iPhone Videography – Part 3: Stability

As mentioned in the preceding two posts in this series, this post is in response to my own investigations and advice others have asked of me.

Background
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) see (Part 1), the sound (Part 2) and stability (this post).

Stability
The main issue with the iPhone is that it is light weight and so has no inertia. This means that it is highly susceptible to vibration and twitchy hands (even picking up your heart beat). The iPhone 4S and above has digital stabilisation built in – it will iron out hand twitches (see here for an example of the difference between the iPhone 4 & 4S http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAU_4DnBlgg and here for the difference with a 3rd party App http://vimeo.com/21381924). While on occasion a degree of movement might be desirable (to convey some informality for instance), for the most part you’ll likely be looking for a rock solid shot. This also has the advantage (due to the nature of video compression algorithms) that it will likely also have an impact on the size of your final video file.
There are two components to stability with the iPhone: First a mount adapter that allows the iPhone to be attached to something; and secondly a stable base to attach it too (e.g. tripod). There are also two kinds of shooting situations you may need to consider – where your subject is relatively stationary and where you and/or your subject are in motion. Which situation will determine the kind of stable base you choose. Most of the time you’ll just want a tripod for your base. You can get these relatively cheaply, though the main things you’ll need to consider are whether it extends high enough to shoot at eye level and if you envisage moving the camera while filming (panning) that the head is smooth (usually referred to as a fluid head). If you’re feeling creative and wish to move away from static shots, then there are a huge array of options (too many to go in to the here), but probably the most useful is a steady cam.

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.

Adapters/Tripods/Stabilisation
Adapters
Glif Plus for iPhone 4/4S £24.99
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B006W8Z4FK
See http://www.studioneat.com/products/glif

Joby GripTight Mount for Smartphones £12.49
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009GHYLKS
Multi device flexibility. Also available bundled with some Gorillapods (see below).

Tripods
Joby Original GorillaPod for Compact Cameras £19.95
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0087FFTT2

Joby GorillaPod Magnetic Tripod £18.99
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0038YWLCA

Joby GorillaPod SLR-Zoom with Joby Ball Head BH1 Kit £43.98
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B002FGTWOC
This is probably more robust and useful – especially if the MiniSkates dolly system is a consideration – see below.

Manfrotto MKC3-H01 Compact Photo-Movie Kit £39.99
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0049SVTXG
Budget tripod with flexible head suitable for photo and video from a well respected manufacturer.

Stabilisers
Bear in mind that stabilisers (often called steadicams even though that’s a brand name) are a tricky one to comment on. They’re notoriously difficult to use at first, so many of your typical Amazon or YouTube reviews that criticise particular products may just be user error!

Manfrotto ModoSteady 3-In-1 Shoulder Support, Stabilizer and Table Tripod £59.00
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B003ITXN4A
It can be seen used successfully at the end of this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7ZsRTxTMoI but there seem to be plenty of reviews that slate it too.

Hague MMC (Mini Motion Cam) Steadycam £79.00
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007VYT0ZE
This review seems to suggest the MMC is worth consideration http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aun2kjyCLXw

Steadicam SMOOTHEE-GPIP4 for iPhone 4/4s/GoPro Hero/Hero 2/Hero 3 £135.98
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009EMFZ6Y
http://www.tiffen.com/steadicam_smoothee_homepage1.html
Tiffen make steadicams for the film industry and know what they’re doing. The problem with this one though is the requirement for a dedicated case for the iPhone, which would make it incompatible with many of the other devices listed in this post. However, with the joys of 3D printing, there is the possibility of customising the Smoothee see here http://www.shapeways.com/model/635220/smoothee-quick-release-camera-plate.html or for something a bit more DIY see here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFu05-b78vk

Other
CineSkates Camera Dolly $49.95
http://store.cinetics.com/miniskates/
Requires Joby GorillaPod SLR-Zoom with Joby Ball Head BH1 Kit £43.98 http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B002FGTWOC

Conclusion

Stability: I’m fortunate enough to already have a tripod (Manfroto 755B with fluid head) and a Gorillapod, but I have no means of attaching my iPhone, so I’ll get the Glif+ for now – again it’s affordable and pocketable. I’ve done some steady cam shots in the past and can envision doing that again so I’ll be considering one of those devices, though I’m not sure which yet (I like the Smoothee, but don’t like the non standard fittings).

As I said this is part of a three part series – If you want to look at ways of improving image you can read Part 1 and if you’d like to improve your audio have a look at Part 2.

I guess the next thing to investigate is Apps. For instance it would be nice to discover a camera app that allowed independent setting of the focus, exposure and audio levels (or at least audio level monitoring). But that’s for another day.

Just finish off here are some other items that might be of interest:
Other
Padcaster is a device for mounting the iPad and adding pro lenses http://www.thepadcaster.com $149

iOgrapher is a device a bit like the mCAMlite or Phocus Accent, but for mounting an iPad Mini and only costs $60. You can find out more here iographer.com

Here’s a short award winning movie shot on iPhone http://youtu.be/w4FRujDeqFw

See more Phone Films at http://www.iphoneff.com & http://www.originaliphonefilmfest.com & http://www.indiefone.com

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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