With more than 365 million Apple mobile devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch) and 350 million Android devices in consumers' hands, it's easy to say that more folks have access to a video camera than ever before.
By Jefferson Graham
But how to take advantage of the surprisingly robust video features offered by the mobile devices?
It's a question many are grappling with, as they produce shaky videos with poor sound that don't look as polished as some of the best work on YouTube and Facebook.
There are easy solutions.
In a nutshell, steady the image and improve the sound, and you're halfway home. The good news: You don't need a big video camera anymore to get great videos.
The cameras in smartphones have so improved that with a little thought and some tools, you can make great-looking work.
Here's what you need:
•Studio Neat Glif ($20) connects your smartphone to a tripod. If you don't have a tripod, you can skip that step and pay $40 for Joby's Gorrillamobile. The phone fits directly onto the portable tripod with bendable legs. You could put the unit on a table, for instance, or bend it onto the back of a chair. A bracket can also help — try the $10 Heavy Duty L-bracket from photo retailer Adorama. With this, you can add a light as well.
•iPad. Musicians have turned to IK Multimedia's $40 iKlip as a way to hold their iPad on microphone stands, to easily turn the pages of their sheet music at gigs when performing. The iKlip also works great for video: Place the iPad into the unit and start recording high-def video without having to worry about shaky images.
Tip: A word of caution for all three devices — remember to shoot in horizontal mode. When you flip the screens vertically, you only record part of the image — which looks OK for photos, but terrible for video.
The audio from the internal microphones on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch is terrible. There are simple solutions to dramatically improve your audio, and while they're not cheap, they will make a huge difference in your videos.
You have three options: a microphone, a cable to connect the mike to the iPhone, or an audio recorder.
•Mike cables. Action Life Media has a $29.99 cable that will hook a microphone with a ⅓-inch connection directly into the iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad's headphone input. The company also sells cable connectors for higher-end mikes with XLR inputs.
•Microphones. If you're looking to do an interview with Grandma about her early days, or a chat with your son about this weekend's soccer game, you could buy the same kind of mike you see folks wearing every day on TV — a lavalier mike that hangs on their lapel. Mikes aren't cheap, but you could start with an entry-level model from the likes of RadioShack, which offers one for just $39.99. Another option: IK Multimedia's iRig Cast is a small $39.99 mike that plugs directly into the iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. It will do wonders in relatively quiet rooms, but in a crowd — such as a party or bar — it won't make much of a difference.
•Audio recorder. My favorite go-to device is the $299 Zoom H4n audio recorder. You can plug two microphones directly into it (great for interviews) and also make use of its two, excellent internal microphones as well, which, if they're placed close enough to you in a quiet room, will sound just as good as the lavalier mike. (The audio won't go directly to the camera — you'll have to marry it with your video file when you start editing. The easiest way is to make your own "Clapper," the tool that's been used at the beginning of movies since the Charlie Chaplin era. Just clap your hands when you start recording — or use an app, as described at right.) If $299 is too steep, consider Zoom's entry-level model. The H1 sells for about $100 and has one mike input and one internal mike.
Tip: Before you start recording, don't forget to turn on the Airplane Mode in general settings — otherwise an incoming call could cancel out what you're doing.
There are hundreds of great photo and video apps for Apple devices. Here's a handful of my favorites:
•Filmic Pro. A huge drawback to shooting video on smartphones is that you can't adjust the exposure: Everything's automatic. Well, here's a $3 workaround. With this app, you can tweak exposure slightly by putting your finger on the iPhone or Android phones and make sections of the image lighter or darker.
•Almost DSLR. For $2 you can adjust and lock focus on Apple devices — vital tools.
•DollyCam. This $3 app does an amazing job of steadying your image for the iPhone and iPod Touch. You start off by shooting your video the normal way, and then, when the take is finished, you process it, which can take a few minutes.
•Clappers. There are many clapper apps for Apple and Android — little slates that snap in place to give you an audio cue to sync up your audio and video footage in editing. The basic Clapperboard app for Apple is $1.99. SyncSlate for Android is free. You can work your way up the chain to a $24.99 MovieSlate app that also has room for a shot log and notepad.
Tip: Apps are so cheap, try a bunch out until you find the ones you like. They can really make a difference in your final product.
Really fun stuff
•Action Life Media's mCamlite (formerly the Owle Bubo) is a four-sided grip that goes over the iPhone and iPod Touch to effectively steady your hand while you're shooting, almost (but not entirely) eliminating the need for a tripod. The $159.95 mCam has four inputs for tripods, along with a "cold shoe" — a slot that lets you attach an external light —and a small external microphone.
•The Steadicam Smoothee for iPhone 4 is modeled after the popular devices used by pros in the movies and TV shows to zip the camera across the screen. Tiffen, which makes Steadicams for big cameras starting at $700, has the junior version for the iPhone at $149, and with it, you'll be able to take amazing walking shots without the usual jerky motion you'd see without it.
•The Olloclip $70 add-on lens slips directly over the iPhone and iPod Touch camera to give you fish-eye, wide-angle and macro views. It brings an ultracool look to your projects.
USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham is the author of the recently published Video Nation: A DIY Guide to Planning, Shooting and Sharing Great Video.