The last several years I've made a video and/or podcast wrapping up each year by listing my favorite mobile video tech - but this year I've been completely slammed finishing up my latest feature film (and because of that workload I've taken a few days off as well during the holidays).
But I still wanted to share a list of my favorites that I covered during 2023 and so that is what this post is about. And note that these are simply my favorite things that I covered on my YouTube channel, so it's obviously not a complete list of all new tech or even the best tech - just my favorites.
So in saying in all that, here's my 2023 list...
#10 - SmallRig Freeblazer Tripod
I get it - tripods are boring. No one likes spending money on one, however, if you've ever used a cheap and/or crappy one it can make your life miserable. I personally decided years ago to invest in a good one and it was one of the best filmmaking decisions I've ever made. But even "good ones" can be thousands of dollars, which I realize is a lot to most folks and especially if you don't make a living as a filmmaker. So that's where this tripod from SmallRig comes in... It's very affordable and really an incredible value - you can't beat the bang for the buck. And this tripod gets taller than any one I own (and has quick release handles). The legs are carbon fiber and so they're lightweight and strong, and the video head is a Manfrotto style and works well (but if you don't like it you can easily switch it out and just use the sticks, which are very good).
#9 - RODE VideoMicro II
I had used the original RODE VideoMicro for probably five years and I actually still use it as it's one of the best camera mounted mics for the money that you can get. It was around $50 and worked on phones as well as traditional cameras. Well, the VideoMicro II arrived early in 2023 and really surprised me as I didn't think RODE could improve much on the original - but they did. This mic sounds much better than it has any right to for the cost and while it's more expensive the the first gen mic, it's still very affordable and I highly recommend it for anyone really - but especially for budget-minded filmmakers (both mobile & traditional).
#8 - Freewell Sherpa Kit & Lenses
The Sherpa kit from Freewell is a very nice case and grip combo that I've found works great for most mobile video shooting scenarios. It's excellent for travel and quick social media use, but equally as good for more involved YouTube projects , etc. Though it's not ideal for more robust filmmaking setups (see a cage below for that), but it does work well for lighter stuff - and it now also works with the Sherpa line of mobile lenses. This entry on the list is mainly about the case and grip, but Freewell's new lenses are very nice too and definitely worth considering for later gen phones with larger sensors and camera bumps.
#7 - Zhiyun Molus G60 COB Light
I made a video about this light talking about how it's maybe the perfect companion for mobile filmmaking setups and I still stand by that. It's remarkably small and lightweight, yet packs quite the punch. The light can work as either a small key light or fill or back light - and not only for quick mobile setups - I actually used it a lot on my movie. But it's really designed to be portable and easy to use and that is where it excels, and in particular as it relates to mobile filmmaking setups.
#6 - Beastcage
The Beastcage is not new tech, but it is one of my favorites - and of course they make them new every year for each new iPhone. And that's the best part is they are custom fit and there's nothing close on the market from a build-quality perspective. It's just super solid and great to work with. The downside is that they are designed for specific phones, so when you upgrade the cage no longer will work. But today I think you can keep a phone for 3 years or more, and so if you're doing more heavy duty setups (like adding lenses and filters or even their DOF adapter) then it's definitley worth the investment.
Buy a Beastcage (choose correct phone model)
#5 - Beastgrip 1.7x Telephoto
Continuing with Beastgrip... Their 1.7x Telephoto was released in early 2023 and was the first lens to finally work with larger sensor phones (the 13 and 14 series iPhones initially) and now it still works with the 15 Pro/Max, which is great (and other lens brands are having challenges with the 15 series phones). If you're considering external lenses and especially if you have a Beastcage or Beastgrip Pro, then this is a no-brainer.
#4 - Blackmagic Camera App
Wow. This app came out of nowhere. I don't think anyone outside of Blackmagic & Apple had advanced knowledge that this app was being developed and it has really taken the mobile video world by storm. There has never been an app released that instantly became the de facto go to app for filmmakers. Before it's release Filmic Pro was the industry standard (even though they had gone subscription) and then ProTake, Beastcam, MAVIS and Cinema P3 among a few others shared the marketplace. But I think now Blackmagic is what everyone uses. Why? Well, mainly I think because is free. But, it's also a very well thought out app and the interface looks a lot like their Blackmagic camera UI - which both are very easy to use. Is the app perfect? No, it has it's faults, but again it's crazy good and only a first gen app that's going to mature and get better.
