You don’t need a five-figure video recorder balanced on your shoulder to shoot quality adventure footage. It’s cheaper and more convenient to take advantage of that device sitting in your pocket or hand—your phone. But out of the box, even the best phones have crappy lighting, miserable audio, and footage that bounces around like the operator’s being kidnapped. It’s worth dropping some cash on accessories that’ll turn your phone into a stable, crisp, 4K-shooting machine that makes big-production-looking video. You already own the most expensive part. The rest is gravy.
Sensors in this device detect the inevitable shakiness from using a lightweight camera, and a motorized gimbal attached to the phone applies opposite force to accidental movements, smoothing out the unsteadiness. As you turn and aim the collapsible Tiffen Steadicam Volt ($170), the electric motors resist your hand a bit, giving it an artificial sense of weight so your movements on the lightweight, one-pound rig aren’t jerky. The rechargeable battery is good for eight hours, but it’ll shift to a slightly less-smooth manual stabilization if the juice runs out.
You can tell the one-pound DJI Osmo Mobile 2 ($129) to track a person or object automatically using its software and motorized gimbal, so if you turn the Mobile 2 sharply, the gimbal will smoothly track the subject instead of jarring the picture. The battery lasts 15 hours, but it won’t run in manual mode once the juice is gone and can’t be swapped out for a fresh battery. Both the Steadicam Volt’s high haptic feedback and the Osmo Mobile 2’s auto-tracking will work fine for whatever you’re filming; it’s just personal preference on how you like the rig to feel.
Basically, these lenses stretch footage to the 2:40:1 widescreen format commonly used in films, meaning your video will look more Hollywood than YouTube. The Moment Anamorphic Lens ($120) is my favorite, capturing it all in a sleek, affordable package, though it requires a proprietary photo case ($30) that works with iPhones, Google Pixels, and Samsung Galaxies.
If your footage puts you far away from your subject, you need to close the distance with a zoom lens. The ExoLens Pro, produced by 172-year-old German lens maker Zeiss, has a crisp 2x zoom and clocks in at $199. (It also comes with a mount.) Zeiss proved its chops making lenses for submarine periscopes and NASA’s Apollo program for moon photos.
A lot of nature videography splices in detail-laden close-ups. Filmmakers use high-magnification macro lenses, which focus on objects extremely close to the camera, rather than telephoto lenses, which focus on objects far away. Olloclip ($60) packages a 15x macro with a swappable fisheye lens—rarely used but cool for the occasional distorted special effects—and they work with front- and rear-facing cameras. Edges of shots can be slightly fuzzy, but image quality across most of the frame is sharp and satisfying.
As with lenses, many filters are available that screw on over the lens and specialize in cutting out certain undesirable effects. The Moondog Labs 52mm Filter Mount ($35) lets you mount any standard 52mm lens filter to a phone. You’ll need three: a Hoya PRO1 Digital Circular Polarization Filter ($32), which quashes glare and brings out detail under cloudy skies; a Tiffen UV Protection Filter ($7), which prevents intense sunlight from giving footage an unnatural bluish tint; and a B+W SC 106 Solid Neutral Density 1.8 Filter ($36), which reduces light entering the lens, preventing overexposure common in harsh light.
A phone’s single flash isn’t potent enough to bathe even a close-up subject in decent lighting, much less an entire scene from far away. The Lume Cube LED ($80) mounts directly to the phone, connects to it through Bluetooth, and puts out 1,500 lumens—three times as bright as a full-size D-cell Maglite. The LitraTorch ($80) is not as bright, at 800 lumens of continuous light, but offers more filters to fine-tune the light’s color.
The Sennheiser ClipMic Digital ($200) is what you’d use in a face-to-face interview up close, clipped to the interviewee’s shirt under the chin, but it’s only good for short distances and minimal movement. The Audio-Technica AT9913iS ($53) is a shotgun microphone—a long, cylindrical mic that you attach to the camera. You have to aim it at who or what you want to record, but it’s better for subjects you can’t tether to a clip-on mic, such as wildlife, the breezes, and breaking waves of landscape shots, or activities with multiple people in the shot.
You’ll quickly drain the life out of your phone if you’re shooting video, so bring along a power bank that can offer a fast recharge and get you back to filming. The Anker PowerCore Speed 20000 PD ($100) uses a new, faster USB PD and can recharge a typical smartphone six times before it needs to be recharged itself, which takes four hours. The Belkin Pocket Power 15K ($50) 15K uses a slower, non-quick-charging USB 3.0 standard, but it’s half the cost and, unlike USB PD, won’t require an adapter if you’re using an Android phone.
All that hardware is pointless if you can’t edit footage in postproduction. Software like Filmic Pro ($15) and FilmConvert ($150) lets you edit exposure, color, focus, frame rate, tint, grain, and more. You can nitpick with all the settings yourself or choose from profiles that emulate classic brands of film from the heyday of celluloid. You’ll also need it to desquish your image if you shot footage using an anamorphic lens.