Cell phones have seemingly taken over the world. Most middle or high end phones now have great internal cameras and are more than capable of producing good quality video in many situations. But a cell phone alone is not enough. To get great video you need a few accessories to help you out. This post dives into tools to help beginner mobile video producers. The suggestions we offer are designed to get you started and to help you understand the landscape.
We’ve personally tested some of these items, but not all. We offer them as suggestions of the type of things to look for. With the speed the mobile market changes, it’s always a good idea to spend a little time checking the current state of the art and compatibility before making a choice.
Supporting the Phone
Phones are designed to fit into pockets or held to your ear. The shape isn’t great for producing hand held video, nor is there any way to attach it to a tripod directly. The first tool most people need is a way to support and stabilize their phone.
Phone mounts allow you to securely attach your phone to traditional camera equipment such as tripods, light stands and audio accessories. To do this they have a 1/4″ x 20 threaded hole, the standard for camera gear. There are a wide variety of options. Predictably, quality varies a lot…
The main factors to consider are quality and size. Size is pretty self explanatory. Will it hold your phone? Make sure to take into account any case on your phone when buying a phone mount. And, don’t forget the thickness of your phone in the case. Make sure the arms on the mount are long enough to securely hold your phone.
This all aluminum mount that folds totally flat for transport (a nice perk) and has a cold-shoe mount on the top for additional accessories such as a shotgun mic. It is designed to use the phone in landscape orientation. It’s light weight and compact and can easily fit in a purse or pocket.
Manfrotto Universal Smartphone Clamp
This mount is a little larger. It also has a cold shoe mount on top for additional accessories as well as both landscape and portrait orientation 1/4″ x 20 holes for slightly more flexibility. Its a little bigger, but not so large it is really a problem.
Stands, Tripods and Gimbals
Once you have a way to mount your phone securely, you need to hold it in position. Traditionally photography uses a tripod for this, but that is often overkill for mobile video. There are a lot of options here. Which you choose will depend on how you plan to use your phone to make video. Are you going to do walk and talk videos? Are you sitting or standing in one place?
DJI Osmo Mobile
Use a gimbal for smoother video when filming on the move, such as walking around a property.
A gimbals is an active stabilizing system. A combination of a computer, accelerators and high precision stepper motors work to keep your camera stable and moving in smooth pleasing ways. Once exotic, they are now pretty common place.
There are a lot of options, but DJI is the big player here with arguably the most consistent option: the DJI Osmo Mobile line. Version 3 was just released (as of Aug 2019) and now folds down into a much smaller footprint. With a base or mini tripod, you can also used this as a stationary phone mount (on a desk, etc).
Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod
A lower tech (and sometimes easier option) are mini-tripods. If you plan to set the camera on a desk or counter and film yourself, these are a great option. Likewise, they can be used as a grip to easily hold your phone in “selfie” mode for “walk and talk” style videos, or to create more stable hand held forward facing video.
The PIXI Mini Tripod is a traditional micro tripod with rigid legs. The top is a spring loaded ball head that allows you to easily aim your phone. Combined with one of the phone mounts, it can act as a desktop tripod or as a grip for video on the move. It’s compact, lightweight and sturdy.
GorillaPod makes a variety of different mini-tripods all with a similar design. Rather than traditional rigid legs, their legs are made of many small segments. That lets you wrap them around things (like tree limbs, etc) or set them on uneven surfaces easily. You can also push the legs together and use them as a grip. This tripod includes a ball head to allow you to easily aim your phone.
There are a lot of options in this design ranging from heavier duty versions like this, to extremely light weight units designed only for phones.
If you want to film yourself standing in a space without a convenient counter to set your camera on, you need a taller way to hold your camera up. Rather than a traditional tripod, I recommend using an inexpensive 6′ light stand and adding a small ball head. Light stands are normally designed to hold flashes and other lighting equipment, but work perfectly for lightweight cell phones.
Capturing Clean Audio
Viewers will tolerate lower quality video if the audio is good. If you plan on speaking in your video, you will need to consider how to capture clean audio. The built in microphone in most high end phones are reasonable to start with, provided you are close to them and there isn’t much ambient noise or wind. However, for more consistent audio, and audio that works in a much wider set of situations, you will need to move to an external microphone.
A shotgun mic is a directional microphone mounted on or near your phone. Because it can be larger, it generally has better audio characteristics. Because it is directional and pointed at whoever is speaking, it will minimize other distracting noises in the environment. One popular option is the Rode VideoMic Me.
The main catch with any mic attached to your cell phone is making sure you have the right connection type. If you have an older phone or one of the few that still have a dedicated headphone jack, the Rode VideoMic Me (which uses a TRRS plug, which stands for Tip, Ring, Ring, Sleeve) should work directly. If you are like most people, whether on Android or iOS, you will need an appropriate adapter. To complicate things, there are several competing incompatible standards. Be sure and purchase a headset/headphone adapter that explicitly supports your phone.
This adapter supports many current phones:
LAV (short for Lavalier) mics are sometimes also called lapel mics. They clip to your shirt or collar placing the microphone very close to your mouth. This captures much higher quality audio with viewer external unwanted noises intruding. The catch with a LAV mic is that you generally need a cord from your lapel to the phone, an external recorder or some sort of wireless transmitter/receiver.
One example of an inexpensive wireless LAV setup designed for cell phone video is the Sansun Go Mic Mobile.
An important note… With wireless setups like this, you generally get what you pay for. People like Sennheiser charge $600+ for a setup like this for good reason. For non-live events, with short distances the less expensive setups can be quite good. If you are broadcasting live, consider spending a little more on a wireless LAV or using a MIC wired to your phone (such as a shotgun MIC).
A little lighting can elevate your video above your competition. LED technology has made it easy to add lighting to mobile video. When you start thinking about adding light, you will likely need to add a light stand or two to hold up the light. You can also bring an assistant and have them hold the light.
LED light panels are large square grids of small LEDs. They operate like a softbox. Larger panels, close to you will provide soft flattering light. With larger panels you will need a dedicated light stand to hold them up. Setups like this Neewer 2 panel set include light stands.
Right lights are an alternative to a square light panel. They are what they sound like, a ring of light with a hole in the center. Traditionlly, you shoot through the center of the light, but they can also be used off axis (i.e. from the side) to give more directional light or to offset ambient light. They range in size from very small:
To fairly large:
Consider the ring lights power source. Many are designed to run off a USB power bank (generally not included) or may require a wall outlet.
He is a self taught experiential learner who is addicted to the possibilities that new (to him) gear open up. He loves to share the things he has worked out. Andrew started with a passion for landscape and night photography and quickly branched out to work in just about every form of photography. He is an ex-software developer with extensive experience in the IT realm.