Smartphone Video Production Tools
Mobile video's growth is astronomical. Today mobile video is not just for watching, creating stories with your tablet and smartphone is changing both creation and distribution. Today you can leverage the tools, accessories and apps available for your tablet and smart phone to create compelling video.
In March 2014 I shot an entire personal documentary with my phone while in Europe. There are limitations to the device. The optics are less than great, the audio is limited and the camera sensor does not manage extremes of light and dark all that well. But with awareness, planning and attention to detail you can shoot video that engages your audience.
Below you will find a list of the tools and applications I use when using my smartphone for video production. The page is divided into four sections. Jump ahead if you are looking specifically for smartphone audio, lenses or brackets and lights by clicking on a link below. Please let me know if you find something you think needs to be added, or if you have any questions.
The applications included in this list are all exclusive to the Apple iOS. Unfortunately, most are not available in alternative operating systems like Android or Windows Mobile. This is particularly true for video editing applications. It appears developers prefer the predictability of Apple’s walled garden where they only have to write code and provide customer support for a single device-type or operating system. As the market matures we should see more professional-style applications in the Android and Windows Mobile market, but for now most options are limited to clever photo apps for shooting "selfies" and creating photo montages..
FiLMiC Pro FiLMiC Pro turns your mobile device into a broadcast worthy, High Deﬁnition video camera. It gives you full control over focus, exposure, white balance and frame rates including a host of slow motion and fast motion options. Additionally, FiLMiC Pro has additional professional tools such as audio meters, and aspect ratio overlays.
Adobe Premiere Clip is a free app that makes it fast and easy to create video on your iPhone. Use Premiere Clip to bring clips together and add the finishing touches to your video. Projects sync across your devices, so you can start on your iPhone, pick up where you left off on your iPad or finish it in Premiere Pro CC using Creative Cloud. Adobe provides music you can use for soundtracks, or pick your own music. Smart Volume evens out audio levels across clips, and Auto Mix dynamically balances soundtracks and audio across your project. Post to Social Media sites directly from the app or save to the cloud or your phone. Best of all, the app is free, although you will need a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud to leverage the sync to Premiere feature.
|Avid / Pinnacle Studio Pinnacle Studio for iPad replaces Avid Studio. This editing application is the most powerful and easy-to-use video editing tool for the iPad. When Avid sold its consumer division to Corel, support for the Avid app went away and Corel moved their efforts to the Pinnacle Studio 2.0. Pinnacle studio is being upgraded with support for 1080 and voiceovers. No matter what they call it, for $12.99 it is the best investment you will make on your iPad. You can find a great user guide to the software here|
|Zoom Handyrecorder The Zoom HandyRecorder allows you to record high-quality audio with your iOS device. Designed for the ZOOM iQ5 and iQ6 external stereo microphones, it can also leverage the iPhone’s internal microphone or an mic connected via the phone’s headphone/mic jack. When you connect Zoom’s iQ5 mic the HandyRecorder can store files using the high-fidelity linear PCM or space-saving AAC formats. One clear advantage with the HandyRecorder app over competing applications is the accuracy of the record/play speed when using your phone as a digital audio recorder in conjunction with a camera like a DSLR. While not exact, it is appreciably more accurate than the native memo app or other 3rd party iPhone solutions.
|Ustream Broadcast live and watch live video on your device - anytime, anywhere! Ustream powers live interactive video that enables anyone to watch and interact with a global audience.|
|Animoto Turn your photos into videos, complete with music and text, with Animoto. Choose your photos, video clips, music, and video style. Within minutes, you'll have a video slideshow you can save and easily share.|
Book Creator The simple way to create your own iBooks, right on the iPad. Read them in iBooks, send them to your friends, or submit them to the iBookstore. Ideal for children’s picture books, photo books, art books, cook books, textbooks, and technical multimedia manuals.
|Prompterous Prompterous will guide you during presentations, lectures, broadcasts, interviews, sermons, reviews, podcasting, selling, acting or pitching. Import any type of document for both online or offline reading. Prompterous is the only application, of its kind, to support 24 formats including popular DOC, TXT, PDF, EPUB.|
Audio is always a problem with smartphones and tablets, no matter if they are iOS, Android or Windows Phone. The in-device mics are useless for video production.
While the jack on your iPhone or iPad appears to be a standard mini-jack, it is not. An external microphone needs to be fitted with something called a 3.5mm 4 conductor TRRS connector. Because of this hardware mismatch, there is an entire ecosystem of accessories that has blossomed around overcoming the audio limitations of your phone and tablet.