#3 - iPhone 15 Pro Max 5x Tele
The release of the iPhone 15 Pro Max really impressed me this year and one of the bigger selling points was the built-in 5x telephoto. It's the first time on an iPhone that we've seen that kind of focal range and it is hugely beneficial for not only shooting video, but photos too. If you shoot news or sports or documentary then this focal length is a must-have. Of course the telephoto sensor is not as good as the main 48MP camera and so if you're wanting the highest quality images I do recommend adding a third-party tele to the main camera, however, you can't get the same reach as with the 5x. And so that is really nice to have as an option.
#2 - iPhone 15 Pro External SSD Recording
Recording video to an external SSD was something I actually didn't think would ever happen with an iPhone. I had thought about the possibility for a while though. When Filmic Pro opened us the clean HDMI in past years (via Lightning) I had hoped that when/if USB-C was added they'd let us output clean uncompressed 4K (that hasn't happened yet, but I've heard it's potentially in the works). But, I didn't see Apple offering direct-to-drive 4K recording - and in Apple ProRes Log for that matter - but that's what happened and I still think it's crazy that we can do that. If you're shooting anything more on the pro side of things then this is a great option to have and really opens the phone up for much wider professional use cases.
#1 - Apple Log
I mentioned ProRes Log in the previous entry and that's what tops my list for 2023 - the release of Apple ProRes Log. As a mobile filmmaker I have dreamed of this and never thought it would happen. Never. But Apple did it and it's better than I even thought it could be. Much better - and the film industry has noticed too. I actually used Apple Log for insert shots on my new feature film matched against a RED Komodo. The footage looks amazing and I actually forget it was shot on a phone. We've been able to use iPhones in professional settings for a long time, but now with Apple Log you don't have to compromise nearly as much. Of course the phone sensor is still small and the lens is limited as compared to cinema style glass - BUT, it's still remarkably good. And the idea that we now basically have a cinema camera in our pocket AT ALL TIMES is nothing short of amazing. I really can't stress enough how big of a deal his is for filmmakers.
And now a few Honorable Mentions...
ReeFlex G-Series Lenses
These lenses look great and I'm very interested to get my hands on the final production versions. I tested prototypes and they were excellent - on the 14 Pro Max - I haven't gotten to use them on the 15 Pro Max yet. And this is where other brands are struggling, especially with their telephotos and 1.55x anamorphic. But ReeFlex says their lenses are working well. So I'm optimistic these will be good and I'll be reviewing them hopefully in January or February 2024.
Learn more about ReeFlex G-Series (Kickstarter campaign is over, but good info there)
Moment T-Series Lenses (with caveats)
I'm very happy that Moment has updated thier lenses as the M-series no longer work with later gen phones. But so far the ones I've tested have had mixed results. The 18mm wide angle works great, but the 58mm tele has soft edges. And I'll be testing others soon. So if you have a 15 series phone beware of this, but if you have a 14 or earlier you'll be fine. And btw, I do like the new T-series mount as it's very easy to use and I've always loved Moment cases.
Which lenses should you buy? Learn more here.
I had not used the ShiftCam ProGrip until recently and I was very pleasantly surprised. It's a great option for casual run & gun filmmakers - talking travel or social media mainly. Similar to the Sherpa I'd say it's not great for more robust setups, but it's very good for pretty much everything else - and it has a built-in battery. So while the ShiftCam lenses are excellent for the 14 Pro and before - with the 15 series I'm getting mixed results (like with other brands), but this grip is solid and works with pretty much any phones including Android.
So these are my favorite mobile filmmaking things from 2023. What did I miss? Let me know in the comments below or hit me up on social media. And remember, these are just things that I covered on my YouTube channel and so I'm always interested in hearing about other cool stuff.
Hope you had a great Christmas holiday season and have a Happy New Year! Looking forward to see what new tech arrives in 2024 and beyond.
Note: Some links used are affiliate links from Amazon, B&H and more.