YouTube is just plain impressive. Launched in 2005, fourteen years later 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute. It generates more than 4B$ of revenues annually1. There are over 1 billion video views on mobile devices alone, every single day. This thing is an absolute beast.
But as everyone with a kid would know, it is also a gigantic cesspool. Leave your 5 year old for 3 minutes unattended behind YouTube and she will be watching Ryans World or worse yet one of those candy unwrap videos, every single time. The amount of—and please pardon my French—crap on YouTube is astounding. The signal versus noise on that platform is through the floor, very much unlike something like Wikipedia. On both of these you can lose hours and hours by jumping from one to the other page or video. The difference is that on Wikipedia sometimes you end up on a decent article that is just not so interesting to you. On YouTube you end up on total garbage.
But because YouTube is so gigantic, there are absolute jewels of content to be found in that pile. YouTube democratized the production, distribution and viewing of these videos, lowering the barrier to entry enormously. This leads to content that is razor focussed: take any niche topic and go super deep. In a national TV broadcast situation how many channels are devoted to people building a Scanning Electron Microscope from scratch? You pick the nation, the answer is still going to zero. But on YouTube you will find a non-zero answer.
Recently a well researched article was published that argues YouTube did to expertise what books did to knowledge. Well worth the read: Expertise in the age of YouTube.
So the challenge then becomes one of discovery. Lots has been written about the (in)famous YouTube algorithm—I kid, nothing was written, it’s all videos of course. I realized I curated a list of ±150 channels that I admire, the jewels in that massive heap of candy-unwrap-videos. And I wanted to share some of those for discovery, hopefully someone finds these useful. (I do realize the number of people liking this exact set of videos is exactly one: me.)
The subscriber counts for each channel were taken November 2019.
The one and only content side for watch collectors. It is not a small setup as it employs 88 people but some of the content is excellent. Here, for example, is a video that goes through all the different references for the OMEGA Speedmaster. Or here is their Talking Watches episode with Alton Brown. First time I saw these I was star struck mashing up the Speedmaster and Alton.
Watchfinder & Co (391k)
This channel is impressive because it showcases a massive mount of expertise on display, but those delicious finger licking production values are through the roof. Here is an example where a Patek is being compared to a Speedmaster; those close ups and lighting are fantastic. Similarly here is their deep dive into Chronographs.
Aidin Robbins (126k)
It is beautiful to follow Aidin’s growth through his recording and editing of movies. The work that he has published is fantastic. The best for me are his “cinematic sequences” such as his 2018 video or his Iceland video. His tutorials are well put together. His demeanor and authenticity are notable. And he often follows up later with a “how did I make that video” like this one about the NYC video.
Andreas Hem (208k)
Andreas, in my mind, is similar as Aidin: shooting and editing skills are through the roof. But where Aidin’s work is subtle, Andreas’ work shouts and goes over the top in the most incredible ways. Here is Andreas turning himself into Spiderman or his 100k subscriber celebration video. If that turns out not to be “over the top” enough for you, then see his we raided Area 51 video.
DSLR Video Shooter (415k)
Caleb Pike reviews gear for shooting video, including lighting, lenses, camera systems. Straight to the point, honest reviews. This also includes super in-depth reviews of the Sony and Panasonic cameras. His color correction and grading tutorials are fantastic as well. Unlike some others that play it by feeling, Caleb works it up from ground principles. He has done a lot of work on audio as well. And then I have not even spoken about his b-roll!
Jay has done a fantastic job bringing Davinci Resolve knowledge to the community. Ranging from a simple Basic call out with tracking through Glitchy Goodness all the way to building an odometer from the ground up in Davinci Fusion. Or this example of animating a trip across a map: he does it from the ground up and the results always look fantastic and professional!
Peter McKinnon (4M)
Peter has build up a massive channel with over 4 million subscribers. Combines talking about methods, the enthusiasm, a little gear reviews and a lot of personality. Inspiring movies such as The Bucket Shot or The mountains won’t remember me, or this vlog about B-roll from a few years ago.
Taran van Hemert (140k)
Taran works at the massive outfit Linus Tech Tips as an editor. As a geek with a passion for editing he published some monumental editing tutorials such as this one. It apparently took 10 months to edit this 4 hour beast. Similarly, but on just tad smaller scale, this comparison on upscaling algorithms for video. Or take this 40 minute video documenting him building a tree house.
