SmallRig recently announced its new Special Edition Mobile Cage kit for the iPhone 15 Pro Max which was developed in collaboration with Brandon Li.
I decided to have a look at it a little more closely to see how it actually performs when it comes to usability and features.
Design, Features, & Build Quality
The case is made out of aluminum alloy and it is nice and robust. It is also lightweight and only weighs around 120g / 4.05 oz.
The inside of the cage is lined with rubber so it won’t scratch your phone.
The one-piece design makes it relatively quick to put your iPhone 15 Pro Max or take it back out.
The cage also uses SmallRig’s “One-Click” locking system so your phone won’t accidentally come out. However, I did find that when you close the latch to secure your phone in the cage it won’t lock fully unless you press down on it with a bit of force.
The phone slides in without needing to apply too much force.
Now, if you are using a protective cover on your phone’s lenses, the iPhone 15 Pro Max won’t fit in the cage.
As the cage features a fairly minimalistic design you still have access to all of the phone’s buttons.
As far as mounting options are concerned, there are quite a few options.
There are ten 1/4”-20 threaded holes, and two cold shoe mounts.
For mounting the cage to a tripod or other device there are also three locating holes on both sides of the cage.
I did discover a couple of issues with one of the quick-release handles that has Bluetooth functionality. First, the rubber on top of the cover wasn’t put on or sealed properly and there was a gap. The second issue is that there is a small tab that you need to pull out to allow the battery to work. I tried pulling this tab out and it snapped. I then had to get a screwdriver out and take it apart to remove the tab that was still inside.
Quick Release Ecosystem
SmallRig’s Quick Release Ecosystem also allows tool-free installation, so you can attach or remove the convertible side-to-top handles.
Out of the box you need to assemble the handles. This is a little fiddly, but it can be done in a few minutes. The position of the handles in relation to the quick-release mount can be adjusted.
What I would have liked to have seen is some small markings on the handles so that it was a lot easier to line up both sides correctly. Without any markings, it can be a little tricky to get both handles positioned evenly on either side of the cage.
The handles are very quick and easy to install and I like how you can put them in a variety of different positions depending on your requirements.
The slight caveat is that if you want to mount a handle horizontally instead of vertically, you do need to take it apart using the included Allen key and reposition the quick-release mechanism. By doing this you also lose the ability to adjust the position of the handle in relation to the quick-release mechanism. It would have been nice to have seen a slightly better design where it was easier to change a handle from the vertical to horizontal position without needing tools.
One of the handles in the kit features Bluetooth so that you can wirelessly start/stop recording.
You can separate the Bluetooth remote from the handle and use it by itself if you want.
Now, this can be confusing to set up as SmallRig doesn’t include any instructions in the kit for how this works.
I was trying to work out how to get it to pair with my iPhone and eventually, I had to look up some other SmallRig product that used Bluetooth to figure it out. You need to hold the shutter start/stop recording button down for a few seconds until it starts flashing. It will then eventually appear as a Bluetooth device on your iPhone and you can pair it.
I tried the start/stop recording and photo trigger on the phone using the default photo and video apps, as well as the Blackmagic camera app. They all worked without any issues.
At least in my opinion, a cage with fixed handles or handles that require you to use a tool makes little sense when using something like an iPhone. Sometimes less is more, and a lot of people may well find themselves preferring to just use a cage without handles.
Variable Neutral Density filter
The Special Edition Mobile Cage kit includes a magnetic Variable Neutral Density filter that allows you to control exposure and most importantly, run correct shutter speeds. A VND is essential if you are shooting outdoors and don’t want to run extremely high shutter speeds.
The magnetic Variable Neutral Density filter goes inside a small frame that then attaches to the cage.
The problem I have with the frame that attaches to the cage is that if you fully turn it to the locked position it ends up slightly covering one of the lenses and there is a big gap at the top.
I found that you only had to turn it about halfway around to get it into the correct position. Even then, there is still a small gap where extraneous light can enter.
The variable ND filter works reasonably well and it is easy enough to operate and use, however, it can be a little hard to reach if you are holding the handle. The adjustement ring is thick enough that you can hold onto it easily and because it has a raised edge you won’t accidentally touch the filter. Having this raised edge also allows you to put the camera face down on a flat surface without damaging the filter.
The only issue is that you do need to carry it around with you separately because it isn’t something you are going to leave on the camera all the time.
I also accidentally knocked the variable ND filter off the mount a couple of times. It is magnetic, but the strength is not overly strong and this could lead to disaster if you drop it onto a hard surface.
In addition to the three lenses on the iPhone 15 Max Pro, the cage also lets you attach optional M-Mount lenses (17mm/37mm threaded lenses, T-series lenses with optional backplates), and magnetic filters (VND, CPL, Star Cross, and ¼ Black Mist).
Using an SSD
If you are going to be recording a lot of ProRes video using your iPhone then you are probably going to need an external SSD.
Now, the caveat with the SmallRig cages is that they don’t have a solution to attach an SSD to the back of the cage. Instead, they offer an optional Universal SSD mount that needs to attach to a cold shoe on the cage.
The reason they did this was so that users could still run a MagSafe power bank on the back of the phone. While there is nothing wrong with this, I arguably think that more people would prefer to be able to mount an SSD on the back of the cage rather than have the MagSafe capability when shooting.
If you are using this cage and an SSD a small bit of velcro will allow you to put an SSD on the back of an iPhone. The position of the handle isn’t ideal, but in a strange way, it will sort of protect the USB-C cable.
I would highly recommend using OWC’s free Drive Speed app to check if your SSD can handle the codec, resolution, and frame rate you want to record.
I would like to see SmallRig come up with some type of mounting solution for an SSD with an integrated right-angle USB-C connector to keep things a lot more streamlined and tidy.
Real World Thoughts
The cage is solidly made, and lightweight and it offers a good amount of features and functionality.
While the included handles are nice to hold you can’t easily reach the iPhone’s screen unless you have big hands.
You can reach the Variable ND filter with your finger to make adjustments when holding the handle, although, again, this will depend on the size of your hand and fingers.
The handles are arguably not ideal if you are using full manual settings and need to make a lot of changes on the screen.
The included variable ND filter is a nice touch, as is the Bluetooth Start/stop capability, however, the mounting frame for the variable ND filter is a little strangely designed and it doesn’t line up correctly if you turn it to the fully locking position.
Like any cage, it isn’t perfect, and there are some caveats when using it. As I mentioned earlier, I would have preferred to have seen some type of rear mounting solution for an SSD.
All in all, it is a solid offering that will suit a lot of people’s needs who want a sturdy cage with a variable ND filter.
What do you get?
The kit includes the signed cage, two signed side handles (convertible to top handles), a wireless remote controller (up to 10m/32.8 ft range), and a 52mm magnetic VND (1 ~ 5 stops) filter. The cage is also available to purchase separately. I am not a big fan of signed products, but there will probably be Brandon Li fans and followers who will like it.