Beastcam is a solid and stable pro video recording app for iPhone, a different beast than FiLMiC Pro. Find out more in my Beastcam review.
In February 2020, before the world shut down, I started testing the Beastgrip Pro Series 1.55X anamorphic lens. At the same time, I was asked if I’d like to put the Beastcam app beta to test. It was actually a no brainer because Beastcam was the only video camera app at the time to support a 1.55X desqueeze. I’m very glad I was able to spend some time using both Beastcam and the 1.55X anamorphic lens before Dubai went into a month-long lockdown.
Many of you that have heard of Beastcam already, know it has been “coming soon” for some time. To be quite honest, the few betas I’ve been using for the past months have been so stable that it’s felt release ready since I first installed it. In this review of the basics I’ll take you through the things I like about it, where is excels and how it differs from the leader of the pack, FiLMiC Pro. In passing you’ll also learn about a few of my techniques (that apply regardless of what app I’m using). There are some more advanced features and also the photo camera features that I’m not going into detail with here, that you can explore yourself.
Why Should You Use Beastcam?
While there are many video camera apps available, there are only a few that tick all the boxes for me.
- Give the necessary level of manual control through a responsive, intuitive interface
- Show easy and immediate feedback about the image you’re recording (settings and image analytics)
- Record high quality, high bit rate video files
- Offer it all in a seamless image making experience
Beastcam does all of these things, and it does so without overcomplicating anything. My favorite thing about Beastcam is its simplicity.
Everything you need to interact with Beastcam is arranged in the viewer. To change anything, you simply tap on it.
Simple Control and Intuitive Operation
Beastcam is a great pro video camera app for beginners to get to grips with manual settings. Beastcam doesn’t require learning how the primary controls function in relation to each other before you can use the app. All the key variables you need to think about are isolated from each other. This is a different approach from FiLMiC Pro, where for example, ISO (gain) and shutter speed are tied together in one manual exposure control.
FiLMiC Pro’s exposure arc slider is clever, sophisticated, and polished, and in general these are the things I love about FiLMiC Pro (in addition to FiLMiC LogV2 of course). The funny thing is, I didn’t realize I preferred ISO and shutter speed to be separated until I started using Beastcam. The reason is my absolute disdain for video noise, and although not related to Beastcam, I probably need to take a detour here to explain. If you stick with me you’ll also learn why my low light iPhone videos are always so clean.
The Case for Separating ISO from Shutter Speed
I set and lock ISO (gain) at minimum always, it’s a variable that might as well not exist in my smartphone image making equation. Of course, large sensor cameras are entirely different and this absolutely doesn’t apply to anything other than smartphone cameras. In my opinion, smartphone image sensors are far too small and too noisy to use with any level of gain too much above zero. Sure, native noise reduction applied early in the image pipeline kicks in, and there’s all the AI, and computational enhancement, and all of it is getting better. With the iPhone 11 Pro Max, I feel I can go up to around ISO 100 safely, but I avoid going any higher. However, even that is not better than recording an image with the minimum possible noise in the first place if you can at all help it.
No matter what kind of camera I’m using, I shoot for post production, meaning my priority is to capture as much usable image information as possible for post. When everything is recorded h.264 or h.265 and encoded 8-bit 4:2:0 anyway, I have zero tolerance for video noise in the source. Increasing ISO (gain) too much is just unacceptable with a smartphone. If there’s not enough light to shoot at or close to zero gain (minimum ISO) and the longest shutter speed, I’ll find more light, or won’t shoot at all. If you find yourself complaining about smartphone video noise, I highly recommend you adopt this particular zero-tolerance policy too regardless of which app you use.
With ISO (gain) locked at minimum and therefore out of my equation, I rely on the combination of shutter speed and ND filters in bright light (most often a variable ND) to control exposure and the resulting level of motion blur.
Beastcam Primary Settings and Controls
- Menu (Digital Slate, Optical hardware, Stabilization, Guides)
- Camera Selection
- Resolution, Frame Rate and Encoding Bit Rate
- Settings Menu
- White Balance
- Manual Focus
- Shutter Speed
- Smart Exposure (ISO and Shutter Speed combination control)
- Shown in UI ISO slider, but whichever manual control is selected, the slider will show in this position.
- “P” – User Presets
- “VA” – Visual Analytics (Focus Peaking, Zebras, False Color)
Setting up your recording resolution, aspect ratio, frame rate and encoding bit rate in Beastcam all happens directly from the viewer itself rather than through a settings menu. I consider these primary recording settings, and it’s fantastic having them immediately accessible from the viewer.
There is a settings menu, and it contains what I would consider secondary settings such as turning on the digital slate functionality, turning on hardware support for a DOF adapter or anamorphic desqueeze, image stabilization options and viewer guides. These are things you’ll change less often. It’s possible that image stabilization might be something worth moving directly to the viewer, but everything is arranged very logically.
Beastcam Exposure and Focus
A split exposure and focus reticle system is standard issue across photo and video apps, and Beastcam is no exception. When neither ISO or shutter speed are locked manually, the position of the circular exposure reticle determines the target area for auto exposure. In the same way, the position of the square focus reticle sets the focus target. Both can be locked by tapping. When locked they turn blue as is the case with the square auto focus reticle above.
