Smartphone Cinema Top 5 Shopping List

Jul 14, 2017

After presenting dozens of workshops, webinars, and L&D conferences on mobile video production in the last year, the one question turns up more than any other is:

"So what should I buy?"

While it’s our firm position at Snap Synapse that buying stuff can’t solve your video problems (no amount of gear can fix a broken script, a faulty learning objective, or a bad idea!), it is still a fair question.

Here are our answers for someone just starting out. You’re looking at probably $120-200 total (all prices listed in USD and may vary slightly over time). This investment can completely transform the quality of your videos, and you don’t have to spend that all at once if you go in this sequence:

  1. Start with a cheap ring light ($15)
    This clips to about any device, and goes right over/around your camera. There’s a reason all the kids love these for their YouTube channels and Instagram pics, it creates a very flattering effect at short distances. It’s so simple that it’s hard to get wrong, and at under twenty bucks it’s a total no-brainer. Extra bonus: these work fantastic for your laptop too! Keep one handy for that next Skype call, webinar, or livestream. Here’s are favorite model.
  2. Stabilize your shot with a tripod ($15)
    Nothing says “unprofessional” like shaky footage. Got a tripod already? Great! Any old camera tripod, light stand, or microphone stand will do, and a quick Amazon search will reveal a variety of smartphone & tablet mounts for whatever you’ve got (here’s our favorite). Though if you don’t have anything like this yet, here’s a nice and cheap starter tripod that comes with a smartphone holder.
  3. Be heard with an external mic ($10-60)
    Just like you want to get your camera close enough to see the focus of shot, you need to get your microphone close enough to hear what’s going on. Unfortunately, this is rarely the same distance. So do like the pros and get your camera close and your microphone closer!
    Which kind of microphone you need depends on your situation. Here are some options that are all between $10 – $60 USD (Note: Got an iPhone 7 or higher? Then you’ll also need this adapter, or better yet something that plugs directly into your Lightning port without an adapter)

    I take my “Rode VideoMic Me” everywhere

  4. More lenses bring more options ($20)
    It’s great that your smartphone camera lets you pinch & zoom, but please don’t do it! Especially for video, it’s just a very bad idea. Instead, you can either “zoom with your feet” or you can put some glasses on your phone. Most of these work clothespin-style, clipping right over the camera. Here’s the set that we like best, which comes with 4 interchangeable lenses that screw on to the clip part, all in a tiny yet durable case.
  5. Light it up! ($60)
    While a ring light is definitely the first thing you should get, it won’t light up a room or anything more than arm’s length away from the camera. To do that, you’ll need more lights. Look up “3-point lighting” and you’ll find plenty of tutorials that tell you how to get a professional looking shot with only three lights. While you can try and use lights from around your home or office, getting a pro set is way less trouble. And they’re so cheap these days, there’s really no reason not to. Here’s one such all-inclusive kit.

Each of these recommendations have been tried and tested here at Snap Synapse. They passed, they work. However, most of these items lack the high-quality durability to go on working forever. In other words, they won’t become family heirlooms. These are the budget recommendations that can get you up and running fast and cheap.

Starting with the inexpensive gear is a perfectly legitimate strategy, because it’s simpler and easier to work with. Why not figure out what you really need without making a huge investment in both time and money?

We always recommend that you get going first, then scale up as needed. Remember, the stuff you buy is not what will make your video learning succeed. The cognitive heavy-lifting that happens before you ever pick up a camera is what makes the most difference. Keep your attention on the Learner, and everything else will come into focus.

Need more eLearning Video advice? Tune in to #VideoFriday from 8-9am Pacific any given Friday on TLDCast (it’s a daily livestream show, that’s when I cohost). And remember that you can always tweet your questions anytime too:

It all starts with a conversation

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