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Producing Higher Quality Self-Service Recordings

By: Todd Stabley

So, you can’t afford to hire a professional videographer to produce your videos. But you still care about quality and want your videos to look and sound as good as they possibly can. There are a few things you can do:

  1. Use better cameras and microphones. Take a step up from the built-in camera and microphone on your laptop. It’s amazing what a difference just using simple USB peripheral devices can make!
    • Cameras: There are lots of great–and inexpensive–USB cameras to choose from. One popular and highly tested option is the Logitech C920, which retails for about $100.00. For a higher quality option, we like the $300.00 Cisco Precision HD, which has a longer focal length that makes faces look more flattering. Like a good quality portrait lens on an SLR, it tends to flatten faces out and has less of a fish-eye effect that makes noses look big. The Precision HD also has great color.  One great thing about external cameras is that you can move them around. Take care in positioning the camera, paying attention to the background. Don’t point the camera directly at a light source, such as a window. It’s best to angle the camera slightly down–i.e., perched on your laptop screen or monitor, instead of up at your face from a table. The image below shows a comparison between the Cisco Precision HD (left) and the built-in iSight camera on a MacBook Pro (right). For both of these shots I used fill light from the LitePanels MicroPro mentioned below.


  • Microphones: For a room where you might want to record multiple people, the Phoenix Duet (about $150.00 is a great option. For simple one-person narration, one great possibility is the Samson C01U Pro, which retails for about $110.00. You can also consider a low-cost wired lav microphone such as the Audio-Technica ATR-3350 (about $25.00).
  1. Use a light. Lights are getting cheaper and more powerful, and you can find a variety on Amazon for under $150.00, such as the Yongnuo YN-600 600LED, which is currently being used by the production team at Duke  that produces videos for Coursera. Duke OIT has also tested the original LitePanels MicroPro, which is no longer available. It is fantastic, but the followup version, the Litepanels MicroPro 2, is a bit expensive at $349.00 list.
  2. Record in high quality. Spend a little time working with the quality settings in the application you’re using to record. One great option for self-service recordings is DukeCapture Mobile, which uses the the Panopto Windows and Mac recording software. In the Windows Recorder, this setting is a radio button on the main recording screen (see below). We generally recommend using the option that says “High.” (1024×600 pixels at 1000kbps). If you need full 720p video, the “Ultra” setting will produce that.
    Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 1.49.11 PM
  3. Use a studio. There are many production studios nested in schools and departments across campus, so you should check with your local AV or IT group to see if there is one near you. One great central option is the MPS Video Suite in the OIT Multimedia Project Studio (006 Bostock). It contains tools for recording video such as Camtasia and QuickTime, and has a green screen and black curtain to use as backdrops. For recording just audio, you can book the the MPS Audio Suite in the same location. It provides professional quality microphones to allow up to two people to record audio in a sound controlled environment using Garageband, Audacity, or Logic. Use of the audio suite is available by reservation or walk-in. You can also book the sound booth in the OIT Media Lab at American Tobacco.
    The screenshot below is from a webinar by Panopto staff in which you can see the contrast between quality video and poor quality webcam video (click on the image for a larger version). The video of the presenter was shot in a simple studio, where production values were taken into consideration. The video on the right is shot in an office without concern for quality. As you can see, things like lighting and camera angle make a big difference!
    Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 12.59.05 PM
  4. Practice! While all of these technologies are great, practice is something that doesn’t cost anything but your time, and it will enhance your videos tremendously. You will see that the 5th or 6th video you produce will be much better quality than your first, so be critical of yourself and keep practicing – it will keep getting better!

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