How to Use your iPad to Record Video

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Go to nearly any tourist attraction these days, and you will see quite a few people taking pictures and video with their iPads. Now, I’ve groaned to myself in the past whenever I’d see that transpire, often thinking, “Why don’t they just use a real camera, or even a cell phone?” It seems so impractical to use an iPad, of all things. However, as iPads have grown in their processing abilities and their ubiquity, I have come to realize that with a little help from additional software and hardware, the iPad can be made into a powerful filmmaking tool. Not just for running ancillary apps to assist you in your filmmaking (as we’ve covered here), but as an actual video camera that can be used to tell your story.

Ever since the capability for shooting HD-resolution video on iOS devices was introduced, filmmakers of all backgrounds put them to use in some form or fashion if the need arose. The iPhone, especially, has been used exclusively on countless productions ranging from small no-budget projects to high-end commercial shoots, like this one for Bentley Motors, shot entirely on iPhone 5s cameras. In 2012, the comparatively diminutive iPhone 4s showed that it could hang with the big boys at Zacuto’s Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout where they pitted it against industry-standard cameras like the ARRI Alexa and the Canon C300, which cost many, many times more. The shootout is definitely worth watching if you have the time. So, now that we’ve established that iOS devices can, in fact, shoot video that is useable in situations beyond tourist traps, let’s dive into how you can get some good quality, and even cinematic footage out of your iPad’s camera.

The first thing that should be understood about the iPad, to know what to expect of it is that, first and foremost, an iPad is a computer. Now, one can make an argument that any digital camcorder is a computer; however, those “computers” are purpose-built tools whose singular purpose is to record video. Their special internal hardware is programmed to perform that function and maybe a few others, besides. That internal hardware is then enclosed in an (ideally) ergonomic casing so it can be comfortably held for long periods of time and have accessories mounted on it. The body itself also has controls for the camcorder’s various functions, as well as mounting points so it can be supported by grip equipment, such as tripods. Some camcorders even have the ability to swap lenses and even image sensors for different image-making possibilities. Comparatively, the iPad is a flat slab of a chassis with one side dominated by a touchscreen, with the intention of being used held in the hand or resting on a flat surface; not ideal for holding out in front of you at a proper angle to capture video. However, the internal hardware and software is what can make the iPad shine. Unlike dedicated camcorders, with their discrete image-processing hardware, the iPad has much more computing power at its disposal, so with a little homework, you can put that hardware to good use recording video. To recap, the fact that the iPad is essentially a computer is its greatest weakness, but also its greatest strength.

So, what can we do to make your everyday iPad a seriously capable camcorder? First, we have to improve the iPad’s internal ability to capture video. It already has an image sensor and a lens, but out of the box, the only programs that use it are Facetime and the less than fully functional camera app. While the built-in camera app may be all right for the occasional quick video, where you don’t really care about what the camera does as long as your image is exposed correctly, it’s far too limiting for any serious use. Luckily, there are quite a few development teams who have taken it upon themselves to create apps that really take advantage of the electronics in the iPad. My personal favorite app (and one I use on my iPhone all the time) is FiLMiC Pro. FiLMiC Pro’s most basic functionality allows you to adjust your frame rates (rather than have you stuck at boring 30p) and lock your exposure and focus based on where you drag the on-screen reticles in your scene.

In the photo above, of my impromptu camera-testing station (a.k.a. my desk), I have my focus reticle set on the wooden camera, and the exposure reticle set on the pad of paper to make the overall exposure based on the brightness of that spot (since the paper is white, the shot is underexposed). When the reticles are red, they are locked, so even if you move the camera, your exposure and focus will remain set. This prevents the telltale exposure and focus shifts all too common in default camera programs. You can also purposefully change the exposure the way I did for this next shot.

For this shot, I moved the exposure reticle to a darker spot on the image to purposefully overexpose the picture. However, the ability to control your exposure is no longer limited to having those reticles. If you hold down the exposure, focus, or white balance locks, a slider will appear, allowing you to adjust those values individually. Advanced features include preset focus pulls and individual adjustment of exposure compensation, shutter speed, and ISO. As of this writing, the apertures on all iPad built-in lenses are fixed and cannot be adjusted. Audio can be monitored and adjusted manually, as well, although the internal recording capabilities with the internal microphone are not exactly stellar. Then again, if you really want to record audio internally, you will need some additional external equipment (we’ll get to that later). I’ve only touched on the more basic functionality of FiLMiC Pro, but just knowing that manual control of the essential settings is available from third parties makes the iPad’s video capability that much more practical.

