August 4, 2015 Andrew Walker

Best Smartphones And HD Cams For Filmmaking

The essence of HYPEREAL filmmaking is to produce films as simply and realistically as possible. This is good news for filmmakers because it means you don’t need expensive kit. In fact, you don’t actually want it either. Why? To answer that question, ask yourself if The Blair Witch Project would have been better if it was shot in HD on high end kit. Sure, the quality of the film might have looked better, no doubt, but the nature of the film would have been spoilt if the quality was too high. In fact they would have needed to spend a lot more time in post-production using effects kit to reduce the quality or nobody would have believed it was found footage shot on camcorders. The same is true of Paranormal Activity.When we shot Starvecrow, which is the first HYPEREAL feature film, we wanted to capture that raw, believable quality we associate with mobile phone vids and Facebook posts, so we used Flip HD cams and a variety of smartphones. Back when we started shooting in 2011 the phones weren’t quite up to the job, so we had to search to find cameras that were good enough for a professional feature, but low quality enough to produce a credible, real world feel. However these days, decent low cost HD cams with loads of recording time and storage space are everywhere. And cheap too. In fact, you might already have one in your pocket. Here’s a few old and new options for HYPEREAL filmmakers to consider:

#1: iPhone 6S and 6S Plus

The 6+ is the daddy. Not cheap to buy but good offers around with phone contracts. iOS 8.whatever.it.is.now is powerful, and it’s got a dedicated M8 motion chip to deliver good results. The audio is good too. It’s got an 8-megapixel camera, a 5-element lens with ƒ/2.2 aperture, autofocus, optical image stabilisation, and a tough mineral glass lens cover. The new iPhone 6+ captures 1080p video (although 720p is probably better for HYPEREAL) at 60 fps. It does slow-mo too, and has all sorts of other gizmos that you won’t need, but overall, we wish we’d had them when we shot Starvecrow. Get a big one (if you can) on the storage side too – 128Gb is all you need to shoot a movie. If you opt for the smaller iPhone 6 it’s virtually identical but has a digital image stabiliser (not optical) that can make things look a bit fuzzy. Not really an issue, we just like the big screen on the plus.

#2. Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge

If you don’t like Apple, this one is very close. In fact, the camera is twice as good (16 Megapixel) but it’s geared more for taking photos than shooting video. It can shoot at 2160p (or 1080p at 60fps) too, but without the M8 motion chip of the Apple, it’s a bit slower. It doesn’t quite capture the audio as well either. But it’s good. Very good and definitely a cracking piece of kit. Just not quite as good as the Apple. There. We said it.

#3. GoPro

Okay, okay, we know this one feels like a bit of an oddball choice but GoPros are pretty common these days and they’re easily good enough for filmmaking in the HYPEREAL style. The original Hero is the cheapest (around £100) and it’s got 720p at 60fps, which is perfect. At the other end of the spectrum is the new Hero 4 session, which is 1080p, 60fps, 8Mb camera, decent audio. And of course they’re easy to set-up shots with because you have endless mounting options. The only problem with these cameras are a) you don’t get them with your latest mobile phone, so they’re an extra cost for your low/no budget filmmaking projects and b) unlike a smartphone it’s harder to see what you’re filming, which means they can produce shots that look a bit wooden… you know what we mean. Like they’re mounted on a helmet.

#4. Flip

You might think Flip cams are over, but they’re still for sale in places like Amazon and eBay. In fact, we shot a fair bit of footage for STARVECROW on them, not because we wanted to, but back when we started filming smartphones had tiny storage capacities and often recorded into weird video formats that were incompatible with cheap editing kit. But we fell in love with the Flips. VGA video works great for HYPEREAL and the audio recording capabilities of the Flip are outstanding. Compared to the cameras above, they’re old fashioned and under-powered, but if you’re looking for a naturalistic film quality, they’re tough to beat.

#5. Nikon Coolpix / Canon Powershot Range

Another strong contender. We all know digital SLRs shoot great video, but we tried it with a Canon 5D and the results were just too good. And in fact, that’s almost the problem with all handheld photo cameras that feature video capture… however, if you’ve got a Coolpix or a Powershot knocking around, they’re very usable. If you bought it anytime in the last four years it will be 4MP – 16MP, probably features optical image stabilisation, a good zoom and shoot to SD card which is handy for solving storage issues. They’re cheap too.

#6. Blackmagic

Introducing the world’s smallest digital film cameras (and our featured image). Blackmagic Cinema Cameras feature wide dynamic range for shooting true digital film combined with precision PL, EF and MFT mount optics and high quality RAW and ProRes file recording. The built in touchscreen lets you monitor, change settings, display audio and exposure metering and enter metadata directly on the camera! You can choose from models with two different types of cinematic image sensors and three different types of lens mounts such as PL, EF or MFT, depending on your needs. This is as pro as you need to go!

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So there are a few options from the high end of cheap tech through to a couple of left-field alternatives that will do the job nicely. But of course, what this also shows is pretty much every smartphone and camera from the last few years is good enough to get filmmaking. Of course, iPhones solve a lot of headaches because if you also have a Macbook (and iMovie) you have the whole package sorted. If you go Android / GoPro / Other and a PC it’s a bit more work to get your HYPEREAL studio set up, but it’s doable. Just remember one of the biggest mistakes people make is to spend money they don’t have on filmmaking kit that is packed with features they don’t need. The essence of HYPEREAL filmmaking is to keep it simple and focus on plot, naturalistic acting, improvisation and creativity, not image quality and post production… and bearing that in mind, you’ve probably got everything you need to get started right away.

So get started. And don’t forget to apply for a £1k HYPEREAL Studios Film Fund #1 grant using the form below!