What’s the best camera for filming online fitness classes? Six months ago, you weren’t even asking this question. But in a post-COVID world, engaging your members with online fitness is an absolute necessity. Even looking ahead, it’s clear that the “new normal” for fitness centers will not be the same as the “old normal.” The market has changed in the blink of an eye. Even after the pandemic subsides, members will expect a strong virtual offering as an essential part of any center membership.
So, if you want your facility to thrive, becoming excellent at video streaming and video on demand (VOD) creation is an absolute necessity. Members want online classes, but if the quality of these videos is low, that enthusiasm will quickly wane, and their online engagement will plummet.
You Can Create Great Fitness Videos
If you’re a Wellness Director, branch executive, or even fitness coach, there’s a good chance that video production is not in your wheelhouse. You got into your career to help people live healthier lives, not produce movies! If that’s you, I’ve got great news. Modern technology has made it easy for you to create high-quality videos that your members will love to watch. You can create great content even with minimal expertise and a tight budget. In this post, I’ll give you the options and specific direction you need for the most critical tool for video production: the camera.
Image Sensors: The Key to Great Videos
Picking the right camera depends on how you want to use it. Some cameras are great for live streaming classes, but aren’t the right choice for VOD. On the flip side, other cameras are an excellent choice for creating VOD, but won’t work for live streaming. But, before we get to these choices, you need to understand the very basics of image sensors, which are the very heart of a digital camera. Here’s a quick summary:
Image sensors are the modern equivalent of film. They are what takes the light that enters the lens and converts it to digital data that comprises your video. Jackie Dove says, “The soul of a digital camera is its sensor—to determine image size, resolution, low-light performance, depth of field, dynamic range, lenses, and even the camera’s physical size, the sensor is key.”
There are several reasons that make the image sensor the single biggest factor in choosing your camera. First, larger sensors will be much more forgiving in low-light situations. This is essential, since the fitness rooms you’ll be filming in will almost always have inadequate lighting. In addition, a larger sensor will give you a greater ability to keep more of your field in focus. This is very helpful when you’re trying to keep an instructor from becoming blurry as they move around leading the class.
Larger sensors also give you a greater ability to keep LESS of your field in focus. You’ll benefit from this if you want to create a “bokeh effect.” This effect is when the subject of the video is in focus, but the background is blurred in an aesthetically pleasing way. This is what we call a cinematic look. The characters in movies often have a shallow depth of field behind them so they stick out from the rest of the surroundings.
Your Camera Options
Bottom line: the bigger your image sensor the better your video quality, especially in low-light, indoor conditions. Now that you’ve mastered image sensors, let’s look at your camera choices.
Webcams are used for one reason… they’re cheap. These cameras were designed for close-up shots, typically of your head as you are sitting in front of your computer. As a result, they have trouble focusing on objects further away (such as your group fitness class). In addition, most film at 720p, far below HD quality. Webcams are cheap because they have very small image sensors, making them inadequate for the task of high-quality virtual fitness.
In many ways, there’s nothing easier: put your phone on a tripod, press play, and livestream right to Facebook Live. There’s no doubt that smartphone cameras have a massive advantage over anything else in terms of portability and convenience. The image quality and video capability of these cameras has improved tremendously in recent years. In fact, if you’re a personal trainer wanting to make videos for your clients, your smartphone may be your best option.
But, if you’re at a fitness facility wanting to film group fitness classes and other larger group events, there are some significant shortfalls that make smartphone cameras a poor choice. First, to fit in the confined space of a smartphone, the image sensor is very small. Since you’re now an image sensor expert, you know that this means that these cameras will struggle if the lighting isn’t perfect (as is typically the case in indoor fitness rooms) and will not be able to give great depth of field. Don’t send your members grainy, out of focus video. No one wants to watch it, no matter how good the content.
Here’s where things get a little trickier. We’re going to see that the real competition is going to be camcorders vs. DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras. So, let’s first look at the advantages of the camcorder.
First, they were made to take videos. Because of this, they are very ergonomic. They can take long videos (typically several hours’ worth on a single memory card) and have a focusing system that is built for video production. Camcorders also have significantly larger image sensors than webcams or smartphones and can film 1080p or 4K HD video. Since they were designed to take videos, most camcorders are also ideal to use for live streamed video.
