A few years back while I was an editor at The Unofficial Apple Weblog, I had the honor to try out a prototype of a device that had the ability to change an out-of-the-box iPad into a top-notch video and photography studio. That device was the Padcaster, and today we're going to take a look at a version of the device that's been created for the iPad mini.
The Padcaster has come a long way from the rather crude days of the prototype, and is now something that looks professional and has available add-ons to truly turn it into a professional's tool for capturing, editing, and even streaming video.
The entire system begins with the Padcaster Case ($189.99), a sturdy yet flexible case that holds your iPad in place securely. Surrounding the flexible case is an aluminum frame that is dotted with a variety of mounting holes. The case comes with a lens bracket with a 72-58mm step-down ring that can hold a variety of accessory lenses, screws to hold the lens bracket and camera cage securely in place, and a cold shoe adapter.
The Padcaster Case may be all that many professionals need to start using their iPad (any model except the iPad Pro) for filming and photography, but there are a lot of accessories that can be added on an "a la carte" basis. Start with the case, and it's possible to add a Padcaster Wide Lens ($49.99) that screws onto the bracket and provides a .45x wide-angle lens that's perfect for both those close-up interviews or beautiful landscape shots. The Wide Lens takes 62mm filters for a variety of effects. When the lens is screwed into the bracket, it is placed precisely where the iPad's camera can best use the glass to produce high-quality images.
Next, there are a trio of LED light panels that can be added, ranging in cost from $69.99 to $119.99 based on size and capability. Each of the light panels comes with a separate cold shoe adapter to connect it to the aluminum frame of the Padcaster.
For sound pickup, there are a pair of available shotgun mics available. The Padcaster YT-1300 ($139.99) is the company's choice of a broadcast-quality mic with a number of settings, and they also offer the RODE Video Mic ($149.99). Both shotgun mics are shock-mounted to prevent rumbles, both include a foam windscreen, and both require a $29.99 dual mic/headphone jack cable if you wish to monitor what you're recording. If you'd rather use a stick microphone for interviews, Padcaster offers the MXL LSM-5GR ($139.99).
There are a pile of other accessories which the professional or skilled amateur may already have in her equipment bag, so I won't list them all here. Just suffice it to say that you have a number of positions around the perimeter of the Padcaster Case where the accessories can be attached.
Once you're ready to begin shooting, you'll most likely want or need a tripod of some sort, and the Padcaster is of course equipped for that. I used the Padcaster during testing with both a lightweight tripod and monopod from Manfrotto, as well as a $159.99 VT-16 Fluid Head Tripod provided during the review. The tripods provided a rock-steady stable platform from which to capture video and take photos.
For those who want to get started "cold" with the Padcaster, a good choice is to buy the pre-made kit ($399.00) that includes your choice of Padcaster Case, the Wide Lens, the YT-1300 shotgun mic, the dual mic/headphone cable, the hardware needed to mount the lens bracket, and a cold shoe.
Setting up the Padcaster Mini with an iPad mini 2 was a piece of cake. It takes a little bit of force to put the iPad into the rubber Padcaster Case, but once it's in there you can be assured that regardless of how much you move the iPad around in the case, it's not going to fall out.
For testing purposes, Padcaster had lent me the Case for iPad mini 1-3, as well as the rest of the goodies involved in the kit. The lens bracket was pre-installed, so I proceeded to load up the aluminum frame with the rest of the equipment -- the shotgun mic with dual mic/headphone cable, an LED light panel, and a few other items I had lying around my office. The Wide Lens screwed onto the bracket easily, and it places the lens right in line with the iPad's camera.
My "use case" for the Padcaster during testing was to set it up as a 1080p video camera for doing green screen work. Other solutions I have used in the past were rather haphazard and the iPad usually swayed a bit at the start of filming using other mounts. With the Padcaster mounted atop the VT-16 Fluid Head Tripod, the entire setup was rock-steady from the moment I tapped the record button.
I can see where the Padcaster could also be useful for mobile video; to get that look like you're doing a track or dolly shot, something like the Steadicam Solo with the Arm Vest Kit attached to the Padcaster would allow very fluid and steady moving shots on foot. Sign me up!
How about software to use with the Padcaster Mini? For livestreaming, I can see using the Padcaster Mini on a Wi-Fi network with Wirecast Cam running on it to feed the main Wirecast Mac or PC that's pumping out the stream. This would be perfect for sports venues, for example. TouchCast is already a partner with Padcaster; their app is basically a full-fledged livestreaming studio complete with various widgets that pop up on screen to show social media channels, images, video inserts, and more. Using TouchCast Studio on a Padcaster-mounted iPad to control and film a show while using the TouchCast Remote app on an iPhone to control the iPad camera would be a great way to run a one-person news studio.
Likewise, just about any camera app would work well with Padcaster Mini. I used Apple's Photos app to shoot both stills and video from the Padcaster-mounted iPad mini, and it worked well with the Wide Lens. To be able to shoot, edit, title, and upload video all on the iPad, Vizzywig or Vizzywig 4K would be perfect. While I didn't have a Padcaster with all of the bells and whistles mounted on it, I used Vizzywig on an iPad mini to do professionally-edited pieces from the show floor at Macworld/iWorld -- editing and updating my videos, adding titles and intros, and uploading them to YouTube while walking around.
Perhaps we’ll see more goodness from both Padcaster and Apple in the future — wouldn’t a 12MP camera in the iPad Air 3 be a nice fit for the Padcaster system, or a Padcaster that would work with an iPhone 6s/6s Plus?
The team at Padcaster has really nailed the Padcaster ecosystem since those early prototype days, and it's now the best possible way to set up an iPad as a video or still camera for serious work. Padcasters have been featured in three separate Apple ad campaigns, lending credence to both Apple's high esteem for the devices as well as how they are used by pros and amateurs alike to create awe-inspiring content. Whether you're a professional videographer, a news reporter, a blogger creating online content, or a student getting started in filmmaking, Padcaster is the equipment you want for your iPad.
Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★★
We're also proud to name the Padcaster line as an Apple World Today Top Pick for 2016. This is reserved only for the best products we find.