If ISO has been set and locked manually, the exposure reticle will continue to set auto exposure by changing shutter speed alone. This is very useful when using fixed ND filters that you can’t trim like you can with a variable ND filter. Of course, it’s ideal to target a shutter speed at twice your frame rate (i.e. 1/48th sec shutter speed at 24fps) but that’s not always possible with a fixed density ND filter. In this scenario, you use the ND filter that puts you in the right general range of shutter speed but uses the exposure reticle to actually determine the best shutter speed for correct exposure. It may not be exactly twice your frame rate, but that doesn’t matter as long as it’s slow enough for some motion blur and doesn’t introduce flicker from any light sources.
Set it and Forget it with Beastcam
There are two things you don’t ever want changing on you during a shot. Exposure is one, and white balance is the other. If your goal is to record professional looking video that you can color correct in post, exposure and white balance should be correct, consistent, and locked while recording.
As I mentioned previously, having ISO separated from shutter speed in Beastcam means I can easily set it at minimum for the chosen camera (the actual value differs depending on the camera), and forget about it. ISO becomes one less variable to even think about, or check to make sure it’s still where I left it before hitting record. The same can be said for every basic variable you need to consider.
The second most important variable to set and forget (assuming it is correct) is white balance. This is just my approach, you may want to use auto white balance, or set and lock it before every setup, or shot you record.
I take the set it and forget it approach further for the sake of color correction in post, and pretty much lock white balance to the closest preset value, and forget about it. You can also set white balance to a grey card reference. Usually, I use a daylight preset somewhere around 5200K for most conditions. I’ll switch to a warmer tungsten preset if I’m shooting indoors at night, and want tungsten lighting to be balanced correctly. Often though I want tungsten light to appear warm in tone, and not white, so I’ll use a color temperature somewhere in between.
I also shoot an X-Rite Colorchecker Passport Video chart for a few seconds any time the light changes significantly. As long as white balance is consistently recorded, and I have a few shots of the color chart whenever the light or my white balance needs to be adjusted, I’ve got everything I need to color correct and shot match the sequence perfectly later in DaVinci Resolve.
Using Beastcam white balance presets is as simple as tapping WB and selecting one of the presets. As long as you’ve tapped the sun, cloud, light bulb or fluorescent tube icon, that preset color temperature and tint combination will be applied and locked until you change it.
You may want to rely on auto white balance on a shot by shot basis, locking it each time before recording, or set white balance using a target. To do this you tap on WB and set to AWB, when the color temperature is where you want it, you just tap K, and it will stay locked at that value until you change it again. I don’t recommend this approach because there will be no consistency between shots. Even slight changes in white balance will affect color and require time consuming correction to match in post.
Beastcam Image Analytics
Beastcam provides some very helpful image analytics that helps to nail exposure. These are accessible directly from the viewer by tapping on the ‘VA’ icon. The live image analytics include Focus Peaking, Zebra Stripes, and False Color.
Beastcam Video Recording Quality
Beastcam records in H.265 (HEVC) up to around 160Mbps in the native Apple color profile. My experiences so far with color correction are that the image quality is every bit as good as FiLMiC Pro with the same settings.
Beastcam doesn’t offer a flat or log profile. As everyone knows, there is currently no native support for a true custom transform function to be applied in the video pipeline. FiLMiC Pro LogV2 is made possible with some very sophisticated image processing to compute equivalent log encoded values (recorded in 8-bit) without affecting the native white point or black point. Beastcam doesn’t currently employ any such method. However, I have no complaints when it comes to manipulating color information of the Beastcam video files in post.
Beastcam Anamorphic Desqueeze
It’s worth mentioning that when you enable 1.33X or 1.55X anamorphic desqueeze with Beastcam, the video will be recorded desqueezed. Currently, there is no option to desqueeze only the preview and record 16:9 squeezed video. This isn’t a big deal, but something to keep in mind in you normally prefer to desqueeze the video in post.
Should you use Beastcam or FiLMiC Pro? Or Moment Pro Camera? To be quite honest, I think they are all capable of very similar results. What differs is the style of interaction with each app, and the experience of using them. I’m deep into FiLMiC LogV2. I have built a whole color workflow around it that’s basically taken my whole iPhone video journey from the original SE to the 11 Pro Max, to get to the point where I’m getting the kind of images out of the iPhone I had only hoped was possible. So in that sense, I have to be honest, I’m already quite invested.
However, here’s the point. Asking which app is the best, or which app you should use instead of anything else, is the wrong question to be asking. There are a few camera apps I use regularly for both video and photos and don’t talk nearly enough about them. Beastcam is one of those, and I’ve kept it quiet while testing, waiting for the app to launch.
So the answer is more about which app works the way you work. The camera system and image processing pipeline are the same, what you’re changing from app to app is how you interact with it to realize your vision. Beastcam is a simpler, easier entry point to capturing pro video with your iPhone than FiLMiC Pro. However, there are things I can do with FiLMiC Pro that I can’t do with Beastcam.
You can find Beastcam on the App store here.
Are you shooting video with your iPhone? What camera app is your favorite? Will you be trying out Beastcam? Let us know in the comments.