Three Must-Have Apps for Cinematographers

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There is a plethora of apps out there, geared toward cinematographers. While many are useful, I’ve decided to share the three apps to which I find myself returning regularly. They have earned a place in my digital toolkit and, in my eyes, are must-haves for any DP or camera assistant.

Please note: As an iPhone user, I can only comment on the functionality of these apps on iOS devices.

Sun Seeker - $6.99 (iPhone), $5.99 (Android)

Cinematographers always have an eye on the sun, and want to know where it will be at every hour during a shoot. When will the sunlight come through that window? How will I have to move the actor to keep a consistent backlight when shooting outdoors? What will my shadows look like two hours from now? Sun Seeker gives you the answers to these questions, and more.

The app provides a flat map view for checking the solar position and path of the sun for each hour of daylight. The free Lite version is limited to only the current day, while the full version lets you select future dates—great for planning a shoot months in advance. But the real reason you want to pay for the full version is the 3D function, which overlays the sun’s position and path over your phone camera’s live view. Simply move the camera around your location and see where the sun will be at all times. I find this app invaluable, especially during location scouting and planning a shooting schedule.

Shot Designer (Pro) - $19.99 (iPhone, Android)

This is a powerful app that combines camera diagrams, shots lists, and storyboards in one intuitive interface. What I really liked about the Shot Designer is how fast and streamlined it makes the entire planning process, even when creating complicated tracking shots with multiple marks. Everything in this app is connected, so any change you make to the camera diagram will update the shot list, and vice-versa. It will even animate actor and camera movements for you.

Another useful feature is the app’s ability to upload storyboard frames directly to the diagram, so you can better visualize what camera angles look like. As an alternative, you can also use the built-in director’s viewfinder to save images while location scouting or blocking out scenes beforehand. Like the storyboard frames, these images can also be uploaded to the diagram and provide useful information such as focal length, format, and aspect ratio.

Again, I recommend paying for the Pro version of the app, as it allows you to not only work on multiple scenes, but also sync your diagrams across several devices, including the desktop version, which is included when you upgrade to Pro. I also recommend using a tablet for this app, as the interface really benefits from a larger screen. Give the free version a test first and see if it’s for you.

pCam Film+Digital Calculator ($29.99) – iPhone

While the first two apps mentioned are pre-production oriented, this third app is a production workhorse. Developed by Camera Assistant David Eubank, pCam has been recognized by the Primetime Emmy Awards and the Society of Camera Operators—and rightly so. It performs nearly any calculation you need to make on set. I use it mostly for depth-of-field calculations, and that alone makes it my most frequently used app. The ability to quickly reference the depth of field of a given shot is crucial, and this app makes it quick and easy.

But of course, it does more than just calculate DoF. It also calculates field of view, light-beam intensity, exposure, helps with filter selection, and includes a huge selection of different film and digital formats to choose from—and that’s just the short list. This is one of those rare apps that I feel justifies its price and deserves a place on every camera assistant’s phone.

So there you have it, my top three apps for cinematographers. Have a favorite app of your own that you think is a must-have? Tell us about it in the Comments section below.