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  • Blake Calhoun

Best Mobile Filmmaking Gear of 2019

It's that time of year for the annual "Best of" lists to appear across the internet and so I'm going to add one to the blogosphere now too with my BEST MOBILE FILMMAKING GEAR OF 2019. Note this list could probably be called my "favorite" gear as the word "best" is very subjective, so just keep that in mind...

(After reading this listen to my podcast episode about this same topic, but with added commentary and maybe even a rant or two... :) Link at the bottom of this page.)

There were lots of great innovative products released this year and I got my hands on many of them, so this is my list of the top 10 things from 2019 that I think will help you tell better stories with your smartphone.

Btw, if you're interested in any of this gear I have included direct purchase links in each numbered title below.

If you follow my YouTube channel and podcast then you might be surprised that this product made the list. I was actually a bit surprised too because using large and cumbersome accessories doesn't really fall into my idea of "mobile filmmaking". However, after seeing footage shot on one of these I must say it is pretty darn cool. :) In particular if you're making a movie or some other narrative style project (did you see this short film from the FiLMiC Pro contest? NSFW, but has a great DOF adapter look). And the other thing is (really the main thing) Ulanzi has priced this very competitively and so it is the most affordable option on the market.

If you don't know what a DOF adapter does it allows you to add traditional photo lenses (in this case Sony E-Mount) to your smartphone rig which then creates shallow depth-of-field.

By the way, side note... I actually recently got the Beastgrip DOF adapter too (they sent it to me to test out, but it was not released in 2019 so it's not on this list) and so I'm currently working on a video about it and the Ulanzi which should be out in early 2020. Maybe I'll become a convert!

Now admittedly this is not the most glamorous of accessories, but in my opinion it is one of the most important for mobile filmmakers who want to shoot smartphone video that doesn't look like smartphone video. Let me explain.

Since (most) smartphones have a fixed aperture they control exposure using only ISO and the shutter. So if you're shooting outside in bright sun the shutter will speed up (really speed up) to achieve proper exposure. Fast shutter speeds can look cool in a film like Saving Private Ryan or in a zombie movie, but for everyday kind of stuff it looks pretty bad - and is a dead giveaway (no pun intended) you're shooting on a smartphone (or a GoPro, etc.). But adding neutral density (ND) filters can fix this.

When ND is used it will reduce the amount of light hitting the sensor slowing down the shutter and thus help create motion blur - and this is what you want. Ideal motion blur just gives video a more polished, professional and dare I say - cinematic look. So if you're shooting 24fps you'd want the shutter to be double that, which would be 1/48, and ND filters will help you achieve this.

Let's face it... There are WAY TOO MANY gimbals on the market today. Seriously. It seems like a new one is released almost monthly and so it's hard to keep up. And for the most part all gimbals are pretty good today. Yeah, some do things better than others (like work with mics or the iPhone 11 Ultra Wide lens), but overall you really can't go wrong with smartphone gimbals regardless of the brand.

The new trend though I'm seeing are the "hybrid" gimbals (like the Q2's big brother the Zhiyun Crane M2). These are gimbals designed for smartphones, but also small compact and mirrorless cameras. These options are great for filmmakers (like me) that own more than one kind of camera. This way you don't need to buy multiple devices, unless of course you have larger cameras that won't fit on these gimbals, but that's a different story. The Smooth Q2 is mainly designed for smartphones, but can work with action style cameras too - and it now has a very professional-grade look and feel.

The original Smooth Q was one of my first smartphone gimbals to own, and it's still one of my favorites (it worked great and was very simple to use). So when I heard about the new Smooth Q2 I immediately took note. The new design is completely different than the original though, but in most every way it's a lot better (much more of a professional feel now). It did lose it's original simplicity, but now you have a lot more control. So if you're looking for a small hybrid-style gimbal this one would be pretty high on my list to consider (or it's larger sibling the Crane M2 that will hold compact and mirrorless cameras too).

This new lens was a surprise to me. And by the way, the above video doesn't include the new lens, but it does show the rest of the lineup. I don't believe the new lens has been released yet, but it's coming and I am getting one. Well, actually I'm getting my 12.5mm version retrofitted (or converted I guess) to the new bayonet mount. Yep, you can do that, which is great. I got the 12.5mm so I would use the lens more, but I didn't. The reason is because it required a different case.

Let's be honest - changing phone cases to use different lenses sucks. That's one reason I am a big proponent of Moment as they have a great lineup of lenses and a robust ecosystem (along with Sandmarc, but to a lesser degree). I also have a Moondog 37mm mount anamorphic, but it requires a Beastgrip or Helium Core or similar to use. That is a great setup for more involved shoots, but for casual or run & gun stuff it's not so great. So... that's where this new (what I'm calling) "Universal" mount comes into play.

Now with the bayonet mount you can use their lens on Moment cases, along with Sirui and RhinoSheild. Yipee! Lens flares for everyone.

Just an FYI... I've always thought the Moondog anamorphic looked the best out of all the other competition. They were the first and original on the market, and the lens coating has a great organic look. The guys who started the company used to work for Kodak, so they have an optics background and a good understanding of filmmaking, which I think shows in the craftsmanship and look of the glass.

You might be asking why this lens is on the list, especially now that the iPhone 11 has its Ultra Wide lens... Well, here's why: Shooting low light video.

