The Ultimate Guide to Protake
Protake is an excellent alternative to FiLMiC Pro. Here’s everything you need to know about using the app.
The news that FiLMic Pro would be changing to a subscription-based business model has made it more critical than ever to find competent alternatives to the popular professional camera app. While there are several options for either phone operating system, Protake is one of the standouts.
Protake is a professional camera app available for iOS and Android. It’s not free, unfortunately, but it’s at least reasonably priced. I liked it enough to pay for it and enjoyed the many options offered. Whether I want to adjust each setting manually or use an anamorphic lens, Protake can handle all my content creation needs. The “but” here is that Protake has no interest in telling you how to use it.
You can forget about a link to a downloadable manual or an in-depth tutorial within the app. If you already know what each setting does, then you’re set. If you don’t, there’ll be a lot of Googling until you get a firm grasp. Or, you would if we hadn’t already compiled a detailed guide on the app, including explanations for every setting on the primary display and within the advanced settings menu.
What it costs
Protake is free to download. You can use it without paying anything, but you’ll quickly find it’s useless unless you pay up. To access the entire app, you’ll have to sign up for Protake+, a subscription service that costs $20 a year.
While not as expensive as the new FiLMiC Pro subscription service, $20 yearly may not be something you’re comfortable with. In that case, look at this list of FiLMiC Pro alternatives for iOS and Android, which has a few subscription-free options.
However, if you decide to go forward with Protake+, $20 won’t seem so bad once you know what it does. The professional camera app, available for iOS and Android users, packs almost every feature you could want and even some you don’t. It’s also intuitive, with an economical UI/UX that makes the most of a phone’s display.
Auto vs. Pro
Protake has two modes: Auto and Pro. You can toggle between the two by touching the Auto or Pro buttons adjacent to the recording button. When in Auto mode, the app trims the fat. Most manual settings, adjustment wheels, and other options fade away. You’re only able to adjust resolution, framerate, and color profile. This is the ideal mode when you need to snap a quick video. Other than that, you’ll want to stick with Pro mode.
The app is at its full potential when in Pro mode. Sure, the display looks crowded and overwhelming, but it makes sense once you start using it. It gets easier to navigate, significantly, if you save your settings as presets, which is discussed in more detail below.
Protake lets you adjust every setting on the camera, even settings that your phone’s stock camera app won’t let you access. Moving from left to right, you can adjust these six settings: resolution, framerate, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and lens.
Each setting works as you would expect, but there are some surprises:
- The Resolution menu also lets you choose the bitrate. Options available are 16, 32, 48, and 64 Mbps. A higher bitrate will mean a more detailed video, though the tradeoff is that files will be much more significant.
- The FPS menu lets you choose framerates your phone might not natively support. On my Pixel 6, only 30 and 60 fps options are supported, but I can also choose 6, 24, and 25 fps options. The downside is that converted framerates may look janky. Also, if a framerate option is labeled as “direct, it means the video will bypass Protake and ignore any manual settings.
- Also, in the FPS menu, you can toggle on the timelapse mode, which brings up the option to select the seconds per frame.
- The Shutter menu gives you a choice between choosing the angle or speed of the shutter. For videography, you’ll want to choose the angle setting. The rule of thumb is to have a 180-degree shutter, giving videos a natural motion blur that mimics the process of the human eye.
- The White Balance menu has several presets for different lighting situations. You can also toggle on auto white balance or turn on Rec Lock.
- The Lens menu just lets you pick between the lenses offered by your phone. For my phone, I can choose the selfie, ultra-wide, or wide lens.
What you need to know about framerates
The framerate settings in Protake have several caveats. For one, as I mentioned earlier, framerate options labeled as “converted” look janky. That’s more a fault of the phone manufacturer, who, in my case, didn’t include a 24fps mode. Also, you’ll have access to different framerates depending on your resolution. In my case, I can access 120fps and 240fps direct framerates when I shoot in 720p or 1080p.
The other caveat is the “direct” framerates, which circumvent almost every setting you apply via Protake. When shooting with a direct framerate, you can forget about using the anamorphic lens mode or color profiles, which are greyed out to signal they are unavailable. If you want to shoot a video in 60, 120, or 240fps to slow down in the post, you’ll have to do so without using Log C or Alexa 709. That’s a problem for me. And that’s not all.
The app doesn’t tell you that to get videos exported in the correct direct framerate, you have to enable auto exposure. I didn’t realize this until I was on DaVinci Resolve and noticed all the videos I shot in 60fps appeared as 30fps. I don’t know if this is a bug or expected behavior, but it’s a huge letdown. Shooting in higher framerates means sacrificing all manual control, which, at that point, you may as well be using the stock camera app on your phone.
The two wheels
There are two adjustment wheels on each side of the display. These wheels give you quick access to adjust settings like focus or shutter speed on the fly. You operate them by placing your finger on the wheel and sliding the wheel up or down—the wheel direction can be inverted in the settings.
The left wheel handles ISO and shutter speed—touch “shutter” or “ISO” to adjust either. One downside is that it doesn’t lock onto standard ISO or shutter speed measurements. It makes it difficult to latch onto, for example, an ISO of 400 or a shutter speed of 1/50. In addition to manual adjustments, you can immediately go into automatic exposure by pressing the “AE” button adjacent to the wheel.
The right wheel is for focus and zoom. What they do is obvious, but one thing to note is that the focus wheel can be paired with the focus peaking set, which highlights in-focus elements in the frame in green. There’s no other way to do it if you’re doing manual focusing.
