Smartphone cameras are getting better all the time, with some models such as the LG G4 even capable of shooting in 4K resolution. That’s literally huge in terms of file size, and can’t even be found on most "proper" cameras yet.
However, a phone on its own isn’t the best tool to shoot with. You need to get the right accessories.
To prove this point, our buddies at Stuff Singapore bought an entire setup in one afternoon at the city's Funan Digital Life Mall, and will be shooting many of their upcoming videos on our office iPhone 6 Plus with it.
Altogether, the items cost slightly above S$300 (which converts to about £140), and as an added bonus, can be mixed and matched with great versatility, and used with actual cameras too. How’s that for value?
Get a grip
The first thing you need is something that makes it easier to hold your phone steadily, and for long periods of time. Keeping a flat piece of metal and plastic steady just with your fingers just isn’t going to cut it, giving way to unnecessary camera shake and the very strong possibility of dropping your precious phone.
Shoulderpod’s S1 Smartphone Rig (£25 from the online Apple Store) solves that problem, with rubberised clamps to hold your phone securely and provide a nicely weighted ergonomic grip. It feels nice and solid, and after using it comfortably for a couple of hours, we're suitably impressed by how versatile it is too. The S1 also comes with a strap to prevent accidental damage, and a very useful mount that lets it attach to all standard monopods and tripods for fixed shots.
The number one thing that gives footage away as taken by a smartphone is the generally terrible audio quality. That’s why it only makes sense to invest in a proper external microphone.
We went for an Audio-technica ATR6550 Shotgun Microphone (£57.99 from Amazon), which isn’t just a highly-sensitive stereo condenser mic that looks way more professional, but cheaper as well. It’ll allow you to record both targeted sound from a distance or ambient noise, making it quite adaptable too.
The only problem is it’s not compatible right away with smartphones - something that's easily solved with a cheap adapter (expect to pay about a fiver for one). You can however, use it with a DSLR right out of the box, and can be fixed to a hotshoe mount.
Since you don’t want to be holding such a sensitive microphone by hand – you’ll create noise every time you adjust your grip – a Photography & Cinema Wide Platform Pistol Grip Camera Handle (£20 from PEC) will do nicely. It’ll let you hold the mic comfortably and reliably, and has the added advantage of being compatible with regular cameras too.
A leg to stand on
For instances where added stability in your shots is necessary, a monopod is preferred over a full tripod. You don’t want to be holding your phone up for hours, no matter how good the grip attachment. A monopod is way more mobile since it’s lighter and more compact, making it a better fit for something as on-the-go as smartphone videography.
The Velbon Ultra Stick M40 Monopod (£25 from Amazon) fits nicely with the Shoulderpod S1, letting you set your shooting position with ease. What’s more, you could even attach it to the ATR6550 Shotgun Microphone to make an improvised boom mic, or hold that steady if you wanted.
Light ‘em up
You may be able to shoot video on smartphones with the built-in flash, but it’s not practical to ask your subject to look into the lens with a bright ball of light searing into their corneas right next to it. You also can’t shoot good video when there isn’t enough light.
This is where something compact like the JJC LED-35 (£16.99 from Amazon) comes in. This small bank of LED lights doesn’t flicker, making it ideal for taking videos, and it's lightweight enough to be handheld at your desired angle. Alternatively, you could mount it on a monopod, or grip with a JJC MF-1 Flash Stand (£5.97 from Amazon). This 3-hotshoe tripod mount can even be used to hold both the Shotgun Mic and JJC LED-35 together, which is really handy.
The stock camera app on your phone might not cut it in terms of functionality when you’re hoping to take your videos to the next level. That’s why you need an app like Filmic Pro (£5.99, iOS), which turns iPhones into serious shooters. It’ll record in 2K HD, with a ton of functionality for you to easily tweak settings such as ISO, focus, and even colour temperature. To justify its price, it also comes with almost every professional tool imaginable including audio gain control, level meters, variable frame rates, as well as a variety of output aspect ratios and formats.