Although you'd rarely make a quality video using a mobile phone, there are times when a phone's camera might be the best option.
Why would you ever use a mobile phone to shoot video? Most of you probably think that mobile phones are far inferior compared to camcorders. Users have far less control using a mobile phone for shooting and the lens is tiny and inferior. It's hard to hold a mobile phone steady while shooting video. While most phones have an input jack for an external mic, few phones actually allow its use while recording video, which results in the user being stuck with the mobile phone's built-in mic, which is usually not close enough to the subject to record cleanly. There are some instances, however, when mobile phones may be the best option.
The most vivid example of this is when there is no camcorder available. Most people keep their mobile phone with them at all times so it is almost always handy. Clearly this is important for newsworthy events like tornadoes or accidents but it is also handy for B roll. If you happen to be in a place where you witness some interesting visuals that may fit into an upcoming video that you're producing, you can seize the moment and start shooting. The video quality will not likely match well with the other footage, but you can make some corrections in post-production, which might make the video acceptable for your final project.
If you want to shoot some video without making a big deal about your presence, you can shoot in stealth mode (turn off your shutter and power on sounds) and use a mobile phone. If you are doing an interview at a location where the media is unwelcome, (war zone, police protest, etc.) you can conduct the interview and still capture great audio if you use an external microphone or audio recording device. Almost all mobile phones include a headphone jack, which also serves as the connection for a headset (or a mic.) The 1/8-inch (3.5mm) headphone jack is officially referred to as a tip-ring sleeve or TRS connector. Headphone jacks for MP3 players typically include just three contacts (left and right audio output only for headphones and a ground.) Mobile phones feature an 1/8-inch jack with four contacts (a TRRS connector.) These four contacts are left and right audio output, microphone input and ground. Some mobile phones allow the TRRS jack to be used while recording video. You may need a TRRS splitter in order to use a typical video microphone.
One last example of a situation when mobile phones may be the best option is skill building. If you want to challenge yourself or your colleagues, try making a video using only a mobile phone as your main video camera. Due to so few controls, a tiny lens and few accessories, mobile phones are imperfect for making video. This really forces you to depend almost entirely upon the most basic video production skills like composition, directing and camera movement. If you can make a decent video with a mobile phone, then making a video with a camcorder is much easier.
Matthew York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.