How to Shoot Epic Slow Motion Video Without An Expensive Camera

How to Shoot Epic Slow Motion Video Without An Expensive Camera

March 11, 2021
Ben Thompson

Capture dramatic slow motion video with your phone to turn any stale footage into an epic shot.

From covering how to edit on affordable cloud-powered PCs on our blog to sharing some of the best free VFX assets in the industry, ActionVFX is committed to providing you with the best tips and tools to help you maximize your budget, while at the same time elevating your production value.

Today, we're going to look at how you can make low-budget projects look more cinematic by augmenting your footage with dramatic slow motion captured on your mobile phone.

Slow Motion - Not Just for Cinema Cameras

High Frame Rate video allows for so many creative possibilities. From slowing down epic action scenes to turning ordinary, mundane footage into something atmospheric and contemplative, slow motion video instantly conveys a sense of polish and high production value.

While HFR functionality is becoming more ubiquitous with almost every high-end mirrorless or cinema camera release, it often comes at a premium cost. It's tempting to consider purchasing a new camera for this feature alone. However, if you have a recent popular smartphone, chances are you've already got a pretty impressive slow motion camera you may not have even given much thought to.

For example, the recent Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21+ are capable of shooting up to a whopping 960 fps, allowing you to turn a half-second of high-action video into a mesmerizing 16-seconds of slow motion goodness. While most other flagship cameras tend to top out at 240 fps, that’s still a perfectly adequate rate for achieving smooth slow motion.

Below is a great comparison of slow motion video capabilities between some of the most popular mobile phones of the last year, including the iPhone 11 Pro Max, Pixel 4 XL, and Galaxy S20 Ultra.

Pros and Cons of Slow Motion on Mobile Cameras

First, it's a much cheaper alternative (albeit with tradeoffs). Rapidly advancing mobile phone processors coupled with evolving camera technology provide one of the most cost-effective solutions for capturing high-quality slow motion video.

While a cinema camera can capture a true 120-240 fps or even more, a mobile phone's slow motion will approximate a high frame rate during filming and simply output a 30 or 60 fps video file. This means your slow motion will be baked into the video, resulting in a drastically reduced and also visually compressed video file. 

This can make or break your shot, so it’s important to know how well your phone's camera truly performs with slow motion and whether or not it will work well if mixed with footage from your primary camera. Simply conducting a few field tests can go a long way in helping you know what to expect from your phone's camera.  

On a standard mirrorless or cinema camera, HFR video often takes up a lot of space due to the high number of frames captured. While this gives you a lot of flexibility in post-production, you may discover the slow motion on your phone can capture at an even higher frame rate than your cinema camera, and yet retain a much more manageable file size. 

Storing just a couple of minutes of high-quality HFR video from a standard camera can easily take up dozens of gigabytes, if not more.

Tips for Shooting Slow Motion on a Mobile Camera

If you're using your primary camera for the majority of the video, but your phone's camera for slow motion, you'll need to do some color matching in post. Using a color chart can drastically improve your ability to match the two separate cameras.
Be sure, as with any HFR filming, that you have an ample amount of light, otherwise the camera may render a severely degraded image. For added stability in slow motion sequences, you may want to consider using a mobile gimbal.

Also, be sure to pick scenes that are best suited for slow motion, and also know which frame rate works best according to the context of the scene. Many cameras nowadays have multiple slow motion settings, so while choosing an ultra slow motion framerate may not be ideal for a standard walking shot (as mentioned in the video above), it can look incredible for slowing down a scene with a lot of action and detail.

Editing Slow Motion Speed Transitions on Your Phone

While slow motion can be baked into your output file as we discussed earlier, most mobile phones also offer the ability to retime your slow motion clip on the phone itself.

This allows you to select and trim the moment you want the slow motion to take effect on your footage from within your phone's camera gallery. Once you save the video on your phone, it will have the mixed result of normal speed transitioning into slow-mo (or vice versa).
This is a great way to really elevate the dramatic effect of slow motion on your footage.

A Smart Alternative to Mobile Camera Slow Motion 

Maybe you have an older phone, don’t want to use a mobile gimbal, or you would prefer a separate camera for slow motion (but you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on a new cinema camera). An ideal companion for any filmmaker is the DJI Pocket 2, which can shoot up to 240 fps. 
You can check out our dive into the DJI Pocket 2 for more info on its additional features.

Having a dedicated camera and integrated gimbal system can undoubtedly provide outstanding sequences with the right cinematography, and it honestly may be a superior choice over even the most expensive mobile phones for achieving high-quality slow motion on a budget.

While the quality of slow motion on mobile phones is outmatched at the moment by cinema and higher-end mirrorless cameras (for now), mobile slow motion can be an excellent solution for creating engaging social content, exciting product videos, BTS footage, or even great B-cam footage (depending on your project).  

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