The devices in our pockets already shoot in glorious high definition, but what if you could capture perfectly smooth handheld smartphone video too? That’s exactly what the SwiftCam M3 is designed to do.
Slot your iPhone, Samsung Galaxy or just about any sub-4.7″ smartphone into the adjustable grip and the three axis auto-stabilizing gimbal stops your shaky hands from ruining the shot – even when you’re running.
This is one of the coolest smartphone accessories I’ve ever seen (let alone used) — and we’re giving it away!
For Smartphone Spielbergs
The SwiftCam M3 is a stabilizer for video shot on smartphones which reduces camera shake by dampening sudden movements over three axes — pan, tilt and roll. Three brushless motors account for your clumsy actions, constantly making tiny adjustments which keep the camera steady. While many smartphones and apps already apply a certain level of software stabilization, the M3 takes it to the next level by accounting for physical movement.
For your $299 investment you will get a SwiftCam M3 stabilizer with lithium polymer battery, charger with charging adapter (more on this later) and soft carry case. There’s also a very short instruction leaflet which tells you everything you need to know about getting started, though this is virtually meaningless until you turn it on and actually play with it.
The M3 is officially designed for use with the Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5, the iPhone and Xiaomi Redmi. After testing, it seems just about any smartphone will fit provided it’s around the size of an iPhone 6 — but not the 6 Plus or other phablet-sized devices.
The device allows you to essentially pivot on one axis, and the M3’s in-built software smooths out movement which allows for flowing “steady-cam” style shots that are more commonly associated with devices like the SteadyCam Smoothee or professional rigs that require expensive training to use.
This is far more fun than it sounds, particularly if you dream of producing your own short films or documentaries. It’s a bit like picking up a digital SLR for the first time, and though there are caveats and drawbacks, there’s a huge amount of potential for filmmakers with the M3.
Design & Build
The stabilizer is split into two sections – the metal support structure for the motors and smartphone mount, and a hard plastic trigger grip that bears more than a passing resemblance to run and gun Super 8 film cameras.
Once turned on and calibrated, the stabilizer is very comfortable to use and feels great in the hand. There’s a definite weighty quality to the rig, which further reduces sudden movements, and the construction feels pretty good on the whole.
There’s a single button on the front of the grip, which is used to turn the device on and off. The battery compartment and charging connector are found at the very bottom of the device, and it’s here where build quality is arguably at its worst.
A flimsy, removable and easily-losable plastic door hides the lithium polymer battery and its charging connection. It’s possible that, being a simple lithium polymer battery, you could feasibly buy a few cheap batteries as one Reddit user reported.
Battery life is excellent, and suited my filming schedule perfectly – which is of course limited to the life of your smartphone. I use an app called FiLMiC Pro for recording video at higher bitrates than Apple’s camera with full manual control over exposure, focus and white balance. Coupled with the fact that shooting video is one of the most power-hungry tasks you can throw at your smartphone, this results in an hour to around 90 minutes of shooting — and the SwiftCam outlasted my phone every time.
Charging isn’t quite so rosy, however. For some reason (possibly to facilitate multiple or replacement batteries), there is no traditional charging port on the M3. Instead you need to open the battery compartment, disconnect the battery cable from the battery itself, and manually connect it to a snap-in cable (the kind of cable you use to power fans in a desktop PC case).
This then connects to another adapter, which makes its way to the wall via standard charging methods. It’s a fiddly process that may result in a lost battery cover, particularly as this cover completely detaches from the unit. In a way, it feels like the designers never quite got round to finishing the SwiftCam at this end.
The only other build quality concerns I had were cosmetic ones, as a few of the painted-black metallic elements started to scratch and chip with very light use. It won’t affect your videos, but I was left wondering why they were painted black at all.
Using the SwiftCam M3
To use the SwiftCam you first need to load your smartphone into the grip, and find the centre of gravity. That sounds a lot harder than it is, and all you really need to do is ensure your smartphone is roughly balanced when it sits in the mount. If the device is hanging too far to one side, the stabilizer will not work.
Once you have isolated the centre of gravity, pressing the device’s sole button will power it up. You’ll need to hold it straight for a few seconds so that the stablizer can find the sweet spot around which to pivot. If the M3 won’t calibrate or you find your horizon levels aren’t quite straight, turn it off and adjust the centre of gravity and try again.
As you move your hands around, the stabilizer will resist your movement and prevent your device from moving around too much. You have virtually no “hands-on” control over your camera at this point, and instead will need to suggestively use movement to guide the gimbal into the positions you require for your shots.
This sounds more complex than it really is, and ten minutes of playtime with the SwiftCam will teach you just about everything you need to know about getting it to do what you want. Touching the SwiftCam while in use will result in some rather unsightly sudden motions as it tries to counter for excessive force, often resulting in jerky motion.
There’s a definite learning curve to getting the most out of the M3, particularly when accounting for this limitation. An over-extended lean or nudge with your finger is all it takes to ruin a beautifully smooth shot; so practice is everything.
Despite the odd chip of paint and a very unorthodox charging process, the SwiftCam M3 is a very accomplished bit of kit. The results are impressive, and I absolutely love the way it elevates smartphone videography to the next level whether you’re filming a documentary or simply want better video on your travels.
However there is one slight issue that some users may find limiting. Due to the way the grip is constructed with one brushless motor sitting almost flush against the base of your smartphone, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to connect any other devices while filming.
The biggest problem in this respect is the inability to connect an external microphone. The iPhone in particular supports a range of USB microphones and audio interfaces, but there’s just no way to access the Lightning port while using the SwiftCam. This also limits your ability to charge your iPhone while you shoot.
It’s not possible to simply mount your smartphone the other way round, because the lens is covered by the brains of the M3. In order to get good quality sound, you will need to record your audio separately to a dedicated device (which will always provide better results) and sync it up later in post.
For casual shooting this isn’t so much of a problem, though it’s worth noting you can audibly hear the motors making tiny adjustments as you use the device. Seeing as most smartphone microphones are positioned on the end closest to the motor, you can hear it on your footage. This would be far more of a problem if the motors weren’t brushless, however.
To see what video shot with the SwiftCam M3 looks like, check out our video review at the top of the page.
Fun, Useful, Creative
The SwiftCam M3 is undoubtedly one of the most impressive accessories that exists in smartphone realm, and simply wielding the stabilizer is enough to give you directorial delusions of Hollywood grandeur. The resulting video is smooth, and enough practice with the SwiftCam should yield consistent results.
There are caveats to be aware of, such as the erratic movement that occurs as a result of nudging the device in use. Charging will always be a bit of a hassle, and those metal elements will scratch in time. The biggest issue you’ll have to overcome is limited access to your device’s ports in use, and that depends on what you’ll be using your stabilizer for.
Buy it if you want smooth, stable video and can live without access to your device’s ports while shooting.
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