My Love/Hate Relationship with the Beastgrip DOF Adapter
This post is connected to a recent video I made on my YouTube channel and a new podcast episode I just released (both embedded below).
I would suggest you watch/listen to those first (if you haven't already), then read this. But knowing my own web surfing habits you'll probably just read this since you're here now, and that's actually okay (but really, you should watch/listen to the above stuff too).
Back in 2019 I was skeptical of the Beastgrip DOF MK2 adapter. Not because I didn't think the footage looked cool (it does), but because I thought using a mobile device you should keep things, well, mobile.
Here's a short podcast I did talking about this (yeah, listen to this too):
And to a large degree today I still think that way... with a caveat: Depending on the job.
In 2019 I had no idea that in 2021 we'd have phones that would shoot 10-bit video and they'd have larger sensors that are much better in low light (with an f/1.6 aperture too) or we'd have FiLMiC Pro's great LogV3 and FilmConvert's CineMatch for color grading log and so on and so on.
I also had NEVER used a Beastgrip DOF adapter. This is a key point.
Since then I have (and quite a lot actually) and my opinion on them has definitely "evolved".
SIDE NOTE: I have lots of experience shooting with DOF adapters from the HDV days. I still have a Letus DOF adapter and a set of vintage Nikkor lenses that I used to connect to a Canon XH-A1 camera (see photo below). I directed several successful digital series that shot using this setup including one for Warner Bros. television.
Back to the Beastgrip DOF adapter...
I was never in the "never" camp like some people. I was always in the "looks interesting, but probably not for me" camp (but wanted to try one).
Now today I'm in the "why not, it's great to have options" camp and that's primarily because of the advancements with the iPhone. The DOF adapter has largely stayed the same, but the tech used with it has advanced and thus now makes using all of it together (phone, DOF adapter, cage, lenses) a very viable option for lots of different kinds of projects.
But there are still many in the "never" camp and my hunch is the primary reason being... They've never used one.
And that's understandable as this is a niche product and so I don't blame folks for being skeptical because I was too. But as the old saying goes, "don't knock it until you try it".
Btw, I'm not here to sell anyone on this. I'm not sponsored or paid by Beastgrip or any other brand for that matter. I just happen to really like this rig after actually working with it and think those that haven't tried it should keep an open mind. And really that's another key point. It's about a different mindset.
If you only think of using your phone for family vacations or maybe social media post then this probably isn't right for you (and btw, those are great uses for phones of course). But if you also think of using it for a YouTube channel or a short film or interviews in a documentary or maybe corporate video, then this might be a great option to add to your filmmaking kit.
As mentioned in the above video & podcast (you didn't watch/listen to them did you?), I am planning to release more videos on working with the adapter and the latest, greatest iPhone 12 Pro Max. So be on the look out for those coming soon to my YouTube channel. And I'm also considering adding this to an online course. I have Smartphone Cinematography 101 (if interested use this link to SAVE 10%) now and I'm working on a 102 course, so this will likely be part of that (coming later in 2021).
But I did want to list some of the key pros & cons (love/hate) of using this setup and what makes it different (better/worse) than using the phone alone. And I'll also include some tips to help make your DOF footage look it's best.
So here we go...
PROS (or why I love the DOF MK2):
The shallow depth-of-field (and bokeh using traditional lenses) it creates is something you simply cannot achieve with the small sensor phone. To many this look creates a more "professional" feeling and can give the illusion of production value and a higher-end aesthetic.
Shooting with a shallow DOF you can hide things in the background you don't want the audience to see (like maybe a cluttered kitchen counter). You can also isolate objects or people that you want the viewer to notice (which is challenging to do if using the built-in phone lenses and deep focus).
Shooting through the DOF adapter adds a subtle "softness" and even sometimes a "texture" to the image, which is great for more cinematic looks (overly sharp footage that often comes out of phones is the opposite of what you want when shooting movies or commercials, etc.).
Using traditional lenses gives you the ability to do true focus pulls. That way you can rack the focus from one object to another, which is a very important storytelling technique in filmmaking.
A heavier "cinema rig" setup like this is much better to do smooth pans and tilts when on a tripod or even shooting handheld. Just using the (very light) phone - even with image stabilization - you will often get small bumps and micro vibrations or shakes that look pretty bad.
The physical size of this setup is actually quite small though (especially as compared to other cinema rigs). So it can easily be put in a bag for traveling.
The iPhone screen - especially the 12 Pro Max - is very big and bright, so it can be a good monitor to shoot with indoors or outdoors (especially indoors).
CONS (or why I hate the DOF MK2):
When shooting wider shots the edges of the frame will be soft and cause an out of focus vignetting look. This is not desirable for most things (see tips below on how to hide this), although for some stylized shots it can actually be good.
Focusing can be a bit tricky as you need to focus both the lens on the front - and the camera app you're using. And the app MUST HAVE focus peaking otherwise you will have a lot of out of focus shots (I suggest using FiLMiC Pro). Btw, you get used to this, but at first it is something to pay close attention to.