As simple as they are, camcorders also have some drawbacks. The biggest one is that their image sensor is not as big as DSLR cameras. If you are going the camcorder route, be sure that it can handle low-light situations. Again, you don’t want to be stuck with grainy videos.
Camcorders also lack the interchangeable lenses of a DSLR camera. This means you have you less control of the look of the finished product. Camcorder’s lenses are designed to keep as much of the field of view in focus as possible. If you’re looking for the artistic bokeh effect, then you’re largely out of luck. The only exception to this is if you go with a higher end professional camera. But, these cost thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars.
Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras are the cameras professional photographers use, but they can also take stunning video. These cameras are gaining increasing popularity for video because they have larger image sensors than equivalently priced camcorders. Because of this, DSLR cameras have outstanding performance in low-light situations.
The larger sensor also gives these cameras a great depth of field. In the case of a group fitness class, you can have most all of the class in focus. Alternatively, you can easily create a bokeh effect where only a handful of people (or perhaps just the instructor) are in focus and the rest of the background is blurred.
DSLR cameras have the advantage of interchangeable lenses. You can buy lenses that are perfectly suited for the exact usage you have in mind. Thus DSLR cameras give you the ability to create beautiful content; especially videos on demand.
But when it comes to using DSLR cameras for live streaming, many have an annoying limitation. All the overlays on the viewfinder will be seen by your audience. The overlays include all the tiny icons you see in the viewfinder, such a the battery life, shutter speed, ISO, etc. If you go with a DSLR, you’ll want to find one that has a “clean HDMI output.” This simply means that the overlays are not seen by your audience.
The bottom line on the best camera for online fitness
So, you’ve seen the candidates. Now, what’s the bottom line? Which is the best camera for online fitness? The answer really comes down to your usage.
If you’re a personal trainer looking to make convenient, simple videos in a well-lit area, a smartphone and a tripod will probably do.
For leaders at a facility wanting for film group fitness classes, or other large events, the situation is more complex. If you are looking to start with just one camera, you should go with a camcorder. They offer good quality video and simplicity of use. They are much easier to use for live streamed videos than DSLR cameras. There are a number of great cameras on the market, but we recommend the Panasonic HC-V770. You can get it for around $450 on Amazon. It is simple to set up and has a clean HDMI output designed for live streaming.
But, if you want to create great videos for your members, I would highly recommend going with more than one camera. In this case, you should consider getting a camcorder, a DSLR, and even a gimbal for a smartphone. This combination gives you maximum flexibility. It also allows you to hold your audience’s attention with more than one static angle. You can switch angles and even move and zoom with your smartphone-gimbal setup to create riveting videos.
As with the camcorders, there a lot of great options for DSLR cameras out there. We recommend the Canon EOS 200D / SL2 Camera, which costs about $550 on Amazon. This is a less expensive option, but please note that it does not have a clean HDMI output. It would work very well for VOD. But if you are planning on using the camera for streaming, we recommend the Canon Rebel T8i. It costs a bit more at $899, but gives you excellent quality video and has a clean HDMI output for live-streaming.
There are a number of excellent smartphone gimbals available for a reasonable price. One would be the ZhiYun Smooth Q Gimbal that runs about $75, but check around to see which best fits your needs.
If you’re interested in how to get this more dynamic viewer experience with a multi-camera look, I’ll give you all the specifics in an upcoming blog.
Don’t Forget Audio
If your facility is looking to move toward online fitness, don’t forget that 50% of your video experience is audio. You can have beautiful looking videos, but if your audio sounds like an AM radio, no one will watch it. Don’t miss our blog that gives you the secrets for using music that won’t get you pulled off YouTube or Facebook Live. Also, look for upcoming posts on how to mix high quality audio in with your video.
You’re all loaded up with the know-how you need to make an informed decision about the camera you will need for your online classes. Now it’s time to wow your members with your amazing video productions!
P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about engaging your members with virtual fitness, check out our webinar, Solving the Virtual Puzzle: How to Create Virtual Programs that Engage Members and Drive Revenue on Thursday, August 6 at noon EDT or Tuesday, August 11 at 3:00 PM EDT. We’ll run through everything from what your members really want to how to produce a high-quality video on a small budget.
We’re giving away a complete video production shopping list for everyone who attends. From cables to cameras to wireless video hubs, you’ll know exactly what to get to set up for video production.