Fancierstudio

Like many experts we’ve talked to, Chandler stresses that having proper lighting is far more valuable than splurging for an expensive camera when it comes to looking good on video. And for him, that lighting comes from a relatively cheap set of studio lights you can snag on Amazon.

“So many people are like, ‘Oh, man, I need a great camera to get a great image.’ Well, no, probably what you need is just a light in front of your face,” says Chandler. “If you sit down with a $5,000 camera and there’s no light in front of your face, you’re still not going to get a great picture. It’ll just be a very crisp, dark image.”

The Fancierstudio Lighting Kit that Chandler uses gets you three softbox lights — the kind you might see on the set of a photo shoot or in a TV studio. The kit packs two 16-inch-by-24-inch lights and a single 16-inch-by-16-inch light, each of which can stand up to 6 feet tall (there’s also an included boom arm if you need some overhead lighting). Each softbox packs four 45-watt fluorescent bulbs that should keep you looking bright and lively while recording videos or streaming, and there’s an included carrying case for when you need to take your studio setup on the go.

For shooting in the studio: Logitech C930e ($129; logitech.com) and Canon EOS M50 ($649; amazon.com)

CNN

Chandler has cycled through a number of cameras over the years, slowly upgrading over time as his setup — and the growth of his channel — called for it. Like many YouTubers, he started out with the beloved Logitech C920 (our pick for best webcam) before moving on to the higher-end Logitech C930e due to its wider field of view.

“When I built this set, I realized it was very claustrophobic,” says Chandler on making the move to the C930e. “It just makes for a bigger image. And that’s what I built my channel off of.”

However, once the movie critic made the decision to go full time with his YouTube channel in early 2019, it was time for yet another upgrade: the Canon EOS M50. This popular mirrorless camera has a laundry list of high-end features, including the ability to shoot at 4K (or up to a silky 120 frames per second at full HD) and provide speedy autofocus, thanks to its advanced dual-pixel sensor. Take a look at any of Chandler’s videos from the past two years or so, and the jump in overall quality and detail from the C930e is pretty easy to notice.

Pro tips

When asked what advice he’d give to aspiring YouTubers, Chandler echoed a common refrain we hear from top creators: start simple.

“I think you want to start as small as possible and figure out what you actually need,” says Chandler, who notes that he bought several items early on that he realized he didn’t need during his early days. He was also quick to point out that you can get great video quality out of the gear you already have just by doing your research and making basic tweaks.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as realizing on your iPhone, you can adjust the exposure and then lock the exposure. I had an iPhone for 10 years before I learned that. That simple trick right there can save you so much,” says Chandler. “With my webcam setup, I was about to buy a new camera. I spent a bunch of money, and then I just did a little research, asked a few questions and people introduced me to some software where I could edit the settings.”

Chandler also recommends asking other creators for advice — chances are, they’re willing to help.

“Ask people that are doing exactly what you’re doing. [In] my experience, people are very friendly. They want to be helpful and they’ve made all the mistakes [that you’ve made] already,” says Chandler.

“If you start your YouTube channel going $3,000 in debt buying equipment, it takes a long time to make $3,000 on YouTube when you’re starting out. So start with what you have, and slowly upgrade. You probably have better stuff than you realize.”

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