How to set up your smartphone to take better videos

Shoot like a pro on the go, without the huge price tags

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, as you can’t even find that on most proper cameras yet.

However, a phone on its own isn’t the best tool to shoot with. At least not until you get these.

To prove our point, we bought this entire setup in one afternoon at Funan Digital Life Mall, and will be shooting many of our upcoming videos on our office iPhone 6 Plus with it.

Altogether, the items cost slightly above S$300 (RM840), 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 steady, and for long periods of time. Keeping a flat piece of metal and plastic still with just your fingers 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 (approx. RM125) solves that problem, with rubberised clamps to hold your phone securely and provide a nicely weighted ergonomic grip. It feels nice and solid, providing comfortable usage for hours with a versatility and manueverability that's really quite impressive. The S1 also comes with a strap to prevent any accidents, and a very useful mount that lets it attach to all standard monopods and tripods for fixed shots.

Attached audio

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.

You could opt for simple options that attach right onto your phone like iRig’s Mic Field (approx. RM435) or Mic HD (approx. RM615), but they’re not as precise as what we got.

We went for an Audio-technica ATR6550 Shotgun Microphone (approx. RM360), which isn’t just a highly-sensitive stereo condenser mic that looks way more professional, but is significantly 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, which is quite easily solved with a RM20 adapter. 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 (approx. RM100) will do nicely. It’ll let you hold the mic comfortably and reliably, and has the added advantage of being mountable 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 than a tripod 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 (approx. RM150) 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 fix it in place.

Light ‘em up

You may be able to shoot video on smartphones with the built-in flash, but it’s not practical for your subject to look into the lens as a bright ball of light sears 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 (approx. RM110) comes in. This small bank of LED lights doesn’t flicker, making it ideal for taking videos, and is 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 (approx. RM28). This 3-hotshoe tripod mount can even be used to hold both the Shotgun Mic and JJC LED-35 together, which is really handy.

App-cessorise

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 (US$8, 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. It really is the little app that could.