We’ve covered manual control of video settings, so let’s move on to the next important piece of the video pie: audio. Audio quality probably affects your general production quality more than any other single factor. Subpar video quality can sometimes be forgiven, but bad audio quality will often take the audience right out of your story. Unlike the visual aspect, getting useable “in-camera,” or single-system audio, is not as straightforward when working with an iPad. While the iPad can record some excellent-looking video and record some rather high-quality audio, doing both at the same time can be a little more difficult. Getting scratch audio from the built-in mic is easy within most video recording apps, but that’s about as much as you can use it for. Even higher quality microphones that can plug directly into the iPad won’t really cut it for more than a backup track or ambient sound recording. Another issue when using microphones that plug into the headphone jack is that you generally lose any ability to monitor your audio for a bad take. For the best-quality audio, I recommend going with double-system sound, especially when under a lot of time pressure—the iPad is right at home as a separate recorder for audio in a double-system setup. After all, many DSLR filmmakers already deal with this issue.

"...the fact that the iPad is essentially a computer is its greatest weakness, but also its greatest strength."

Let’s bring this all together. You have your boosted video-recording software and either a viable single- or double-audio solution. All this must be compiled into a unified package. Even though there is nothing technically separating the iOS devices that the average consumer and the Bentley commercial shooters use, in this case it’s about what’s outside (pun intended). You’re probably going to want a rig. Just like any camera setup, a rig makes the camera more easily applicable to your specific style of filmmaking, but since an iPad is not your average video camera, an iPad rig has to do a little more in the ways of making the tablet physically useable as a video camera. Fortunately, this niche in the market is filled with quite a few options as far as cases are concerned. Now, these aren’t your average svelte iPad cases with leatherette finishes or magnetic closures; these are purpose built for filmmaking. Most of these cases feature tripod mounts and multiple accessory mounting points for lights or microphones by way of standard cold shoes. Some cases, like these from IOGRAPHER, have built-in handles; essential for more comfortable handheld operation. Is the lens on your iPad too wide? Or do you need to get more of your surroundings into your shot? You will find that iPads are not being left out of the interchangeable-lens game. Some cases even come with lenses to expand your shooting options straight away. Armed with one of the cases available, you can start building up a rig with lenses, lights, microphones, external audio recorders, and other accessories that really fits your workflow and your shooting style. You don’t even need an external monitor with that huge screen! On the other hand, if you want to delve right into iPad filmmaking with a full-featured kit, it may be worth your while to look into kits like these, which come with everything you will need for a high-quality iPad video experience.

Possibly the only serious disadvantage to working with an iPad for video is the internal battery. While it is rechargeable, it’s not replaceable, and at the time of this writing I don’t know of any serious options for mounting external and easily replaceable batteries directly on the iPad. While you can probably jury-rig something, my suggestion would be to either try to remain plugged in to the wall or a USB port as much as possible, or load up on inexpensive battery packs. It’s not an elegant solution, but it will keep you powered up during your shoot. Just keep in mind that some audio solutions require access to the Lightning or 30-pin connector on your iPad, and will prevent you from connecting an external power source.

Once you have your iPad kitted out with the right hardware and software, you can tap into that tremendous potential that lies within the iPad’s video capabilities. Heck, you can even edit and share a finished product without having the footage leave the iPad! Do I think that professional filmmakers will be leaving their dedicated cameras for an iPad anytime soon? Well, I wouldn’t put money on it; however, being able to use such a ubiquitous device as a high-quality tool for video acquisition is really worth consideration from pros and amateurs alike, especially in a pinch where you can only bring one device with you. And, as the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. And with all these options, using an iPad for filmmaking no longer has to be a compromise.

16 Comments

I use Avdshare Video Converter  to Convert any Canon camera or camcorder recorded video format which is unsupported by iPad or iPhone to iPad or iPhone supported one.

Hello, 

After you record via ipad, what would be the best way to use the footage for post-production purposes. To rephrase my questions, how would you process the footage for production? Would you need to transfer the footage to an Apple IMac or can you process it in your Ipad?  Many thanks, 

Which of today’s iPads would be best for video recording and editing of a basketball game? Thank you. 

