Should you unlock your smartphone camera?

Is there a point to using specific apps to shoot video on your smartphone? Or is the default camera app good enough? Let's investigate.

Smartphones have come to be an essential part of peoples lives over the last decade. It’s hard to imagine a time where you didn’t carry with you what is essentially a computer, camera, phone, flashlight and much more combined into one single device. Due to this, and the rise of social media, camera performance quickly became one of the strongest selling points for the smartphone manufacturers. Being able get high level photos and great looking video without having to bring a DSLR camera was nothing short of a game changer. 

Man holding smartphone

"There are situations, especially when shooting video, where the automatic settings start working against you..."

How good are the automatic settings?

Because of the high demand, and the often-unexperienced user base, companies like Apple and Samsung purposefully developed the cameras to be easy to handle. If you see something you should quickly be able to just grab your smartphone and capture it without any issues. The aperture and inner workings of the camera automatically calibrates and adapts to the situation, always producing (at least) adequate results. The customization and artistry of the footage have instead been amped up in the editing process where different filters and effects can be added depending on what platform it’s published on.

What if I want more?

So, for the most part, the automatic settings work fine. But what happens when you feel the need to go beyond the safety net? There are situations, especially when shooting video, where the automatic settings start working against you, producing either subpar footage or a look that you weren’t going for. In this case you might want to take a more hands-on approach to the settings in order to tweak them to your liking. To achieve this, you’ll need an app that unlocks those features on your particular phone. The supply of these apps is in no shortage, so it can be tricky choosing one that best suits your needs. Let’s have a look at some of the most common choices and see what you can expect from their added features. 

Filmic pro and mavis pro logos

Filmic Pro vs Mavis Pro Camera

Two of the most renowned actors of the industry are Filmic Pro and Mavis Pro Camera. Both offer a plethora of customizable settings such as shutter speed, frame rate, white balance, manual focus, bit rate and many more – essentially transforming the smartphone camera into a DSLR (or similar intermediate camera quality). 

Therein lies both their biggest strengths and weaknesses. People accustomed to manually configuring their video cameras will feel right at home and greatly benefit from the added features. Likewise, a user that isn’t as familiar might instead be overwhelmed by the possibilities.

The user interface of both apps are of course designed to cater to all types of users but mastering the full potential of the unlocked features might still take time. The question then becomes whether or not the added quality is worth it.

Both Filmic and Mavis are prized around 15-20 USD for the entire experience, though Mavis Camera Pro can be accessed for free without some of the more prolific features included. 

Movie Pro

A slightly cheaper option would be Movie Pro (only available on iOS). It offers a mostly identical set of features compared to their Filmic and Mavis counterparts, but with a slightly more streamlined approach. The number of options might not be as vast as the more expensive competitors but everything essential is still present with an interface that is also somewhat sleeker. With a cost of roughly 10 USD it could be a good starting place for anyone who isn’t ready to make the most advanced jump yet. 

Are there any good free apps on the market?

Cheap can’t compare to free. But can the free camera apps compare in quality to the industry leaders?

The answer is yes with an asterisk*

*No free option truly offers the same range of settings and equal quality across the board, but there can be apps that offer an adequate alternative in specific situation. One app might give you access to the shutter speed, while another can help with color balance.

The market of camera apps is so saturated, that the best course of action is to try them out until you find one that suits your needs.

There are a few things to keep in mind though:

  1. The option to turn the HVEC (or H.265) codec on and off is very helpful when you’re transferring files (especially airdropping from iOS).
  2. Options to switch and select what device that records audio is also helpful! Make sure that you can see, for example, that your lav mic is connected before you start filming.
  3. Last but not least, always look at the grade of the app – and read the reviews! To get a better understanding of what to expect from a specific app in terms of performance and quality it is always best to do the research. This way you have a better chance of discovering the gems and leaving the duds on the sideline. 

"Depending on how often you encounter these situations and how much footage you shoot on a regular basis would be a good indicator of whether or not to invest in one of the more expensive options."


As mentioned in the beginning, the default camera app as a perfectly good option for shooting video in most everyday situations. Whenever you come across something extraordinary or particularly challenging however, there might be a time and place where you’d want to be able to customize your camera settings. Depending on how often you encounter these situations and how much footage you shoot on a regular basis would be a good indicator of whether or not to invest in one of the more expensive options. 

Even though the industry leaders can cost up to 20 USD, it is a minor cost compared to buying a dedicated film camera of equal quality. And though it does require a certain amount of dedication to fully master the new settings, if they turn out to prove useful on a daily or even weekly basis that investment pays off rather quickly. 

If your content creation isn’t as consistent or you just don’t want to pay for anything, there are still benefits to be had with a number of free options. Whatever the case, the true deciding factor of producing meaningful content is preparation. Preparation in the form of scouting locations, preparing ideas and scripts, and overall honing you video making skills. This way you’ll be as ready as possible before going out in the field.

Check out Qbrick’s educational library of How To-videos and blog posts to learn more about video making and the art of communicating. 


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