Bentley Motors made quite the splash recently unveiling a commercial they shot exclusively with iPhones and edited on iPads. I was on set, consulted on the shoot, and helped secure some very cool gear that really helped make this happen. The footage was stunning and the audio sounded great! I think most people were surprised by these results. I, however, was not.
Recently, we shot a video for Subway, the world’s largest submarine sandwich chain, at their corporate headquarters in Connecticut with an iPad Air, an iPad Mini, and an iPhone 5s. We had a sound tech record the audio and monitor the five people who were mic’d up, as well as the boom mic. Thanks to the Zoom H6, which is great for picking specific audio sources to use in post based on the subject speaking, each person was on a separate track.
We also used lighting from Rosco. This proved to be key for us and the team on the Bentley shoot as well, who also used the M?vi. The reason I bring this up is twofold:
1. To show you what these tools (iPads and iPhones) can do when given the chance.
2. To reinforce that you need to use the right support devices from lighting, to audio, to tripods and mounts to perfect your shoot. You have to treat this gear like proper camera gear.
To this end I have some recommendations. I have been using both the Padcaster and the Padcaster Mini a lot. The Padcaster Mini debuts in June, but I have been using a pre-production model thanks to Josh at Padcaster. They are great tools. You put your iPad in and can then mount it to a tripod very securely. You can also mount just about any device, peripheral or accessory (i.e. mics, lights, and other cameras), to the Padcaster, simply, securely, and easily. On the Subway shoot, we mounted an iPhone 5s to one of the Padcasters with an iPad inside it so we had two different camera angles from the same setup.
That was awesome. The Padcaster offers screw mounts for every piece of gear you can imagine and holds either an iPad, iPad Mini, or an iPad Air (depending on the model). It’s really well built, with great construction and has a nice cable management system and spot for lenses to be mounted. I use it all the time and love it. I highly recommend the Padcaster. I also recommend a good tripod and a great monopod, like the Manfrotto 562B.
Audio wise, I have been using the MXL MM130 kit. The MM130 kit is amazing and offers a stick mic and a XLR “Y” cable with a headphone jack for monitoring. The MM130 goes in through the headphone jack of the device. In my opinion, this is the basis of any audio you want to shoot on iOS deivces.
We also use the Zoom H6 when we need a multi-track recorder/mixer. It goes into an iPad via lighting cable.
An important audio note - If you plug into the headphone jack and feed the iOS device audio that is over modulated or too hot, it will cut the audio out as a way to protect the device. This is ultimately a benefit to you, but it can ruin a production. So, make sure your audio is not too loud and maybe err on the side of caution and make it low. Second, try not to feed it hot audio and realize what you are feeding it. Last, it’s a good idea to record duel audio so you have a backup if something goes wrong. For example, record into a Zoom or something similar and feed that into the iOS device - especially when you are taking a feed from a wireless mic, an audio source, or audio board other than a mic.
For lighting, I recommend a small Litepad from Rosco or Match Sticks from Cineo. They take a little rigging but will be the best on camera (on iOS) lights around. Additionally, you can rig them to the sides of a Padcaster, so as not to get a deer in headlights look and to achieve different lighting effects. For studio style lighting or in situations where you have more time, use a three point lighting system; Try the one from Flashpoint. They give good kits for reasonable money. I have used them and like what they offer. They are somewhat portable too if you’re setting up a mobile studio. Remember, lighting and lighting effects are important.
Now that I told you about how cool and great the video can look from an iOS device I’m going to give you some tips. First, download the Filmic Pro app. It’s free through the NBA playoffs. It is the best app for shooting high quality video on iOS devices. It allows you to control a slew of parameters. Most importantly, you can set, lock exposure and focus separately, and you can record at high bit rates (up to 50Mpbs).
Next, it is important to realize how iOS devices work in order to increase exposure in any video app. When the iOS device increases exposure it uses three things: Shutter, Iris (like an old video camera), and Gain (also like an old video camera). In low lighting situations, the iris and shutter can only go so low, resulting in a boosted gain and a grainy image, like an old handy cam. When the image becomes grainy, it also pixelates. To combat this nastiness, use a light whenever possible. Then, use the exposure lock on Filmic Pro to lock in an exposure before the gain rises to high. You may have to move the receptacle (aperture circle) around the screen and use a two-handed approach to this. If you are in a low lighting situation, try shooting the scene a little darker than you want and then opening it up in color correction later (video grade for iOS in the app store if you’re doing post on an iOS device). It will usually be better then having high gain and noise.
Another key is to not have any rules and be hard and fast. However, you want to lock your focus as much as possible or it will bounce the image as it looks for focus. I’m not sure why but this is how iOS does it. Try not to zoom too much as the iOS devices currently employ a digital zoom and not an optical one. This means that you are blowing up the image and making it bigger instead of magnifying it with lenses so you will see pixels. Not good. You can zoom a little. The zoom in Filmic Pro is optimized and the best I have seen. Better than the native one. You can lock exposure and focus in the native camera app too. But they lock together, not separately, and that isn’t always good. But, try getting closer to the subject. Remember, we dolly in and out and truck right and left, then crane up and down for filmmaking.
My biggest tip is get comfortable with the gear and experiment. Explore. Can I rack focus? Not really. But you can by playing with the focus lock. Focus on something and lock it in. Record. Give it five seconds and unlock the focus. Quickly change the focus point on the screen and lock again, but do it quickly. This takes practice and requires the right circumstances and is more for tripod use, but it works.
Next use creative angles. Shooting things straight on is boring. Shoot high or low, or from a corner, instead of straight on. Let’s get some smooth movement too. Sliders are great for this. Steadicams are great as well, as is the Movi. Shape has a nice gimbal on the way too and there are other gimbals too.
Change your frame rate to create super slow-mo video. This works well with the Filmic Pro app and also with the iPhone 5s. These types of shots are most commonly associated with sports but can be used in a variety of projects. Almost every high-end (production value wise) food commercial employs this technique. Haven’t you seen a burger flipped in slow-mo, lettuce tossed slowly, or a pizza spun? How about a drink being poured? You accomplish that by shooting it at a higher frame rate like the iPhone 5s does natively - 120fps. It’s stunning and great and you should definitely be using it as a tool. Timelapse - do it. Stop motion - I love it. Use everything you can to visually tell the story. Stay away from super fast camera movements, as they will be jarring. There are also a ton of apps (check out the Must Have Apps for iPhoneography on the Adorama Learning Center I wrote, which is just the starting point). Experiment with them. iOS devices are computers so use their features. The important thing is you get the audio and lighting right. So, look for little errors such as lens flares and hot spots. Hot spots on iOS devices look weird if they get too bright. You will have to manage and balance them. We used to call this nuclear video. Be careful of that, especially on faces.
The key is to practice and try different techniques and have fun with it all. Some will work. Others will not. Just make it happen and be creative.
Special thanks to Teena Katz for editing.