Stefan, can You take a couple of shots from the next concert, and send them by mail? We’d really like to put something on SoMe right away…
It is almost 30 degrees celsius, and I’m outside with three friends, making video for the music festival Uhørt. We’re all using larger cameras, but I’ve also brought my mobile kit with me. So I get the assignment with the video clips for SoMe.
When mobility and publishing speed is of utmost importance, nothing beats a smartphone. And the latest generations of iPhones have also become really good tools for photography and videography, trumping “real” cameras in a series of ways. I’ve personally begun using my iPhone more and more lately. With a bit of accessories, of course. I love gear and gadgets;-)
In brief: I’ve fallen in love with the mobility and the mobile workflow. But is the smartphone the camera of the future? And what should You consider, when using the smartphone as Your main camera?
The phone is small and lightweight: Portability isn’t the only strength. Size and weight also lets You make shots that aren’t easy to make with a larger camera. Have a look at the shot below, for instance, where I pull my iPhone (and Osmo Pocket) backwards through a fence. I wouldn’t be able to make that with a larger camera.
Cameras galore: Recent smartphone models have two (or even three) cameras, and can do a lot with them i combination with software. Nice background blur in portrait mode is one of the great examples of this. This is done by combining images from two cameras, one of them being out of focus.
More computer than camera: Combine the phone with a couple of apps for photography- and videography and various social media apps, and You have a nicely integrated workflow, allowing You to shoot, edit and publish on a single handheld device. Lightroom and Premiere Rush from Adobe as well as iPhoto and iMovie from apple are great examples of software offering You the flexibility to start on You phone, and continue with Your project on the desktop, if the need arises.
Cheap accessories: The smartphone might be a bit expensive. That aside, accessories and gadgets for smartphone photography/videography is pretty cheap compared to larger cameras. For less than a couple of hundred Euro, You get a nice, little mobile camera system.
Low light performance: It is difficult to make good pictures on a smartphone when the light dims. The smartphone sensors are generally very small, which gives a lot of noise in images at high ISO values.
Shaky footage: The iPhone X was (as far as I know) the first iPhone with image stabilization in both the lens and the sensor. It should be good enough to avoid shaky footage. But the stabilization still isn’t as good as on larger cameras.
Mostly wide angle: Smartphones have small lenses, and typically relatively wide angles. That makes it easier to frame yourself in the picture when You make a selfie.
An iPhones main camera has a focal length of around 28mm (full frame equivalents). The second front lens is typically somewhere in the normal perspective – the 2x camera on an iPhone X, for instance, has a focal length of 56mm. You can also use digital zoom, but that’s just like cropping the image. You might as well do that when editing the image.
All in all, it can get a bit tricky to get close to a subject far away, when using a smartphone. The focal length is too short.
Battery life: Smartphones drain batteries fast. You definitely won’t be able to do an entire day of shooting on one battery, and on most smartphones, You can’t put in a new battery when the first one is drained. Instead, You have to use powerbanks or charge regularly.
The smartphone really shines as a media production unit, if You get a couple of accessories. I’ve built myself a smartphone photography/videography kit, mostly because I like gadgets;-)
Less can do it. I’d personally get the following for my iPhone (prioritized order):
Photo/video apps: The built in iPhone camera app gives limited control of the camera settings. Get in control with an app! Best of all: This is very cheap. Install VSCO Cam for photography, and Mavis for videography – both of them come in free and paid versions. Start with the free. I personally use the Moment – Pro Camera app, which costs around 7 Euro (49 DKK). It works for both photography and videography, and is nice to use with the Moment lenses.
A rig: A rig can be nice in order to accomodate various accessories on Your phone. I use a mini-rig from Shoulderpod – Shoulderpod X1. It looks good with the nice, wooden handles. But there are many other cheaper alternatives on the market.
A gimbal: In order to make nice, smooth footage, I use a small DJI Osmo Pocket camera. It fits right into the iPhones lightning port, and thus also mounts easily on the shoulderpod rig. Get a DJI Osmo Mobile if You only want to film with the smartphone. It is also cheaper than the Osmo Pocket.
Lights: A little led lamp goes a long way. You can even use a bicycle light or a flashlight. But if You want a good, compact LED lamp, go for the Aputure Amaran AL-M9.
Sound: A microphone or a voice recorder will improve the sound. I have a Røde Videomic ME-L, which mounts directly into the lightning cable plug. It works well for ambient sound. If I want to get close, for an interview, I use my good, old Zoom H1 sound recorder. Two sound tracks have to be synchronized when recording on the Zoom H1, but that’s normally quite easy in editing suites on the desktop.
Tripod: I often leav my larger tripods at home, and bring a small table top tripod or a monopod with me. They are great when shooting for longer periods in order to avoid tired arms.
Extra storage space: Storage space on an iPhone is pretty expensive: You have to buy the most expensive model to get a decently sized harddrive. But there’s a quick fix: I personally use a Sandisk iXpand memory drive to get more storage space.
ND filters: ND-filtres are a bit like sunglasses for a camera – they make it possible to shoot with longer shutter speeds in bright light and still stick to the “shutter speed doubles the frame rate” rule. I have a set of Polar Pro ND-filters for iPhone, and a variable ND filter, the B+W ND Vario 62mm XS-pro, which I use with my Moment lenses (see next paragraph).
Lenses: Lens adapters make it possible to turn the smartphone standard lens into a wide angle or a tele lens. Moment lenses generally have a good reputation. They aren’t easy to find in Denmark, though. I had to find a second hand kit on dba.dk.
You can make pretty much anything with all those bits and pieces: Nice, stable video footage, interviews with great sound, time lapses, nice portraits, landscapes etc.
At the inauguration of the “Vildskud” festival, I tried to go “mobile only,” when making a little SoMe video. I edited the video in Adobe Premiere Rush. Have a look:
I like shooting with the mobile setup – but I do still think it has three very essential flaws: Low light performance, not enough range on the tele end, and I miss having the possibility to get nice, blurred-out backgrounds. So I often bring one extra thing with me: My good old Panasonic Lumix LX-100, which I have earlier described as the perfect SoMe camera in 2020.
The Lumix LX-100 does what the iPhone can’t: It handles low light situations well (at least for SoMe), it is easier to get close to the subject with a focal length of 75mm (full frame equivalents), and it is easy to take images with a nice, blurred-out background due to the larger aperture and sensor.
Some would argue that new smartphones are actually good at making “nice, blurred-out backgrounds” when using portrait mode. I would argue that the functionality isn’t good enough. It works well for portraits of people, but not for other subjects, like for instance the cup in the image below. Notice the smeered out edges of the cup, especially in the dark plastic lid:
There’s something nice and informal about using a smartphone as a camera, and due it being a nice, little all-in-one production unit, it is probably going to be the tool of the future. At least for SoMe content. And You can get really nice results, if You pimp it up with a couple of accessories.
I would personally start with the following:
- An app: Moment
- A small shoulderpod R2 rig
- A DJI Osmo Pocket (or an Osmo Mobile)
- A sound recorder: Røde Videomic ME-L, Røde GO or Zoom H1 for instance
- Aputure Amaran AL-M9 lamp
- An old pocket camera (2nd hand if You don’t have one)
It should be possible to get all of that for less than 1000 Euro, and then You can always buy further accessories when needed.
But this is just my suggestion: Do You have other suggestions for essential accessories for mobile photography/videography?