Accessories for Smartphone Videos

February 17, 2017

Over the course of the last couple of months, our company has started using iPhones to shoot our videos. I have had many people ask questions about the accessories and especially the cases we are using. So I thought I would compile everything we have learned about this hardware and share it with you in this post.

 

Here is a quick rundown of the items we will discuss in this post:

1) Smartphone with a good quality camera

2) Lens Cases

3) Portable Battery Chargers

4) Lights

5) Microphones

6) Tripods

 

1) Not all smartphone cameras are created equally

In order to transition from a good quality camera with a floating lens for stability control, we had to find a smart phone that could provide the same level of stability and picture quality while shooting videos. The iPhone 6 Plus was the first of the iPhones to provide the stability we needed. I should mention that there are also some good Android phones out there that provide optical stability control as well. However, due to the apps we use for work, iPhones are a must. The iPhone cameras are very good quality, and the hardware consistency across their product line enables our app developers to provide us with higher quality apps.

 

An important note to anyone who plans on shooting video with their iPhone (especially for work), is to get one with a lot of memory. One drawback to iPhones is that you cannot expand their memory*. If at all possible, I would recommend getting one with either the 128GB or 256GB of memory.

 

* Memory - There is now a PNY DUO-LINK flash drive that allows you to store/transfer files directly from your iPhone. The drive has two connectors, a Lightning connector for your iOS device and a USB connector for your computer. PNY has models for both iOS and Android devices on their website. A 64gb drive will set you back around $75; however, if you shop around, some stores have them for $40-50.

 

If you do need even better stabilization (e.g. you plan to run while shooting video) you should definitely check out the DJI Osmo Mobile. I would recommend watching the following video review, as it is highly entertaining. - DJI Osmo Mobile Review

 

2) Camera Lens Cases

Since we began using our iPhones to shoot video and photos, the number one question I have received is, "Where did you get that? That's so cool!" That question is in reference to the lens cases we have started using. These cases have been key to providing us with the quality and versatility necessary to do our work. Here are some cases we have tried and the ones we recommend.

 

Beastgrip (Highly Recommended) - This is a great case that provides a wide variety of options. Beastgrip products provide smartphone photographers and videographers the ability to create a high-quality content with their mobile devices. Beastgrip also has one of our favorite lenses - Beastgrip x Kenko Pro Series 0.75X Wide Angle Lens ($170). The great thing about this case is that you can adjust it to fit a wide variety of phones, and it provides several mounting points for tripods, lights, and microphones. You can check out their entire line up of products on their website Beastgrip.com. The Beastgrip pro without a lens runs ($140).

 

Cinema Mount Mark II (Not Recommended) - This is the next generation of Cinema Mounts. We finally were able to test one out, and we were terribly disappointed. The biggest issues I had with it was that it blocks access to all the buttons on the sides of the phone (particularly the power button), which is an issue for me. I also found that the lens was not that good. Some of my standard shots were a bit blurry with this lens. I would recommend avoiding this one.

 

mCAM (Recommended) - This was the first lens case we tried out, and it is actually a very good case, though slightly heavy. This is an extremely sturdy case, as it is made from a solid aluminum frame. In fact, if you need a case that can double as a self-defense weapon, this is the case for you! The one drawback is that it is slightly heavy, which gets tiring after a full day of shooting. Also, it is phone specific, so you have to make sure you order the right size for your phone. Like the Beastgrip, the mCAM also provides mounting points for tripods, lights, and microphones. This case is only available for the iPhone 6/6s - Walmart ($96) or B&H Photo ($95)

 

Moment Lens (Not Recommended) - We had high hopes for this lens case, as it came highly recommended. Recently we were shooting in a very difficult lighting situation. We had one iPhone with the Moment Lens, and another iPhone with a Cinema Mount. The photo from the Moment lens was terribly washed out. Even with an abundance of manual adjustments provided by the ProCamera app, we could not find a setting that would improve the picture enough to use. The Cinema Mount lens on the other hand provided us with a better picture. As a result, I would not recommend this case. (2017 Update: Since running this test, we have found that the Beastgrip Kenko 0.75x ProSeries Wide Angle lens performs better than both of these lenses.)

