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7 Awesome New Gadgets to Shoot Better Smartphone Photos + Videos

Here are seven super cool new gadgets on display at Photokina 2016 that will help you shoot better photos and videos on your smartphone. Do you need them? No. But you'll probably want one or two of them...

Lenses, lights and mics, oh my!

Last week, I had the opportunity to go to Photokina, just down the road from my office, in Cologne. Photokina is the world’s largest tradeshow for the photography and imaging industry. Although I was there to report on virtual reality for Newsshooter.com, the mobile journo in me just had to stop and see some of the coolest mobile photography tech.

Here’s the list of my favorites:

Ztylus LED Ring Light

Ztylus LED Ring Light ($54.95)

Ztylus LED Ring Light ($54.95)

There’s a reason I put this as number one. It was seriously cool! This LED ring light ($54.95) attaches to your smartphone to add a boost of soft, appealing light to any photo or video. It comes in three different diffusers—cool, warm and nature—each with a “best use” case. For example, one setting is made for portraiture (i.e. selfies!), while another is perfect for taking food photos.

Although you’re supposed to use this ring light with Ztylus’s iPhone case, for those of us (i.e. ME) who really like our existing smartphone case, you can either connect it with tape, Velcro, or (my favorite) superglueing a tiny and super-powerful neodymium magnet to the ring light to magnetically snap it on and off your smartphone. In my case, a neodymium magnet was strong enough to stick to my phone through my leather Shieldon phone case. #DoubleWin

When in use, simply slide the ring light into position—with your camera lens in the middle of the ring—and turn it on (it’s powered by 3 AAA batteries).

Ztylus also makes some pretty interesting lens kits, too. I got to see and test out the 4-in-1 lens attachment ($99.95), with a macro lens, wide-angle lens, fisheye lens and circular polarizing filter lens. Unfortunately, you do actually need the Ztylus case to effectively use their lenses. The lens has to be perfectly placed—not approximately placed, like we can do with the ring light. Their best-seller, though, is the Z-Prime lens system ($129.99), which comes with glass lenses (rather than the plastic ones from the 4-in-1 kit). The super wide-angle lens and 2X telephoto lens really do improve your photo quality, with minimal vignettes.


Pilotfly SP1 Smartphone Gimbal

Pilotfly SP1 Smartphone Gimbal ($314)

Pilotfly SP1 Smartphone Gimbal ($314)

No matter how much I moved, danced, shook, ran, whatever, my footage consistently came out insanely shake-free with the Pilotfly SP1 ($314). This gimbal comes with four settings to allow you the movement types you want, like panning, without any sort of unwanted movement.

Even though it’s pricy for a smartphone accessory—especially coming from someone like me who talks about getting started with NOTHING—this particular accessory is so worth it in so many different scenarios. For quick interviews, there’s nothing better. Rather than having to set up a tripod, you can just hold the gimbal by hand, and your video will still be really watchable. For shooting b-roll, gorgeous pans, or even shots where you need to follow someone or out the car window ;)

I’m also going to be demonstrating and reviewing the Pilotfly on Newsshooter.com, so keep an eye out for that!


Rode VideoMic Me

Rode VideoMic Me (Price TBD)

Rode VideoMic Me (Price TBD)

Rode Microphones showcased a pretty impressive lightweight directional mic for smartphones at Photokina, the VideoMic Me. It plugs into the audio jack and still provides you with a headphone jack so you can listen to your audio as you record. You can mount it to use with either the front or back camera recording, and it comes with a windscreen (AKA “Dead Cat”).

Although the mic isn’t actually available for purchase yet, you can at least dream about it when you listen to this clip after 4:10.

Rode VideoMic Me sample audio comparison after 4:10 (via Documentally.com)


Sandisk Connect Wireless Stick

SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick ($25-$87)

SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick ($25-$87)

Most of the chatter surrounding Sandisk from Photokina was about their 1 Terabyte memory card, but I want to talk about the Connect Wireless Stick. Now, this one isn’t new, but it’s still awesome. I actually picked up one of these back in May at Mojocon and I use it all the time!

