Last week, I got the brand new iPhone 4S. Knowing that it has 1080p video, I was naturally curious, but not that interested, honestly. I mean, what can a phone offer me, right? I have a Panasonic HPX170 and a Canon 7D with thousands of dollars worth of lenses and extra gear.
Yesterday, I had the chance to go to a pumpkin patch with my wife and my kids. I just wanted to play with them, and I didn’t really care to lug any camera gear around. It had also been raining on and off. So even the 7D wasn’t allowed to come out and play. But once we got there, the rain stopped and there were a few semi-interesting photo-ops. And we were having a good time so I thought I’d document it.
But I only had my phone. Uh oh. I thought I would try it anyway. I was blown away by the results, ESPECIALLY when I got it back home on my computer and edited full screen – where it can’t hide behind that tiny screen. The quality in the linked video below on Vimeo doesn’t do it justice at all. There were several aspects of the video quality (e.g. noise levels, color fidelity) that were almost right up there with the Canon 7D. The image was crisp and clean, and there was even a little depth of field (the secret there is to put objects close to the camera). The image at the top of this post is actually from a cropped frame grab from the video.
One of the best aspects of this is that if my phone didn’t have this camera, I would have never recorded these images. I love cinematography, but I love moments more. And sometimes, you can’t have both. When I was a kid, I remember my Mom sucking the life out of the fun when we had to stop to pose for a picture while we were at Disneyland. Looking back at pictures, you’d think I was always pissed at the Happiest Place on Earth. I wasn’t. I just love experiencing things, and a lot of times, setting up a great shot kills that for me. Having such a great camera in my phone means that I can both enjoy the experience, and capture it.
Now, I realize full well that this is a little “consumer-ish”, even for independent filmmakers. I am well aware of the gosh-awful rolling shutter (not like “RED ONE has rolling shutter”, but like ROLLING FREAKING SHUTTER – the kind that creates shots so jello-ish, Bill Cosby gets royalties). And there’s not much control over frame rate, exposure, shutter, etc. There’s also the refocus thing, which I think is actually pretty cool, allowing you to do a ghetto rack focus. A point and shoot can’t refocus while shooting like that, and if you’re just doing shooting tests, that will work fine.
But I’m posting this because, like Richard Dreyfuss and his mashed potatoes, I think this means something, but I’m not exactly sure what yet. For me, it means that my memories are going to be much more potent and magical, and my experiences aren’t going to be a constant battle between recording experiences or enjoying them. I can also tell you that my pre-production workflow is now changed forever. When I take pictures of locations, actors, or camera angles, I’m using my phone. Boom. Done deal. It’s just so much easier and faster.
And if you’re a filmmaker that has a phone that shoots video (especially an iPhone 4S), you are officially out of excuses to make your movie, at least test shoots and short films. I hereby call bullcrap on every reason that you’ve ever given to avoid shooting something. It’s not perfect, but it’s great. And it’s enough power and beauty and portability for you to tell a story, see what cuts together and what doesn’t, learn how to control tone and pacing, how to work with actors, and other crucial filmmaking components that won’t change, even if you ever get your hands on a Scarlet.
Sometime in the near future, we’ll probably do an in-depth comparison of the iPhone 4S and the Canon 7D. The 7D will win every time, of course. But it’s good to know what you’re sacrificing for convenience when shooting with the iPhone instead. It reminds me of the battle I had once I bought my Canon 7D and shelved my HPX170 from then on, even though the HPX has audio capabilities (combined with video in a single stream – remember those days?), zebras and all kinds of monitoring helps, way better compression for visual effects and other essentials. But the 7D was just way more convenient, and it didn’t take hours of setup and tons of extra lights to get a shallow depth of field like the HPX did.
For now, here’s my initial camera shots that were all handheld and shot without help from any apps or gear. Be sure to watch it in full 1080p.
Creator of Movies & Computers. Filmmaker. Author of How to Cheat in After Effects, The After Effects Illusionist, and of several video training series on Lynda.com, Video2Brain, Total Training, and VTC.