The iPhone can double as a small and versatile video camera. Given the small size and the fact you probably have it with you all of the time, this opens up a lot of creative options. Sometimes holding the phone in you hand is not enough to get the shot you want. To this end, I’ve put together a minimalist yet versatile support kit that fit snugly in a small pouch that I can throw into my backpack and called it into service when I want to do some shooting with the iPhone. There are times when I don’t want to carry my Panasonic HPX170 with me but I still want to shoot.
I suspect the HPX gets a tad jealous when I shoot with the iPhone, however, I remind it that there are still plenty of shoots for which I need the superior images that a prosumer camera like the HPX170 produces. To each task there’s the right tool. I think of my iPhone like a Super8 camera and my HPX170 like a 16mm camera. There’s more to say about that but I’ll stick to discussing the support kit for now.
The Joby Gorillapod Original ($20, available from Amazon or direct from Joby) is a mini-tripod with flexible, multi-segmented legs that’s my favorite tool for attaching the iPhone to objects or just setting it down somewhere. Each of the joints bends and rotates, making it easy to conform the legs to uneven surfaces or wrapping it around objects. The rubberized feet assure that your Gorillapod will not slide and the quick release plate makes for easy to set-up and removal of your camera.
The Glif ($20, available from Amazon for the iPhone 4/4S or iPhone 5 or direct from Studio Neat) is an adapter for attaching the iPhone to a monopod, tripod, or any camera support device with a standard 1/4″-20 stud. This beatifully designed adapter is available in two versions, one for the iPhone 4/4S and another for the slimmer iPhone 5. The Glif is made of rubberized plastic that holds the phone snugly in place (it only works with a bare iPhone).
For more secure attachmment, there’s the Serif, an extra piece that attaches to the top of the phone and to the base of the Glif in order to keep the phone tightly held in the Glif when there might be movement that could shake the phone out of the Glif. The Serif is available as part of the Glif+ package ($30, available from Amazon for the iPhone 4/4S or iPhone 5 or direct from Studio Neat) that consists of a Glif along with the Serif and a Ligature, a keyring loop that fits into the thread on the Glif. The Glif may also be used to position the phone at various angles for hands-free ,movie viewing or video chatting I’m really happy how well the Glif works when I use it to attach my iPhone to a monopod or to my two handle rig (described below). A lot of copies have appeared in the marketplace and if you read the reviews online it’s a mixed bag, some people are happy with the less expensive copies, while others have had trouble with them. As far as I’m concerned, I suggest the original Glif, accept no substitutes.
If you’re going to use an outboard microphone, an LED light, or a wireless receiver with your iPhone, or if you want something solid to grab onto, or perhaps even both, you’ll need to choose something from the many accessory shoe brackets available. The choice can be overwhelming and there are so many designs and price-points. I like the Vello CB-500 Dual Shoe Bracket ($19, available from Amazon) because it is reasonably priced and has a standard 1/4″-20 threads that mount between tripod and camera, has a rubber side grip, sports both top & side accessory shoes, and is well made. When combined with the Glif, it provides a cost effective and versatile device for holding on to the iPhone and attaching accessories.
I like to place a hand grip like the iKan Universal Grip Bar ($19, available from Amazon) between the Vello CB-500 Dual Shoe Bracket and the Glif for a complete support configuration that can be held with two hands for maximum stability and control. I use this as the basis of my iPhone shooting rig (described below) that provides the flexibility I need to build it in a variety of configurations depending on the requirements of a particular shoot. This versatile grip can also be used alone with the camera mounted on it via the Glif or it can be used as a remote pistol-grip for a shock-mounted microphone or LED light.
In order to use an external microphone with the iPhone, you’ll need something along the lines of the iPhone Microphone Input Jack Adapter ($24,50 from KV Connection). This cable allows you to plug a self-powered microphone (with a 3.5mm plug) into the iPhone. The adapter incorporates passive components providing DC blocking/isolation for device protection. It also has impedance matching components enabling the use of a wide variety of microphones.
An alternative to consider is the iPhone Microphone Input Jack Adapter with Headphone Jack ($28.50 from KV Connection) that’s useful for plugging in both a microphone and set of earbuds or headphones at the same time (although FiLMIC Pro does not support real-time audio monitoring while recording). This is the cable I opted for because it’s nice not to have to keep switching plugs between the mic for recording and the headphones for listening to what you recorded.
I suggest rounding out your kit with a lightweight monopod. A good value would be the Davis & Sanford Vista Trailblazer ($20, available from Amazon). This will allow you to make smoother shots by resting the lip of the grip bottom in your cupped hand to form a mount. By extending the legs you lower the center of gravity of the camera and you can make very smooth shots, similar to what you might get using a Steadicam-like device. Your arm is taking the place of the Steadicam arm and the monopod and your cupped hand taking the place of the Steadicam sled and gimbal mount. With some practice, you can create smooth, gliding shots.
An interesting alternative to the Glif is the SmartMount ($20 from Cinetics). This small device provides a simple and stable approach to attaching an iPhone 4, 4S, or 5 to the standard 1/4-20 thread stud found on most tripods and camera support devices. The SmartMount also doubles as a stand. This little critter, like the Glif, is designed to attach to a bare iPhone. The SmartMount is made from black anodized aluminum and has soft pads that form a tight grip on the phone but will not scratch the phone. Check out the Cinetics web site, they make a range of devices for supporting and making smooth moves with small cameras.
Below you see my iPhone attached to the iKan Universal Grip Bar using a Glif and Serif which in turn is attached to the Vello CB-500 Dual Shoe Bracket. The wireless receiver output is connected to the iPhone with the iPhone Microphone Input Jack Adapter with Headphone Jack from KV Connection. Total cost of rig is around $90. While this rig makes it easier to handle the iPhone and hold accessories, it does not come close to the results you can get with a camcorder like a $350 Canon VIXIA with an accessory bracket. This is something to consider before you sink a lot of money in accessories trying to make the iPhone work better as a video camera.
You can strut the iPhone around like a video camera, but at the end of the day, the ergonomics are not those of a video camera. On the other hand, it’s a compelling proposition to carry one small device that can do it all (with some help from some carefully chosen accessories). I chose to construct this rig from standard accessories rather than buy a complete rig because the parts I’ve chosen have multiple uses. The iPhone will be replaced with something else eventually, but standard photo/video accessories can have a very long life, as long as they are not designed for a specific camera. I like having a rig I can easily configure in different ways depending on the shoot. I find some of the specialized devices being sold for the iPhone are not only more expensive, but often less versatile. In the configuration pictured above I’m using it with my Sennheiser wireless kit. In another situation I might have placed an LED light and/or shotgun microphone on the bracket. Having two accessory shoes on whatever bracket you get is essential. All the gear fits in an Eagle Creek pouch. In the pouch I also keep a lavalier microphone and some lenses.
In subsequent posts I write about the audio and lens accessories I’ve been using with my iPhone:
- Olloclip expands iPhone field of view (March 3, 2013)
Do you recommend a specific shotgun microphone that works well with the bracket and the cable (like the one that you used at the Tufts workshop/seminar thing)?
Chelsea, I’m fond of the Sennheiser MKE 400 Shotgun Microphone ($195.00), and while there are some less expensive alternatives out there, I’ve not used them. If you’re on a tight budget, consider starting off with the Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone ($20.00) and don’t forget to purchase extra batteries, because it’s easy to forget turning the mic off. You will notice a dramatic improvement in your sound for a modest $20 investment. With microphones the most important factor is close placement to the subject.