We are beginning to see lavaliere microphones designed specifically for smartphones and tablets. The Gold Pro Tie Clip Lapel Lavaliere mic from Micronic comes with a gold plated TRRS 4-pin plug (the connection on your iPhone’s and iPad’s headphone jack) so no KV adapter is required. Cord lengths vary from 3 to 90 feet, and the microphone is available as either omnidirectional or cardioid unidirectional microphones. This is a UK based company and you purchase directly from the manufacturer. Price for the cardioid version with shipping to North America is approximately $55.
The Rode SmartLav microphone is a bit more expensive. Like Micronic’s mic, this lavalier is designed specifically for production using mobile phones. The mic cable is less than 4 feet in length, which is fine for most head-and-shoulders framed interviews. But if you are looking to place the camera more than arm’s length away you will need to purchase an separate TRRS headphone extension cable. This microphone appears to have been designed only with digital audio recording in mind, rather than video production, as evidenced by this snappy product video. The expected audio only production path is the likely explanation for the unreasonably short cord. Price is $60
At some point in time you will need an audio cable to extend the reach of your microphone. One example is the TRRS Headset Extension Cable by StarTech. A cable like this extends your microphone’s cable length when shooting. Because you are using microphones that leverage the special TRRS connector, you need to ensure your cable has the same connections. Unfortunately, a standard headphone cable from the electronics store rarely works. A TRRS cable like this is less than $7 and will afford you the flexibility to get the shot you are after without the hassles of trying to use the wrong cord.
This $25 cable from KV Connection is a must if you are using standard TRS connector microphone (like the Pearstone or Audio Technica described below.) The TRS-type connector is used for most headphones, earbuds and low-cost microphones. Unfortunately, Apple devices requires a TRRS connector.
To use a low-cost microphone you need a converter cable like this KV cable to connect your mic to your phone.
It is easy to tell the difference between the two once you know what to look for... simply count the number of metal sections on the pin (see illustration above). The TRS has 3 sections, and the TRRS has 4. Click on the image above to see the difference.
Be it iPhone, iPad or Touch you can't simply plug in a mic and have it work. It needs an adapter to connect the microphone to the smartphone.
The Pearstone OLM-10 Omnidirectional Lavaliere Microphone is one heck of a bargain. This $25 investment, paired with the KV connector, will make a significant difference in your video. If you audience can't understand your story they will leave. A mic like this will keep them listening to your video.
The Audio-Technica ATR-3350 lav microphone is a very cost effective solution for good audio when shooting an interview or talking head... especially when using a small format pocket camera like the Kodak Zi8 or Zi10. At $24-$30 it is very affordable.
Click here to learn how to get great audio when shooting video with your smartphone.
The KV Connection cable(see above) is adequate for attaching consumer-grade mics, but often I am in a situation where I would like to leverage one of my professional mics. Most require something called phantom power (a low voltage external power source) and the KV cable won’t cut it.
IK Multimedia has solutions, the iRig Pre and the iRig Pro. These are small preamps that connect your XLR microphone to your device (Android, Windows or Apple). The Pro model supports many different input types, including MIDI, and has a preamp with less noise. If needed, they provide 48v Phantom Power using a 9v battery. The price is $40 and $150 respectively.
Audio is much more than just a talking head. Complete storytelling is the intersection of narrative and environment. I have found the Zoom iQ5 & iQ6 are an important addition to your mobile production kit. These Zoom devices turn your iOS device into a field recorder. The Zoom iQ5 and iQ6 are stereo X/Y microphones small enough to slip into your pocket, connecting via the iPhone's Lightning connector. The oQ6 uses the same condenser mics found in Zooms industry-standard field recorder, the H4n. I use this microphone to capture background sound, concerts, interviews (in quiet environments), and natural sound with incredible fidelity.
IK Multimedia has recently released their version of a compact audio/video stereo field mic, the iRig Mic Field. Like the iQ5 & iQ6, it connects directly to the Lightning input of your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Its two condenser capsules, 24-bit audiophile-grade A/D converter (with 44.1/48kHz sample rate), 115 dB maximum SPL rating and built in low-noise, high-definition preamp gives you the tools you need to capture pristine stereo sound in any situation. Listing for just under $100, the same as the Zoom's microphones, it is a worthwhile investment that should last for a few years, or until Apple changes the connector.
At $400 this solution is not cheap, but if you expect to be in a variety of difficult audio situations a great pre-amp is worth its weight in gold. The juicedLink RA222 Riggy-Assist Dual-XLR Preamplifier has both phantom power and an audio meter. Designed for use with DSLRs, it works great in the small form factor of mobile production when paired with the KV cable. I would expect for you to be shooting often to justify the expense, but it will save you from bad production over and over.
The Apogee Duet is an audio interface, headphone amp and MIDI interface that makes it easy to create professional recordings on your iPod touch, iPhone, iPad or Mac. The digital audio conversion and mic preamps affords a way to capture high quality audio with your device.
The Duet leverages circuitry designed to deliver professional performance for iPad use along with low latency USB 2.0 performance for Mac.
Finally, one note about audio quality when using any of the mobile video solutions currently in the market. The pre-amps in most smartphones tend to be a bit noisy, so expect some hiss in the noise-floor of your recording. The noise usually has more to do with your handset and less to do with your microphone. But a bad microphone in phone is only marginally better than a no external mic. I recommend you select the best mic you can afford. It will make a significant difference to the quality of your videos.
this quick little video of worms I grabbed on the fly with my iPhone. The macro gives you a memorable view of the Mississippi floods.) The fisheye is great for creating shots that demand attention.
The telephoto lens, sold separately, is a significant asset when shooting interviews. While the 2x zoom is not likely to capture dynamic close-ups from the back of an auditorium, it is a significant improvement over existing add-on zooms available for the iPhone. The benefit of using the 2x lens during interviews is it significantly reduces the wide, fish-eye feel, of the smartphone lens. The resulting image is far more flattering to the person being interviewed. Both products would be a great addition to your mobile production accessories.
I use accessory lenses on my iPhone daily. They make a significant difference in your storytelling.
In June 2013 I purchased an olloclip for my iPhone 5 and I have been really pleased with their optics. They work well because these lenses are glass, not plastic. The Olloclip 3-in-1 system falls into the positive school of "you get what you pay for". While more expensive than competing iPhone lens attachments, the images you capture with the olloclip are sharp across the entire canvas. Many accessory lenses are acceptable in the center and lose focus the further out you get to the edge of the frame. Not with these lenses. You can capture compelling wide shots and captivating close-ups with the macro lens (Check out
In November 2013 olloclip released a 4-in-1 lens system for the iPhone 5/5S, 4/4S and in 2014 a system for the 6/6S. The lens improves on the previous 3-in-1 kit with the addition of a 2nd macro lens so you can choose your photo's level of detail (focus distance for the lenses are now 18 and 12mm). In the summer of 2014 they released a 4-in-one lens for the Galaxy S5 and S4.
For two years previously I had used the Photojojo Phone lens series. The telephoto is not all that great, but the macro and fisheye lenses work well The magnetic attachment system lets you connect a lens to almost any camera phone and tablet, not just the iPhone. Besides, pulling your lens kit out of an Altoids box is always memorable (I keep the Photojojo lenses in an empty tin to protect them from damage. It is the right size, and the lenses stick to the outside when you are shooting.)
Probably the best and most expensive lens system currently on the market is the Schneider iPro Lens. Schneider has lenses that fit on the iPhone 4, 4S, 5, 5S, 6 and 6 Plus, and Galaxy S4. The available Series 2 lenses include Macro, Super Wide, Wide Angle, 2X Tele and Fisheye. This system is the most expensive, but if you are really serious about capturing the best image possible with your smartphone, Schneider lenses are a great investment.
Accessories like microphones, tripods, lights and even most apps are rarely tied to a specific device. I anticipate I'll get a number of years use when I invest in a microphone, tripod or light. But no matter which lens set you choose it is important to bear in mind that when the time comes to upgrade your phone it is unlikely your current lens set will work with your new device. Lens manufacturers optimize their design for a specific combination of camera, lens, sensor and case. When I choose a lens system I anticipate that I will use it for only 18-24 months, the length of time I typically keep a phone.
LED dimmable lights are a must-have component in your mobile production accessories. I have been very happy with my low-cost Neewer light, and it was only $36. You can’t light a room, but they are critical for adding sparkle and illumination when shooting an interview. This light is far from indestructible, as you would expect from the price point. But I have used mine for four years and it still works. If you need something closer to the top of the LED food chain I would consider an instrument like Litepanels LP Micro Compact LED Camera Light or the GiSTEQ Flashmate F-198C LED Video Light.
For a small light light designed specifically for smartphones and tablets, Photojojo has the Pocket Spotlight. This is a light you mount via your phone's headphone jack, your camera's hot shoe or hold off-camera in your hand. The Pocket Spotlight is rechargeable, charged via USB, providing up to an hour of diffused light.
No one wants to watch video that shakes and moves randomly. In fact, viewers will not watch your video if they have to work to track the footage in the frame. You need to stabilize your camera. Tripods are a great solution, but the odds are if you are shooting with your phone you are not carrying a tripod. Fortunately there are other options.