Every Frame a Painting (1.6M)
Every Frame a Painting stopped publishing in 2016, but until that time it did a fantastic job in dissecting the editing in various movies. For me personally this almost single-handedly triggered my interest in editing. If I had to single out one upload it would be How does an Editor Think and Feel, but it would be just as easy to pick out Composing Movement, David Fincher, Mother or Edgar Wright. Loved seeing what he did about the Marvel universe and ‘temporary music’ as well. I find it beautiful that YouTube has provided this platform where someone like this is able to go deep and share these insights.
This Guy Edits (268k)
After Every Frame a Painting stopped publishing I went on looking for someone else dissecting editing, and that quickly became This Guy Edits. Analyzing the editing in various movies, such as The 7 Laws of Film Editing, Whiplash’s Brilliant Editing or this one on of a scene analysis. He’s building an entire community around the world of editing, for example through Patreon you can watch him in real time edit a Hollywood feature film.
Film Riot (1.5M)
Film Riot is both a little more commercial and geared towards short films, but it is still very interesting and very well produced. Here is Matti Haapoja going behind the scenes, for example. Going back 8 years ago (example), there is a huge store of how to story tell, tutorials on editing, more editing, how to film/shoot, tips and tricks, interact with talent as well as short movies that they produced.
DC Rainmaker (141k)
DC Rainmaker is sitting right on the intersection of good enough video production quality, cycling, smart trainers, power meters, gear reviews and GoPro/Drones. Over the years he’s build up so much credibility in this particular niche that I basically consider it the last word in these matters.
The Vegan Cyclist (107k)
On the opposite end of the spectrum from DC Rainmaker is The Vegan Cyclist — no gear reviews but mostly focused on first person perspective of cycling races, criteriums and tips and tricks. It’s beautiful to see the ebb and flow of success and failure, the perseverance and pain it takes to compete.
Deb Armstrong (15k)
If you are wondering about how much value someone can generate in videos by taking their absolute expertise (in this case a world class skier turned into gifted coach) and combine it with someone with a camera: look no further than Deb. Complete no nonsense coaching as well as no nonsense video’s: all straight to the point. The passion for the kids and the sport flows right off your screen. After a couple of these videos you are left wishing she is coaching your kids.
Fantastisch Oostenrijk (2k)
Sometimes the value is not in exceptional skill: the folks on this channel barely make it in front of the camera. Their skill instead is being in the location where I like to be. In my case the ski area of Westendorf, Austria. They shoot short videos on the weather and ski conditions, new lifts being build up, how it looks like in the summer. This idea does not scale well, but for me it is valuable. UPDATE: During my trip in December 2019, I myself even made it on screen. 3 seconds of fame on the chairlift!
Mediocre Amateur (30k)
This channel is so non-pretentious and self-deprecating. Basically a couple of middle-aged guys that are out for a little adventure: multi day trail runs in the summer and ski touring in the winter. The story telling is unassuming, but will drag you along non the less. It is just executed that well. And to be honest, this channel single handedly made me sign up for a day of ski touring in December 2019. Powerful stuff. Favorite episodes are the episodes about the poorly named Terminal Cancer descent, skiing the middle teton, Mount Jefferson. Don’t forget the recently launched b channel with gear reviews called Extra Mediocre.
Cody Townsend (20k)
If you wondered “what if I take Mediocre Amateur and scale the ambition way the heck up?”, then… you have Cody’s channel. It’s the same story telling; you’re coming along on some risky ascents, but now for effectively all 50 (!) 15.000ft+ peaks in North America. Besides some pretty humorous content Cody is busy achieving his goal. Ascent every one of the 50 tallest peaks on the North American continent. He’s half way through as I write this, here’s the playlist and here is the introduction and motivation for the series.
Stomp it tutorials (151k)
Jens does a great job churning out ski tutorials with a thin veneer of geeky humor, testing a merino wool shirt for 11 days. Just like half the others on this list, just him, his passion, and someone with a 5 year old camera. And because it is right up my alley, this is more captivating that a national broadcast television series.
Applied Science (584k)
This channel is crazy. He drills thousands of holes in steel to test out the effects of cryogenic hardening on drill bits or how film cameras of old managed to put the date on the film negative. But what completely showcased the depths this person is willing to go is his series in which he constructs a Scanning Electron Microscope…
At over 7M subscribers Dustin obviously is not very niche anymore. But his story is one that is uniquely enabled by a video platform and ever growing audience. I think most of started off with this video on chicken heads being stabilized and it snowballed from there, all the way to meeting the President of the United states (#44 to be precise). The common theme across most videos is to find something non-obvious and explain that to the audience in simple and empirical ways. What happens to your brain if one switched the steering controls on a bicycle?. Flipping cats, landing on their feet. Laminar Flow. Popping over to NASA and their Moonrock collection. How did the Saturn V steer? Or this one on the physics of curling, which is rather unintuitive! Just subscribe, already.
