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Shoot a Film on Your iPhone, Control Canon DSLRs with an Android Tablet Monitor Rig

There’s no doubt that modern mobile technology has the capacity to streamline or benefit many aspects of filmmaking. Whether it’s the micro-video art emerging in social media, script supervision capabilities, lighting-fast previsualization softwares, or the surprisingly high-resolution video some phones and tablets can shoot (given what they are), there’s something to be said for their place in the industry. For goodness sake, modern smartphones are better at giving directions than my GPS navigator and shoot higher quality video than my first camcorder. With all that said, though, how far can things like the Apple iPhone or an Android tablet be taken down-and-dirty in the trenches of shooting?

Some major props are due to hardcore DIY-ers Kevin Good and Tobias Deml, who have done some serious field work on these subjects and put some mobile devices through their paces on location and on set. Kevin recently posted a nitty-gritty (and hilarious) lens shootout which really boiled the way low-budget shooters could (or should) be considering common DSLR zoom options.

Shooting with the iPhone

It’s worth including on the subject of iPhone shooting quality, that our founder Koo also posted a thorough comparison compilation last year. Now, via the Bammo YouTube channel, a resource that offers one new filmmaking video a day — and also collaborates with Niko and Sam of Corridor Digital, another awesome independent creative team — Kevin and Weapons of Mass Production has shot a genre-spanning fake-trailer to demonstrate the abilities of the iPhone as the primary (and sole, in fact) acquisition system.

First up, here’s a previous breakdown of the iPhone’s robustness from Weapons of Mass Production, in this case regarding its still-shooting capabilities.

Now, on to the video side of things — in this case, with Kevin and WOMP attempting to achieve high-grade results (and succeeding an amazing number of times) with a bare-bones single-system iPhone rig:

The results are somewhat surprising seeing as how a lot of that footage — to my eyes, at least — actually looks really usable. This is likely a testament to the fact that any camera in the right hands has the potential to achieve impressive results. However, as Kevin points out (and urges, moreover) the iPhone should probably only be used as a last-resort camera choice. Disregarding the fact that I really want to see the full film that this imaginary trailer represents, the focal length options alone (being pretty necessary for serious work) are limited or low-quality enough to all but rule out the iPhone as a potential workhorse. It may be a bit extreme to expect anything beyond Kevin’s findings, though they exceeded my own expectations in some cases — but it’s a worthwhile experiment to see realized (UPDATE: Kevin’s full write-up is now online, be sure to check that out as well!).

Price Breakdown

Assuming you already have an iPhone (because I seriously doubt you’d buy one just to shoot a film with, therefore excluding its cost here), the base cost of getting one sort of iPhone rig up would just about set you back as follows:

Which brings your total to a high of about $250, and though there’s plenty of variation you could build into such a kit (differing with or beyond what’s listed here), this is a factor to keep in mind.

Android Tablet DSLR Control, Rigged Blackmagic-Style

Where the mobile tech of today may not fall so short, especially for the DIY world, is in the capacity about which Austrian cinematographer Tobias Deml has recently whipped up an extensive post. Similar to Kevin’s use of the FiLMiC Pro app for iOS, Toby was inspired to give an Android app called DSLR Controller a shot — as you could guess, it also allows for variability of all essential shooting functions — though in this case, the app controls these functions of Canon DSLRs tied in through USB. Toby’s implementation uses a Google Nexus 7 in conjunction with a Canon 7D and 5D Mark II & III. Here’s the gist of it, as Toby indicates:

You know Canon’s EOS Utility? It’s that, but on a tablet. A genious developer and hacker reverse-engineered the USB port of the Canon DSLRs, and built an Android application that does exactly the same, with additional functionality.

Basically, it allows for all the fine-tuning you need such as monitoring, recording, f-stop, shutter speed, ISO, and framerate, plus other nifty features such as histogram, widescreen matting guides, and peaking. Be sure to check out Toby’s full post for the extensive features breakdown. The bottom-line benefit of this setup is that you can have all the necessary controls while live monitoring, on-camera if you’d like, at a higher resolution than the DSLR’s native screen — Toby’s Nexus 7 brings full-motion 1280×800 resolution via USB, albeit with a slight delay (and without playback or card formatting ability). One night before a real shoot (as opposed to something more like a less pressure-filled field test) he decided the best configuration would see the Nexus 7 affixed right to the Canon, Blackmagic Cinema Camera-style.

As you can tell, this setup allows for handholding the tablet itself directly, and because of its use of velcro straps, things like playback can be accessed on set if need be simply be temporarily removing the tablet from the camera. He also details the creation of a custom foam sunshade, another home-built solution:

Toby’s conclusion is that the system’s limitations are worth it for its benefits — and notes that, though he wasn’t yet able to get it working for himself — the possibility to beam the camera’s signal to other Android devices via WiFi is another super-nifty capability to look forward to.

Price Breakdown

We’ll also assume you already have a Canon DSLR to be building this, seeing as how DSLR Controller is Canon-centric (and you may not want to invest in a new DSLR just to build this rig), so here are your investments:

  • Android Tablet, and a respectable one at that — let’s go with Toby’s Google Nexus 7 (link to model by Asus) and call it $240 for an over-estimate
  • PLUSDSLR Controller by Chainfire (in beta — developer thread here), which goes for $8
  • PLUSMicro-USB to USB On-the-Go Adapter, I believe this is the one Toby is referring to (or one exactly like it) for $3
  • PLUS — To round it all out, we need some velcro straps (anybody else know they sold velcro on Amazon?) this 3/4″ x 5 yards should do fine, for a mere $4
  • PLUS (maybe) — If you want to go all the way and build the sunshade as well, Amazon apparently sells foam boards too — call me crazy but these 5-1/2″ x 8-1/2″ “ready for glitter, markers, foam stickers, and more” 50-pack should do you fine — for $6

Your total here would be about $260, perhaps a bit more with shipping. In other words, this is a totally attainable monitoring/control option for shooters of virtually any budget.