As much as I have found that I REALLY like using the Ultra Wide lens (a lot more than I ever thought I would) I have also found it to be pretty lousy in low light. Surprisingly bad to be honest - for video and stills - but especially video. So, by adding this new 14mm lens to the iPhone f/1.8 wide lens is something I think is great to have in your kit. Moment says this lens was created for the newer phones with their larger sensors too and that it is sharp edge-to-edge, so there's that too. Oh, and if you're using the Moment Pro Camera app you can take out the distortion as well if that's not the look you want (which is pretty cool).

I'm sure you've heard the saying that sound is actually more important than video. And while they both are obviously important, sound likely does edge out video in some cases.

Think about the last time you stumbled on a YouTube video and started to watch it and quickly hit stop because the audio was terrible. They likely recorded the sound with a camera mic or worse, a mic built-in to their computer. Ugh.

So using a wireless mic system like this one from RODE can really up your production value and at a very affordable price. I use this setup a lot not only for YouTube, but other video projects I do for clients. Really can't beat the bang for the buck here.

I went to NAB back in April this year and met up with the FiLMiC Pro guys along with some of the folks at LumaFusion, and while I was there I heard a rumor about a new Shoulderpod. If you don't know what that is it's a great camera mount/grip for your smartphone and it literally was/is one of my favorite accessories of all time. So I was very interested to say the least.

But I actually forgot about it. That is until a few weeks ago when Shoulderpod contacted me to say the new G2 was about to be released and ask if I'd like to review it. I immediately said yes and the above video is that first look review. Spoiler alert: I think it's great.

It's very different than the original S1, which I still love and will continue to use, but the new G2 is a much more professional and all-in-one device than it's predecessor. One knock I've seen mentioned on YouTube and Twitter is it's a "beast", meaning it's big, and it is. But that's not a knock, especially if you're using it in a more professional way. This wouldn't be great for your kid's birthday party video, but for mobile journalism, YouTubers or even indie filmmakers it's a great option to consider (this thing can definitely compete with the Beastgrip, and it's about half the cost).

I haven't actually used this light yet myself, but I own the original AL-M9 and it's one of my favorite portable LED lights. This new one takes it to the next level with RGB controls and lighting effects, and it's been tested and reviewed by lots of folks who I know and trust. So I have one in my Wish List right now and will be hitting that Buy button soon.

I reviewed a similar light earlier this year from Boling that I like a lot and use often, but it's about $50 more than this one, and so if I was buying a new one today I'd likely go with the Aputure. It's very affordable and really a no-brainer to add to your mobile filmmaking kit.

Did I mention there are TONS of gimbals on the market? Yeah, pretty sure I did. But not too many are as good as this one from DJI and so that's why it's in the #2 spot on this list.

Here's the deal though, I actually don't own this gimbal. I do however own pretty much every other gimbal under the sun including the DJI Osmo Mobile 2. But like the Aputure MC LED light above, I know a lot of folks that have this and trust their opinions (like Patrick Tomasso) - and not to mention - DJI is a great company. I also own the original Osmo and the Osmo Pocket!

I ran on poll on my Twitter page asking folks what their favorite gear from 2019 was and the Osmo Mobile 3 landed at or near the top. So if you're in the market for a smartphone only gimbal (not a hybrid) then this should probably be top of your list, too.

Yeah, yeah I can see some of your eyes rolling now.

Especially the Apple Haters, but here's the deal - I am NOT an Apple Fanboy.

Yes, my YouTube channel is called the iPhoneographers, but it's only because I actually use iPhones for my mobile video. And back in the day (like in 2012 when I started the channel) iPhone was really the only game in town.

Today there are lots of great options on the Android side and I get that. Although I do think at the moment Apple focuses on video more than any other brand, but I digress...

What I am really putting at the #1 spot is actually not as much the phone as I am the Ultra Wide lens. Now of course you can't very easily separate the two, but I've found using that new lens to be pretty incredible. Not only having the ability to quickly and easily get super wide shots, but also the fact that there is NO OIS (optical image stabilization) on the lens. Hooray! That is huge for us filmmakers.

It also has amazingly good "cinematic" image stabilization (EIS) built-in. This especially works great in the native camera app (see the first video in this section), but it also does well in third-party apps like FiLMiC Pro.

And then of course I'm assuming you've seen this...

Yes they used a professional film crew and hired a Hollywood director and did lots of post-production work... but, so what? That's the same thing you would do on any project (maybe minus hiring the A-List director). But they shot it all on an iPhone (and using the native camera app too with a lot of Ultra Wide lens shots) and it looks amazingly good.

You've heard me say this before, but it really goes to show that it's YOU the filmmaker that matters A LOT more than the gear.

Although here the gear did do pretty well too. :)

So this is why the iPhone 11 and its Ultra Wide lens is my top pick for the best mobile filmmaking gear of 2019.

Lists like this are very subjective of course and I'm sure some of you disagree with a few of my choices - and/or I'm sure I left some of your favorites off the list.

So what do you think? What did I forget or what would you add? Let me know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter.

And before I go I did want to include a few Honorable Mentions that I like a lot too and could have very easily made the list...

UPDATE: And here's a YouTube video I did too on this "Best Of" list... Covering it from all angles. :)

Listen to my companion podcast episode on this list too... "The Best Mobile Filmmaking Gear of 2019".

P.S. Want to learn more about smartphone video and mobile filmmaking? Consider taking one of our courses. And look for several more courses coming in 2020!

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