You can use the iPhone for serious documentary, news and factual filmmaking. I’ve put together a compact, portable kit to get great sound and images with an iPhone 6S.
The phone: iPhone 6S
I use an iPhone 6S because it’s the best standard-sized iPhone for filmmaking. But the 6S Plus would be better: as well as a bigger screen, it has optical image stabilisation. Alternatively y0u could use the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, but they don’t have headphone sockets.
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. The iOgrapher case for phones is good as well, and protects the phone. 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.
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 good iPhone microphones like the Rode Smartlav+. I also have their VideoMic Go directional mic. But I wanted to use my usual microphones, the on-camera VideoMic Pro (mine is the old model, the current one has a better shockmount) and the excellent wireless Rodelink Filmmaker Kit (review here).
(If you need more sound options – or you can’t run to a wireless kit – you could connect a Smartlav+ to another phone in your presenter/interviewee’s pocket, then sync it up later.)
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.
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.
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.
I always carry an Anker external battery pack in case the phone runs out of power.
My iPhone is the 64Gb model, which is 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.
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)
Microphone adapter from Conversor (UK) or KVConnection (USA). You could also use the Rode SC6 mic/headphone adapter plus an SC4 TRS-TRRS converter.
The iPhone 6/6S models can have problems with adapters, because Apple’s headphone socket has slightly non-standard dimensions. I found that a TRRS extension cable solved this.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.