 

3) Portable Battery Charger

One of the biggest issues we found when recording video from an iPhone is how quickly it drains the battery. I had asked a fellow videographer from the east coast how they handle this problem. He recommended getting a small portable battery charger and simply connecting it to the phone via the phones charging cable. The great thing is that you can continue shooting video while the phone charges. This has enabled us to keep shooting all day. I am currently using the Tzumi Pocket Juice 4,000mAh Solo Portable Charger, which I purchased from Walmart ($10). This particular charger will provide 2-full charges, which I have found beneficial for really long days. There are a lot of different chargers out their, so I recommend doing a little research and finding one that works best for your circumstances.

 

4) Lights

Photography is all about lighting. Since there are many lighting options out there, I will focus on one that is very portable.

 

Lume Cubes - These little lights are awesome. They are extremely bright, but have dimming settings that allow you to adjust the light to just where you want it. They have both manual controls and an app that allows you to control multiple units directly from your smartphone. They are about $75 a piece, but they are well worth the price. Besides the lights, they also have mounts for your drone, mounts for your cameras, and light diffusers. Check out their website.

 

In one of their blog posts, they interviewed a professional photographer named Eddie Tapp. He provides some really great insight on photography and lighting. It is really worth reading. Click here to read the post.

 

Here is an example of how we used a couple of Lume Cubes in a recent promo video to add a bit of drama underneath the car.

  

5) Microphones

I recently found out the benefits of having a good microphone while shooting a promo video for Reno GMC. We recorded the video outside next to a busy street. Without a microphone I would never have been able to capture the presenter's voice. For our video, we used a Sony URX-P2 wireless lapel mic.

Important: To get a microphone signal to your iPhone, you will need a SC4 TRS-TRRS Adaptor. Some new microphones are specifically designed with a TRRS 3.5-mm connector. Thankfully if you do need an adapter, they are very inexpensive. A good quality adapter can be picked up on Amazon.com for $15. I purchased a cheaper version at Radio Shack for $5 (part # 2740031). Though it works, the quality is not the best, and I plan on ordering the Rode version soon (see the Amazon link above). For more information on the differences between TRS and TRRS audio jacks, click here.

 

For a list of microphones that work well with your iPhone, check out this video - iPhone Microphone Review — 3 Best Microphones for iPhone. I have found this particular YouTube channel, THiNK Media TV by Sean Cannell, to be a very helpful source for smartphone accessories.

 

6) Tripods

There are some shots that require more than a steady hand. Whether you want a very steady shot or need something to hold your smartphone while you record your vlog, a tripod is an incredibly handy piece of equipment. Here are 3-tripods I use.

 

JOBY GorillaPod - This tripod has flexible legs that can wrap around objects like a monkey (or I guess a Gorilla). I have the original ($15), which I originally purchased for a small pocket-sized camera. While still useful, I have found that it has a hard time supporting the weight of my iPhone with camera lens case or my Sony Cyber-Shot work camera. For this reason, I am recommending the JOBY GorillaPod SLR Zoom Camera Tripod, which seems to be a little more robust - Walmart $35.

 

Insignia Tripod and Bluetooth Shutter Remote - This is great for those that need something to set on their desk while they record personalized videos (e.g. Thank You videos). This is a very simple tripod, but the thing I like most is the Bluetooth remote shutter button that it comes with. The Bluetooth Button allows you to start and stop your videos without having to tap on the screen. That means you don't have to reach over to your smartphone to start and stop your videos. I have also used the Bluetooth Button when recording from multiple cameras so that I can start my iPhone's camera from a distance. You can get this tripod from Best Buy for $30.

 

Standard tripod - The great thing about the camera lens cases that we recommended at the beginning of this post is that they can easily be attached to any standard camera tripod. While we typically do not use tripods in our work, I have had several projects lately that required one. I would check Ebay or craigslist if you just need something simple. Our local camera shop is great about carrying gear that is used but in good condition. I was able to purchase a slightly used, medium sized, tripod from them for $40 - Gordon's Photo Service in Reno, NV.

 

Hopefully the information in this post was helpful to you. I know that in addition to having the right hardware, the other side of the coin is having the right apps. In my next post, I will review several camera apps that you might want to consider using.

 

 

 

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