No one needs to tell you how powerful your smartphone is, how sophisticated the camera is, or what stunning images smartphone cameras are technically capable of capturing. But as cameras go, those little slabs of technology still have an awkward form factor, and anyway, what enthusiast doesn’t like modding their stuff?
So in that spirit, our newbie correspondent went in search of things to enhance the smartphone camera experience. Here’s his short list:
One of the reasons for the explosion of digital photography is that our smartphone cameras fit so easily in our pockets. What happens, then, if you need to use a tripod? Where does it go? I can’t advise you on that part, but I can tell you why I like this Joby MPod Mini Stand for Smartphones: it’s small (4.6 x 1.3 x 1.3″) and light (1.1 oz.). And it looks cool. Oh, and it costs about what you’d pay for a movie ticket. It can hold smartphones with or without a case, and features ‘rubberized jaws’ to hold your phone securely in place. Its three flexible, ballhead-like leg joints provide enough stability for your smartphone to be placed on most surfaces.
I’m not alone in liking the the Joby; it gets great reviews, meaning it does what its supposed to, and at value. I’d take this with me on vacations, or anywhere else I might find myself in front of a landmark with the family, and hoping to avoid a stick, or the common long-hairy-arm-in-the-frame composition. Cheese!
2. Narrative Clip 2 ($199)
I recently commited to recording my baby girl’s reaction to her Daddy walking in the door at the end of the work day. For two weeks straight, using only my iPhone. Needless to say, her reactions were pure, joyous, and absolutely priceless, and I looked forward to capturing them so they’d live on forever, and remind me of that joy.
Great idea, right? But there was a catch: the actual recording part. If you have small children, you’ll know where this is going – a phone in Daddy’s hand is candy for baby, and, suddenly: who cares about Daddy?? No contest. I tried taping my phone to my coat (that didn’t go so well, and my wife thought I was a nut). I considered forking over some serious cash for Google Glass, then realized that a strange, new thing over Daddy’s eyes wasn’t really solving the problem. So I gave up.
If only I’d discovered this more affordable (at nearly 1/8 the price of Glass) Narrative Clip 2 smartphone accessory, my “Daddy’s home!” baby reaction recordings would have been much more authentic and true-to-nature.
Narrative Clip, “The World’s Most Wearable Camera” according to its makers, is pretty much your own bodycam, clipping directly onto your shirt, zipper, pocket (or any other convenient location – it comes with a bunch of different mounts). Its camera captures 8-megapixel photos, and 1080p HD video at 30 fps. It stores up to 4,000 images, or 80 minutes of video, all of which are transferred to your smartphone via WiFi or Bluetooth. A lot less noticeable than an iPhone Plus held two-handed in front of you, trust me.
3. DJI Osmo Mobile Gimbal Stabilizer for Smartphones ($299)
Ever get motion sick from the herky-jerky movement of a handheld smartphone video? Put away the Dramamine ® ; the Osmo Mobile Gimbal Stabilizer by DJI, a next-level selfie stick from the maker of the popular Phantom 4 PRO Drone, is here. What sets this stick apart from others (besides its price tag – whoa!), is its ability to intelligently stabilize your smartphone so your images and video come out more clear — and less shaky — than with a standard stick.
How does it do it? There’s an app for that. According to DJI, its “ActiveTrack technology built into the DJI GO app allows the Osmo Mobile to automatically keep your smartphone facing you as you move. The Osmo Mobile’s 3-axis gimbal system smooths out the movements you make, turning every shot into cinematic video.” This technology is extra nice for crisper still images in low light as well, when the shutter needs to stay open longer. Osmo Mobile also has a panorama function that “automatically captures and blends 9 separate photos together to create one stunning photo.” Smooth move.
4. Macro Lenses (price: variable)
Ever seen a photo of a crystal drop of dew on a beautiful springtime tulip? Or a frost crystal on a blade of grass? Those up-close-and-personal shots happen thanks to Macro lenses, and there are a bunch of them available for smartphones, attachable directly over your existing camera lens.
With so many lenses from which to choose (fisheye, anyone? 3-in-1? 4-in-1?), I’d recommend having B&H Photo point you in the right direction for preferred macro lenses within its Buying Guide to Mobile Macro Accessories.
5. FLIR ONE Thermal Imaging Camera Attachment ($250)
In my opinion, FLIR® Systems, Inc. produces the best thermal imaging products for everyday consumers, and they offer a sweet smartphone attachment – the FLIR ONE — that helps you see heat signatures through your phone. The FLIR ONE is a module that plugs into a smartphone’s charger port. It brings its own cameras to the party – one that detects visible light, and another that does the thermal imaging. Data from both cameras are then mashed together to produce an image sharper than you’d get with just the thermal lens. This setup also lets you take pictures in daylight or darkness. You can use the module as-is, or download one of the dozens of 3rd-party, specialized apps.
Specialized for what? You might want to measure the spot temperature of — well, anything — without touching it, or check the insulation efficiency in your home, the quality of meat storage in the store (yes, really), investigate paranormal activity (Ghost Hunters, anyone?), search for warm bodies at night (lost your cat in the woods?) or just produce a cool photo effect. Definitely a niche product, but if you’ve always dreamed of experiencing things like the Predator, FLIR ONE may just be for you. Stick around.
6. Caddie Buddy ($160)
Recording someone on video speaking with prepared remarks? Toss those handwritten cue cards. Presidents use teleprompters all the time — why shouldn’t you? Enter the Caddie Buddy.
Originally designed for iPads, the Caddie Buddy comes with an adapter for iOS and Android phones up to 3.25-inches wide. Download your teleprompter app of choice from your favorite app store, screw the smartphone adapter to the camera post, and you’re good to go. Read text easily from over 12 feet away.
7. Panono ($1,999 for complete package)
I’m a sports guy who loves throwing things in the air, so I’ve had my eye on this little Panono guy for some time – because how often do you get to throw your camera? Yes, Panono’s a ball that shoots 360-degree/VR images. It’s made up of 36 (!) camera lenses — each 3-megapixels, and each firing simultaneously when the shutter is released. The result: a 108-megapixel, 360-degree image that lets you pan and zoom around the frame. (Of course you don’t have to throw it – you can also mount it on a tripod or stick and use it like a Google Street View car).
You can shoot using the manual button on the sphere, or by connecting to it via WiFi and using the smartphone app. Either way, those 36 images need to be stitched together somehow; approve the preview image on your screen, and the files are downloaded from the sphere to your phone…temporarily. The actual assembly work happens after you upload the images to Panono’s cloud. They do the work, and in about 10 minutes you can share or retrieve them. Done.
I’m personally skeptical about the throwing part (just how much impact can it withstand? It’s kind of an expensive learning curve), and knowing me I’d toss it, and it would roll underneath something to be lost forever. But I’d sure like to try yours!
And then there’s the BelfieStick, with a rear-facing handle designed specifically for Kim Kardashian someone to take easier pictures of—yup. Seriously? Yes, seriously. It’s for real. Well, probably: a quick visit to the product site shows it currently out of stock (good grief, high demand?!), but with a promise to “re-stock in 2016.” Aaand we’re still waiting. Go to the site for the product information, stay for the ‘galleries’. (Insert your own ‘back-ordered’ hilarity here).