Depending on the lens and the distance the subject or object is to the camera (and whether it's moving or not) the depth-of-field can be so shallow that focus can sometimes be missed. This happens with traditional cameras too, but can be somewhat tricky with this setup.
The iPhone screen - while it is nice overall - does not articulate and so if you're shooting down low or up high it can be hard to see. Also, if it's very bright and sunny it can also be hard to see (but you can turn the screen brightness up to help).
There is an approximate 20% light loss using the adapter, so shooting in lower light can be challenging - especially with older devices. However, the iPhone 12 Pro Max with it's larger sensor and f/1.6 aperture (on the main wide lens) now works very well, so it's not a huge issue - just something to keep in mind using it. And that's also why you need to use fast full-frame lenses with the adapter. Ideally go with f/2.8 or faster.
SHOOTING TIPS & BEST PRACTICES:
To get rid of the out of focus vignette you can simply frame wider while shooting (roughly 10-15%), then reframe by pushing in when in post-production. You can also crop in and choose a different aspect ratio too for a creative choice (like 4x3). Or, some people like to zoom in slightly in camera while they're actually shooting. You can even do a combination of all these things. And remember, this only really affects wider shots - most closeups don't have this issue.
Remember when using the DOF adapter the image will be flipped upside down, so you have to use an app that will flip the image for you. Many of the pro camera apps will do this (as mentioned, I use FiLMiC Pro).
Use an external monitor while shooting. Just get a Lightning to HDMI adapter and if using an app like FiLMiC Pro you can send a clean signal out. This way you can mount the monitor and easily position it depending on the shot - and it can be easier to see in very bright sunny conditions, too.
Use tighter shots (and longer lenses) to all but eliminate any vignetting.
Get the Beastcage for easier & faster setup of the rig. That way you don't have to realign the phone and lens every time like you do with the Beastgrip Pro rig.
Try using a follow focus to really do high-quality focus pulls. You will need the BeastRail system (or similar setup) to attach this.
Stay on a tripod (or dolly) and shoot in more controlled situations. This isn't a great "run & gun" setup (primarily because of focus as it can be tricky to follow - especially if you're a solo shooter and don't have a focus puller to assist).
One general thing too is don't expect this to look exactly like a traditional camera. While it can look very similar (especially when you lose/diminish the soft focus edges), it does have its own look. The depth-of-field created here can be very shallow and that's not how most things are normally shot (it's often a mix of deep focus and shallow focus depending on the story or project).
There are more things to mention and cover here, but this is a good start. I hope you've found it useful and as mentioned I will cover more aspects in future YouTube videos - and again, in an upcoming online course.
And here is a list of the primary gear I use with this setup*:
iPhone 12 Pro Max https://geni.us/VTuM6B5
Beastgrip DOF MK2 https://beastgrip.kckb.st/9aa4645a
Beastcage https://beastgrip.kckb.st/ae151885 (12 series iPhones)
BeastRail https://geni.us/pIggk4 (not required, unless using a follow focus - but nice)
Mitakon 35mm f/2.0 https://geni.us/Q4YLp
Mitakon 85mm f/2.0 https://geni.us/QyX4Uz
Rokinon 50mm f/1.5 https://geni.us/uqdFHH
Beastgrip Top Handle https://geni.us/rnNjA0
Beastgrip CH-50 Handle https://geni.us/EEylD
Freewell VND Filter https://geni.us/kyJB (get correct size for your lens)
AndyCine C7 Monitor https://geni.us/5ZVNiTV
Tilta Mini Follow Focus https://geni.us/CaHCNBN (optional)
*Some of these links are affiliate links from Amazon and others.
Note that a lot of this gear can be used with any other traditional camera setup. So you're not just buying it for the Beastgrip DOF rig (although you obviously can). The lenses, filters, monitor, follow focus, etc. can be used with any other setup you own now - or might in the future. So that stuff can be good long term investments.
I know this rig isn't for everyone nor is it for every job, and that's really the point. It's a great option for those jobs when/if you do want to shoot like this.
For me that would be narratives (short films, features, documentaries, etc.), product b-roll or general b-roll depending on the project, interviews for corporate work or docs, and music videos & commercials as well. Btw, this might be using it as a main camera or a B camera.
So basically anything you're shooting that you want a more traditional, cinematic look (with shallow depth-of-field) and that you are willing and able to take more time with - so probably not quick social media stuff or vlogs or fast turnaround news stories, etc.
In my work this is not an everyday or main setup. I use it as more of a B camera (paired with a Sony mirrorless or Blackmagic Pocket) or occasionally use it for product b-roll. I am planning on shooting a short film with it though (and maybe more).
For some this might be your only setup though, and that's great too. If you're a mobile-only shooter then adding the DOF MK2 makes your phone a much more versatile camera system.
So don't be afraid to try new things and definitely keep an open mind about using your phone in more professional ways. Who would've thought just a few years ago we'd even be having this conversation?
And that's the fun part.
No one knows what our filmmaking future holds, but I have a sneaking suspicion the iPhone and likely many of these accessories will be even more involved than we think. -BC