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Matthew MisterJun 2, 2020 9:42:35 AM6 min read

Phoneography 101: Handling High-Res Media without the Hassle

Nothing sets a professional video production apart from an amateur faster than the high quality cameras used to capture footage. A high-end cinematic camera can be rather expensive, easily costing several thousand dollars. For smaller production teams, amateur videographers and budget focused clients, the cost of purchasing or renting this equipment is too high. 

There are numerous camera options available depending on type of content you are trying to produce. Many mirrorless or DSLR cameras can capture high-quality video content, GoPros are perfect for action shots and even the phone in your pocket can be used to capture 4K footage.

While there has been a stigma around using cell phone footage in the professional video world, improved camera technology in the latest generations of mobile phones has helped push "phoneography" into the conversation. 

When should you use Phoneography

For a video producer, deciding which camera they use is similar to an artist choosing their brush. While the camera is an important factor in how the video comes out, the skill of the team ultimately determines the final result. So how should you determine when to use the R3D, or Blackmagic camera and when it's time to pull out the smart phone cameras?

Think about Budgets

Your clients need more video content than ever to grow their brands online and through social media. Smaller businesses may lack the budget for a full video production package. Capturing footage on an iPhone or Android device can provide budget friendly offerings for your clients.

Companies looking to start producing video content internally can purchase some smart phones, a few lights and microphones for their team to get started. This can be a much more reasonable investment than building a full studio at their office or outsourcing the work.

Determine your Destination

Social media and blog content needs to be produced consistently to keep up with the daily cadence needed to grow and maintain your business's online presence. This type of content doesn't need the cinematic look of a Hollywood film or television show. For this content, the messaging is more critical to the success of the post than what type of camera you use.

If your video is meant for the big screen or television, a professional camera may be your best option because it will allow you more creative control over lighting and color. However, some directors have chosen to try filming an entire movie on nothing but an iPhone.

Choose Convenience or Versatility

Capturing video content on your phone and a professional camera will provide two different experiences.

Smart phone footage is easy to capture and doesn't require hauling extra equipment with you. If convenience is important and you're happy with the quality of video your phone captures then using your smart phone is a no-brainer.

If your production requires working with dark lighting or shots with different focal points a professional grade camera will allow you more versatility to work in different situations.

Compare Camera Technology

While the quality of the cameras in smart phones has drastically improved over the past few generations of devices. Advances have also been made in full size cameras. Using a phone can be convenient but in some situations it may not be best for certain shoots. Technical components of these cameras to consider are:

  • Sensor: The sensor on your camera determines how much light is let into the camera. Smartphone sensors are much smaller than their full frame counterparts. This means low light or action shots won't look the same on a smartphone.
  • Lens: DSLR and mirrorless cameras have a wide range of interchangeable lenses available for different shots While there are snap on lenses available for smart phones, they still cannot take in as much information due to their size and quality of glass.

Which Smart Phone Camera is Best

The quality of smart phone cameras have improved dramatically and some phones on the market  can even capture 4K video! When deciding which camera phone you should use for your video look for something that includes optical zoom, aperture/lens control and can take high-quality photos on both the front and rear cameras. You can check out some of the best options available in both iOS and Android here.

Phoneography Workflow Changes

A production workflow using footage captured on a smart phone will be different than one would expect. We're all used to sending videos to our friends and family through a text, or adding a filter then uploading a video to Instagram or Facebook directly from our phone. 

Getting smart phone footage into an editing software to actually working on can present a few challenges depending on the type of smart phones and workstations you use. 


After you capture your footage your next step is to get it onto you computer and start editing. Both iOS and Android devices have the option of using Dropbox to upload and download files between your phone and computer.

If you are strictly recording and editing on Apple devices you have the option of plugging your phone into your computer or using AirDrop to transfer files. Android and Windows users can dock their device to transfer files. 

File Consistency

Each model of smart phone has different cameras and settings available to use. These settings can differ widely and include:

  • File format
    • iPhone outputs .mov
    • Android outputs .mp4 
  • Resolution
  • Frame rate

If you are recording on multiple smart phones, ensuring you have consistency in these settings is key to having a smooth editing process. Mixing formats and frame rates can cause some issues while editing. If you must use different smart phones we recommend encoding the clips to the same file format before editing.

Managing Incoming Files

For projects that require collecting files from people outside your organization (ex: Customer Testimonials) getting smart phone footage is a great way to streamline the process. Having your subject record a video on their phone and send it to you is much faster and cost effective than scheduling a shoot and sending a camera crew.

A common misunderstanding is that you can just email someone a video and be done. Email providers put data limits on files you send. These limits are typically much smaller than the size of the average video file. The email provider severely compresses the files making them nearly unusable for any editing. Using Dropbox is a common work around for this issue.

Smart Phone Best Practices

Recording video content on your smart phone and a regular camera require many of the same basic film principles. For higher quality video, you will need to change some basic audio and video best practices

For a good shot make sure your phone is in landscape mode and that you have proper lighting. If you are having a client or internal member of your company recording footage for you on their phone make sure to walk them through these settings before they start recording.

The Ideal Smart Phone Workflow

Including smart phone footage in your video projects presents several unique challenges that you'll need to navigate. An ideal smart phone workflow uploads full resolution footage directly from your phone into a central video database with the push of a button. When you login to your workstation, usable files are ready to download and edit. 

To make that workflow a reality, ProMAX has developed NextFrame. If you're interested in improving the content you produce on your smart phone click here to check out the tool or reach out here!