Another thing you can do with the focus wheel is touching the “B” adjacent to the wheel. This allows you to move to a different focus point and gradually transition to the “B” point. It’s an excellent tool for creating shots that begin out of focus and transition to being in focus. You can also switch to automatic focus by scrolling to the top of the wheel labeled with an “A.”
The zoom wheel also uses the “B” to zoom in or out of shots gradually. This is what you’ll want to use to create cinematic B-roll shots. It’s the Ken Burns effect working in real-time.
To the left of the “Pro” button is the “always-on assistants” menu. This activates zebra lines, false color, and focus peaking.
The zebra assistant lets you know if a shot is overexposed or underexposed, adding diagonal lines in either blue or red for overexposed shots. Often, you have so much going on that you may not notice if an image is incorrectly exposed, so having this setting can be a big help.
The false color assistant is another way to read the exposure in a frame, though differently.
Finally, the focus peaking assistant lets you know what part of the frame is in focus, highlighting edges in a bright green color. As mentioned, this is a must-use feature if you’re doing manual focus.
The one unfortunate thing is that you can’t use more than one feature at once.
Protake has several color profiles to choose from. You can touch the color wheel in the upper right corner to open the color profile menu. Another way to switch color profiles is by swiping either right or left on display.
While most of the color profiles are essentially LUTs that don’t look much better than what’s offered on Instagram, there are two specifically for videographers: Log C and Alexa 709. I’ve used the Log C color profile, and it’s one of the main reasons why I chose this app in the first place. The flat color profile is excellent when doing color grades in DaVinci Resolve, which has a nifty Log C to Rec. 709 preset for quickly getting footage ready for the workflow.
The Alexa 709 option is another flat color profile. I’ve seen a few comments saying this color profile is inaccurate. Because I haven’t used it, I can’t speak to its accuracy. If Alexa 709 is a significant part of your workflow, be warned that Protake may not be the best for that situation.
The bottom left corner is where you can get an overview of your current shot. If you want a quick update on the exposure of your image, you’ll want to keep your eye on this side of the screen. The graph displays several waveforms and histograms. You can toggle between them by touching the graph. I won’t get into what each waveform or histogram is for, but you can read more about it here.
You’ll see the audio level meter to the left of the graph. It’s a simple meter, but you can get a good idea of your audio levels. You can click on the meter to open up the audio recording settings. This lets’s choose which microphone you want to use. Your phone’s microphone is the default. The external microphone will only show up if you have a microphone plugged in.
Going further to the right is the battery and storage viewer. The storage section shows you how many GBs your phone has left. However, clicking it will show you what that means in actual recording minutes left. The measurement is based on your current settings, so changing resolution and framerate will cause the minutes left to change.
The four vertically-stacked icons on the right side of the screen make adjustments to the UI/UX. Starting from the top, the first icon sets your display to max brightness. Remember this setting if you’re ever shooting video outside in broad daylight.
The second icon extends the camera view to fit the entire screen. If you touch it again, it enlarges the viewscreen to 2x. The third icon is the most useful, hiding all the UI elements to give you a clean, distraction-free display. Finally, the fourth icon switches the orientation to vertical, or portrait, mode.
Wireless video transmission
You’ll see a camera icon with a signal at the bottom of the screen. Touching this opens up the wireless video transmission menu. Here, you can choose to either transmit or receive video. To share video, you select the “camera” setting and determine either quality, stability, or latency as the priority setting. Then, you toggle on the “device code – cloud monitor” switch, which will spit out a unique code.
On the flip side of transmitting is receiving. You need to run Protake on a separate device to see the feed. Doing so will cost you, though. It costs $5 to access the feed via the cloud for an hour; $10 will get you 180 minutes (3 hours), and $20 will get you 480 minutes (8 hours).
I haven’t used this setting, and I don’t plan to. But if you’re doing client work or want to monitor the feed as you record, you might use it.
There are five tabs in the settings menu, which you can access by touching the gear icon on the upper right corner of the display.
The first tab, Recording, has the most options. Here, you can turn on recording notification settings like initiating a beep or flash when you begin recording. You can also turn on features like vertical video, local flicker (50Hz or 60Hz), frame drop notice, and use the volume key to record. Other features, such as mirrored selfies, stabilization, and edge sharpening, can significantly adjust your setup.
In the Data tab, you can select options for naming your clips. This is useful for keeping track of all your projects, as having unique file names makes it easier to sort and organize project files.
Additionally, you can select your preferred encoder. Using H.264 (AVC) results in larger files but is compatible with more devices and software. The H.265 (HEVC) creates smaller files but might not be compatible with your software. Lastly, you can toggle on the location feature, which will set the location in the meta description of your files.
The Presets tab is straightforward. Press the “+” on the bottom left side of the display to add your current settings as a preset. You can press the QR code button adjacent to the “+” icon to add a preset from another device using Protake. Once the preset is saved, you can edit it, turn it into a QR code, update it with your current setting, or delete it.
The settings in the Accessories tab are specific to certain accessories. Toggling on these features will allow compatibility with devices like a depth-of-field (DOF) adapter, Zhiyun gimbals, and 1.33x anamorphic lenses.
On the second page of this tab, you can toggle a setting called Protake Focus, which doesn’t work with my phone. I don’t know what it does, and there’s no information online either. Regardless, there’s a toggle here that reverses wheel direction. The last feature is for a clean HDMI feed, which you may want to use if hooking up your phone to a monitor.
The last tab is for managing your Protake+ account.
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