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Get Serious with Your Smart Phone

Get the most out of your smartphone camera.

Smartphones now have HD resolution cameras built in. They are far from professional-level quality, but for micro or personal projects can be very useful if you play your cards right. For “low-budget” activities you can do a lot with your phone, a few accessories, and a litte thoughtfulness.

Note: the equipment mentioned works on iPhones, we have not tested on other models. 

 

First, let’s look at the advantages & disadvantages of using a smartphone to make videos. 

Advantages: Easy workflow to and from your computer. You know how to use it. It looks pretty good, all things considered.

Drawbacks: The lenses aren’t great. The onboard mic is lame.  You can’t monitor the audio while you are shooting––bummer. The camera is often shaky. There is no shutter so you get weird warping effects when you pan & tilt (move the camera left & right or up & down). Exposure can vary throughout the shot because of built-in auto exposure.

The trick is to take advantage of the, um, advantages and find ways around the disadvantages.

 

Get Some Accessories:

For browsing supplies, check out photojojo. They have a broad selection of smartphone related accessories. We mention several other sources below as well.

 

Lenses

The lens on most smartphones is fixed focal length, meaning you can’t change the look of the shot by changing the internal mechanics of the lens. One workaround is sets of snap on lenses that give you fisheye, macro, & telephoto options––imperfect, but they do give you a different look. US$50 for the whole set! See also a telephoto version.
Check out this set on photojojo.
And this telephoto lens.

 

 

Audio

The onboard sound of the phone is inadequate.
Find an external mic that you can plug into the microphone jack. Here’s one & it’s only US$30:
Audio Technica ATR3350

You’ll also need a cable like this to plug it into the 3 prong mic jack on your iPhone. Unfortunately it’s US$30, too.
Mic Adapter for iPhone

Another option is a camera-mounted, shotgun mic.
the iphone boom mic
Sennheiser MKE 400
You’ll need a mount for this as well…

A cheaper but slightly less effective option is a mic that attaches to the data port. Not perfect for video, but decent for standalone audio recording (like voiceover).
Tascam im2

 

 

Handling

The shape and weight of the camera ensures that your footage will be shaky if you use it as is. Plenty product designers recognize this and have designed solutions to make hand-holding more ergonomic and balanced:

Joby Tripod
X-shot tripod adapter
X-Shot camera extender arm
OWLE Bubo
SteadiCam Smoothie

 

Consider a Few Things:

 

Lighting. 

These cameras do not have a lot of dynamic range (or ability to capture a range of highlights and shadows without looking bad). Shoot in an area where the lighting is consistent, even, and plentiful. Indirect sunlight is best for this. Think outside, but in the shade, during the day.

Auto Focus & Auto Exposure. 

AE/AF Lock
The cameras autofocus and auto expose during the shot. On iPhones, this function can be bypassed by tapping the screen to get the exposure and focus you want, then holding your finger on the screen while setting up the shot. You’ll see a flashing blue square around your finger then at the bottom of the screen you’ll see the phrase “AE / AF lock”. Done!

Audio

Make sure…
…you’re in a quiet place
…the mic is pointed away from things that make noise
…the mic is close to the subject (within 2 feet, one is better)
…you are not in a room that has a lot of echo (hard surfaces like glass & concrete––you can dampen these with rugs and pillows).

Apps for custom shooting & editing features:

Video stabilization:
Steady Lens (App)

Clip speed adjustment:
Splice (App)

Stop-motion capture:
Frameographer (App)
http://mashable.com/2012/02/04/free-stop-motion-iphone-apps/

Documentary production:
http://www.apptvonline.com/blog/how-make-short-documentary-film-your-iphone

Quick interview setup:
http://www.withdrake.com/tech/my-ultimate-iphone-4-video-recording-rig/

 

 

Examples from Real-life:

Here are some examples of the state-of-the practice for inspiration & demonstration of what can be done…

Well-known film shot & edited on iPhone 4 (in 48 hours): http://vimeo.com/12819723

iPhone Film Festival
http://www.iphoneff.com/

Notable examples using unique techniques:
http://www.iphoneff.com/archives/3427
http://www.iphoneff.com/archives/3092

 



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