Hi Trent -

The updated 12.9" iPad Pro from Apple features a redesigned display and updated hardware to accelerate and enhance user experience. Its display has a resolution of 2732 x 2048, a brightness of 600 cd/m2, support for the P3 color gamut, an anti-reflective coating, and a 120 Hz refresh rate thanks to ProMotion technology. A faster refresh rate delivers fluid interactions for both your finger and the Apple Pencil so you can draw and write naturally without lag as you would on paper.

Powering the iPad is the Apple A10X chip, which consists of a 6-core CPU and a 12-core GPU. This 64-bit chip can deliver desktop-class CPU performance and console-class graphics. The faster performance allows you to multitask with ease, using iOS 10 features, such as Picture in Picture, Slide Over, and Split View. Also, the iPad Pro is capable of editing 4K video, rendering 3D models/images, creating/editing complex documents and presentations, and playing games. For your files, apps, photos, and more, it's equipped with 512GB of flash storage.

The iPad Pro comes with iOS 10 installed, which features proactive assistance as well as powerful search and improved Siri features, all while protecting your privacy. There are multitasking features designed specifically for iPad which allow you to use multiple apps simultaneously, and built-in apps become more powerful with Notes, detailed transit information in Maps, and the News app. The foundation of iOS is even stronger with software updates that require less space to install and advanced security features to further protect your device.

While the Retina Display of the iPad Pro features multi-touch capabilities, Apple does offer alternative ways of interacting with the iPad Pro. The Apple Pencil is an optional accessory that can capture twice as many data points as your finger for greater precision. Force and tilt sensors transmit precise information to the iPad Pro so you can intuitively lay down lines of varying thickness and opacity. The Smart Keyboard is another optional accessory that connects to the Smart Connector on the iPad Pro, which means you don't have to use Bluetooth. The Smart Keyboard has Apple's dome switches for precision typing. The Apple 12.9" iPad Pro includes a Lightning to USB cable and a USB power adapter. Protection is provided by a limited 1-year warranty, which can be extended using AppleCare.

I am glad to see how you can use an iPhone for recording the videos.You can shoot the video with HD Resolution to give the better Quality.Smart video can also use the iPhone to record the video and also give the knowledge how it can be edit the videos in iPhone. 

All the links you provided for mounts/cases, lenses and accessories are for the iphone. I cannot see anything that actually fits the ipad.

i'm sorry my last message had a typo.

I was wondering if there's a way that I can use FaceTime, on my iPad mini while using my iRig set up. I want to be able to do live videos while playing my music. But the sound doesn't go through. Is there anyway around this?

Hi Brian - 

You sure can with the iRig MIC Cast.  Check-out this video from IK Multimedia;    http://bit.ly/1zPIRvY

 I want to be able to use FaceTime and use my I rate for amplitude or amp kit, while doing live videos with the same device. I use an iPad mini. Is this possible?

Hi Brian - 

You sure can with the iRig MIC Cast.  Check-out this video from IK Multimedia;    http://bit.ly/1zPIRvY

if I want to record myself and use the front facing lens on the ipad is that possible?.  I want to shoot great looking video of myself talking on dfferent subjects. Even better if I can look at the front screen as I am shooting the video.

Hi gomanred -

You can use the FaceTime HD camera which will record at 720p HD only.
 

So how do I sync audio from another device when using the IPad for filming ?

In an external app ... most likely iMovie, Final Cut or an Adobe solution (there are tons more). I have been personally using a ZOOM H2N as a secondary audio recorder. I also play a sound to signal the beginning of each take to avoid video sync issues later. This is part of the idea behind the "clack" of a slate with the time code and such used in professional movie projects. 

a question... my wife has a brand new gen6 ipad (it was sitting for a year, just opened it) - i recorded her and her friends doing a small concert on wed .. what i notice is that the video and audio is a bit out of sync... is this a flaw , or can i change a setting/s .... its not like an old japanese movie, but it def out of sync... thanks

Hi Ronald - 

If you haven't already, force quit the Camera and Photos apps then restart your iPad. These steps can resolve many unexpected behaviors.
Force an app to close on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch

Restart your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch

If the issue persists, reinstall iOS with iTunes. This step can resolve possible software issues. When reinstalling iOS, iTunes will completely remove your current software and install a fresh version. While iTunes will try to do this without removing data, it's a good idea to make sure you have a recent backup before trying this step.
How to back up your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch

Use the steps in the link below to reinstall iOS with iTunes:
If you can't update or restore your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch
 

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