At A Glance: The Padcaster

If you work in production, iPads have become ubiquitous on set. With its Retina display, the iPad delivers higher than HD resolution (2048×1536) and has become the go-to device to view on-set dailies. Many production professionals also have been using the iPad as a film slate and teleprompter, as well. But for shooting HD video, most believe the iPad isn’t ready for prime time.

In the past year, we’ve seen a number of solutions for the iPhone, such as cases, handles, bayonet mounts and lenses. Both the iPhone and iPad have cameras that can capture 1920×1080 video, and because they’re devices you can always carry with you, they’re ideal to capture shots on the fly. With the iPad alone, you can shoot, edit and even distribute HD content.

I recently had the opportunity to test out the Padcaster, which is a smart, yet simple accessory that will help turn your iPad into an all-in-one filmmaking device. The Padcaster is a simple aluminum frame with a urethane front and a small hole to let the iPad’s camera lens shoot through.

What makes the Padcaster a useful tool is that it has a multitude of both 1⁄4"-20 and 3⁄8"-16 threaded holes lining the frame in order to mount filmmaking accessories such as a light, microphone, monitor, etc. At the bottom, there’s a round plate that works with a quick-release plate for your tripod head, and the plate also can balance the Padcaster on a level surface.

Although there are no handgrips on the Padcaster, it’s still pretty easy to shoot handheld. What’s cool about the Padcaster is that you also can remove the urethane front and use the aluminum frame as a DSLR cage, which typically runs around $500.

Your iPad snaps into the Padcaster easily and fits snugly. Included with the Padcaster is the Lenscaster, which is a universal lens mount (72mm) that screws into the frame with four simple screws, allowing you to attach lenses that go over the iPad’s camera lens. I used a 72mm Vivitar wide-angle lens that attached to the mount. To capture shallow depth of field, you also can use a depth-of-field adapter such as those from Redrock Micro, Letus or Cinevate. DOF adapters with DSLR lenses can give you a more cinematic look, but since the iPad’s native camera lens isn’t exactly Zeiss Master Prime glass, it’s not an ideal solution. (If having a pleasing bokeh is super-important to you, a low-end DSLR may be a better solution.)

Although the iPad has a built-in mic, if you want to do any type of professional sound recording, you’re going to need an audio interface to the iPad’s dock. The most common solution is the Apogee Electronics JAM ($100), which lets you record to an iPad or iPhone, and its all-digital connection gives you professional sound quality, as well as gain control.

I tested out the Padcaster using the FiLMiC Pro app, which is one of the best HD video apps for mobile devices. Costing just $4.99, FiLMiC Pro gives you real time, 4x zoom and full control over focus, exposure, white balance and frame rates, and includes slow and fast motion capture. There are also a number of video-editing apps (iMovie, Pinnacle Studio) and coloring apps (Red Giant’s Movie Looks HD) that allow you to finish your movie without ever offloading the footage to a separate computer.

Although the Padcaster is a great tool, it’s important to remember that the accessory isn’t going to make your images look as good as a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. It all comes down to the iPad’s native camera and lens. But for those who want to get decent video without investing resources into a new DSLR (not to mention accessories), the Padcaster is a terrific solution for iPad owners. Also, it retails for only $149.

Contact: Padcaster, (212) 414-9570, www.thepadcaster.com.

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