The Pro's and Con's to Using an iPhone to Film
Written by Monroe Hayden
Everyone knows how impressive iPhone's cameras are and if you don't, then now you know! And no one can quite showcase just how impressively, impressive they are than the one and only, Lady Gaga. How, you ask? Her latest music video for her newly hit single, Stupid Love was shot on an iPhone 11.
The video is directed by Australian filmmaker, Daniel Askill with cinematography by Sebastian Wintero and edited by Loren Askill. According to PCMag, the music video was shot using the app, Filmic Pro, which is able to provide a more cinematic framerate while shooting on your iPhone. But before you grab yours and start downloading, thinking you'll end up with cinematic results, I should also mention that professional lighting and equipment was used. Notice how I said "professional" not "expensive". By using the word professional, I mean used and handled by someone who knows what they're doing. Not buying the most expensive toy on the market and expecting it to do the work for you just by turning it on. Many amateur and ignorant (perhaps even snobby) filmmakers make the mistake of confusing how things work behind the scenes. Having someone who knows what they're doing with something as simple as an iPhone is better for your production than having one heavy and bulky unit that no one knows how to use. As much as I am lecturing on having your priorities straight and checking your ego at the door, I should also mention that I too, love having new toys to play with. They're fun and add excitement but as filmmakers who are constantly reminded of the realities we live in, a.k.a our budget, take it from me- put your money where it'll matter most. I mean, you do work hard for your money even if you are funded because acquiring funding is a tedious task to do, so spend your money wisely.
Yet as much as filming on an iPhone may seem like a revolutionary thing to do, Lady Gaga isn't the only person to do it. Steven Soderbergh's feature film, Unsane, used an iPhone 7 Plus. Yes, an iPhone 7 Plus (the Plus is important). The film starred Claire Foy in the psychological horror film. And if we go back to the 11 model, Selena Gomez also used the camera for her music video, Lose You To Love Me. And if we're tooting our own horns here, SkySoft Entertainment used an iPhone to shoot some action and wide shots in Fox and Sherwood.
So what are the pro's and con's to using such a simple and light device? From my experience here's my list:
The quality isn't the same as a cinematic camera but it's still very good.
Sometimes the exposure changes if you move one step to another which results in slight color changes that can be very difficult to fix in post.
The battery dies very quickly.
Its hard to find equipment for it like lens hoods.
Without apps, the framerate is low.
You will still need to purchase apps and equipment to help get a cinematic look.
The phone converts into MOV. files which aren't as high quality as others.
When you pull it out, people look at you like you're crazy or poor. (Screw those people anyway.)
I would also like to add, even though an iPhone can be cheaper in comparison to certain camera's (DSLR's or otherwise), an iPhone can cost you up a little over $1k with fees depending on how recent the model is and if you're buying it at retail price.
The camera phone is light, so you won't need to spend extra money on equipment to help keep it in the air. No cranes or vests needed!
An iPhone is much cheaper to purchase than some DSLR's and any cinematic camera, and most carriers offer an affordable payment plan to help.
You also don't need a carrier to purchase an iPhone from Amazon or Ebay. So you don't need to change your phone if you're attached to the one you use daily.
The iPhone 6s and up are DSLR quality and even offers 4k. So even if you can't afford the latest model, you might be able to afford a lower model that is still of good quality.
The battery may die fast but it charges faster than a camera. So once it dies, you can take a break and charge it while still staying on schedule (depending). You can also charge it while using it via a portable charger.
The pro to the phone converting videos into MOV. file formats, is that it's easier and faster to transfer onto your computer than other files- not to mention that every computer supports the file format easily.
MOV. files, however not super high quality, render faster.
iPhone's in general have a fantastic stabilizing feature built into the phone that many cameras (cinematic or not) don't offer. That in combination with a stabilizer or gimbal, your footage will be so smooth you'll actually impress viewers.
Speaking of, Sony and Omnivision manufacture the camera inside your iPhone. They are some of the best in the business.
Depending on the phone, your screen may be bigger than your LED screen/monitor to review footage.
The iPhone has an excellent built in slowmotion feature that can be used if you wish. Who here hasn't tried to recreate the Trinity shot from The Matrix? You know the shot I'm talking about. I see you!
This is also a con but if you're a 'glass half full' kinda human, there are apps to help with achieving cinematic looks. You aren't limited.
Lady Gaga used it. Need I say more? (Ok, I guess that's a personal pro for me.)
Even though I have more pro's on my list than con's, I do want to mention again that you will still need to know what you're doing with the phone and the equipment you'll be using with it in order to meet your cinematic desires. Like all cameras, the iPhone isn't a replacement for the work you still need to do in principal and post production, it is simply another tool you can use if you choose to. Don't limit yourself by your budget and don't take the work/experience we do/have as filmmakers for granted either. And while we're at it, your post production skills and/or team will need to know what they're doing to help with the final product. As much as Gaga and Soderburgh are household names, they did not do the work alone. I meet and guide filmmakers on a daily basis and what I'm about to tell you, I've seen over and over again: so many people focus on the camera and not the overall picture. Nevermind story, although that is in my opinion the most important ingredient in making a film, you also need to consider your computer. The higher quality your camera is, the more powerful your computer needs to be. So if you want to use a high quality camera, it will require you to use the higher file formats like RAW (just an example). Those formats require a powerful computer to support the software required to edit it. Obtaining the camera you want may be a personal best for you but if you don't have a computer powerful enough to support it, you're shit out of luck. I'm not mentioning this to further promote the use of iPhone's but more as a way to remind you to consider the aspects in making a film before you shoot down an idea. And yes, I know this post is highlighting the use of using an iPhone for film but I would also like to add that you don't have to use one. I am simply stating that it's ok to use iPhone's and they are still viable options to help bring your vision to the screen. It doesn't mean it's not a "real" camera or that you're poor (a lot of people can't afford an iPhone). There is no right or wrong way to make a film but there are things that can make it better. In the end, you are in charge of your vision and you have a gift to share with all of us. I would hate for you to limit your gift and dreams due to the expectations of others or the budget you have. Some of the best films and cinematic moments were created using untraditional tactics. If you have a kick-ass, heavy camera and know how to use it- awesome! Use it! Make your art! If you only have an iPhone- great! Use it! Make your art. I want to see your film. Here's to those who use or have used an iPhone for their cinematic needs!
Sources: Lady Gaga Uses iPhone for New Music Video: https://www.techradar.com/news/lady-gagas-vibrant-new-music-video-shot-exclusively-using-apples-iphone-11-pro
Soderbergh's iPhone Experiment in Unsane: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/steven-soderberghs-inspired-iphone-experiment-in-unsane
Selena Gomez Uses iPhone to Shoot Music Video: https://www.businessinsider.com/selena-gomez-video-lose-you-to-love-me-iphone-11-2019-1