Somehow all these years I never got around to genuinely needing a teleprompter, mostly because I’ve preferred interview-driven and verité documentary style, compared to the presence and delivery of a scripted “host.” But every once in a great while, I’m helping someone make a pitch video – or, I reach a dead end after too many takes, and resign to just have someone read lines.
There are very industrial ways to do this sort of thing: the most expensive and time-consuming, is to hire a dedicated person who writes out and holds up physical cue cards from a giant stack! (My favorite: Tony Mendez on the David Letterman show years ago.) Next comes something in the thousands of dollars that has a dedicated playback system and a very large overlay, designed for television studios. But here we are in 2021 with more choices than ever, and if you’re like me – needing something that gets you by, without getting fancy – there are tons of inexpensive options. The one I’m looking at today is the Moman MT2 teleprompter for tablets and smartphones.
It makes sense to simply use hardware you’ve already got handy, for scrolling through and projecting the text, right? That’s the most sophisticated part of a teleprompter kit, after all. In this cheap category, it boils down to small teleprompters for smartphone displays, or bigger teleprompters for tablet displays up to 11 inches large diagonally. Since most everyone has a tablet besides their smartphone, it’s a no-brainer to go for the bigger size. Not everyone has 20/20 distance vision!
Narrowing down some more, if the whole rig can be lightweight anyway, there’s no point in having a complex rigging system with rails and brackets to mount everything onto your camera – so, you’ll want something that easily and quickly just hooks onto your camera lens. The Moman MT2, like many (but not all) others, includes adapter rings ranging from 49mm to 77mm to screw into those filter threads on the front of most lenses (though sadly, not at 82mm which I would have liked to use with my Tamron G2 lenses). Then, a bracket on the back of the teleprompter body just slides onto that adapter ring, and you need to rotate it until level. It doesn’t solidly lock into position, but this isn’t an industrial product either.
I’m pairing the MT2 with my basic Sony A6600 and Sony 35mm pancake Zeiss lens, which is a pretty good match: you’ll want a focal length that’s not too wide, not too long. But you’ll be able to make further adjustments. Using the tablet (and smartphone) tray sticking out the front, you’re able to adjust the height of the display surface pointing up, which in turn “zooms” in and out to fill the reflecting surface just right. That mechanism, however, is the biggest flaw of the MT2: the tray is secured by just a single thumbscrew, and the whole tablet/smartphone easily rotates out of position over the course of any session. Moman should have designed the holder with two mounting points so that it’s forced to stay parallel with the teleprompter.
The MT2 comes with free software for Android and iOS, and there are pros and cons to using it. On the plus side, you can use the Bluetooth-connected remote control for starting/stopping scrolling, and adjusting the speed. On the negative side, the software leaves a lot to be desired. It cannot import text from any file format – an incredible omission because it would have been such an easy feature to code. You need to cut and paste from the clipboard of your device, hopping between open apps. My chosen compromise is to use the free version of an alternative app called Elegant Teleprompter. Since it’s not natively compatible with the proprietary Bluetooth remote, I just pair it with a Bluetooth mini-keyboard and assign keys to the necessary functions.
But what really matters, of course, is the ultimate video quality. I was surprised to find it being hardly degraded, under the right lighting conditions. Sure, as with any bare lens in general, if there are angles of light pollution hitting the intermediate reflector in a wrong way, you can get glares/reflections. But in a studio setting where you’d almost always shoot teleprompted scenes, that’s always manageable (less so, outdoors).
Speaking of, if you’re really shooting on the cheap and want to use a smartphone camera as the actual filming device, there is an adjustable top mounting point, and side mounting point, for an included bracket that pairs with various foam mattes to get the smartphone camera lens sealed up to the rear hole for minimal light leaks/pollution.
The kit comes with a mini-tripod, and a nice big drawstring bag, boxed up for retail/shipment. All told, for under a hundred bucks, this does the trick. It’s not rocket science, and you won’t be – shouldn’t be, really – using this too often in your serious nonfiction work. And if you’re using this or anything like it for your scripted dramas – well, you might be in trouble.