If someone pitched you a square metal frame as a brilliant video invention, you’d have the right to be dubious. Sceptical even. Yet that’s what the makers of the Padcaster want you to believe of their product.
Measuring slightly larger than an iPad tablet, the Padcaster is the aforementioned metal frame with a firm but flexible plastic insert. That insert has four protruding lips around each edge, and there’s just enough flexibility in the entire construction to permit you to slide in an iPad and have it hold firm on either side.
So now you’ve stuck your iPad in a big frame, so what? Well, it’s bulkier to carry, doesn’t extend the battery life and serves no immediately apparent purpose.
Ah, but … what the Padcaster does offer is holes. A whole lot of holes. Holes that are machined to a very video-centric size: 3/8-16 and ¼”-20.
For reasons probably lost in the depths of time, this size has become universal in video accessories. Light stands end in these screws. Tripod plates use these screws. Those splendid articulated arms which people attach monitor screens to on the side of big cameras use … you guessed it.
Therefore, a big metal square covered in holes looks as though it suddenly solves one of the biggest issues with video filming on the iPad – how to add accessories.
Let’s face it, iPads are no Arri Alexa when it comes to filming. Heck, they’re not even a Sony Handycam. But they are incredibly popular and at all kinds of events you can guarantee you’ll spot people standing – often quite gormlessly – behind an iPad, raised to the heavens, recording video.
Newspaper journalists tend to be armed with them and are increasingly expected to “shoot some video for the website”. Whilst the video may be acceptable for that purpose, there are limitations. Onboard microphones are crappy enough on camcorders and they’re no better on iPads. Trying to film yourself on a handheld iPad is awful. And unless you’re very observant about ambient light, interviews look crap on an iPad too.
So, the Padcaster, with its plethora of video-sized holes – could be a solution. In one easy step, your iPad is transformed from svelte uber-cool accessory to industrially useful gadget. Video lights, microphone holders, tripods and Other Things could perhaps be attached to the hapless iPad and give you at least a fighting chance of filming some half-decent sounding, half-decent looking footage.
But this is where the device falls down slightly. Whilst our review Padcaster came with an adapter that screws into one of the holes and turns it into a standard video cold shoe, it had just the one such adapter. And most video accessories, expecting to be bolted to a video camera, also expect to slot into a cold shoe. The most popular bits and bobs – top mics and on-camera lights – always have cold shoe mounts. It is perplexing then that the top of the Padcaster is not a shrine to the cold shoe instead of resembling a scene from Yellow Submarine.
Even in the sample photos supplied by Padcaster show accessories slotted into cold shoe adapters which then screw into the device:-
Further, many bits that don’t mount to a cold shoe instead to expect a 3/8 or 1/3/20 screw thread – not a hole. We’re thinking mic clamps, monitors and other miscellany.
Don’t get us wrong, we like the concept. For a start, being able to attach the iPad to a tripod makes for immediately better video not to mention journalist pieces-to-camera and even live reporting via Facetime or Skype or suchlike. This of itself may make the Padcaster an instant problem solver for you.
Another aspect that works well is the Lenscaster (an optional extra). This metal frame slides over a corner of the Padcaster and attaches via four supplied screws. What it provides is a 72mm threaded hole over the aperture where the iPads camera lens emerges and therefore you can screw in filters, lens adapters and so on to change your shot.
From zooms to grad filters to wide-angles and telephotos, having that little screw thread instantly gives you more choices for your shoot and this, along with the tripod mount, are the Padcaster’s finest aspects.
In conclusion, the Padcaster and Lenscaster are well constructed and very solid. They serve a clear purpose – to give you options for iPad video. But we’d really prefer if it had more cold shoes on the top, with the screw holes round the sides and bottom.
(Incidentally, our item was Version 1, we believe, and a new Padcaster Mini is now under development for the smaller iPads. Perhaps further models with address the vexing mystery of the missing cold shoes)