Sunday, 12 February 2012

A very smart phone indeed...

Some people say that all they want from their mobile phone is just a phone that’s mobile. A few years back we’d have agreed. Then we got our first really smart smart-phones and very soon they became more than just phones, they became a valuable work tool and a great personal organiser as well.

And then there’s the camera…. With each new generation of phones, the camera has got better and better, and today’s generation can not only take high quality stills but some also record video in full HD.

With each new generation of phone comes a more professional quality camera. Above is a photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S2's camera. The quality impressed...

At the end of this blog, you’ll see some test footage we shot with a Samsung Galaxy S2. But here are a few stills from the video to give you an idea of the quality.

The quality of the footage has convinced us of two things. First, these camera phones are going to become a big part of the indie movie scene and second, they’d make decent C cameras on any independent film set. Sure, they’re a bit limited at this stage (although this will change soon no doubt), but for picking up the odd shot throughout the day – or if you’re out and about and see the perfect landscape for that greenscreen shot you filmed the other day, they’d be great.

If you have a decent smart phone, you’d be silly not to take advantage of all the great apps currently out there for film-makers, after all, if you’re a low budget film-maker too, then you need all the help you can get. Below is a list of the ones we currently use…

IgCamera. This app adds more features to your phone’s camera, one of the most exciting being the ability to record in 24fps (the phone’s default camera app records at 30fps). This is great for all those of us who prefer smoother more “celluloid film” like motion. The app has its faults though – it can be slow to respond (often taking 4 or 5 seconds after hitting record before it actually does record) and seems a bit buggy. Still, it’ll do for now, and the image does look better than when we were using the default camera app.

The IgCamera’s menu boasts far more controls than the default app that came with the phone.

Digi-Slate. This little app turns your phone into a digital slate board. You need a decent size screen, and it would work better on a tablet, but it’s a nifty little app. As well as acting as a slate board, it also logs all your shots for you, which you can then email to yourself. Handy!

DOF Calculator. This useful app works out the optimum focusing distance and focusing range for all our different lenses. You simply input the camera type (Canon DSLR), the lens focal length, the aperture setting you’ll be using and the distance the subject will be from the camera. 

Thanks to this app, when working with actors and blocking out a scene (where the actors move within the frame) we have a good idea of how much latitude we have before our subjects falls out of focus and can lay down markings accordingly.

Brightest Flash Light. This app turns on all the available lights on your phone including of course, the camera LED flash light. The light is surprisingly powerful and will make an excellent back up portable light source in an emergency.

DSLR Controller. After reading up a bit on this app, we decided to download it and give it a try. You have to get a special USB "host" cable to be able to connect your camera to the phone, which only cost a couple of pounds, so we ordered one and waited...

As soon as the cable arrived in the post, we gave the app it's first try. But as soon as we opened the app, we got a message telling us that it didn’t recognise our device and that we might need to “root” our phone. 

So… after reading up on how to root your phone and watching a few video tutorials, we gave it a go. After messing about with it and not getting anywhere we gave up. It claimed to be straightforward, and we’re sure it is, but for us it was a bit too geeky and we just don’t have the time right now to spend hours making sense of it.
Shame, because we loved the idea that one of our mobiles could be fixed to our DSLR and used as a monitor. The app IS still in Beta stages, so fingers crossed it all works out in the end.

Looks good.... shame we couldn't get the thing to work....

The rest of the apps impressed greatly though, so, if you haven’t already – perhaps now you should start thinking more seriously about getting a smart phone and including it as part of your arsenal of tools.

Here's the test video we shot with a Galaxy Samsung S2...