We aim to produce the highest quality content in everything we do, whether we’re developing content for a brand or shooting a short film. That’s why we often hire the best people in the industry to do the work and make sure they have the best tools for the job. But sometimes, budgets don’t quite match up.

This is a challenge faced by many of our clients: demand for video production is exploding, but the resources to meet that demand are flat. That’s exactly what happened on a recent project for ORBITER magazine.

ORBITER is a digital publication that explores the intersection of science and meaning. This magazine, launched by Polymath for the Templeton Foundation, takes science to the next level by asking big questions about the implications of scientific breakthroughs. Our team was tasked with covering the total solar eclipse viewing at Clemson University. However, our budget didn’t allow for the kind of crew and top-notch RED cameras we’d typically use. We had to get creative.

demand for video production is exploding, but the resources to meet that demand are flat.

First, we decided to limit ourselves to filming the event with an iPhone. We could have just shot with the built-in hardware and software on the iPhone, as many personal and even professional vlogs do, but we decided to push the tool as far as we could without breaking the bank.

Apps for Greater Film Control

Both iOS and Android devices have a number of apps available for shooting high quality video. These apps allow you a greater level of detailed control over video settings like focus, f-stop, resolution and even fine-tuned audio controls. We opted for FiLMiC Pro for iOS. It offers these controls as well as the option to create presets for your different setups (you’ll see why that was helpful in a moment). There’s also a second companion app, FiLMiC Remote, which allows you to control the FiLMiC Pro app from another iOS device.

A Close-up of Gear Used to Shoot High-Quality Video

Hardware

Next, we needed to solve some mounting issues—pun intended. Unlike your typical video camera, smartphones don’t have a screw mount for attaching a tripod. It requires a special case. The best tool we found for turning your smartphone into a professional film camera is the Beastgrip. The Beastgrip is essentially a cage that your phone slides into with different mounting points to attach to a tripod or mount accessories (like a microphone). It also has a 37mm lens mount so that you can attach lenses to your phone for filming. This was especially useful for filming interviews, footage of the event, and even the eclipse. And since we’re cinephiles, we opted for an anamorphic lens from Moondog Labs.

High Quality Video Needs High Quality Audio

Arguably more important than figuring out the video, we wanted to make sure we could capture high quality audio. Subpar image quality might be forgiven, but nothing makes viewers click away faster than harsh sounding audio. The iPhone’s built in microphones are best used for up-close recording, and with most of our interview subjects a few feet away from the camera, we opted for a Rode VideoMic Pro mounted on to the Beastgrip— connected to the iPhone with a basic $15 cable.

The iPhone gear setup on a tripod to shoot high-quality video. | Polymath Innovations

Putting it together

Once on set, we assembled the Beastgrip with the microphone and anamorphic lens and started filming.

The challenge of tight constraints sometimes yields surprising results.

(Note: If using an anamorphic lens, it squeezes your video as you’re filming. This is another reason FiLMiC Pro is so useful. Using one of the app’s built-in presets, we were able to process the image as we filmed, so when we transferred the video from FiLMiC Pro to our computer for editing, the video was already “desqueezed.” This saved a lot of time and headaches.)

The biggest challenge was filming the eclipse itself. With a zoom lens, attached to the iPhone with a Canon lens mount adapter, we were able to capture great close up shots. However, the lens mount adapter flips the image upside down, but working with a FiLMiC Pro preset allowed us to automatically correct for this.

The challenge of tight constraints sometimes yields surprising results. Forced to problem solve, we were able to demonstrate how, with some inexpensive add-ons to your smartphone, it actually is possible to produce high quality video on a limited budget. We wouldn’t suggest using this for commercials or broadcasts (although some do), but it’s an easy and inexpensive way for almost anyone to step up the quality of their videos on social media.

Check out the final video. Can you tell it was shot using an iPhone?