Basically, it allows me to store extra media files on my flash drive and access them wirelessly from my phone, my computer and my tablet. This is immensely helpful when, say, I’m shooting an interview with two cameras—my iPhone and my tablet—and I plan to edit on my computer. Not only that, I can I set it to automatically backup my photos and videos, when connected, so I have them stored in two places, just in case.

It comes in lots of sizes, from 16GB ($25) to 200GB ($87).


Shoulderpod R1 Pro Rig

Shoulderpod R1 Pro Rig ($100)

Shoulderpod R1 Pro Rig ($100)

If you actually end up buying half of the things on this list, your phone is going to get…overencumbered? I mean, there are only so many plug-ins and places to attach things to your phone. Enter Shoulderpod’s R1 Pro Rig ($100). It can hold your smartphone and a couple additional accessories, like lights and mics. Plus, the adapter to hold your phone is much more reliable than those spring-loaded ones. Shake and run all you want, your phone isn’t falling out.

Full disclosure, Shoulderpod did give me an R1 Go Rig, which is super handy if you need to shoot with one hand and want to add an extra accessory. But, I’ve seen a lot of gadgets like this and I really do think they have among the best in quality and, IMO, the cutest.


BrightCast Variable 15

BrightCast Variable 15 ($199 or $299)

BrightCast Variable 15 ($199 or $299)

This one isn’t as much “new” as it is “new to me.” The entire Newsshooter crew was using BrightCast Variable 15 to light their review videos, and plenty of camera lovers passing by were so intrigued by the light they had to touch and play with it (invited or not)! The product was actually announced at NAB earlier this year.

They’re flexible, waterproof, and you can attach the battery pack with Velcro to the back of the light. They come in both a daylight version ($199) and a bi-color version ($299).

Not to mention, the quality is really, really good for how light-weight and durable it is!


Kula’s Bebe 3D smartphone lens

Kula Bebe 3D Smartphone Lens ($79)

Kula Bebe 3D Smartphone Lens ($79)

This was the perfect blend of VR and mojo for me! The Kula Bebe 3D smartphone lens uses a series of mirrors to capture stereoscopic (i.e. 3D) images. It can clip onto any smartphone, and is basically the baby (get it, bebe?) version of Kula’s Deeper 3D lens for DSLR cameras. Once you’ve taken the photo, you can convert it using Kula’s free app to watch on any VR headset, View-Master, cheap-o 3D paper movie glasses or 3D TV.

The Kula Bebe is available for presale now at $79 and ships in November.



About the Author

Sarah Redohl is a new media journalist, focusing on mobile storytelling, 360 video and storytelling for good.

Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, the Travel Channel and National Public Radio, among others, and she has presented on TedX stages, MoJoCon, the What If... Conference series and more. Redohl has won regional and national awards for her visual storytelling, and is recognized as one of Folio: Magazine's 15 Under 30 young professionals driving media's next-gen innovation.

She's passionate about bringing storytelling tools to small businesses and nonprofits, and is part of a journalism collaborative that aims to bring the power of storytelling to nonprofit agencies in developing countries where stories might otherwise go untold. 

Connect with Sarah on TwitterInstagramPinterest andLinkedIn.


Your Sound IS Your Story

audio, interview, voiceover, apple, android, tutorial, video, smartphone, video smartphone, content marketing, mobile storytelling, videography, storytelling, apps, applications,

Choosing the best microphone and using proper microphone handling techniques can make a big difference in your audio quality, and ultimately, in your story.

In videography, sound makes up 51 percent of the audience's experience. The sound IS the story. It propels the narrative forward. It creates a mood, gives great color to people and places and directs the audience's emotional experience, which is so important in audience engagement.

