It’s a reality that smartphone cameras are getting better and better with each release. Some photographers are even speculating that DSLRs will soon be replaced with smartphones. One way that photographers can start to set themselves apart in terms of skill is to learn video. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, thanks largely to advancing technology. Many cell phones come equipped with image stabilization, focus tracking, and the ability to shoot in 4K (although these functions often can’t always be performed simultaneously).
My recent experiment with the Samsung Galaxy S8 completely changed my opinion of smartphone photo and video. I loved shooting both stills and video with the phone so much that I purchased it for myself after my trial was over. Thanks largely to the ease of shooting video (up to 4K!) with the Galaxy S8, I’ve even started producing videos on YouTube.
As I learn how to shoot and edit video on the fly, I found some simple accessories that make smartphone video recording so much easier. If you decide to dip your toes into the world of video with your phone, here are some smartphone video accessories you should consider adding to your kit.
Phone grip for security
Most smartphones have a sleek body that makes it look cool, but also difficult to grip. Luckily, there are a few cell phone accessories out there that can help.
These little devices have been an Internet phenomenon and for good reason. Pop Sockets stick to the back of your phone and they add a simple yet pretty solid grip. This makes it much easier to hold your phone when using it, or more importantly when shooting photos or videos. It’s quite incredible how useful these are once you try them.
There are three issues I have with the Pop Socket. One, it’s pretty bulky. Even in its condensed form, the Pop Socket sticks out just enough to make it a hassle to stick your phone in your pocket or put it into your car’s cell phone holder. Two, Pop Sockets look about as cheap as they cost, at least in my opinion. This can ruin the aesthetic of the pricey phone you’ve invested in. Finally, once the Pop Socket is on your phone, it’s on there for good. So only put it where you absolutely want it.
Finger Ring Holder
An alternative to the Pop Socket is a finger ring holder. These devices also stick to the back of your phone, offering enhanced grip and even a little kickstand for your phone. I recently purchased one for my Galaxy S8 and so far have preferred it to the Pop Socket. The finger ring has a much slimmer profile, so it doesn’t pop out of my car phone holder. Also, it looks a lot more sleek and classy, fitting the overall design of my phone.
Black Rapid WandeR Bundle
If you prefer an actual tethering cable to secure your smartphone to you, Black Rapid has a cool new product: the WandeR Bundle. It’s a surprisingly easy concept that no one else has really done well, at least from my research. This nylon tether attaches to your phone case and keeps it close to hand via a wrist strap. You can also use the included TetheR-Clip to secure your phone to a bag or camera strap. I have yet to use this but have a friend who swears by the WandeR strap after he used it on an adventure photography trip in Alaska. It’s definitely on my to-buy list for my next trip!
A smartphone tripod
While you can always handhold your phone while shooting, a tripod can help stabilize your footage. It can also give you a bit of extra height if you happen to be vlogging. Smartphone tripods are generally much smaller than standard camera tripods. This makes them very easy to stow in a purse or backpack and use on the go. While you’re at it, be sure to invest in a mobile phone adapter (more on that below).
Manfrotto PIXI EVO
This is a popular mini tripod among vloggers. The Manfrotto PIXI EVO‘s compact with a minimum height of 2.4″. Fully extend the three legs, and the tripod gets up to 7.7 inches tall. Total load capacity is 5.5 lbs so you can attach a small mirrorless camera or cell phone to this tripod. What I love most about this tripod is the ability to extend the legs a bit if I need to. Also, I love the fact that the included tripod head easily screws onto a device without the need to remove (and possibly lose) the tripod plate.
Joby GorillaPod Hybrid Mini
Another popular tripod offers flexible legs that can wrap just about anywhere. There are several variations of this popular travel tripod. Some are taller and able to hold heavy cameras such as DSLRs. For cell phones, I’m a fan of the GorillaPod Hybrid Mini. It’s sturdy enough to hold either a phone or even a lightweight mirrorless camera such as the Sony a6300. Yet it’s also pretty compact and easy to wrap around my camera bag straps.
Smartphone tripod adapter
You can stick a smartphone on any standard tripod if you have an adapter. They’re pretty compact and cheap, and one size pretty much fits all. Invest in one of these and keep it in your camera bag. I’m a fan of this very simple cell phone tripod adapter. It’s both cheap and effective. If you prefer something more solid and robust, the MeFoto Sidekick360 is another adapter option.
If you want extra smooth, pro-quality stabilization for your videos, you need a gimbal. These rechargeable motorized gimbals will smooth out your footage. There are plenty of motorized gimbals for smartphones on the market. All of them vary in prices and features. Based on my research, here are the top contenders at the moment.
DJI Osmo Mobile
The more expensive of the two is made by the same company who is kicking some serious butt in the UAV drone market. DJI’s drones are arguably some of the best, such as its recent DJI Mavic Pro that I’ve been having some fun with. As expected, their DJI Osmo Mobile gimbal is also very good in terms of build and functionality. The main downsides are the price ($299.99) and relatively low battery life (~3 hours).
