Smartphones. They are everywhere. And with new phones with even better cameras launching every year, it’s no wonder we are seeing more media produced with these handy devices — on our phones, our TVs and even at the movie theater. While shooting with your phone has its challenges and limitations, there are times when it may actually be the best option.
Shoot with a smartphone when…
…it’s the camera you have
The best camera is the camera you have with you, so if you happen upon a video-worthy moment and only have your phone, there’s no reason not to open your camera app and start recording. Likewise, even if you are toting a dedicated camera along with you, if a fleeting moment catches you off-guard, it can be a lot faster to pull your phone out of your pocket than to dig your camera out of its bag.
The best camera is the camera you have with you, so if you happen upon a video-worthy moment and only have your phone, there’s no reason not to open your camera app and start recording.
…you need something smaller
A full set of production gear simply isn’t appropriate for some shooting situations. Even a smaller dedicated camera can be intimidating or intrusive in the eyes of some subjects. A phone, on the other hand, feels much more friendly and informal, giving you access to people and locations when it would normally be unacceptable to whip out a camera. On top of that, the slim profile of the smartphone allows it to physically squeeze into smaller spaces. Shooting inside a car or closet? The camera on your phone might be your best bet.
…you’re working on your eye for composition
Because your phone is always with you, it’s the perfect practice tool for cinematographers who want to develop a better eye for composition. Use your phone to experiment with different framing options whenever you encounter an intriguing scene or vista. This works especially well if you have a set of smartphone lenses to give you more flexibility in you field of view, but extra lenses are certainly not necessary. There are also apps available that mimic the functionality of a real director’s viewfinder, so you can be even more precise as you explore different compositions.
…you need to shoot vertically
Lots of people dismiss vertical video as the work of amateur videographers, and in many cases, that’s a valid reaction. But with the ubiquity of smartphones, more people than ever are consuming — and producing — video in a vertical format. What was once clearly a beginner mistake has become a viable option in the range of standard aspect ratios thanks to social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and more.
Don’t shoot with a smartphone when…
…you want total control
Modern smartphone cameras have come a long way in terms of image quality, and more phones than ever are offering handy features like dual-focal lengths and advanced recording modes. Precise exposure and focus control, however, is still elusive — even when you trade the standard camera app for one of the more robust apps available. If you’re working on a major project and need lots of flexibility in your image, you’re probably not going to get it with a phone. And even investing in an entire camera bag’s worth of accessories won’t get you a larger sensor.
Smartphones are surprisingly capable cameras when used in the right context, but they don’t replace professional video gear. Dedicated cameras will still trump smartphones in terms of image quality and, especially, usability. Consider your goals and the shooting situation when determining whether or not a smartphone is the right camera for the job.
Nicole LaJeunesse shoots more video with a smartphone than with a dedicated camera.