Someone once said the best camera is the one with you. I agree. There are many advanced professional cameras in the market, but all too often, the perfect video or still photographic opportunity slips away from us because we did not have a camera with us. Or did we?
DSLRs, especially full frame ones, are great for image quality, have tons of accessories, but are extremely heavy to lug around, and use it continuously for the average person. Not all of us are professional photographers, nor do we want to. And if you are, like me, into using the DSLR for HD videography, then using a heavy DSLR for video is even more strenuous then using the DSLR for stills.
Therefore, if we are into seizing the video (or still) opportunity whenever or wherever we may be, then the only camera we often carry with us, is our smartphone.
You may be using an iOS, Android, or Windows Phone 8 smartphone. Any smartphone with a good quality camera is the one you want, especially if it comes with good video and still photography features. Software-based effects are not that important, because we are talking about video journalism, not special effects. If you are still in the market looking for the best smartphone for mobile videography, then you are in luck. For example, the Nokia Lumia 920 is a smartphone with great optical qualities, including image stabilization. You can also attach an external microphone for better audio capture. You can also use some of the Android or iOS smartphones with good optics. It is not about the megapixels alone. Look closely at how well the optics would perform in a variety of lighting conditions, whether under bright sunlight, dim lighting, moving objects, backlight situations, and other common video or photography challenges.
Next, remember to hold the camera horizontally. All too often, I have seen videos captured in the vertical format, which is incompatible with how videos should be – horizontal. It is alright to hold your smartphone upright if you are shooting stills, such as portraiture. But if you are into video journalism, please remember to hold your smartphone horizontally. You haven’t seen TV images “tall” have you?
Holding a smartphone momentarily just to snap a still image is easy. But holding it horizontally to shoot a longer video feature, becomes a bit uncomfortable over time. It is easier to treat your smartphone as a video camera, and mount it either on a tripod, or with a rig. There are small adapters which can mount your smartphone onto tripods. There are also more elaborate products, such as those from Phocus.
There are stabilizer rigs that would make your smartphone behave like a “steadycam”-like camera, or handheld rigs that simply allow you to hold your smartphone more like how you would hold a boom microphone. Any stabilizer device that allows you to hold your smartphone more ergonomically to use it over a period of time, is better than trying to hold it with your fingers alone.
Most smartphones do not have optical zoom lenses, or detachable lenses. They usually have a wide-angle fixed lens, with lousy depth of field (DOF). This means that your videos will not approximate the kind you can achieve with a high-end video camera with shallow DOF lenses, or even a HD DSLR with detachable prime lenses with great f-stops to achieve that shallow DOF effect. But all is not lost. You can attach third-party optics to your smartphone, giving it telephoto or even macro capabilities (at the expense of bulk and size of course). Otherwise, observe old-school video and still photography values: Walk closer to an object or subject if you want to “zoom closer”, and walk farther away if you want to have a wider view. Do also remember that most smartphones have wide-angle lenses, which means you have to go very close to a person to get a close-up or extreme close-up view, and invariably, distorting the features of the face. In such scenarios, see if you can invest in add-on telephoto lenses to allow you to film further from your subject.
Audio recording on a smartphone, especially from a distance, will be usually noisy, even though some smartphones feature noise-isolation features for voice calls. In such instances, attach third-party external microphones through the 3.5mm audio jack of your smartphone. If you can, use a wired powered microphone for video interviews, since the microphone can be held as close to your subject as possible, akin to how ENG broadcast journalists record their sounds. If you cannot use a wired microphone, find a third-party “shotgun” microphone, and mount it on your smartphone or get a small rig to mount the shotgun microphone on it with your smartphone. The setup won’t be as small as a mere smartphone, but the setup will allow you to capture better quality audio and offer you the option of a more stable camera setup as well.
All in all, even with all the equipment you need to lug around with a smartphone as the primary imaging device, you will still be carrying much less than someone who has to carry a large HD DSLR or video camera. This offers you, the mobile video journalist or communication professional, every opportunity to grab an interview, to upload to your social media and online video channels, as soon as you can. That is sometimes, the difference between a real news scoop, versus a “me too” segment that trails the others.
And if you think that great cinematography is a byproduct only of expensive cameras, think again. Director Hooman Khalili hacked together the Nokia N8 to shoot an indie feature film called “Olive“. Great cinematography is about a great story, and how it is beautifully told from the heart.
Watch the trailer.