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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, 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, 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

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.

Camera App Tutorial for Android Devices

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Camera for Android is the best easy-to-use photography app for Android devices that also includes a wide range of control on focus, exposure and white balance. Learn the basic features of the app in this tutorial.

Finding the Right Camera App

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In part one of this three-part series on what to look for in an app, I'm going to share the top things I look for in any camera app. Of course, you can get different features from different apps, but I like to get as much as possible from one app. Here's what to look for:


Four essential features of your camera app:

1) Manual focus and exposure

The number one feature is being able to manually set your focus and exposure. The built-in camera app does allow us to choose one point at which to set both focus and exposure, but you'll notice that won't work in some situations. Additional benefits would include manual white balance and being able to lock these three features so you don't have to set them for each individual photo, if you plan to shoot the same thing over and over again.

2) Option to save to camera roll

Many camera apps come with built-in editing capabilities. Unfortunately, its kind of like a buy one, get one free sale: you get the feature you want and then something else you never wanted/needed. There are so many stand-alone photo editing apps that outperform the built-in options on camera apps. I suggest saving to camera roll and editing elsewhere for more editing flexibility and capability.

3) Volume shutter release option

Your device's built in camera connects to your volume buttons to allow you to snap a photo using these buttons in situations when touching the shutter release button on your screen might shake your device. This feature may not be essential, but it can be very helpful to get crisp, clean, focused shots.

4) Burst shot capability

You've already set your focus and exposure, but often, shooting a burst can be the easiest way to produce a gif in a hurry. It's also great for fast-paced actions, like sports and any sort of jumping-in-the-air shot you might take.


Four features your camera app should probably have:

1) Grid feature

Training your eye to pay attention to the composition of the photo, in addition to the quality, is a struggle. If you can turn on your grid feature, the 9-box outline will be a constant reminder to shoot using the rule of thirds...or, at the very least, a reminder that composition is worth a moment's thought.

2) Horizon level

My students may say my obsession with straight horizons is a bit crazy, but it's a very easy way to differentiate sloppy shooters from people who care about their photo quality. Having this feature turned on will give you a visual cue if you're shooting a bit crooked. Shots from a variety of angles can be really artsy, but a shot where the horizon is only slightly off-kilter just looks amateur, in my opinion.

3) Macro shot option

Basically, this is just a preset to help you quickly take good macro shots. You've probably notice if you get the lens too close to an object (a necessity for a macro shot), the camera can't focus. Normally, you'd have to move the camera away and zoom in on your own. If your camera app has a macro option, you can turn this feature on and the camera will do this step for you.

4) Stabilizer

This is just another option to get clean, crisp photos when moving around with your device.


Four features you probably think are important, but really aren't:

1) Front camera option

You might like this option for taking selfies, but under most circumstances, you can just use the selfie option in your built-in camera. Unless you plan to utilize manual focus and exposure (which most selfies don't require and don't have time for), it's pointless to bring X when Y will do. Plus, I try my best to get good selfies with the rear camera and the volume shutter. On most devices, the front camera is about half as good as the back camera, and I don't want to sacrifice that quality, even for a selfie of me and my cat!

2) A timer

I don't think I've ever used the timer option on my device. If I'm in the shot, it's a selfie. If I'm not in the shot, I'm behind the camera. 'Nuf said.

3) Editing capabilities

Like I mentioned earlier, most camera apps come with some editing options. But, there are plenty of editing apps that far outperform even the best built-in editing studios.

4) Zoom

I always tell my students to zoom with their feet. In fact, I turn off my zoom capability under most circumstances (one exception: macro shots) so I don't fall into the habit of not getting myself close to the action. When we “zoom” with our devices, we are basically cropping in on the original photo—and that means we're losing a lot of quality. Although our phones are increasingly suitable replacements to our digital cameras, we still want the highest quality available, right? I know I do!

You might also have other features you think should come standard, or apps you recommend. If so, consider posting a comment here and helping us all learn how to be better iPhoneographers! Join us here next week as we talk about key features to look for in an editing app!

Camera Plus Tutorial for Apple Devices

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Camera Plus is the best easy-to-use photography app for Apple devices. It includes a wide range of control on focus, exposure and white balance. Learn the basic features of the app in this tutorial.