Professional video on a smartphone?
Earlier this year, when the snow was causing havoc across Europe, I decided it was a good time to go to Paris on a mini mission (and I chose to accept it) Was to shoot a short film using only my iPhone and a couple of accessories.
Fortunately the thaw had started and blue skies greeted me on my arrival.
There's an increasing number of filmmakers who have adopted the iPhone and other smartphones as weapons of choice for shooting. I've always been very reticent to trust these devices to get me footage that is good enough quality to use professionally.
Sure they are great for short shots of you and your friends and family but can they really form part of a professional workflow or even integrate into a shoot and edit with other 'proper' cameras.
Ultimately though it's still a phone - with a small sensor and a tiny lens, so there's only so much that technology can do before the rules of physics apply.
To make this film I used a case which I could attach screw on lenses. I took a couple of lenses - a wide angle and a fisheye. The lenses came from a US company called Sandmarc and they sent me some to take a look at.
I was a little hesitant about the idea of bolting a lens onto another lens - again it's all still a bit of a workaround and putting some glass in front of some other glass can't be ideal - it also depends on if the camera lens on the phone is VERY clean!
I have to say I was very very impressed. The most used lens was the Wide - this gave me a lot more scope to shoot some vistas, and with the moving shots the extra width allowed me to keep them more steady too.
The fisheye is very much a specialist lens - I used it sparingly because the effect is so dramatic and powerful.
Of course it was fun to shoot stills with these lenses too - so I'd also recommend this if you're not interested in video at all.
I've been using an app called FilMic Pro for a while in my phone and this lets you tweak some settings over and above the default camera app - I mainly shoot with the highest quality because it allows me some more latitude when editing and colouring the footage afterwards.
However since shooting this I've also discovered a similar app which I believe well worth a look at. It's an oddly named app called Mavis and developed in Brighton, UK. I had a chat with their developers and it's definitely going places. I will cover these apps in more detail in another post, but I would be likely to recommend Mavis now over FilMic.
I also used a gimbal - any would have done but this one was able to take the weight of the phone and also the lens (just).
Using a gimbal is not as easy as you're lead to believe. You do need to learn how to hold it, move with it and walk differently. Again - too much to cover here but the gimbal I used was a Zhiyun Smooth 3 but there's a lot on the market and they are all ok.
So I wandered around Paris for a couple of days and shot a fair amount of footage. Each evening I backed up the footage from my phone to a WD Wireless Passport Pro hard drive - I could connect to my phone and send the footage to the hard drive.
If you increase the recording quality to the levels that FilMic and Mavis allow - you'll fill up the phone in no time. This is why Apple don't allow their app to shoot this high a bitrate - people would fill their phones in days.
Back in the office I set to editing - the footage looked great. I tweaked some colours but it handled it rather well. I think the extra data rates I used did help but if you're not into colour grading at all then you don't need to worry too much. Even using the stop camera app would be totally fine.
I also decided to crop the image into a more cinematic frame (hence the black bars top and bottom) but I think it works on this piece.
So that's it - I'm sold. I was so 'nervous' about not taking a real camera - even a hight quality compact camera with me but it was ok - I managed it and was deeply impressed.
It does involve a little more thought than point and shoot video making but then a little though can go a long way and I think the result is great.
Smartphone pro video is very much a reality but obviously the limitations are down to the imaging pipeline of the camera - you'll never get the same quality or robust files that a proper camera will give you but it's pretty darn close.
So here it is - the finished film. Enjoy.
Would love your comments below.
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