Sand dunes

I bought my Samsung Galaxy S8+ phone last March after reading reviews about its ability to take good quality photos and videos. Since owning it, I’ve not really had a chance to test it for producing videos at a professional capacity, and it wasn’t until a recent biological field trip to Spain that I discovered that my phone had more uses beyond a glorified pictorial shopping list as a reminder of the brands that I liked.

I have been fortunate in that this was my second visit to Spain with the first year students on the Biology Course. Last year, we captured a lot of interviews and plant and insect tutorials, but because of the amount of walking we had to do, I decided not to carry a heavy tripod with me.  The resulting video footage was OK, but was a bit wobbly where I hand held the camera. My colleague Sarah used her phone placed on a hand held gimbal which helped to stabilise videos.

Sarah using mobile fixed onto a gimble

Preparing for the trip

In the Digital Learning Media team, the minimal kit we use is: a professional 4k video camera, tripods, lighting, mic packs, and audio recorder in order to have full control of lighting and sound, to produce learning content of the best possible quality. Filming off premises means taking enough kit to cover all eventualities and this year was no exception as we were testing a new 360 camera. The amount of kit we took was heavier than my actual suitcase.

Expect the unexpected

Even though we had packed all this kit, there were several occasions when I couldn’t use the main camera and tripod, so this was a good opportunity to test my phone to see if the quality would be good enough:

The rain in Spain …

The first morning we went out, the light rain turned heavy and persistent so we had to pack the camera kit away as it was not waterproof…. Didn’t think to use my phone but wished I had.

When main camera is otherwise engaged …

It wasn’t until Marine day that I actually used my phone for video and photos. We got up really early to catch the low tide and I had set up the camera to capture a time lapse of the sunrise. Whilst this was happening, the students were coming in with lots of samples of marine species found in the rock pools. These are some of the shots that I took using my phone:

Sea crab    Sea cucumber    Sea hare    

When in a tight spot

I needed to film and photograph a small chameleon we found in one of the bushes in the forest.  Although chameleons are quite slow, this one thought that we were an imminent threat and kept moving around towards the thicker parts of the bush. It was difficult to get a camera and tripod into the bush as well as operating the camera and by the time the focus was set, it had moved on. Having my phone was a total blessing; I was able to squeeze right into the bush and capture close up footage at awkward angles.


Keeping a lid on it

The insects that the students found were bought back into the lab for teaching purposes and later released. I took this opportunity to take photographs of some of the arthropods that were found . Taking the lid off the tubs, I could rest my phone on top to take my photos. The phone was large enough to cover the tub and stop the arthropods from escaping; however, with the tarantula and scorpion, the lid was definitely staying on.

Scopion         Woodlice


So having fully road-tested my camera phone, I can now conclude with a list of pros and cons of using a phone for filming and photographing.


Phone cameras are getting better, mine films at 3840 x 2160 resolution and images at 4032 x 1960 72 dpi.

Easy to carry and much lighter than a digital SLR.

Can attach phone to a hand held gimbal making it easier to move around and create a smooth stabilized shot.

Good for point and shoot videos.


Audio – maybe not so good outside (wind noise) and from a distance but can use a separate audio recorder for this.

Memory card limitation.

Battery life limitation.

Settings may be limited compared to a professional camera.


Final thought

As a media producer, it wouldn’t look very professional to turn up at a shoot with a phone and audio recorder, but if that was all I had available, I would definitely have no hesitation about doing it.

Just a final thought: don’t forget to shoot videos in landscape mode rather than portrait. 🙂




Using my phone to capture photos and videos

Mimi Lee


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