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Smartphone Video: The Future of Professional Filmmaking?

We all know that smartphone cameras are the most popular point-and-shoots in the world right now. Each generation, they’re  packed with more megapixels, higher frame rates, and crispier color capabilities than ever before. You’ve probably seen Apple’s newest campaign that shows a breathtaking slo-mo drone shot of someone surfing, or a billboard that features a photo that looks like it was taken straight from Claude Monet’s garden. Optical lens attachments are available from a variety of third parties at just about any focal length, making your back pocket the home to production quality that was unimaginable ten years ago. An iPhone film has even won an Academy Award. Ever seen ‘Searching for Sugar Man’?

Staying (at least) one step ahead of the masses is something that we find ourselves thinking about as professional filmmakers. Here are a few reasons why professional video still reigns supreme.


1. Dynamic Range

Dynamic range is the difference between what the camera thinks is completely black, all the way up to what it thinks is completely white. This is measured in F Stops, and a high end camera will feature a greater amount of range than your smartphone will. Ever notice how when you want to take a sunset photo on your smartphone, you have to choose between getting the great sky colors, or making your foreground visible? That’s because the camera’s dynamic range is not wide enough to encapsulate the difference in light all at once. A professional camera is able to do this, creating a more aesthetically pleasing image.


2. (Lack of) Touch Screens

In the consumer world, touch screens make everything easier. They minimize the amount of buttons that fill up a particular device, giving it a sleek look. But when I’m on a shoot, I don’t necessarily want to navigate through menus everytime I change white balance, exposure, shutter speed, or shooting style. I personally like having all of these controls live in their own space on the actual camera body so they can be quickly accessed at any point. I would much rather have the screen space to check waveform levels to make sure both the exposure and color is balanced properly. An LCD screen should be saved for tools like this, or to navigate through options that do not get changed that often, like picture style or autofocus method.


3. Audio

Ever hear that crackling hiss noise when someone sends you a snapchat of them riding their bike? Or perhaps the ambient noise of a crowd behind a person when they are FaceTiming you? Yeah, its the worst. Audio is half of the final product you’re creating, so if it is captured with poor equipment then there isn’t much you can do to save it in post. I think this is the biggest difference between a consumer video and a professional one. When we shoot a client video outside, bringing along windsocks, zeppelins, and wombat fur covers are always a necessity. If positioned correctly, they will help capture the audio you want, while massively cutting down on wind and other unwanted elements. Professional video cameras will also include inputs for XLR audio cables, along with knobs to adjust the different audio channels. The closest a smartphone can come to this is the built in microphone on a pair of earbuds, however, that’s only a single channel of audio.


Wrapping up here, I realize that many people are on the other end of the spectrum, and want to make their smartphone video look just as good as something they’d see on TV. Here are a few smartphone apps that can help you make your iPhone videos come out better.


Magisto (Free, iOS/Android): This app lets you add basic edits, music, and interesting looks to your smartphone videos.

Socialcam (Free, iOS/Android): This app allows you to shoot and edit video within the app, and it does not put a time limit on how long your clips can be, like Vine does.

Cinefy (Free, iOS/Android): This app has fun effects and animations that you can add into your video, and also allows you to import music straight from iTunes.