Creating video

Once you've made your plan, you need to get your footage. You don't have to have expensive cameras, computers, and gadgets to create a compelling piece of video.

This section covers shooting on simple devices like mobile phones and digital stills cameras, as well as the more standard camcorders. It also reviews how to get video footage from DVDs in order to mix it into your productions. We then show you how to prepare your content through editing and translation.

Recording methods

  • Mobile phone – depending on the type of phone you have, these can be great for brief sound-bites or clips, covert recordings, or regular interviews. Learn what your phone is capable of, and how to extract the video from it after shooting, before you rely on it for recording anything important.
  • Digital camera – there are many types of digital camera, and most of the limitations and possibilities of using mobile phones for video apply to digital cameras too. Test your equipment first.
  • Digital camcorder – if you're distributing your media on DVD or want to achieve a professional-looking final product, this is a good choice. It is worth being aware of all the benefits and disadvantages before investing in this technology. Many of these devices are large, and unsuitable for covert recording. However, they are essential when higher-quality footage is wanted.
  • Found footage – existing photos and video can enhance your videos, and are also useful when you don't have access to a video camera of any sort.

Picking tools for recording video can be daunting. Often it's best to begin with the simplest technology possible.Every year the quality of these devices is improving while prices are dropping, so be sure to get up-to-date information.

Think about whether you will be distributing your video online or offline, or both, and look at our Publish & distribute section for more information regarding this vital issue, which will have an impact on your decision about which technology you choose for recording your video, and on the planning of your project (Read more).

It's always best to get accurate advice from someone who really knows 
about making videos before investing in new equipment. If possible, borrow equipment 
to try it out before making major purchases. Consider visiting a local 
university, community media centre, or tech-savvy supporter for advice.

Type of equipment




Mobile phone - Increasingly they include digital camera and video functions.

Allows you to upload video to online sites directly from the cell-phone network. Once set up, it's simple, very small and light. Inexpensive (if you needed a phone anyway) or cheap. All-in-one device. Handy. 

Images and the location and times that the phone is switched on are traceable (a security issue), phones are somewhat difficult to set up for filming and uploading.

Very low to high


USB camera - for example: Flip video, vado pocket video cam

Simple, lots of recording time, easy to use, small 

Poor audio quality, and it's another gadget to carry around, charge up, insure, maintain etc. 

Low to medium.

Digital camera - Most digital still cameras have a video mode

Once set up, it's simple to use, very small and light. Can be inexpensive. All-in-one device. Handy.

Older cameras may have a short recording time limit, poor audio quality. 

Extremely low to very high. 

Camcorder - For example: Digital-8 or MiniDV (look for a USB or Firewire port) 

Highest quality, robust technology, long recording time. 

Can be bulky, footage must be digitised onto computer (you'll need a big hard drive and Firewire port, and a video card), it's another tool to look after.

Very high to extremely high


Quality key

Low – view in a reduced screen on computer or other device. Good for streaming.

High – can be suitable for DVD distribution

Very to extremely high – can be suitable for TV broadcast. Note: the higher the quality (or resolution), the larger the data file for distribution via the internet, meaning more time and bandwidth will be required for users to download it. Medium to high quality is best for films distributed via internet download.



Digital Video (DV) Camcorders generally give a much higher quality and level of control over both picture and sound than equipment like phones or digital cameras. However, they are usually physically larger and your footage has to be digitised (converted to data files from the disc or tape that it is recorded on) to be edited on the computer once it has been shot, whereas digital cameras record files that can simply be dragged and dropped onto your computer screen. You also need to budget for accessories such as tapes, microphones, larger batteries and so on, which can add to your load.

Despite these disadvantages, if you need the improved image and sound quality, a camcorder is worth your while. Camcorders are great for any project that needs to look crisp on a full screen computer, TV, projector, or DVD.

Purchasing a DV Camcorder

  • Standard or High Definition (HD) – HD is unnecessary for most web-based video projects. Instead, get a better-quality microphone or better lights. If you have got the funds to buy a High Definition camcorder, see this article from Make Internet TV for more information.
  • Recording medium – if you're getting a DV Camcorder and want to edit your footage, we recommend models that use mini-DV tape. Some camcorders record to DVD or hard drive; they will compress your footage into a format that may not be compatible with your editing software.
  • Compatible computer port – your computer needs to have an input port that matches the port on your DV camcorder, so make sure you check what ports your computer has in advance of making a purchase. Your computer should have either a USB 2.0 port or a Firewire port (also known as i.Link or IEEE 1394). Many PC laptops and some PC desktops do not have a Firewire port, while all Mac computers have Firewire ports.
  • Battery life – DV Camcorder Review Sites are a good source of realistic estimates of battery life (manufacturers often report optimistically high operation time). If you plan to record outdoors for extended periods, consider buying a spare or higher-capacity battery.
  • Image & sound quality – you can find examples of the image quality produced by various machines on DV Camcorder Review Sites. Some sites even review the internal microphone quality. If you want good sound quality, you'll need to use an independent external microphone. Make sure your camcorder has an audio input jack to receive the sound from the external mic.

