The Essential Four Gadgets for Content Creation

I’ve always found gadgets fun to tinker with, especially when creating content. It was this curiosity that originally sparked me to purchase a number of items to create instructional videos and later venture into the wild world of man-on-the-street interviews. If you’re looking to do the same – even if it’s on a different scale – I’d like to help by reviewing my process and equipment. Breaking the bank is not required, as I’ve found that every type of consumer device has various tiers of affordability and features.

Studio Audio Recording

The RØDE Podcaster with studio boom and shock mount
The RØDE Podcaster with studio boom and shock mount

Almost every video I create has audio in the form of me droning on about something. Originally, I used an off-the-shelf wireless headset that was great for phone calls and online gaming, but ended up being terrible at high fidelity audio recording. If you’re looking to create videos with voice annotation, I’d recommend going wired instead of wireless – the sound quality is smooth and hardened against interference. There are a ton of choices in the market, but based on my needs, the audio device that I ultimately settled on is the RØDE Podcaster.

The Podcaster is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination. It’s an investment you’ll make in quality gear that sounds amazing. A few features that I found noteworthy:

  • Rather than using XLR, as many studio quality microphones do, this one uses USB. This means you can use it in a home studio (as I do) or attach it to your laptop while traveling.
  • The device has a built-in processor to offload audio conversion from the workstation.
  • Built in pop filter really helps cut out those popped P’s which sound terrible and are difficult to eliminate in post process.
  • There’s a headset audio port built into the Podcaster, with a volume adjustment, so you can listen to your self in real time. I find this handy to hear the audio stream prior to editing my videos.
  • It features a standard connector on the base to interface with a studio boom arm (which I have attached to my studio desk) and shock mount.

While there are many other selections available on the market, this one came highly recommended by a number of colleagues and has yet to let me down. So, now I’m passing along the recommendation.

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Criticism: The price is high, but I feel the Podcaster earns its price tag. If I had to give a few downsides, it’s that there’s no way to adjust the input volume directly on the mic, mute it, or turn it off. It’s always on unless you unplug it. If you’re afraid of people listening to you via hacking your PC (tinfoil hat!), unplug the USB cable when not in use.

Mobile Audio Recording

The Zoom H1 is great for mobile audio recording
The Zoom H1 is great for mobile audio recording

There are times when being tethered to a workstation – even a small laptop – is out of the question. For example, creating one of my Tech Chats requires an interview-style conversation. In order to go with a portable format that could also record audio, I picked the Zoom H1 Digital Recorder. Great things can come in small packages, and the H1 was surprisingly lightweight and comfortable to hold, while at the same time offering a wide assortment of features. Reasons I like the H1:

  • Records directly to MP3 with a user-selectable bit rate. Can also do WAV files if that tickles your fancy.
  • Has both an input jack for using an external lavalier (lav) mic and output jack for listening to the audio in real time.
  • I can pull audio files off the internal microSD card using a mini USB cable, or eject the entire microSD card.
  • There’s an auto level toggle on the underside of the device, which is handy for audio that fluctuates in volume wildly (as can happen when interviewing people).
  • The battery lasts seemingly forever! I first changed the batteries after recording dozens of videos interviews.

As a bonus: the H1 is easy on the wallet compared to many other options out there.

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Criticism: There’s only one input, meaning you can’t ever mic up two people with lavaliers and do a more formal style of interview. You’ll need to step up to the higher Zoom models for additional inputs.

Screen Recording

Using Camtasia Studio 8 to create videos for YouTube
Using Camtasia Studio 8 to create videos for YouTube

Recording my screen was an early adventure in my content creation days. Blogging is a superb form of expression, but I had the itch to also show a thing or two in a format that allowed for a bit more expression and emotion. Screen shots help for step-by-step content, but occasionally I feel video can assist with explaining a tricky topic or sequence. To fill this gap, I chose TechSmith’s Camtasia Studio. As a long time SnagIt customer, I was already somewhat familiar with TechSmith, but I was a rookie with Camtasia. Fortunately, it’s extremely easy to use, and fills a number of feature requirements:

  • The software is very simple to use and learn. The introductory tutorial is actually rendered with Camtasia, and you can see how they put it together right out of the box.
  • Camtasia’s bundled library of graphics and audio are royalty free and can help kick start a journey into video editing.
  • The license lets you install the software on multiple machines. I create video in a virtual machine (to isolate distractions and control the environment), edit the video on my studio workstation, and do mobile editing on my laptop (at events, on the go).
  • You can render your videos into a wide number of formats, or even produce video directly to YouTube.

The software gets a fair number of updates, and each version comes with many improvements that I make use out of. Did you know that all of my YouTube and Pluralsight videos were created Camtasia Studio version 6, 7, and now 8.

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Criticism: It’s quite expensive for casual use. I started with the trial and ultimately decided it was worth the price. If you don’t plan to do many screen captures, there are alternatives with fewer features – and a smaller price tag – available.

Video Recording

Editing video on the go at Cisco Live! 2013
Editing video on the go at Cisco Live! 2013

The final item on my gadget list is a device for recording video – that is, things that happen off the screen. One of the really neat side affects of hanging around Stephen Foskett for any length of time (geez, this guy sure shows up in my posts a lot) is a desire to take pictures of things with a Sony NEX camera. He’s basically the guru of photography and knows a ridiculous amount about the technology and art behind great photos. On his recommendation, I snagged the entry level Sony NEX-F3 as part of a bundle that included a 18-55mm lens. Later, I brought it to Cisco Live! and spent lunch just geeking out over the features with him, and ultimately learning how little I knew about photography. However, here’s the good parts:

  • The camera assumes you know nothing about photography, and has variations of “Idiot Mode” available that take fabulous shots without tweaking a single thing.
  • It records HD video up to 30 minutes at a time – apparently this is a political / legal limit, not a technology limit.
  • It’s rather lightweight and compact, especially compared to many DSLRs, while still having a ton of great features and options.
  • With the right lens, even low light shots are respectable.

I quickly learned that the camera is the cheap part. It’s the travel case and lenses that eat up your pocket book in a hurry. I ended up snagging the SEL55210 zoom lens for far away shots, which makes me look like a creepy stalker if I play my cards right. I also picked up a Manfrotto MKC3-P01 compact photo tripod – highly recommended!

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Criticism: Although it has a built-in microphone, there’s no audio input jack to add an external microphone. Get a stand that has a spot for an external recording device, such as the Zoom H1.


So, there you have it. The four food groups of gadgets for audio and video shenanigans. The neat thing about gadgets is that there’s no right answer, and everyone has a slightly different use case. What works for me may not jive with your needs, budget, or ideals, but at least now you have a starting point to scale up or down on your price point.

If you have any further questions about my gadgets, feel free to drop me a line – or let me know what you use! Happy content creating. 🙂