Where / How to Start my first Filmmaking experiences:
I was looking for a light, portable, “easy” to operate gear in order to get my learning going.
As usual, I dived deep in my web research… So I started seeing what was being achieved with… Smartphones! Oh my… So I started discovering some very juicy stuff being made that seemed ideal for my needs: Extremely portable, “immediate”, and easy(er) to operate. So I could learn on the go, and practice quickly prior to having to load myself with tons of gear, or being limited by logistics and availability etc.
Let’s go Mobile!
- Renew my crapphone: check!
- Get the best phone camera out there (at the time): check!
- Find that awesome, awesome piece of state of the art app for Smartphone Filmmaking: check!
- Gather a bit of props and gear to complement: check… More or less
- …Get poorer in the process: definitely check!
After a lot of research, my choice of Smartphone has been the Google Pixel 2 (XL). Sorry Apple, I just can’t stand your flow of new products and marketing hype. I’ve always been a black sheep.
Concerning the app, well there is really one only choice right now out there: Filmic Pro.
Some extra gear:
- Moment Lenses and Filter adapter
- Gimbal (what a headache)…just got it, got to start playing seriously with it: DJI Osmo Mobile 2 (…and just after being sent to me, Zhiyun’s smooth 4 came out, bugger!)
- Rode Micro mini pro or whatever the name is…
I started watching a hell of a lot of awesome guys on Youtube (a lot!) and started taking notes… Then came the practical experiments, and this is what my first compendium of experiments, put together looks like.
The First Experiments edited together:
Now, please, bear with me, don’t laugh, don’t judge. I said it before: this is the start of a diaries, and I share my experiments in order to show other, and learn from others.
0:00 > A Smartphone is still a Smartphone (right now at least): sensor size and lenses, the major limitations.
On the first clip I really wanted to try to recover the clouds, almost clipped in the highlights (had to make a “mess” in Premiere’s color tools), admitely, my bad I have not yet received my filter mount adapter for my Moment Lenses.
There might be some “poetry” to this clip, with ravens and all crowing (is this the word?) but it’s pixel / noise / artifact mayhem! Quasi unusable. But it was my first ever Filmic Pro recording, so let me shed a tear here.
0:08 > A Smartphone is a Smartphone: so lightweight it’ll make you seem caffeine OD…. Yes there is gear for this, no I still had not ordered / received.
I wanted to test out the “macro” capabilities, be it in the optical area, as well as in the motion one (“micro travelings” etc.).
Nevertheless I picked my subject (that lethargic, apparently dead twisted ivy) to test textures as well, and there we can start to appreciate Filmic Pro and the Pixel 2 camera’s excellent delivery. Again, don’t ask for color grading settings, I probably did the exact opposite to a standard, proper workflow…
0:20 > A Smartphone is a Smartphone…But Filmic Pro rocks!
In this third clip, I wanted to test a dolly out (is that thew name?) movement, but specifically I wanted to test out the “programmed” focus pull function of Filmic Pro…
… Yes I totally failed at it, but now you know that can be achieved. Although it’s proving hard to do this with my clumsy fat thumbs… Needs practice!
0:28 > A Smartphone is a Smartphone… Oh c’mon stop it already!
In the 4th clip, the Big Bad Mofo of Smartphone Film-making was put to the test: Low light / Dark areas NOISE… Grain is beautiful…Smartphone digital noise is, well a ton of crap, plain and simple!
Here, with the “fruit basket” (did you notice how I carefully cared to handpick a beautiful basket?) I wanted to test Filmic Pro picture settings, and played with them after being a bit disappointed with the (paid for) “Log” Preset addon the company offers…
I’m barely starting to scratch the surface on Log etc., but for those who don’t know yet: it’s a profile that “flattens” image’s highlights and shadows, and colors to increase the editability in post. For fellow photographers: it’s like an attempt to emulate (not comparable) the versatility of raw, for moving images.
This for me, up til now, may be the most challenging aspect of smartphone filmmaking. And even if I decided to start doing my learning on a Smartphone for a bunch of other things to learn and practice, I want to try to understand the viability of Smartphone cinematography in productions (for a poor mere mortal like myself of course!).