Scott Manley (979k)
I have a deep respect for Scott: he holds down some Silicon Valley job, but in the meantime he produces well researched videos twice per week on anything space and rocket related. The amount of knowledge he displays for a non-professional is truly inspiring. Simple camera setup, one man show, focus on the content. Scott never disappoints: video on a space launch, hundreds of videos about Kerbal Space Program, how gravity assists work or what is most confusion about orbits. Ever wondered if you can throw a tennis ball from the ISS Space Station back to earth? Which direction would you throw it? Come and find out!
Everyday Astronaut (470k)
Bringing space down to earth for everyday people. This is in the same space as Scott Manley, but slightly different. Lots of good material: Interviewing Elon Musk on the Raptor engine, why SpaceX ditched light carbon fiber in favor of stainless steel, or this video that helped me prep for an actual rocket launch in Florida.
Sean Carrol (51k)
Space, the universe is immensely interesting. Sean has this capability of explaining and reasoning about things in clear and engaging ways. He is not so much a YouTuber as others on the list here, even though he started a series called Mindscape. His best material is from conferences posted elsewhere: starting off with his Royal Institute presentation on “Particle at the End of the Universe”, the Big Picture at Google Talks or The Origin of the Universe.
Sean Tucker (308k)
Sean is just very, very impressive. Sean previously was a priest, and for better or worse he moved on into photography. What he does take forward with himself, is that he is super calm, composed, and reasons from a humanistic standpoint. It is a sea of calm in an ocean of screaming to get a microsecond of attention from The Algorithm. I think one of his best and impressive videos is this documentary about three of his mentors. However, basically 65+ of his 72 videos are absolutely killing it: Making it as an introvert, The legacy of your Photography, Good Light series or Embrace the Darkness, a lesson for Light and Life. And this is what makes Sean so fantastic: you come in for the photography but stay for all the life lessons Sean has on offer.
“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.” – Carl Jung
Nigel Danson (153k)
Nigel is a landscape photographer, and is sharing his best practices for free online in beautiful videos. Nigel comes across to me as very authentic. Some examples include How to improve your Drone photography, Printing your photos will improve them or photography passion.
Joe Allam (192k)
Joe lives (or travels regularly) to Japan, is into photography and video, and shoots Fuji X100, checking all my boxes. This again is an example of something so specific that it could not exist on major television but through the democratization that YouTube enabled; here we are! Examples from Joe include Tokyo street photography, Tokyo Train photography or Cinematic travel by train.
Becki and Chris (163k)
Becki and Chris; to be honest, I had a hard time latching on to this couple’s adventures. But somewhere down the line I got completely hooked. They are approachable, yet at the same time inspirational in their achievements (the house project, getting a helicopter license, owning a helicopter, just building FPV drones next to what I assume is a busy job being a doctor). The color grading and sound design is on point on their channel. There are some tutorials such as this one that explains how Becki produces a complete vlog, but the best content is where they interact with others, or travel for a bit.
Obviously, one should watch their bigger recently launched project about flying to Newfoundland (preparation, Ch 2, Ch 3 and Ch 4). Check that sound design on the first 10 seconds of that last video!
Iz Harris, Johnny Harris (114k, 149k)
Initially I had to cringe at Iz; we’re totally different people with different perspectives. But then you start to enjoy their/her humor and somehow it gets a little addictive. Nowadays I just watch everything they publish. Their repertoire spans travel videos (Amsterdam, Austria, How the Dutch beat the Ocean), a video I can only describe as a #MeToo as video art, being engaged after within 3 weeks after meeting your partner. Or just a video on what actually matters in life? I love this well researched video from Johnny on the origins of this one icon picture from Hallstat. Or how to remember your life (in pictures).
Binging with Babish (5.5M)
Not very niche at millions subscribers, but well produced videos, mostly about cooking. The formula is basically a shot of the counter top with Babish in the frame from waist to just under his neck, recreating dishes from various television series and movies. Add in a sprinkling of dry humor and you have a winner. Harry Potter special, Spongebob Squarepants, Frasier, Sopranos or Breaking Bad.
