iPhone Videography – Part 1: Image

by Phil on August 14, 2013

I’ve recently been looking at buying an external mic to use for recording audio and video interviews on my iPhone. Coincidentally I’ve also been asked for advice on both using the iPhone for shooting video and on mics for shooting video in general. So I thought I’d wrap up my thoughts in a blog post (Goodness knows it’s been a long time since I posted anything!) As it turns out the post was so long I’ve had to split it in to three! :o

The iPhone provides the opportunity to have a HD Video Camera on hand where ever we go. But can a phone really replace a dedicated video camera. We currently use a Canon HV20 tape based HD camera in our department. The camera has been augmented with a wide-angle lens, a directional microphone and tripod. Ideally we’d also have lights too. The iPhone is certainly more portable and convenient and it doesn’t require the video to be converted from tape in order to edit it (you can even do basic editing and upload to YouTube from the phone). But is it possible to ensure similar quality video on the iPhone?

The key considerations to quality video are the image (including resolution, composition and lighting) this post, the sound (Part 2) and stability (Part 3).
Resolution: There’s nothing you can change about this, so this info is just here for background. As already mentioned the iPhone can shoot HD video. This will provide more than enough resolution, though it will suffer compared to a dedicated video camera in both it’s optics (sharpness of image and amount of light hitting the sensor) the size of the sensor (what the sensor can do with the light hitting it). The size of the sensor will effect the detail and colour captured (i.e. the definition (not the same thing as resolution)). The image quality from a dedicated video camera with three larger sensors is bound to be better even for the same HD resolution.

Composition: This is largely to do with where you place the camera and how you frame your shot. Because the iPhone has a fixed focal length (no zoom) this is entirely physical. However, there are aftermarket lenses that can be added to the iPhone (with inevitably some degradation of image quality). When interviewing in someones office for instance, it may be necessary to attach a wide angle lens in order to be able to compose the shot you want. The two most useful concepts here are the rule of thirds and framing your shot. In common with most digital cameras these days you can actually turn on a grid overlay on the iPhones screen to help you compose your shot.
It’s interesting to note that although there’s very little you can do tech-wise to modify your iPhone here, composition is probably where you can have the biggest impact on your video and the story you’re using is to tell. Have a look at this quick tutorial on framing and composition http://vimeo.com/videoschool/lesson/8/framing-and-composition

Lighting: This can make a massive difference to the quality of a shoot, especially with the kinds of sensors found on mobile phones. It is possible to get away with natural lighting, but understanding the principles of 3 (or 4) point lighting will help greatly with how you use natural light and with the quality of your final video. You may need to buy one or two lights or you may just get away with a reflector if you need anything at all.
This tutorial on basic 4 point lighting for an interview should help illustrate the key concepts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rb4CVrLv400 
This clip shows how to set up an inexpensive studio for smartphone videos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZQO69LQrak

This clip introduces the idea of using reflectors http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTnETYL1VGQ but this series of clips should give you an idea of what kinds of differences a reflector in natural light can make for location shots http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEmoaLBj11Q

So what appear to be the options?

Unfortunately I don’t have the resources to test the options, so I’ve been digging around the interweb to see what others are using and what they’re saying. If you have anything to add or any corrections you think I should make, please let me know. In the mean time here’s what I’ve found so far.


Olloclip 3-In-1 Fisheye, Wide-Angle and Macro Clip-On Lens System for iPhone 4 and 4S £64.95 (also available for iPhone 5)
They now also do a 2x zoom lens – more info here http://www.olloclip.com Note: The Olloclip appears to cover up the light and on the iPhone 5 also covers up the microphone.

All the following lens solutions seem to take the approach of wrapping the iPhone in a sleeve to attach the lenses to. An additional advantage is that these solutions have incorporated tripod and accessory mounts too (see also Fostex AR-4i under microphones below, though it doesn’t have a lens mount).

Schneider iPro Lens Kit £180 – £200
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00667SZTE (iPhone 4/S)
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00DIDGPLE (iPhone 5)
Comprehensive review of the Schneider iPro Lens system http://www.photigy.com/selecting-the-right-lens-for-iphone5-test-review-1/

OWLE Bubo for iPhone 4 / 4S £163.15
Built in Lens, Tripod Mount and Cold Shoe Mount and comes with an external mic.

ALM mCAMLite $129.95
Like the OWLE it’s aluminium and also comes with built in Lens, Tripod Mount and Cold Shoe Mount and comes with an external mic. It’s available for iPod Touch and iPhone 4 and 5. See review here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AWHTIOXi8g

Phocus Accent (2 Lens Bundle) for iPhone 4/4S £73.89
Very similar to the mCAMLite, but seems to be polycarbonate with brass mount points (the polycarbonate shouldn’t block the phone signal the way aluminium does and the brass mount points should last longer than the aluminium mount points). It comes with built in Lens, Tripod Mount and Cold Shoe Mount. It also has an optional SLR lens adapter for Canon fit lenses. Available for both iPhone 4 and 5.

PhoGo iPhone 5 Hard Camera Case Cover £21.21
PhoGo iPhone Camera Lens 3-in-1 Kit £32.26
PhoGo iPhone Camera Screen Hood and Stand £9.31
This is an intriguing kit from http://www.diffcase.com It seems very light and possibly flimsy but I’m struck by the idea of the sun shield, since seeing the iPhone screen properly in sunlight can be a real problem.


CN 160 LED CN-160 Dimmable Ultra High Power Panel Digital Camera / Camcorder Video Light £24.92
An inexpensive video light.

PhotoSEL LS21E52 Professional Softbox Studio Lighting Kit £99.99
Budget continuous light studio lights with daylight bulbs.

Ex-Pro 5 -in- 1 Photographic Light Reflector £8.97
An inexpensive set of reflectors.

PhotoSEL BD113WB Reversible White & Black Collapsible Background 1.5m x 2m £58.00
An inexpensive large collapsable background that could double as a reflector also available as a green screen version for the adventurous!


Lenses: I’m very tempted to go for the Olloclip as an affordable and portable wide angle lens. I’d like to see a side by side review of all the other lens options, but at the moment I quite like the idea of the Phocus Accent (which seems a good balance of price and practicality) and when you consider that the price of the Olloclip and Glif (in Part 3)combined comes to more then the Accent seems good value. I also like the Diff Phogo’s sun shield option, so it’ll be interesting to investigate a DIY sun shield.

Lights: Personally I prefer to try to use natural light, even if that means choosing an alternative shooting location. If that’s not possible and you do have to use artificial light, try to avoid on camera light sources. It’ll look better if the light is to the side at least a bit. And try to avoid mixed temperatures i.e. daylight with artificial (unless the artificial light is specifically rated as daylight equivalent), as this will mess with your colour balance. I already have some studio lights and reflectors, so no purchases necessary here.

The next thing I’ll look at is audio – you can read that in Part 2.

I hope this is of use to some of you – I sure wish there had been something like this for me to go to in the first place. ;-)


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