So log profile, 10ish bucks, not very worth in many, many situations. You are better off with the app’s “Natural Profile” and then manually tweaking the options (shadows, midtones, highlights, saturation etc.). yourself.
Also, especially in low light environments: try to always go for the Highlights first, in terms of exposing them correctly, and in theory this way you should minimise your Smartphone’s video noise. So this is what I did, but of course, minimize does not mean eliminate, and I had to give this fruit clip dense, almost oily feeling in the shadows.
0:36 > Auto-focus to the rescue!
In this one, the spider + web, I was attempting to test Filmic Pro’s auto-focus capabilities with tiny, back-lit subjects, what better than a spider web, in the morning sun under the dew… oooh… Beautiful! Jokes apart, I kinda like it!
So Filmic pro has 3 focusing modes: manual, area auto (you tap anywhere on your screen to select your ficus subject) and a wider, central focus area. Since it’s quite hard to be doing all of the things manually in one sequence, I wanted to test the responsiveness of that wide central auto-focus… Not totally displeasing (mind the obvious: my test put it to quite some extreme stress)…
(Note: On small devices, both spider and web become quite irrelevant, being lost as main subjects, because they become too small…Next time I’ll have to consider that and get closer!)
0:44 > Highlights / shadows push test
Here is “Killo”, one of the family cats. Standing so poetically by the window, on a considerably bright day, in the relatively dark shadow of the kitchen (no artificial light)… Excellent occasion to test out some more dark areas dreaded smartphone video noise, and also how the dynamic range of Filmic Pro behaves. As you can see, pretty decently, thumbs up Filmic! (of course with the aid of some post adjustments… Oh by the way, none of these clips are using Noise Reduction / Grain Removal effects…This will come in another episode).
0:53 > Another Wide Auto-focus Area Test
And this is Keko, coming back home after his usual “let’s go tease the beagles” escapade… Just wanted to keep testing the Autofocus mode, but on a wider shot. As you can see it works fairly good, but there is some focus hunting going on as soon as Keko leaves the center of the frame, which is to be expected.
1:01 > Same here, and checking for some noise (again yes, believe me you are never done testing this mother!)
So this is Fidel a.k.a. “Fifi”, our last canine member alive to date…well, he is in a gangster alliance with “Fera”, the neighbor’s German Shepherd, that comes home for cookies as much as they try to, which is not present in these clips… Here some more auto-focus tests in relatively fast closeup movements, and some noise test, because those damn floor tiles, they get noisy! All manageable through manually setting the correct exposure for the highlights, in a low-key shot. Here again, I found out Filmic Pro’s “Log” profile was giving me nightmares, and had to switch to the “basic” Dynamic profile and tweak levels, to get the cleanest shot possible.
1:11 > The Cinematic Shot! Hurray!!! …Yay…Whatever.
FOCUS PULLING + DOLLY OUT + 4K UHD + CINELOOK SETTINGS > Hollywood, get ready!
This is my latest shot so far, yep. Now I felt pumped and ready to make BIG things. Then I figured out I needed to calm down a hinch.
I totally failed the focus pull, my dolly out move is nauseous, I even had to cut in between as you can see… The only acceptable aspects may be the 4k UHD (omg what an achievement, Filmic Pro > choose 4k resolution > done!) and the manual settings (here again big help from pretty much ideal light conditions, but hey, I did manually set the levels, colors etc… I deserve some minimal pride there!)..
Anyway, some progress is being made.
1:22 > The Vertical pan…
The final clip, the one of the superb Magnolia Flowering tree, was shot just to test a vertical pan, my recently delivered Moment Lens (the telephoto I believe, can’t remember now)… And well, just because it was superb!
Shot out to the pros:
I noticed, a kind of “jitter” in the clip as I pan down… Can this be caused by the speed of my panning? I suspect it rather involves my monitor rendition, as on smaller devices, or windowed smaller playback (in Premiere for instance) I don’t seem to have any vertical “jittering” issues….Does it have to do with screens’ refresh / scan rates? Do you notice it too?
Thank you so very much, eventual reader… Before you leave: Did you like my video? What did you not like? This is my first blog post: was it interesting, easy to read? A Pain in the bottoms? Should I keep it shorter? Did I help you somehow? Any suggestions?
Dive In, and don’t be afraid to Keep Failing!