The Adorama Heavy Duty L-bracket (w/ 2 Shoe Mounts) costs less than $8. A bargain. You will want at least two shoe mounts on your bracket. One for an accessory light and the other for attaching audio (mixer, wireless receiver, shotgun mic, digital recorder.) There are plenty of L-brackets available in the market, ranging in price from $6 - 25 dollars. The price variation is for better hand grips, adjustment options and number and placement of shoe mounts.
An alternative camera bracket/grip is the Shoulderpod S1 Professional Smartphone Rig. While it does not have the accessory
mounts, it can attach to a tripod or offer a better hand-hold for gripping your camera.
For flexible tripods my favorite is iStabilizer’s Flex. At $30 it is a little more expensive than competing flex-pods, but it will last twice as long. It is not susceptible to heat, will grip tightly to small cylinders like tree branches and hand railings, and has a grippy exterior that feels like a wet suit.
While shooting video with an iPad is somewhat like pressing a toaster oven to your face, the tablet is a great way to shoot, edit and distribute your video from one device. The Makayama Movie Mount for iPad 3, iPad 4, iPad Air and iPad Mini gives you accessory-shoe mounts for a microphone, wireless receiver or light. The real value is the tripod mount on the bottom.
Tripods are the most loathed accessory in video production. They are heavy, awkward and usually left behind in the closet. All the same, they are the one tool that will differentiate your story from the other haphazard and amateur content you will find online.
A good tripod is a joy to use. They are easy to set up and adjust. For production it is best to choose a tripod specifically designed for video. Most have a device at the top called a fluid head. The fluid head creates even drag as you pan the camera right-to-left or tilt up and down.
Manfrotto tripods are the industry standard but are expensive. A high quality video tripod is an investment that you will use for many years. I have a tripod I still use that I purchased 35 years ago. If you don't have the money to invest in a top-of-the-line tripod there are options that present good value for what you spend.
My "go to" set of lightweight sticks is a Benro S4 ($275). The price-point to quality is excellent. This tripod is designed for video with bubble levels for creating straight horizons in your shots. It has a small fluid head for creating smooth pan and tilt shots. It is not overly heavy (less than 6 pounds) yet is still very solid. I never worry about putting an expensive camera on the tripod.
Sometimes a small desktop tripod is all you need to create a stable image. For ease of use and convenience I recommend the Pedco UltraPod II. The system can stand on fold-out, no-slip feet, or attach to solid objects with a Velcro strap. A ball and socket camera mount assembly adjusts to multiple positions quickly and easily. It folds to 7” and weighs only 4 oz. Made from fiberglass reinforced nylon with aluminum threaded components.
Most often I use a Manfrotto 709 Digi Tabletop Tripod (with ballhead) for my tabletop tripod. It is really solid, I can even mount a heavy DSLR on it if needed, and while heavier and twice the cost than most other options, it have proven itself to be a reliable mount.
If you are going to be shooting in inclement weather, or need to be in an environment where your phone could be damaged from dust, dirt or water one solution is to use a protector like the Dandy Case Waterproof Case. It is available for most common smartphone types including the iPhone 5, and for large smartphones with screen sizes up to 6.3" like the Galaxy S5.
This waterproof housing will protect your phone to 100 feet (30m) underwater as you use your smartphone to capture underwater video.
One note, because of water pressure when submerged it is important to turn on your Photo App BEFORE going underwater. The touch screen won't register the pressure of your finger as you try to access the application.
One additional note, I always make sure I back up my phone before I take it to a location or story where there is the risk of loss. That way, even if the phone is irreparably damaged I can sync my data to a replacement phone. I like to think of the combination of common sense and an $11 waterproof case as an insurance policy when shooting at a location where the phone could be damaged.
The release of iOS8 brought an incredible time-lapse feature. Now you can create powerful sequences to show a location or subject changing over time. I use this feature often, both as an interesting shot in a story and as the central focus of the video.
The camalapse 4 is an accessory that will have an impact on your shots. It is a mechanical base that attaches between your tripod and the camera to create panning time-lapse videos or panoramic images.
Mount your camera on the camalapse and capture up to 360 degrees of footage over an hour. Simply attach your phone to the base and position it where you would like the shot to end. Twist the top portion of the camalapse so that the camera is pointed towards your starting point. Press record on your phone and wait while your camera captures the scene.
If you have made it all the way down here on the page I want to thank you. There is a boat-load of text in this post and I have to imagine it was hard to sift through all the copy. Feel free to drop me a line if you think I missed anything or just want to report you made it all the way through.
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