Managing smartphone limitations

The video from a smartphone camera can be almost identical in quality to a professional TV camera or DSLR – but there are some challenges to keep in mind.

Smartphone quality: Low-cost smartphones won’t capture video of sufficient quality for television broadcast and high definition online platforms. Your phone should be able to film in 1080p resolution as a minimum, and it will need a good quality processor. For iPhones, the iPhone 6 is perhaps the oldest IOS phone suitable for video journalism, and for Androids look for established brands like Samsung, LG, Google Pixel or OnePlus. It’s also a good idea to choose a phone that either has a 3.5mm headphone socket – or that provides a 3.5mm adapter – so you can plug in a standard clip-microphone to your phone.

Lens quality: The lens on some cheaper Android phones is not of sufficient quality to capture high definition photographs and video. iPhones and leading Android brands usually have lenses that capture HD video and high-resolution images. The latest smartphones have dual and even triple lenses, which can help with improved depth of field and even modest zooming, but this is not essential to working as a mobile journalist.

Steady shots: Shaky handheld footage makes video look unprofessional. To reduce this problem, use a tripod – and if your phone has built-in optical image stabilisation (OIS), turn it on. If your phone doesn’t have OIS, you could use an app like Filmic Pro or Open Camera, which provide in-app stabilisation.

Audio: The on-board microphone on your phone will usually record high quality audio, but the audio quality degrades the further away your subject is from your phone. For interviews, use an external microphone. You should also avoid windy environments. If you have to film outdoors on a windy day, make sure your microphone has a windshield.

Light: Smartphone lenses struggle in low light. The latest smartphone cameras do perform better, but smartphones are still no match for broadcast TV cameras in dark locations. Try to film in natural daylight if you can, and if filming indoors, film near a window with the light on your subject’s face.

Frame-rate: Most smartphones record video at 30 frames per second. If your video is going on social media or a website, then you needn’t worry about this. But for TV journalists, frame-rate needs to be taken into consideration. Countries on the NTSC television delivery system use 30fps, while in PAL countries, frame-rates are 25fps. If you work in a PAL country, you’ll need to record and edit video using third-party apps that have 25fps as an option. Click here to find out which system is used in your country.

Learn more about equipment to get the best results from your phone in our equipment chapter here.

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