If an audience has to choose between shaky video and great sound, or poor sound quality and great video footage, they are far more likely to choose the video with great sound. They can always use their imagination to mentally construct the surroundings. Think about it. We have NPR pieces that create so much depth you feel as though you're there. But a photo without a caption gives us a very little bit of the story.

Secondly, even though you should always strive for good video quality, you can always use still images, animation, graphics and other visuals to fill in the gaps. There's no substitute, though, for good sound. It's also very time consuming, and sometimes impossible, to edit bad audio. And we want to keep video production as simple as possible to produce amazing videos for your business. Using a mic is a key part of collecting good audio.

You've probably heard photographers say the best camera is the one they have with them. It's the same with microphones. But you should always have some audio solution outside of the mic built in to your phone or camera.

How you use the mic will depend on what sort of mic you have: built-in mics, in-line mics, a lavalier mic, a shotgun mic, and handheld mics.

Types of Microphones

Built-in microphone

This is the mic within your device. The sound, if close to the speaker in a very quiet setting, will be passable. But since this mic must be where the camera is, chances are it will be so far away from the speaker that it will pick up a lot of ambient noise even in a relatively quiet place, and will make it seem like the interview subject is far away. If you must use the built-in mic, it should be placed 6-12 inches from the sound source, if possible.

In-line microphone

An in-line mic, the one on your headphones, can make for an pretty good substitute if you don't have any other mic options except the built-in mic, and you can't get it very close. It cancels out some of the ambient noise in and gets you closer to the subject. You can use a hairpin or a safety pin, or even just tuck it into their shirt collar to attach it, preferably about four or six inches from the mouth. Two things to keep in mind when using this mic: hide the cords as best as you can and frame close (the cord doesn't stretch very far, though there are extension cable options).

Lavalier microphone

A lavalier microphone, or lapel mic, is a small mic that clips to your subject's shirt. It's great for interviews, especially if the person is going to be moving around, this is a great option. There are wireless lav mics, and wired lav mics, most of which have a long cord to allow for motion. Placement is very important. The mic should be about six inches below your source's chin. You will need to make sure to hide wires and limit any head turning from your source, of the clothing getting between the mic and your speaker's mouth.

Shotgun microphone

A shotgun, or boom, mic is mounted outside the shot, just out of frame. You'll either require someone to hold the boom mic, a boom arm, or an attachment to connect it to your device. It's a favorite for TV and movie sets. It's very directional, so it works well in isolating the sound you want to record, but if slightly off, may not be picking up the sound at all, so you should definitely wear headphones when using one.

Handheld microphone

A handheld, or stick, mic is also a good option, and common. Like the shotgun mic, unless you're going for a reporter-style look, it should be kept out of frame. They're portable and durable and can be used in a lot of environments. They're great for gathering natural and ambient sound, and recording voice overs, because you can get it quite close to the source of the sound. When using a handheld mic, you'll also want to hold the mic at a 45 degree angle from the sound. Otherwise, some some sounds will sound stunted if your mic is directed straight at the sound.

Rules of Thumb

Regardless of what type of mic you end up using, once you're recording, you shouldn't touch the microphone. Because sound quality can vary based on distance, if you move the mic closer or further away from the source, the recording volume will sound very different. If you're recording audio or video footage on two devices at one time, be sure to clap at the start of each clip to save time syncing, or matching, the clips when editing.

In addition to choosing, and placing, your mic, you also need to have a way to monitor the audio you're collecting. Many audio recording apps give you the option to adjust your gain, or the level at which you're recording audio, within the app. This is useful because it will allow you to keep a wide variety of audio volumes at an even level, so your audience doesn't need to manually change the volume themselves. For example, if you're switching between a quiet, calm interview and the noise of a busy basketball arena. If your app or microphone doesn't allow you to adjust the gain, it's all the more important that you wear headphones.

Headphones are the only way to really make sure the audio you're collecting is good. You might see sound waves “recording” only to discover later that much of the sound is the hum of a refrigerator, the flush or a toilet, or some static.