Advanced Features

Here are some advanced features to look for if you want superior sound and video:

  • Manual gain control – for better audio, find a camcorder with the option to turn off Automatic Gain Control (ACG). ACG means the sensitivity of the microphone changes automatically if sound levels change; if there's s quiet moment, it will become hyper-responsive and pick up every little noise. In some cases this might be useful, but often it is better to control the input level from the microphone manually.
  • Neutral balance controls – for more control over the colour balance in your images, look for a camera with neutral balance (sometimes called white or grey balance) settings. Manual neutral balance helps ensure that colours are reproduced accurately in the existing lighting conditions, and makes skin tones look more natural. If you're using a professional editing suite, you can neutral balance to some extent during editing.
  • Ergonomics & user interface – even if you buy online, we recommend trying a few brands of DV Camcorders in shops before you buy. Hold a variety of models and brands to see which shape is most comfortable, or ergonomic, for you. Look into the viewfinder and make sure you're satisfied with your ability to hold the picture steady. If you travel a lot, make sure the camcorder is a comfortable size.


Digital stills camera

A digital stills camera is small, very easy to operate, and can be kept handy at all times. It is not intrusive and is great for doing interviews. You can quickly and easily publish digital camera footage without editing it. However, there are two main problems with digital cameras: some stills cameras have time limits for video recording, and some models record in formats that are not readily compatible with free and popular editing tools such as Windows Movie Maker. 

Purchasing a Digital Stills/Video Camera

  • Video resolution – resolution is the number of horizontal pixels by vertical pixels in the image captured by a camera. More pixels equals better quality images. Many digital cameras shoot 320x240 pixels of video, but some shoot 640x480 pixels.
  • Frames per second (fps) – the number of video frames captured in a second. Many digital cameras capture 15fps, but some capture 30fps.
  • Short recording time – some digital cameras can only record video for a short time (30-45 seconds) before they must stop and write the footage to memory. Others can record until the memory card is full. Check these limits before purchasing your camera.
  • Battery life – independent digital camera review sites, such as Digital Photography Review are a good source of realistic battery life estimates for digital cameras. If you plan on recording outdoors for extended periods, you might consider buying a spare battery.
  • Proprietary batteries – some cameras require proprietary batteries, while others operate on standard AA or AAA batteries. Proprietary batteries may provide longer life, but they often require a recharging station and cost a great deal more to replace. They can become obsolete and be hard to replace. Standard batteries are more affordable and available almost anywhere in the world, but might not provide as much shooting time.
  • Image quality – some digital camera review sites post footage shot using specific digital camera models. Otherwise, you'll need to rely on the resolution, frames per second, and mega-pixel count for a very rough estimate of picture quality.
  • Ergonomics & user interface – even if you buy online, we recommend trying a few different digital cameras in shops before you buy one. Hold a variety of models and brands to see which shape is most comfortable. Try putting it in your pocket or bag (to check the bulk, not to hijack it).
  • Sound quality – don't count on good-quality sound from a digital stills camera; get as close to your sound source as you can. It is also possible to record audio externally and synchronise the picture with the sound after making the recordings, during the editing process, but this is fiddly and time-consuming.
  • Storage space & format – most cameras come with a low-capacity memory card, which you'll probably want to upgrade. Make sure you get a card in a compatible format. The amount of shooting time you can record to a given card varies between different camera models, and also according to the resolution and also according to the resolution and compression settings you choose


Mobile Phone video

Mobile phones are relatively cheap, widely available and accessible, and you can create, distribute and sometimes edit video content from the same device. They are small, unobtrusive and easily carried, so you can film discreetly and clandestinely. Mobile phones can be particularly useful in repressive media environments where filming with a video camera may not be safe or possible. You can send videos directly between phones free of charge using Bluetooth. While it is possible on some mobile phones to edit and send videos straight to the internet (this depends also on the service provider agreement), it is more common for mobiles to be used only as recording devices.

Mobile phone video quality is fine for creating short videos for broadcast on video sharing websites, but only a few very high end phones are capable of producing anything approaching broadcast quality video which is 25 to 30 frames per second, 640×480 pixels resolution. Such phones are very expensive.

Mobile phones can be used anonymously in most countries if they are prepaid, rather than on a contract, and unregistered. However calls on mobile phones and the phone’s location (whenever it is switched on – you don't have to be using it) can be traced through the mobile network provider. If your phone is seized it may contain personal information such as contact details, call logs, texts sent and received, and photographs, which may be a security threat to you and your contacts.

