A mobile video "kit" complete with smartphone, microphone, and LED light.

A mobile video "kit" complete with smartphone, microphone, and LED light.

While researching help on producing short, storytelling videos recently, I stumbled onto a new world of video production. Mobile Journalism, also called "MoJo," has, apparently, become a bit of a revolution in recent years. Though certainly helped along quite a bit by the improvements in smartphones' video recording capabilities, particularly those found in the newest iPhone 7 Plus, the concept is not new. Not according to Michael Rosenblum anyway. Rosenblum has been promoting a more mobile and independent approach to journalism for well over thirty years though he prefers the label Video Journalism, "VJ." He is a former CBS producer but he founded and taught the video techniques he promotes at New York Video School and, more recently, through his and his wife's newer education enterprise, The VJ.com, based in New York City. They have fully embraced the smartphone as an anchor to their recommended kit.

All of this brings us to discussing the minimum equipment requirements to be able to make videos and remain mobile. This is not about mobile journalism, per se, but about being on the go yet prepared to record quality video. So, what does one need? It's really quite simple: a smartphone with an excellent camera. Period! My experiences are with iPhone, the iPhone 7 Plus, specifically. This model and its most recent predecessors not only record excellent video, but capture very good audio if the speaker being recorded is relatively close to the phone. However, what can you add to the smartphone to improve your chances of capturing quality video?

iPhone 7+, ShoulderPod S1 holder, and Røde Smartlav+

iPhone 7+, ShoulderPod S1 holder, and Røde Smartlav+

Some would say that good, quality audio is even more important than the video. So, a good place to start adding to your "kit" is by purchasing a good microphone. Next you want to make sure your video capture is rock solid or steady. Therefore, some sort of holder for your smartphone is useful. Finally, you want to be prepared for when you find yourself in less than ideal lighting situations. Having a reasonably powerful external light is, therefore, good to have at hand.

ShoulderPod S1

ShoulderPod S1

Røde Smartlav+ for IOS devices

Røde Smartlav+ for IOS devices

Let's take a more detailed look at these components. There are lots of options, but I will focus on those things with which I have personal experience. A quick search on either the web or YouTube will expose you to others' recommendations. My experience, as noted, is with the iPhone 7 Plus. We will first address a holder for your smartphone. I have and like the ShoulderPod S1 holder because it adapts to different sized smartphones and because it's base can be removed so you can attach it to a tripod, a hand extender, or a bracket. Initially, let's just use the ShoulderPod as you get it. Next, let's look at microphones and assume that you are recording yourself either in selfie mode or as a narrator behind the camera. For this I recommend the Røde SmartLav+ mic. This mic is made for IOS devices and comes with a 3.5mm jack, which with the version 7 iPhones you plug into the 3.5mm-to-Lightning adaptor that comes with the phone. Now you are holding your iPhone steady and getting crisp audio of yourself talking as you record your video.

The default camera app for iPhone works fine to record video, but I prefer to use the FilmicPro video app since it gives me more control over audio limits and other things. Likewise, the ShoulderPod works fine, but I have crafted a handle extension out of PVC pipe so I have a longer grip.

Røde VideoMicro with an SC7 cable (one end TRS, other TRRS)

Røde VideoMicro with an SC7 cable (one end TRS, other TRRS)

Now let’s address other video situations. You may want to record narrative from someone else, perhaps the subject or subjects of your video, so you will need a mic other than the SmartLav+. I have the Røde VideoMicro mic that has a cold shoe mount that will fit in the flash hot shoe on top of cameras that have them. Since you don’t have such a hot shoe on your smartphone, you need to add one. What I got is what is called an “L” bracket as you can see in the accompanying image. This is where the 1/4-20 connector on the ShoulderPod comes in handy. I remove the bottom piece of the ShoulderPod and screw it onto the bottom screw mount of the “L” bracket. My “L” bracket comes with two cold shoe mounts, one on very top and one on side below the top one. You can slide the Røde VideoMicro mic into either cold shoe. Since the iPhone requires what is called a TRRS jack instead of the standard TRS jack found on most 3.5mm cables, you will need a TRS-to-TRRS adapter cable which you can also get from Røde (model SC3). You now are ready to mount your iPhone in the ShoulderPod, the VideoMicro mic into a cold shoe, plug the VideoMicro cable into the SC3 adapter and then the 3.5mm-to-Lighntning adapter, and then into your iPhone. You hold the “L” bracket by the upright and you are ready to record your subjects. As always, you want to be as close to your subjects as possible.

Aputure AL-M9 Amaran LED Light

Aputure AL-M9 Amaran LED Light

Finally, in our modified, basic setup, we may need light. There are lots of very effective yet small LED lightsavailable, but the one I have and use is the Aputure AL-M9 Amaran LED Light that, though quite small, gives off an amazing amount of light and comes with a cold shoe mount. So, if light is required, you can attach your VideoMicro to the cold shoe mount on the upright part of the “L” bracket and the LED light to the cold shoe on top.

Obviously, this is a bare bones setup and there are lots of ways to change it to get similar results. However, this basic “kit” will make it possible for you to be very mobile and yet give you the flexibility if you need to have an interview mic and/or some fill light.

Here’s the cost breakdown as of this date:

  • ShoulderPod S1 - $35.00
  • Røde SmartLav+ - $69.00
  • “L” Bracket with 2 Hot Shoe Mounts - $9.00
  • Røde VideoMicro - $59.00
  • Røde SC3 cable (TRS-TRRS adapter) - $15.00
  • Aputure AL-M9 Amaran LED Light - $45.00
  • TOTAL: $232.00 (not including smartphone)

Don't be put off by that total cost! Understand that you can make amazing videos with just your smartphone. If you purchase nothing else, invest in some type of holder for your smartphone. The second most important thing to purchase is either a good lavalier mic that will work with your smartphone OR a small mic like the Røde VideoMicro. You do not have to have both, but it is handy. If you limited yourself to a holder and the SmartLav+, now you are talking about an outlay of $104.00.

However, the most important thing if you are interested in experimenting with creating mobile videos is to just do it! So, DO IT!