Since the emergence of the iPhone in 2007, smartphone cameras have become more advanced with each passing year. These gadgets we can hold in the palms of our hands have democratized videography and filmmaking, making it easier than ever to shoot high-quality video without worrying about an expensive camera rental. Now, while some of the built-in features in your phone can be enough, for those who want to really take advantage of their phone’s filmmaking potential, there are tools that can help. Here are six of our favorites.
1. Steadicam Smoothee
Phones can be hard to keep steady while shooting, which means that unless you’re making a found-footage horror movie, a wobbly camera is probably not the cinematic look you’re hoping for. The Steadicam has long enabled Hollywood run-and-gun shooting, and now it’s possible for phones too, thanks to Tiffen, a company that has won several technical Emmy and Academy Awards. What they offer is a universal smartphone mount, which is paired with the Steadicam Smoothee (together costing $89.95). It allows you to free yourself from tripods and unsteady shots and shoot the way you want to.
Shot composition matters in filmmaking. That’s why you’ve probably seen photos of directors and cinematographers on sets creating frames with their fingers, or peeking through viewfinders to get a sense of what a shot will look like. You’ll want to do this too — even if you’re shooting on your phone. An essential app for that is Artemis ($39.99, for iOS), a phone-based viewfinder with options for multiple camera formats and lenses. One useful feature is that you can conveniently save images on your phone, so you can compare and contrast shots you’re considering, or share them with your collaborators for consultation. If you have any doubt that Artemis is worthwhile, just know that Roger Deakins, one of our greatest living cinematographers, uses it.
3. Filmic Pro
Most smartphone cameras have pretty basic settings that can be limiting to those with greater ambitions for what they want to shoot. That’s why Filmic Pro ($12.99 for Android, $13.99 for iOS) has become the standard for mobile filmmaking. The app turns your camera phone into a professional-level HD camera with all the options you need to get the image you want — frame rate, focus exposure, and tint, to name a few. It’s most recent claim to fame was that it was used to shoot the award-winning Tangerine, which was widely regarded as one of the best films of 2015.
If you want to shoot and edit with an app, Kinomatic ($3.99 for iOS) offers both in one convenient package. On the camera side of the app, there are the expected options for audio and video frame rates, exposure, focus, and more. The app also has a convenient feature that allows you to save whatever settings you settle on as a preset so you can return to them if, for example, you’re shooting something over the course of several days. On the editing side, there’s trim, clip, music implementation, and more. Editing in the app makes everything easy and central, but longer projects might be harder to navigate, so Kinomatic is especially ideal for shorter video projects. It’s worth noting that if you’re looking for a standalone video editor, there’s also Videoshop ($1.99 for iOS), which is free for Android users.
5. Green Screener
Not everyone wants to create in real environments. If you’re channeling your inner James Cameron or George Lucas and want to make something with visual effects, you’ll be dabbling with green screens. In that case, it’s incredibly important to light them properly behind your subject. Green Screener ($9.99 for iOS and Android) is a handy tool that helps you make sure your green screen is perfectly lit, so that your visual effects won’t be compromised in post-production.
6. Cinema FV-5
Filmmaking apps tend to favor iOS, but Cinema FV-5 ($2.99) — often called the Filmic Pro of Android — is a powerful option for Apple-averse users wanting to transform their phone into a powerhouse videocamera. It offers a breadth of settings, including manual focus, adjustable by sliding your finger up and down (even while recording), as well as live color histograms and audio monitoring. What’s especially great isn’t just the ease of use of Cinema FV-5, but how, despite the many options it presents on the screen while you record, your view never feels cluttered or obstructed.
Top image: Behind the scenes on Tangerine, a film shot entirely with iPhones, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
What other mobile filmmaking tools do you use that you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments!