Smartphones vs traditional news equipment

Mobile phone cameras and microphones can produce high quality video and audio, but there are some challenges to keep in mind.

Smartphone quality: Even the cheapest smartphones nowadays can capture high quality HD. Your phone should be able to film in 1080p resolution as a minimum, and it will need a good quality processor, the ability to run the latest iOS / Android operating systems, and to be compatible with mainstream apps. Try to choose a phone that is no more than three years old, and go for established brands like Apple, Samsung, and Google Pixel. As most modern phones don’t have a 3.5mm headphone port, you may also need an adaptor to plug in an external microphone.

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: The latest smartphones offer ‘night mode’ which allow you to film in low light conditions. But older phones perform poorly without plenty of light. If your phone is a few years old, 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: If your video is going on social media or a website, then you needn’t worry about frame-rate. 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 choose a phone that allows you to record video at 25fps (like an iPhone), or use a third party app like Filmic Pro or Open Camera that will allow you to set 25fps manually. 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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