You Want To Try Out Some Smartphone Cinematography?

As our smartphones get more and more powerful, and the camera quality on these get higher and higher, the possibility of smartphone cinematography reaching similar quality levels to regular cameras is getting that much closer to achievable. Already there are films like Tangerine and Unsane that have been shot on smartphones. Stephen Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11) has said that he only wants to shoot his films on smartphones. Plus there are whole film festivals now dedicated to films that are shot on smartphones.

Since basically everyone has a smartphone in their pocket these days, whether it be an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Huawei, Pixel or whatever it is, almost anyone can utilise smartphone cinematography in their next film. The camera is available. You don’t have to go hire a Red Epic, or Arri Alexa but can still shoot in 4K. And you have the freedom to mount this tiny little camera almost anywhere, as opposed to a large bulky cinema camera. But there are a few things that you should keep in mind when using your phone as your camera for your film.

1. Use a Tripod

Just because you’re shooting on your phone, doesn’t mean you can just hold up your phone and start shooting your actors running around. Sure, you might want a handheld look, but because it’s so light, your footage will often look like it’s shot on a phone. It may very well turn out looking like a snapchat video or something some random has just filmed… on their phone.

Use a tripod! You can get smartphone tripod mounts really cheap these days. Here’s one, and here’s another one. Setting your phone up on a tripod will give your footage are much more cinematic quality. There will be less bumps and shakes, and you’ll be able to get those smooth, cinematic camera moves. Combine this with a small slider like this one, and your audience may not even be able to tell what you’ve shot it on! This is a smaller and cheaper tripod that I love at the moment.

Smartphone cinematography - tripod

2. Utilise a High Quality Camera App

You can use your phone’s camera app straight out of the box if you want, but keep in mind that they don’t have the greatest of controls. You can focus, and you can adjust the exposure and possibly zoom a little, but you won’t be able to get it that fine tuned. For shooting a film, you want to be able to absolutely control the settings on the camera you’re shooting on.

This is why an app like FiLMiC Pro comes in really handy. It’s a camera app designed to give you control over as much of the camera settings as it can. It allows you to adjust the frame rate, the resolution size, the image quality, the exposure, ISO, focus, shutter speed and more. The advantage of this means that you’ll be able to set up your phone camera to more closely resemble the settings of a normal film camera.

I’ve used FiLMiC Pro myself and have found it incredibly useful. Check out more info on that app here. Or you could also check out these video camera apps:

Smartphone cinematography - filmic pro

3. Use a Camera Stabiliser

This is where things might get a little bit pricey. There are camera stabilisers all over the place now. They started with huge rigs like the Steadicam, then reduced in size to something like the Movi FreeFly or the DJI Ronin. Now, there are plenty of options of for smartphone stabilisers. Again, these devices are just going to make your footage look that much more cinematic, and the shot will seem as though it belongs in a film.

Instead of trying to hold your phone handheld and follow someone as they walk, use a stabiliser. Much smoother, much more cinematic, much more film-like.

There are a whole range of phone stabilisers out there. I personally own the Zhiyun-Tech Smooth-Q Smartphone Gimbal, which has been really great. It’s a lot cheaper than most other phone gimbals as well so it’s really good there. Zhiyun have released an upgrade recently: the Smooth4-4 Smartphone Gimbal. It’s adds a few more features and benefits, and will cost a little extra, but not too much.

Or you could jump up in price and go to the grandaddy of stabilisers: DJI. DJI have their Osmo Mobile 2, recently upgraded from the 1, and having never used one, I’m not sure what the difference between the Zhiyun and the DJIs are. But it is more expensive, I do know that. And Movi have their own smartphone stabiliser too – it looks a little different, and again, I haven’t used it, but they generally know what they’re doing when it comes to this kind of stuff.

Whichever you prefer, add one to your film kit for your next smartphone cinematography shoot.

Smartphone cinematography - stabiliser

4. Use Lenses

But my camera already has its own lens! Yes, but are you going to shoot your whole film at one focal length? It’s doable but not recommended. Grab a selection of attachable lenses designed for your smartphone to greatly enhance shots in your film.

The camera app in your phone or FiLMiC Pro, if you’re using that, both will have zoom controls, however they are generally digital zoom, opposed to optical zoom. This means it will digitally enlarge your shot, leading to loss of quality, and generally shots that don’t look good.

An optical zoom will mean that the focal length of your shot changes. So the actual glass in front of you camera sensor has changed, which gives you a different size of shot. There are a whole bunch of different lens options out there these days. You can go super cheap, with a set of lenses like these. Or you can step up and get high quality glass. Moments Lenses are a very popular brand, and are much higher quality glass. Just remember with whatever lenses you purchase, make sure they are going to fit on whatever smartphone you’re using.

Smartphone cinematography - lenses

5. Get Creative With Your Limitations

Finally, use your creative genius and your skills to push your limitations. Normal film shoots have huge cameras, massive rigs, big crews all (sometimes) getting in each other’s way and taking plenty of time to shoot what they want. You’re shooting on a smartphone. You’re small and nimble, adaptable and pioneering. Do things that you couldn’t normally do with a big camera. Rig up the phone somewhere you wouldn’t usually be able to. Maybe you could grab some really interesting and unique POV shots. Build an easy Snorricam rig for your phone.

While you may feel limited in trying to shoot with a smartphone camera, you’ve actually freed yourself. There are all sorts of things that you can do being small and adaptable, that you just might not have thought of when trying to shoot with a regular camera. Push yourself, and push your smartphone. Put it to the test and see what it can do. And once you’ve made your mobile masterpiece, share them with us so we can see what you’ve done!

-Matt

For more articles like this check out the Cinematography category.

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