If you ever want a taste of progress, look at a camera from the previous decade. The camera in my 2015 iPhone shoots with almost seven times the resolution and four times the frame rate of the hulking, professional grade gear I used 10 years ago. But something was lost in the translation—the ergonomics.
At first blush, the Lumenati CS1–a giant iPhone case that wraps your phone inside a chassis inspired by Kodak’s 1965 Super 8 camera–might look like the quintessential nerd-bait Kickstarter campaign, a backwards-looking add-on built solely of nostalgia. But in reality, it’s a project that aims to replace everything lost when filmmaking got miniaturized.
“The ergonomics are just all wrong. The device is designed for texting and talking,” explains Lumenati CEO Scott McDonald. “We are all familiar with the dreaded vertical video that phones encourage. We are on a mission to stop that.”
In turn, the CS1 transforms your iPhone into a full fledged camera. An iPhone slips into the injection-molded plastic of the CS1 body. From there, it can be held with a stable pistol grip, roll video with the pull of a trigger, and hold mics and lights through a standard-sized “cold shoe” mount on top.
“We spent the extra design time to make sure we ended up with a product that is not just a toy, and holds up to our standards as filmmakers,” McDonald promises. “It just feels right when you hold one.”
But the best improvement comes is in optics. A mirror system inside the CS1 allows you to see what your phone is shooting through a viewfinder that blocks out the sun. The CS1 also redirects your iPhone’s lens through a series of swappable, 58mm lenses that connect to the front of the body.
Theoretically, the CS1 will let you preview what you’re shooting better than an iPhone allows—especially during the day—while using nice lenses to punch up the cinematographic impact. Yet optics are where Lumenati’s claims get a bit foggy. Companies like Canon and Nikon have spent decades mastering mirrored optics and the physics of light. While the CS1 certainly looks like an easier way to shoot pro-level video, whether or not a team of filmmakers have the technical and production know-how to mass produce a high-end optical product is another question.
The Lumenati CS1 is on Kickstarter today, starting at $199.
An earlier draft of this article mentioned a “hot shoe” mount when the CS1 has a “cold shoe” mount–meaning it doesn’t provide power to mics and lights.