August 1, 2017

The Pros and Cons of Making a Film with Your Smartphone

They're compact, easy to use, and capture beautiful images, but should you really use your smartphone to shoot your next project?

I'm a huge fan of smartphone filmmaking—mostly because I'm lazy and don't want to pack up all of my heavy film gear. But aside from it being easier, shooting a project with a smartphone is not as weird of a concept as it might've been a few years ago, especially as the cameras and technology get better, which means we can spend less time defending it and more time testing it to see if it's a viable option, and if so, for what kinds of filmmakers/projects.

In the video below, the Film Riot team talks about their experience using an iPhone to shoot a comedic sketch, including how they beefed up the device in order to give themselves more control and creative options.

I know I've already said this, but I feel like it needs to be said again—I'm glad we're getting to a place in the filmmaking community where we are more accepting of smartphone filmmaking. It cuts down on the time people spend questioning their camera choices, career choices, and even life choices, so they have more of it to spend shooting with the damn things to see if they're any good for the kinds of projects they want to shoot.

Now, there are many pros to using a smartphone to shoot a film/video project:

  • They're compact/light
  • They're portable
  • They have decent image quality
  • There are apps to give you more control
  • There are lots of accessories, including lenses and camera stabilizers, built for them
  • You always have it with you

But there are also many cons:

  • They only have decent image quality
  • Low dynamic range
  • Controlling your image, even with a great app, won't always get it right
  • Form factor may not be the best for you
  • Overheating
  • Battery doesn't last long while shooting video

Really, choosing whether or not to shoot with a smartphone depends on the kinds of images you want to capture and whether or not your device will be able to capture them for you. Luckily, there are lots of apps and accessories out there that can help you get smoother shots, lower depth of field, and more control over your camera settings, but let's get real for a second—you're going to have to live with your phone's tiny sensor, and that's something you'll have to decide for yourself. Do you go with a compact, pretty decent camera that you always have with you or do you go with a larger camera with higher image quality (and higher price tag)?      

Your Comment

4 Comments

I've shot two short films using smartphones - a horror movie I got a bronze award for using a Nexus 5X, and a personal passion project using a Google Pixel. I intend to shoot the sequel to the passion project later this year using a mix of the Pixel and the Pixel 2 (or whatever it's called.)

Really what clinched it for me was the DJI Osmo Mobile, it came out at the perfect time and is *so* dead-simple to use. I bought a Nebula 4000 a few years ago and it was extremely difficult to use, and just ate up a ton of time calibrating it before each shoot when I was trying to run-and-gun it. The Osmo Mobile in comparison was an absolute dream and I never want to go back to using anything else (save for maybe an improved future model...)

Also it's probably heresy to admit I'm shooting on a non-iPhone, but Filmic Pro's Android version is still great and the Pixel has an objectively fantastic camera. :) Looking forward to the Pixel 2 entirely for the camera improvements (before now, I never bought a new smartphone within two years of my last one.)

Edit- Also my advice to anyone looking to use a smartphone:

1. Always have a second smartphone ready to go at a moment's notice. Overheating and dead bateries are real.
2. Always get the largest capacity storage model you can. (My Pixel is 128 GB. I'd likely get a 256 GB model Pixel 2 if they have it.)
3. Only record in Airplane Mode.
4. Buy Filmic Pro and master it as much as you can.
5. Check out the DJI Osmo Mobile. The DJI app to control it is optional, IMO.
6. Have a large-capacity external battery ready to go at any time.

August 1, 2017 at 10:42PM, Edited August 1, 10:47PM

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Andrew Rabon
Writer
83

I thought someone would bring up the audio sync issues as it will be hell for your editor

August 2, 2017 at 12:32PM

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Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
425

I really feel NFS should credit the reposted videos within the headline of the article. These third-party videos are great, but it really looks like NFS is attempting to take credit for the content.

August 2, 2017 at 1:47PM, Edited August 2, 1:47PM

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I actually wrote my bachelor thesis about the comparison of a smartphone production and dslr production. We were the first who did everything with smartphones and tablets (sound, light etc.) and got quiet a media push thanks to that. Soon we realised that there are some things that are even better than normal production methods and even help us when we work on daily tasks e.g. with a Red.
For example:
- There are slate apps which send a 1kHz sound. So even when it's loud on a set, you can find the signal in the post.
- Put your smartphone on a selfiestick, record with Sony audio recorder (and preset voice), and you'll get wave files which sound like a you've recorded with a Rode videomic.
- With apps like Pocket Softbox you have soft light in every color which are great for portraits or close ups

August 3, 2017 at 6:21AM

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Sandeep Abraham
Director, DoP, Editor
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