With proper microphone use and placement, and some way to monitor your audio, collecting high quality audio is absolutely within reach.

The 10 Commandments of Voice Over Excellence

voiceover, interview, audio, video, smartphone, video smartphone, content marketing, mobile storytelling, videography, storytelling, audio

Five or six years ago, almost to the day, you would have found me running—hunched over, mic in hand—next to an electric bicycle to get a rich, mixed sound of the spokes and the hum of the motor for a radio piece I was producing.

I’ve invaded peoples’ personal space beyond measure, I’ve climbed trees, laid on the ground and more.

Most recently, as I’ve been producing more pieces with minimal equipment, my partner has found me me hiding in our closet, in a self-made comforter fort, and with my head burrowed down into the closed end of a sleeping bag. All in the name of a good voice over.

So, to help you hack your way to a good voice over, I’ve listed out the 10 commandments of voice over excellence.


1) Use a microphone.

There is really never a time when you shouldn’t be using a mic if you can. There are so many inexpensive options—you can even use your in-line mic on your headphones—that there’s no reason not to.

For more, check out this mic test:

2) Find a soft, quiet place.

This may sound weird, but it’s one of the easiest things you can do to improve the audio quality of your voice over. Think closets, sleeping bags and comforter forts. Anyone who’s heard an echo should know why soft spaces are important. Your audio will bounce off of hard surfaces and sound hollow on your recording, even if you’re in a space where you can’t hear an echo with the naked ear.

3) Listen for hums.

There are sounds that we naturally tend to tune out, like the hum of fluorescent lights or a refrigerator. When you’re recording audio, you have to pay extra attention to these sounds.

Although I say “hums,” I’m really talking about any sounds that we tend to tune out, including soft music—a frequent problem in retail spaces and impossible to edit with! Once, I was recording an interview in a hallway near a bathroom. If I had not been wearing headphones, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the faint (but obvious) toilet flushes in the distance.

4) Pay attention to your audio levels.

If you’re using one of the apps I’ve recommended, you already have an audio meter function available to you. The loudest parts of your voice over should just be getting into the yellow—and never into the red!

Your audio levels are visible in the audio meter at the top left of this photo.

Your audio levels are visible in the audio meter at the top left of this photo.

5) Write a good script.

There’s more to come on writing an excellent script, but some key points you should take away now are to keep it simple and conversational (Think: How would I tell my mom this story?) and read your script out loud as you write to make sure things flow as you think they will. Oh, and don’t use pronouns (he, she, it) and long words where short ones will do.

6) Place your mic right.

Most mic you’ll use will need to be about 6 inches away from your mouth, and placed at a slight angle to avoid popping Ps and Ts.

Once you’re recording, your mic should be in one place—and that includes the cord and the recording device. Stay as still as you can to avoid any handling noise.

7) Talk with confidence and a smile.

You can tell when the receptionist or customer service representative on the other end of the line is smiling or not. So, you need to be cheerful when doing your voice over. Even if it feels bizarre to be in a comforter fort, in the dark, smiling. We’ve all been there. Or at least I have.

Similarly, if you want to give your customers confidence that your business knows what it’s doing, you need to speak with confidence, even if you hate the sound of your own voice, or feel silly hanging out in your fort.

8) Turn on airplane mode.

This is true anytime you’re recording anything, your device should be in airplane mode. Is knowing that your best friend from high school tagged you in a #TBT post really worth ending your recording and missing out on good audio?

9) Record one minute of ambient sound.

Even if you follow all the rules above, chances are wherever you’re recording your audio still has its own unique sound, even in silence. So, collect one minute of ambient sound that you can use to slowly fade out your voice over sound bites.

10) Check your audio.

Before you crawl out of your sleeping bag, closet, or other random soft space, be sure to listen to your audio and make sure it sounds up to par. Otherwise, you might be building that comforter fort again, my friend.

If you follow these 10 commandments, you will see a significant improvement to your voice over audio quality.