Thanks to Kevin and Toby for their great work, and for tipping me off to it as well! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out their respective sites and let them know if you appreciate the material. I’d be curious to know what types of things you guys have done yourselves with such technologies — shooting, monitor-controlling, anything similar? How do you feel the iPhone stuff holds up — good for B-roll, or in a pinch? Or unworthy of being matched with ‘real’ footage? Have any of you set up tablets in comparative ways?



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Description image 24 COMMENTS

  • Good stuff Dave. The one thing I would say is the I had +$500 worth of wireless lavalier (Sennheiser G3 with a Countryman B3 lav) plugged into the iPhone so I could get good mic placement. That’s why the sound is as tolerable as it is. But, some good audio kit is never wasted money, and will serve you well for years regardless of what cameras you’re shooting on.

    While the lack of telephoto was frustrating. I actually enjoyed the cinematographic challenge. Shooting fixed/prime wide helps me realize that I rely on the crutch of long lenses too much. It made me think in new ways compositionally, and that’s nearly always a good thing.

  • Michael stern on 12.5.12 @ 11:54AM

    While outputting to the monitor, does the 5d screen still work? Simultaneous output?

    • Yes, I use it to hook my T2i up to my Galaxy Nexus Phone. It works great, but I found that you can’t have the camera set to video mode when you connect the two devices, you have to wait till the app registers your camera before you switch over.

      • Which is the same with the EOS Utility on the computer. 60D and Nexus 7 link up fine and the output is on both camera and tablet too.

  • The Padcaster is a multifunctional iPad case that transforms your iPad into an all-in-one production tool. Simply snap your iPad into the Padcaster and you’re ready to hit the scene and start filming. For just $249!!

    The strong yet lightweight aluminum frame comes equipped with both 1/4-20 and 3/8-16 threaded holes lining all edges of the Padcaster. Attach external microphones, lights, and other camera accessories to enhance filming from the iPad. A tripod thread and locking-pin hole let you easily connect the Padcaster to a tripod, monopod, or shoulder mount for stable shooting and a solid feel.

    A secure and flexible urethane insert lets you easily pop your iPad into the Padcaster, with a snug fit for protection, confidence, and steady shooting. Take the urethane insert out and transform your Padcaster into a DSLR cage. Mount your DSLR camera of choice inside the frame, add on your favorite accessories, and go!

    The Lenscaster is your Padcaster’s best friend. An optional accessory, it lets you attach your favorite lens to the Padcaster, giving you control over focus and depth of field for unprecedented film-like quality on an iPad.

    When you’re done filming with the Padcaster, edit your footage with any of the great editing and effects apps available on the iPad. Then, upload and share your work of art with the world. Now you can shoot, edit, and distribute your HD video right from the iPad. And the Padcaster’s got you covered every step of the way!


  • Yes, the screen on the back still works, as shown here (where I compared the color quality of real life VS. Screen of the 7D VS Nexus 7 screen:

    That basically leaves you in a real production environment with a great opportunity – having the 1st AC pull focus with a 7″ HD tablet, while the camera operator uses the regular display on the back for framing and following motion.

    PS: Thanks for the generous mention, Dave – very cool summary!

  • Hi, everyone. I have a idea… This is possible to use Android Tablet not only for DSLR, but for RED ONE MX, to monitoring video? I´m looking for a not expensive monitor, like a smartphone or tablet. Thanks a lot.

  • Pretty cool breakdown of iPhone shooting and different options. I always find those interesting seeing as we shot a short on iPhone 3GS called “Presents” which opened the Miami International Festival of the Arts. We used the HTC EVO and Samsung Epic for some b-roll and pickup shots.

    It’s all about story and it’s always cool to see good projects created with serious $0 budget and on something as accessible as an iphone. Thanks for the post.

  • The Steadicam Smoothee ($149) takes the same technology found on expensive Hollywood Steadicam rigs and shrinks it down to the perfect size for home and vacation use. Simply snap your device into the specially designed mount, grip the handle, and float your camera smoothly and effortlessly through the air.

    There is a specially designed Steadicam Smoothee available for the iPhone 4/4S, GoPro Hero/Hero 2 and other devices.

    Fly up steps, through crowds, across fields, down sidewalks–wherever your legs can take you. And when you need to catch your breath and set the camera down, the quick-release mount doubles as a tabletop stand or tripod mount.

    – The lightweight, compact, agile, and easy to use Steadicam Smoothee features an innovative, patented design built around a durable mono-frame metal structure that requires no complicated instruction to use.
    - Patented quick-release removable mount also serves as a tabletop stand or can be mounted to any tripod with a standard 1/4″-20 camera mount.
    - Comfortable ergonomic handgrip folds up securely when not in use.


  • haha that was hillarious.

  • c.d.embrey on 12.7.12 @ 1:10AM

    Is it OK to mention “Goldilocks” ??? I t was shot two years ago on an Iphone 4

    Here’s their latest “All Up to You,” shot and edited on an iPhone 5

  • Gary Simmons on 12.18.12 @ 7:04PM

    Ok I have purchased the app and so far it works great and the camera screen still works and you can overlay 2;35 OR 16:9 Frames on the screen no more tape focus is fast and for me works well in low light . No problems with the app so far.