Resources You’ll Need

  • Mobile phone – any mobile device which records video will do. Generally, the newer the phone, the better the lens and the chip (which records the video). Some phones have simple video editing programmes that allow you to add and shorten clips, add photos, text and a soundtrack. Different models of phone have varying limits on memory, maximum file size for playback and recording and resolution limits.
  • SIM card - used to store information on your mobile phone, including its phone number. An unregistered, prepaid SIM card provides the most anonymity. In some countries you do not have to register when you buy a phone. The SIM card must be registered to a mobile phone network before you can send video. However, you can record video and transfer it by Bluetooth or USB cable onto a computer without registering with a phone network.
  • Memory card – memory cards provide your phone with extra capacity for storing video recordings. They are compact, rugged and easily swapped when full. They come in several types, such as SD, miniSD, microSD, M2, microM2; be sure to check which kind your phone needs.
  • External microphone – the mobile phone’s built-in microphone may not give high audio quality when recording video, as it is designed for making phone calls. It works best for very close sounds, and it is generally pointing towards the camera person rather than at what is being filmed. You may be able to use an external microphone when recording. This could be the microphone on the phone’s headset, connected either by a cable or by Bluetooth. More expensive phones may allow you to attach a self-powered microphone, usually with a phono adapter to the phone’s AV socket.
  • Memory card reader – a memory card reader allows you to transfer data quickly from the phone to a computer. The memory card is taken out of the mobile phone and put into the card reader, which is attached to a computer with a USB cable.
  • USB cable – many mobile phones have a USB socket. A USB cable allows you to transfer data quickly, directly from the mobile phone to a computer. 

Basic steps to Mobile Video Usage

  • Film the event or interview. This may be one single shot or several shots. A simple video could consist of a single-shot interview lasting 3-5 minutes. The videos are usually saved in 3gp format, a simplified form of the MPEG4 codec, made for mobile phones. This compresses the videos heavily to reduce the file size and the bandwidth requirement.
  • Transfer content to a computer for editing or distribution. The simplest way to do this is by connecting the mobile phone to the computer with a USB cable. You can also do this using Bluetooth, infrared (IR) or via a card reader. Once you have connected the mobile phone to the computer, the phone will appear on the computer screen as an external drive. You can then browse the phone to find and transfer the video clips.
  • Edit the video on the phone or on a computer. The most common approach is to edit on a computer, which allows for more sophisticated editing, such as working with longer pieces, adding subtitles or voiceovers, and incorporating effects. Once the video clips are on your computer, you can edit them with software like iMovie, Windows Media Maker and Open Movie Editor for Linux. If you want to distribute the completed video by mobile phone, you must save it in 3gp format .
  • Distribute the video. Read more about Distribution on p. X. YouTube Mobile will allow you to upload videos directly from a mobile phone. Generally you are given an e-mail address to which to send the video so your phone must have internet capabilities, and the costs of data transfer can be high. There are a number of services, such as Qik, Flixwagon and LiveCast, that allow you to stream live video from your phone. This can be useful in an urgent or fast-moving situation. You must register in advance and install an application on your phone

Top tips for Mobile Video

  • Choose the highest quality setting your phone can handle. Each mobile phone will have a range of video settings, usually found under 'Camera', then 'Settings'. The most common, from the highest to the lowest quality, are:
 GA 640×480, 
VGA (quarter VGA) 320×240,
 QCIF 176×144,
 SQCIF 128×96
  • Save to a memory stick or memory card, not to the phone. The setting for this is usually found under 'Camera' then 'Settings'.
  • Set the phone to be silent. If you are filming clandestinely, make sure your phone is set to silent and does not beep or make a shutter sound when you are filming. Note: some models of phone will not allow silent recording.
  • Get in close: cameras on mobile phones are designed for filming people a few metres away.
  • Shoot in good light: these cameras work best in natural light without strong contrast. The picture tends to be particularly poor at dusk and at night.
  • Avoid zooming: the quality of the image deteriorates markedly.
  • Get close to the sound you want to record, particularly in interviews. If you use an external microphone, place it close to the sound you want to record.
  • Keep video files small, especially if you are planning to send your videos to or from phones.
  • Do a trial run: make sure you can shoot and upload videos without any technical hitches.

Security with Mobile Video

In some situations, filming may compromise your safety. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Preserve your anonymity – use a pre-paid, not a contract phone, and an unregistered SIM card and top-up cards. Supporters can buy top-up cards on behalf of the phone user.
  • Supporters should send the phone user the top-up access code by voice or text.
  • Protect your personal information – if the phone may be seized, do not store personal information such as contacts, photos, call records or outgoing text messages. It may be sensible to have two phones and use one of them just for filming.
  • Delete backed up videos – once the video clips have been transferred to a computer or another phone, delete them from your own phone or swap the memory card.
  • Hide your location – a mobile phone has functions other than recording video. When it is switched on it connects to the mobile network provider’s base station and reveals its location. The phone may have a GPS application. Keep the phone turned off with its battery removed when not in use, and don't enable the GPS application.

See the Mobiles section for more about using mobile phones to support your activism, or see our Mobiles in-a-box toolkit.

For information about keeping your digital information secure, look at Security in-a-box.