Zhiyun Smooth 3
A big competitor to DJI’s gimbal is the Zhiyun Smooth 3. It’s about the same price as the DJI Osmo Mobile, but with a much longer battery life of 14 hours.
Zhiyun Smooth Q
There’s also a budget option offered by Zhiyun, and it seems to be a popular gimbal for most video creators just getting started. This is the one that I invested in as it is much more affordable and thus easier to experiment with. So far, the Smooth Q has worked decently well with my Galaxy S8. It does the promised job of nicely stabilizing my footage, and it lasts for a really long time (longer than 4 hours, the longest I’ve tested it). My main complaint is the accompanying apps which don’t seem to work with my Android phone. Also, there’s a zoom button on the handle of my Smooth Q that doesn’t seem compatible with my phone. Minor problems that will hopefully be fixed with future updates.
Most smartphones have pretty good built-in audio recording capabilities. After all, smartphones are still largely communication devices. However, there are some instances when you might want to enhance audio. These two tools are compact and helpful in that regard. Note that for both tools, you may need to buy an extra smartphone audio jack adapter if you have a phone without a traditional audio jack.
Rode VideoMic Me
This mic plugs right into your smartphone’s audio jack. It’s super helpful when you need to nail audio, such as during an interview. The Rode VideoMic Me microphone also comes with a fluffy windscreen (also known as dead cat) which helps minimize the effects of wind blowing on the mic. This microphone worked extremely well with my Samsung Galaxy S8. It didn’t work at all with the Google Pixel. The reason is the location of the audio jack. On the S8, it’s located on the bottom of the phone, on the opposite end of the cameras. The Pixel’s audio jack is located on top, next to the camera. Thus, the microphone was in the shot both with and without the windscreen. So check the audio jack’s proximity to your camera before investing in this one.
Lavalier (Lapel) Mic
This is the best microphone for recording speech and dialogue. The lavalier mic is placed relatively close to one’s mouth, attaching usually via a clip on the shirt. Its close proximity to the speaker’s mouth helps isolate voice sounds from environmental noise. Lavalier mics are generally wired, meaning they can be difficult to use when plugged directly into your video recording device. So the most convenient setup is to record your visuals with one camera, and record audio with a lavalier mic plugged into a smartphone. You’ll need an audio recording app to do this (more on that below).
Like most audio and visual products, there’s a huge range of options for lavalier mics. A top of the line option is the Rode smartLav+, or the more affordable Stony-Edge Simple Lav. Note that sound quality typically corresponds with price, but it truly depends on your budget and how picky you are about sound.
High-quality smartphones come at a hefty price these days, so it literally pays to have equipment insurance. This can help you cover the cost of damage, theft, or loss, all of which are real scenarios that you may find yourself in. I know that I’ve damaged and lost my fair share of expensive smartphones and have had to pay quite a bit extra in those cases. Phone insurance options vary and might even be offered through your cell service provider. I added equipment insurance directly through T-Mobile when I purchased my Samsung Galaxy S8. You can also buy cell phone insurance online through companies like Assurant or SquareTrade. Just be sure to read the fine print to know what you’re getting into.
Phone batteries keep getting better and better. But it’s still a good idea to bring a portable cell phone charger with you, just in case. The Anker PowerCore 10000 is a great external battery that can charge both your smartphone and electronic gimbal. Just be sure to charge the battery ahead of time and bring the right cables.
Phone Apps for Enhancing Video
Power Director video editing app
You can take smartphone video and edit it on a desktop computer with proper editing software like iMovie, Final Cut Pro, or Adobe Premiere. Or you can edit video on your phone. There are a bunch of video editing apps out there and it’s honestly tough to figure out which is the best. I tried out a handful including the GoPro app and Adobe Premiere. But there was one app in particular that really stood out: Power Director. Sorry iPhone users, this is only available for Android. But there are plenty of other video editing apps for iPhone out there.
The main advantage of Power Director is that it only works in full-screen landscape mode. This is actually super helpful because it utilizes your entire smartphone screen, making it much easier to edit your video clips. I found that other video editing apps were extremely difficult to use namely because my fingertips were too large for the touch screen functions–and I don’t even have very large fingers! Power Director has a free version available, but I thought the $5.99 upgrade was worth it to remove their large watermark from my published videos.
Voice Recording App
You may find yourself needing to record some voice-overs to use in your videos. This is extremely easy to do on your cell phone with a voice recording app. Be sure to also use an external microphone as mentioned above for the best audio results.
On my Galaxy S8, I’ve been getting great results with the free Samsung Voice Recorder app that came with my phone. For other Android users, there are tons of other standard voice recorder apps out there, many that are also free of charge. For iPhone users, Apple’s free Voice Memo app does a great job out of the box. There’s also the Voice Recorder & Audio Editor app if you need a more upgraded version of Voice Memo.
Over To You
Do you have any must-have smartphone video accessories? Let me know your essential tools in the comments below!