Whether you're trying to become an influencer or just want to share better photos and videos, the best camera to start with is your smartphone. It is likely the only camera you always have on you and it's probably capable of excellent pictures and video capture. But with a little help, it could definitely be better.
Due to the form factor of smartphones, camera quality is inherently limited. In order to keep the phone at a reasonable thickness, camera modules have to use small lenses and flashes which hinder performance. But with the help of some third-party accessories, you can bridge the gap between your phone and a high-end DSLR.
1. Attachable Lens
You can never have enough lenses. Different lenses have different strengths, so having the right one is always important. But until changeable lenses become a reality for smartphones, the only option is third-party attachable lenses.
With an attachable lens, you can change the lens already on your smartphone by placing a new lens over it. This can change the focal length and field of view, making your camera more versatile.
Olloclip and Hitcase use clips that attach to the body of the phone to hold the lens over the rear camera, making them compatible with most smartphones. However, a better option is Moment lenses, which use a phone case to hold the lens in place.
2. Camera Rig
A camera rig allows you to attach extra accessories to your camera without the need of additional hands. Some rigs come with multiple mounts so you can add a combination of devices such as microphones and lights.
Beastgrip ($139.99 on Amazon) makes a rig with one cold shoe mount and the ability to add more ($11.99 on Amazon). But I don't think you even need to spend that much. Options from Zeadio and Ulazi come with three shoe mount and are about a tenth the price.
3. Tripod & Selfie Stick
You'll take most pictures with your phone in your hands, but some situations call for a tripod or a selfie stick. Why not both? Fugetek FT-569 ($23.99 on Amazon) is a perfect combo tool that extends up to 51 inches and has a remote shutter button. But my pick for best deal in this category is the Mpow Selfie Stick and Tripod ($14.99 on Amazon). While it only extends to 29.5 inches, it is easier to store, comes with a Bluetooth remote shutter button, and includes an LED light that can act as a flash.
4. Track Slider
If you take want to take your videography game to the next level, a great investment is a slider. Nothing says amateur more than sloppy handheld footage, and a slider will put an end to that when you need panning shots.
The Neewer Carbon Fiber Dolly Rail ($49.50 on Amazon) gives you 16 inches of movement. It comes with a phone mount, but you can also use it with a camera rig.
A tripod is great for stationary actions, but if you're recording any form of movement, you'll want a gimbal. Gimbals stabilize your phone while you move around, giving you smooth video capture far better than any built-in stabilization mechanism could.
One of the best gimbals on the market is the DJI Osmo Mobile 3 ($119 on Amazon). It is designed for smartphones with a lightweight design and included phone mount. It supports gesture control so you can have it take a photo or begin recording even when by yourself. And it has Active Track 3.0, which uses machine learning to improve tracking while keeping the action smooth.
6. External Microphone
If video is more your style, it is not enough to rely on the included microphones of your smartphone to capture audio. Like with lenses, the quality of the microphones are limited by the compact design.
For iPhones, you have a few options. While many external microphones use the headphone jack to connect with your phone, recently, a growing number have created ones with a Lightning connector instead. Options such as Zoom iQ6 Professional Microphone ($99.99 on Amazon) and Shure MV88 ($149 on Amazon) are huge upgrades, allowing the quality of the audio to match the video quality of your iPhones' cameras.
If you're on Android, you'll want one with a USB Type-C connector. Comica CVM-VS09 ($58.69 on Amazon) is a directional shotgun microphone that's ideal for most filming needs. Another option is the Movo TPM100 microphone ($49.95 on Amazon), a cardioid microphone that includes windscreens to shield the impact of wind during outdoor sessions.
7. External Lights
Whether you prefer to take still images or motion pictures, few aspects are more important to the end result than lighting. Lights for smartphones come in a variety of options. For those who want to move around, the VILTROX VL-162T CRI95+ ($36.59 on Amazon) is your best option. For stationary recording, the Neewer Ring Light Kit ($99.99 on Amazon) is a better option. It houses your smartphone with a 55W 5500K dimmable ring light the illuminates your subject.
8. External Camera
When Google's Project Ara was canceled in 2016, its promises of a modular future where all parts (including the camera modules) could be replaced died along with it. However, the ability to upgrade our camera didn't die.
DxO (yes, the same DxO behind DxOMark) created a module for both iPhone and Android, known as the DxO One. The Android version (starting at $184.99 on Amazon) and iPhone version ($199.95 on Amazon) use the native data port to add a 20.2 MP CMOS-BSI sensor (the same in the Sony RX100 series) for both still photos and video.
Another option is the Sony QX10 ($329.95 on Amazon). Using the included attachment, you can mount it on the back of your phone and control it via an app. Images are stored on a microSD card or transfer wireless via NFC and Wi-Fi direct. The QX10 has a 10x optical zoom, and it will work on both iPhones and Android devices.
9. All-in-1 Kit
If you want to save some money, you can opt for camera kits. These are bundles that include most of the accessories we've recommend here, but at a price much lower than if they were purchased separately.
One of the best deals we found was the Movo Video Kit V8. This kit includes four different types of microphones (Mini Shotgun, omnidirectional, lavalier, condenser), a rig, a 30-LED video light, a tripod, a Bluetooth remote shutter button, and cold shoe extender for additional accessories. And it is priced at $299.95 on Amazon, a steal. Just note that the microphone uses a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you will need an adapter if your phone doesn't include the port.
10. Power Bank
You can have all the accessories in the world, but if your camera is dead, what good is it? The RAVPower 26,800 mAh Portable Charger ($59.98 on Amazon) comes with two USB-A ports and one USB-C, more than enough to charge your phone, lights, and any other accessory you may be carrying. And since it supports USB Power Delivery, it will fast charge your iPhone and most Android devices, including the Google Pixel series phones. It also has a USB-C input port, so you charge the power bank as you charge your other devices.
This article was produced during Gadget Hacks' special coverage on becoming a social media expert on your phone. Check out the whole Social Media series.
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