Wed. Jun 3rd, 2020

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Cinematic Footage on a Budget (<$500)

10 min read

Source: https://youtu.be/N-bqJmpMJHA

Technology has sure come along way in the past few years. There was a time where Gimbals were mainly for large heavy cameras. Today you can buy a gimbal for a mobile phone, or even get a gimbal with a camera built in. But are they good? Can they achieve cinematic shots? Can they produce footage that could be listed on stock video outlets, or used professionally?

Budget

While there are some starter DSLR’s on the market (such as the Canon SL2 and SL3) that would work as a good introduction to cinematic video, adding up the necessary accessories would put one’s budget into the $1,500 – $2,000 range.

Considering a dedicated cinematic video camera (such as the Black Magic Pocket Cinema) and it’s going to stretch into the $3,000 range.

While there are limitations with using a mobile device (iPhone, Pixel, Samsung), or a dedicated gimbal camera combo (such as the Osmo Pocket), these options offer an affordable method of getting good quality wide-angle cinematic footage.

Considering that both the Osmo Pocket, and the required accessories to turn a mobile device into a cinematic camera would cost less than $500, it’s worth investigating these options for the average consumer.

Using What You Own: A Mobile Phone

We all have smartphones. As long as your smartphone has good video capture capability, you already have the expensive part covered. With the purchase of an additional lens (anamorphic), gimbal and some ND Filters, you can achieve cinematic quality footage.

Mobile Device Quality

The first constraint here, is the phone itself. What phone do you currently own? What are its capabilities?

It may surprise you to find out that phone manufacturers (Apple, Google, Samsung) block many features of a phones camera. In order to have full access to these features, you’ll need an app. The app most people use for cinematic mobile filming is Filmic Pro.

Filmic Pro unlocks several key features required for cinematic shooting:

  • Shooting at a dedicated 24 Frames Per Second
  • Shooting at a dedicated shutter speed (i.e. 1/50th)
  • Shooting at high a high Bitrate (100Mbps)
  • Picking flat color profiles (Cine-like or Log)

Filmic Pro costs $15 and is listed on both the Apple App Store, and the Google Play Store. There is an additional cost to access the color profiles (an additional $15).

Before spending money on Filmic Pro, you can download the Filmic Pro Evaluator. Filmic Pro Evaluator will identify your phone’s capabilities and inform you of what you can achieve using the paid Filmic Pro App.

Examples of Footage (iPhone X, Samsung S10, Pixel 3)

iPhone X + Osmo Gimbal
Samsung S10 + Osmo Gimbal + Moments Anamorphic Lens
Pixel 3 + Osmo Gimbal

More About FPS

Several elements create that smooth, richly colored film quality – these elements being the Frame Rate (24P) and color grading. There are other elements going on as well, such as the use of a gimbal to smooth out movement, but these two are critical to that film look.

Shooting at 24P is a challenge because we need to limit our shutter to 1/50th a second. The reason for limiting the shutter to double the Frame Rate is due to an artifact that’s introduced with faster shutter speeds.

Look at my color graded 4K – 24P footage below, do you see the problem?

Due to the bright daylight conditions I couldn’t get away with 1/50th a second… For proper exposure I had to shoot above 1/300th. This gave me a nice exposure, but it came with an imperfection – jitter or stutter.

Notice the cars in the video. Watch them carefully. As they move through the scene, they appear to jump or skip. Almost as though a few frames are dropped. In fact there’s a reason for this: my shutter speed is too high.

When the shutter speed goes too far beyond the targeted FPS this skipping or stutter becomes more obvious. Most likely people won’t notice the imperfection, but they will feel there’s something off about the video.

For a mobile device, there’s only two solutions:

  • Raise the Frame Rate (and therefore the shutter speed)
  • Make use of ND filters

How far can we push the frame rate? As of today, I don’t know of any mobile devices that can shoot above 60 FPS at 4K resolution. Considering that, the 180 rule would require a shutter speed of 1/120th to match 60P. That’s still considerably too low for my scene, which required over 1/300 shutter.

In order to get rid of the video stutter we’ll need to lower the light coming into the sensor.

ND Filters

Neutral Density Filters (ND Filters) are darker tints of glass that block light from reaching the lens. ND Filters produce a darker image, which allows for lower shutter speeds – lower shutter speeds add more light, so by limiting the light coming in, we can open the shutter up a bit more. It’s a balancing act.

ND Filters come in different strengths: 4ND, 8ND, 16ND, 32ND, 64ND and so on. The higher the number value, the darker the filter (blocking more light).

But you can’t just drop an ND filter on a mobile phone…. this requires a lens attachment

Mobile Phone Anamorphic Lens

Pictured above is the Moment Anamorphic Lens, which is arguably one of the best anamorphic lenses for mobile devices. At the time of this writing, this lens costs about $150.

What’s an Anamorphic Lens?

Mobile devices can not shoot at the cinematic aspect ratio of 16:9. In order to accomplish this task, we need a lens that shoots wider, and then decompresses the wide image into a single wide 16:9 shot. The decompression is handled by software (such as Filmic Pro) automatically for us.

The anamorphic lens brings in more of the surrounding space, and then that extra footage is flattened down, creating the 16:9 aspect ratio.

Why do I need an Anamorphic Lens?

There are two reasons to have an anamorphic lens:

  1. To shoot at 16:9 wide screen format
  2. To have something to attach an ND Filter to

There’s one caveat with Moment Lenses… they don’t simply “snap” to your phone. You also need to buy a new mobile device case, which connects the phone to your lens. This is actually common with other mobile lens manufacturers as well. These cases run anywhere from $20 to $35.

Quality Issues

As the anamorphic process flares out the shot, then pulls the wider footage into a 16:9 aspect ratio in post production, there will always be a loss of quality in the corners.

This is more noticeable on cheaper anamorphic lenses. The moment lenses have less distortion than many of the other lens manufacturers. Keep this in mind though, as you may discover distortions in the corners of the footage.

Gimbal

Modern mobile phones have built-in stabilization. This is great but not great enough. Moving through a scene (walking or riding a bike, etc) the phone will pick up movement and cause the footage to look cheap.

This is where a 3-axis gimbal comes into play. A gimbal uses joints and arms that absorb most shock, vibration and movement. This is the clean, silky smooth shot we see in films.

Dji OSMO Mobile 3

Thankfully mobile phone gimbals are not as expensive as their DSLR counterparts. They still cost a bit of money. While there are some knock offs around, the best gimbal for the buck (that I know if) is the Dji OSMO Mobile 3.

One of the nice benefits of the Osmo Mobile 3 is its battery. It can even charge your phone, which is handy as shooting 4K eats up a lot of battery life.

Another great aspect about the Osmo Mobile 3, is it can also be used as a tripod, which is great for longer exposures (photos).

Dji OSMO Mobile 3 Features

The Osmo Mobile 3 gimbal has some considerable features that place it beyond the scope of just a gimbal:

Active Tracking

Using the Osmo app, you can set a target for the device, and the Osmo Mobile 3 gimbal will track the object as it moves around. This is great for Vlogs and other applications where you might want to move around the scene and have the camera follow you.

Story Mode

Story mode allows for various templates to be used. Useful for social media quality themed video edits.

Sport Mode

For fast moving action, the Osmo can be used in sport mode to film various changing scenes.

Panorama, Time-lapse and Slow Motion

The Osmo Mobile 3 also offers control over the mobile phone camera to take panoramas, time-lapse videos as well as slow motion work.

This gimbal costs about $120.

Mobile Phone Total Cost

  • Filmic Pro: $15
  • Filmic Pro Color Profile add-on: $15
  • ND Filter Pack: $40-$100
  • Anamorphic Lens: $150
  • Phone case to attach the Lens: $30
  • Dji OSMO Mobile 3 Gimbal: $120

Total cost (averaging $70 for the filters): $400

Other Considerations

Your phone isn’t usable while connected. You can’t take calls, or use SMS. Your phone becomes dedicated to filming.

Battery life is also a problem. Shooting in 4K at high bandwidth (called Extreme mode in Filmic Pro), will eat up a phone battery pretty fast.

Storage may also be a problem. If you don’t have a phone (like a Samsung) that takes Micro SD cards, then you’ll be limited to the hard wired memory storage that came with the phone. If that’s 64Gb, you’ll be limited. Even after cleaning off unused apps, and removing old movies/pictures, you may find you have around 40Gb free.

As an example of storage of 4K footage, my Pixel 3 shooting 4K in extreme bitrate (100Mbps), at 30 FPS, every 1 minute of footage requires about 1 Gig of space.

A Better Budget Option for Cinematic Footage

Rather than use one’s own cellphone, there is another low budget option:

The Dji OSMO Pocket is one hell of a nifty gadget. It’s a gimbal with a camera built in. The camera has a larger sensor than any mobile device, and it can shoot 4K up to 60 FPS.

https://www.dji.com/osmo-pocket

It has many other features as well….

Active Track

This mode will track a subject. You can either press a button while centering the focus on the subject, or use the Osmo app to drag a rectangle around your subject. Once done, as the subject moves, the Osmo Pocket will rotate the camera head to follow it!

3×3 Panorama

The Osmo Pocket can take two types of Panorama photos as well. A traditional panorama is achieved by again it’s auto camera rotation to capture a 180 degree shot.

Another mode will take 9 separate images in a grid, forming a 3×3 massive shot.

One caveat here. If you stitch the 3×3 panorama together in the Osmo App itself, you’ll get a very small image. For some bizarre reason, the app lowers the resolution down to 2MP or so. Crazy.

There is a work around for this. You can easily stitch these 9 shots together in a 3rd party app, as the unedited images are kept in a folder. When stitched together in Photoshop the image size is massive… 9 full images stitched together makes a shot around 35MP in size – every area fully sharp.

Motionlapse

This is similar to a time-lapse shot, but with the added smooth movement of the camera. The gimbal will move the camera head to predefined points you chose, through the scope of a time-lapse shot. This video is put together to make one single video with motion throughout:

Night Shot Mode

Osmo Pocket Costs

While the Osmo Pocket retails for $399, there are deals on Amazon for roughly $350 for the Pocket itself. You’ll also need a Micro SD card (64Gb or 120Gb). Lastly, you’ll also want a set of ND Filters, which will range from $20-$100 depending on how many you want and what quality.

PolarPro filters are considered one of the best options here, especially their cinematic grade glass, but it comes at a higher cost ($70 for 32ND and 64ND with Polarized versions). There are other kits with more ND options with less cost as well.

As the Pocket shoots native 16:9, there’s no need to buy any anamorphic lens.

This leaves us with a total cost itemization of:

  • Osmo Pocket: $350
  • 120Gb Micro SD: $25
  • ND Filters (average price): $60
  • Tripod: $12

Total Price for Osmo Pocket: $447

Osmo Pocket Example Footage

The following examples were shot in manual mode, using flat color profiles (such as Cine-D) and color graded in post for their visually stunning results.

Conclusion & Comparison

At a glance it seems that getting a gimbal is a cheap win over the Osmo Pocket. The gimbal is only $110, but when examined a bit more, we see a variety of accessories that are required to make cinematic shots.

Adding up the accessories to make a mobile device cinematic, as well as adding up the cost of Osmo Pocket accessories, I come to the conclusion that the Osmo Pocket is only $40-$50 less than the modifications required for a mobile device.

Both solutions will cost near the $400 mark, and while you could go cheap with some knock offs here and there, you get what you pay for. Do you really want a $20 anamorphic lens? I’ve seen them, the quality is terrible, complete distortions in corners of film. You could get a knock-off gimbal, only to find it breaks down on you in a month. Instead of trying to find the cheapest way through this process, I went with the most (and best) reviewed components.

When all is said and done, I think the Osmo Pocket makes more sense. For less than $50 you gain a dedicated camera with gimbal capability. You won’t be draining your cell phone battery shooting 4K video. You’ll also avoid the constant challenge of balancing storage needs on the phone.

Finally, the larger sensor of the Osmo Pocket offers a slightly better image capture.

While the Osmo Mobile 3 gimbal will provide smoother shots (due to its size), it’s also more conspicuous. There are definitely give and takes throughout this analysis, but I’d prefer to get slightly less stability, but a better image that doesn’t compete with my phone for battery and storage.

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