Next to that, he produces lots of other content such as making a burrito with every type of meat, making burgers or this special video about him giving a Tesla to his brother.
James Hoffman (112k)
James embodies what the internet at large, and YouTube specifically, does best: the overlap of decent to good production values, combined with a passion and expertise (coffee in this case) that leads to fantastic content that otherwise would not exist. Completely unrelated, James has this fantastic voice. I could listen to him for hours reading the classifieds section. James produces videos on a lot of aspects related to coffee: coffee bars as a business, how tos on the ultimate V60 technique, the best french press technique, do coffee tasting, best blade grinder results, reviews on the Niche Zero Grinder, Decent DE+ Espresso Machine or the Sage Precision Brewer. Could keep going!
Mumbo Jumbo (4.9M)
Guy plays Minecraft, gets 5M subscribers. But through the multiplayer aspect, there is story and. I have not kept up for years now, but there was a time I would watch a Hermitcraft video every other day. The gateway drug for me was Mumbo Jumbo’s channel, for me. We’re now 1.950 video’s later… If you want to dive in, go check out episode 1 of the latest season of Hermitcraft.
Chuck full of information, the tutorials on how to sharpen a knife are excellently done. The visual aesthetic is very simple and the production values are great and I love some of the scientific approach he uses. For example how he measures the sharpness of the knife with an Edge-On-Up. The knife review videos are well done but less interesting to me, personally.
Micheal is another one of those people with an oversized appetite for curiosity. At 15M subscribers, chances are you are already familiar with this content. But if you are not familiar, I will start you off with a classic How many things are there?, pass through Which way is down, have you Count past infinity and end up at some newer content like Laws and Causes. The most classic explanation in my opinion is How the earth moves through the universe.
Michael ended up doing a thing (Brain Candy Live) with Adam Savage, which resulted in some really awesome geeking out videos like this one about Micheals desk or on Adam’s channel building a Kendama. If we dial that up to eleven, you would have to throw in wrist watches.
I stumbled across this weird stand-up comedian act about Excel Spreadsheets and instantly got hooked to Matt’s channel, that he describes himself as: “I do mathematics and stand-up. Sometimes simultaneously. Occasionally while being filmed. (It’s quite the Venn diagram.)”. A quick sample of some his better videos: Brick balancing challenge, New supermutations discovered, LA crime and null-island and Euler’s Disk.
Captain Disillusion (1.7M)
The Captain combines humor, memes and some science with a complete overdoses of computer generated graphics (mostly done with Blender). This live performance quite blew my mind. His more regular videos are fantastic as well: Escherian Stairwell, Tape Measure meme debunked. Or another live performance titled The unbelievable Loneliness of being Right on the Internet.
Tom Scott (2M)
Tom runs a channel that has a similar premise as SmarterEveryDay or Vsauce: find something obscure or niche, ask “why?” and go deep to uncover answers. How the Netherlands stopped the wind, How did the first telecoms scam work?, The City of Golf Carts and Britains Sound Barriers are nice starting points into Toms world.
CGP Grey (4M)
Like Tom Scott, take something obscure, but now go ten times deeper and dial up the geekiness to eleven. Then proceed to animate the whole movie. My gateway drug ended up being the explanation of the difference between Holland and the Netherlands. I love the whole series about London City, or how to become it’s mayor (which will surprise you!). Las Vegas is not in Las Vegas, it’s in Paradise!. Or, The Rules for Rulers.
Turns out you can have many channels on YouTube that geek out completely over how and/or why things work. Perfect example from Veritasium is the Bizarre Behaviour of Rotating Bodies. Or this one on Aerogels. Or this one about Black balls on a water reservoir that got a shoddy 39M+ views.
Welch Labs (259k)
Welch Labs’ Imaginary Numbers are Real video series was the first time I realized what YouTube had done. The content on display in this channel would otherwise not have been made, and even if it had, it would not be available to me. This scene here shows the combo of using pen and paper and computer graphics to such impressive ends. But what completely blew me away is the first 10 seconds of this video where they draw a graph on paper, record it with a camera, run it through some python code and project the resulting graph on the video in real time. Even if you do not understand the complex/imaginary maths, this is just so cool! (Or fast forward to 5:40ish and your mind will be blown again.)
Lately, they have produced a fantastic series on autonomous cars, that really builds up the understanding from the ground up.