You can use the iPhone for serious documentary, news and factual filmmaking. I put together a compact, portable kit to get great sound and images with an iPhone 6S.
Update: I’m not using this kit any more. I now use the ShoulderPod clamp when I need to be inconspicuous, or the iOgrapher iPhone case if I need to mount accessories and lenses. More about them on this page.
I also use a DJI Osmo Pocket stabilised camera controlled from my phone.
The phone: iPhone 6S
I’m still using an iPhone 6S because it’s the most convenient standard-sized iPhone for filmmaking. Unlike the iPhone 7 it has a headphone/microphone socket. The 6S Plus would be better: as well as a bigger screen, it has optical image stabilisation. Alternatively, if you don’t mind the lack of a headphone socket, the iPhone 7 Plus has a dual lens system so you might not need add-on lenses. More about choosing iPhones for filmmaking
Holding a bare cameraphone steady is tricky. You need a proper handle – or handles – so you can grasp it firmly.
With iPads, I use iOgrapher cases: they have two handles, cold shoes for accessories, a mount for screw-in adapter lenses, and a metal tripod socket. But for the phone, I wanted an extending clamp rather than a case. The Ztylus iPhone Rig looks to be the only one with a built-in cold shoe. It’s substantial and well-designed, with deep rubber jaws which go wide enough to hold bigger phones like the 6S Plus. It’s more secure than clamps that rely on spring tension. You push down against the spring and use a knurled screw to lock the jaws firmly in place (make sure you’ve got a grip on your phone when you undo it). The tripod socket is a metal insert.
I bought it as part of their Pistol Grip Kit. This setup makes the phone much easier to hold steadily. The pistol grip attaches and unscrews easily by turning a knurled ring. It’s not just for phones: its wide platform lets it hold full-sized SLRs as well. Here’s some footage with the pistol grip kit and lenses.
Viewers hate bad sound more than bad pictures. So the quickest way to improve your films is to record better audio. The iPhone’s built-in microphones are OK for getting ambient sound, or people talking in closeup, but that’s about it.
You can get dedicated iPhone microphones, but I wanted to be able to use my standard filmmaking microphones, the VideoMic Pro and Rodelink wireless kit. (I’ve now done a comparison test covering these two, the little VideoMic Me, the smartLav+ and ATR335o lavalier mics, and the inexpensive Samson XPD1 wireless system).
Update: The VideoMic Pro works well indoors on the cold shoe. When you’re outdoors, you really need a Deadcat furry wind muff as well. Trouble is, when you add a wide angle lens, it appears in shot. To solve this, you could mount the microphone on a flash bracket fitted between the pistol grip and its clamp, or use a hotshoe extender.
Connecting microphones to the iPhone
Both my microphones have minijacks rather than pro XLR plugs, but you still can’t plug them straight into your phone. They have TRS plugs and iPhone inputs are TRRS.
You could just use a TRS-TRRS converter like Rode’s SC-4. But recording sound without monitoring it is like filming with your eyes shut. So you really need an adapter that takes a microphone and headphones. (You also need FiLMiC Pro as you can’t monitor audio with the standard Camera app.)
Make sure you get the right adapter: these powered microphones need different adapters than unpowered microphones. In the USA, KVConnection make both kinds. In the UK, I bought the less expensive Conversor adapter.
Update: I’ve been having some issues with the combined microphone and headphone connectors, which seems to be a specific iPhone 6/6S connection issue – more on the comparison test page.
If you’re using the Rodelink and you want to be more discreet, a male to female minijack extension lead will let you connect the wireless receiver while keeping it in your pocket.
I use Sony 7506 studio headphones which have excellent sound quality.
If you need to connect a pro XLR microphone, you could use the iRig PRE.
Update: The VideoMic Pro works well indoors on the cold shoe, but if you’re working outdoors, you really need to use it with their Deadcat furry windshield. What doesn’t work is using the VideoMic on the cold shoe with a wide angle lens and the Deadcat, as the windshield appears at the top of the picture. Instead, you could use a flash bracket between the pistol grip and the clamp, and mount the microphone on that; or use a hotshoe extender to mount the microphone further from the lens (I’ve ordered one of these). This problem doesn’t arise if you use the VideoMic Me instead.
Lenses and case
You’ll always get the sharpest images with the standard iPhone lens. But add-on lenses let you go wider and closer. So I’m using the Ztylus 0.63x wide angle and 2x telephoto lenses, which I’ve reviewed here. They’re well made and have minimal distortion. You lose some edge sharpness, but you gain the ability to go really wide and shoot closeups from a comfortable distance. The Ztylus lenses come with a tough plastic case.
For the ultimate lens quality I’d go for the more expensive Moment lenses.
I always carry an Anker external battery pack in case the phone runs out of power.
My iPhone is the 64Gb model, which is usually big enough for the short videos I make. If you need more memory, you could get a Sandisk Ixpand flash drive, which connects to the Lightning socket. They’re a bit slow though.
The complete iPhone 6S documentary kit
Ztylus Z-Prime Lens Kit (full review)
(use this code to get 25% off your first order from Ztylus)
Rode VideoMic Pro and/or
Rodelink Filmmaker Kit (full review)Anker external battery pack
Keeping it simple
I’ve also put together a simpler, pocketable iPhone filmmaking kit.
iPad and iPhone filmmaking training for schools, businesses, nonprofits and other organisations in the UK and Europe.