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iPhone Filmmaking: The Benefits and the Risks

iPhone filmmaker taking footage of mountains

Today’s cinematography has changed considerably, even within the last five or ten years. A major change is the type and availability of equipment used, which recently includes cell phone cameras such as the iPhone. With convenience and ease, the iPhone allows both professionals and amateurs alike the ability to record, share, and edit their own works of art. Apple’s responses to the film industry’s needs has compelled filmmakers of all levels to consider using their iPhone for projects.

Acclaimed director and producer Steven Soderbergh has gone on record to say that filming on iPhones is “the future”–but what will your project lose? It is good to have an idea of both the benefits and the risks of iPhone filmmaking before making that ultimate decision.

The History of iPhone Filmmaking

iPhone filmmaking first got its start back when the iPhone 3G was released in 2008. At it’s initial release, the iPhone 3G had a 2MP camera. Although this does not seem impressive by today’s standards, it was one of the top smartphone cameras at the time.

Since then, Apple took notice and began to focus their efforts of development on the camera in their subsequent releases. Now iPhone filmmakers choose to use a wide array of models to help create their projects.

Cult Following with Independent Filmmakers

Independent filmmakers dominate this group of iPhone filmmakers. In specific, a few films really helped to create buzz for this group. Within the past five years, the iPhone filmmakers have seen an increase. In fact, a couple of feature films which earned critical acclaim. In addition, there are short films and commercials which were created with the help of this smartphone. This led to more films that relied on the iPhone as the main camera, including some directed by auteurs like Michel Gondry and Chan-wook Park.

Early Lessons

These films show that with the right plans and detail to lighting and other factors, projects shot on iPhones could expand the horizons of the film industry. iPhone filmmaking teaches us to be more inclusive of those who may not work in the studio hierarchy. Their work also shows us that Apple dedicates themselves to improving the later models of the iPhone. For example, the company now provides tutorials for photography and cinematography.

The Benefits

The benefits of having an iPhone as a primary camera offers a manageable size and weight. Although the actual specification varies with the model, some choose to use the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 8. iPhone filmmakers can also put their phones safely in their pocket after shooting.

Versatility

In terms of setting up for various scenes to be shot, doing so on an iPhone means having to compensate for sudden movements and stability. This is where many use flexible tripods and tripod clamps that can be affixed to different surfaces to capture the desired shot, which can also be stowed away without a lot of difficulty for transport.

Portability

The portability factor also was considered a boon to filmmakers who were shooting on city blocks. Because of this, they do not have to deal with law enforcement holding up production when using iPhones. The size of the iPhone also allows filmmakers to get into positions to capture shots from various positions that would’ve taken a lot of time and effort to do with traditional high-end cameras.

iPhone Filmmaking Specs

Getting into specifics, the footage that’s captured on iPhones have grown to be some of the more striking in the industry of late. This is due to more of a focus being paid by the company to the capabilities of the camera and the decision to vastly improve them mainly in comparison to the cameras on other smartphones at first.

Megapixels/Image Quality

One of Apple’s main focuses has been to improve the camera with every release. For that reason, the most recent iPhone 11 has three cameras now and each has 12 megapixels. In contrast, many iPhone filmmakers have been using the iPhone 7 and 8 models.

Film Resolution

The video resolution rate with these are set at Full HD resolution, or 1080p to start, but this boost depends on the model to shoot in 4K UltraHD. UltraHD definition now has more than 8 million pixels in resolution.

Frames per Second (FPS)

iPhone filmmakers’ abilities don’t stop there. They can also modify the frame rate of the video footage for captures, up from the usual 24 FPS to 60 FPS. Changing the FPS rate demonstrates the video’s boost in quality. Additionally, the later iPhone models also come with better image stabilization.

Battery Life

Battery life has been greatly improved over the years as well. In many cases, the battery lasts for 10 or more hours. The processors installed in these smartphones are also powerful enough to handle the rigors of shooting video of this quality.

iPhone filmmaking is very budget friendly, which benefits to those who would rather use money on other aspects of the production. Apple has also made it easy for data and footage transfers, as well as the ability to move footage from the smartphone to a computer for editing.

The Risks

As much as there is to gain from using an iPhone for shooting film, there are a number of risks that can take place. Keep these in mind if you should choose to become an iPhone filmmaker.

Storage Concerns

To begin with, shooting in high quality definition leads to storage concerns. Shooting 720p resolution video at 30 FPS eats up 40 MB per minute. When a filmmaker boosts to 1080p, that number goes up to 60MB per minute. Even more, if a filmmaker chooses to shoot 4K at 60 FPS, that means each minute takes 400MB per minute.

Camera Lens

Another challenge for iPhone filmmakers is the camera lens, which is a fixed and wide-angle format. Zooming in increases the risk of shooting highly pixelated video. And as far as getting medium and close-up shots, one needs to physically move closer to the subject to compensate for the lack of the depth of field. This seemingly small detail changes the overall look of the shot.

Shooting Considerations

For outdoor shoots, one has to be careful about the conditions– especially when in colder temperatures. The iPhone will shut down if it experiences temperatures outside of 95 degrees to the level of freezing at 32 degrees. The reason for this is because the temperature affects the lithium-ion battery inside. While these settings can be adjusted within the phone, it can create unnecessary delays.

Lighting

Another issue that all iPhone filmmakers need to consider is lighting. Filmmakers need to exercise caution with external light one. Even then, shoots that require in low light are not advised because it can create noisy images.

Film Post Production

Another factor that causes headaches for iPhone filmmakers is in the editing afterwards. Many iPhone filmmakers find themselves using a series of third-party applications while shooting. If the iPhone filmmaker chooses to shoot with gradients, they may experience color-banding.

Conclusion

For those who have taken an interest in making iPhones the next vessel for their film project, there are definitely certain advantages that are present. It isn’t a failsafe method of filming yet, and the industry is still working mostly with traditional cameras. But as the technology develops in correlation with improved training and techniques, it might become a more attractive way for creators to express their stories.

Want to Learn More?

The art of filmmaking has grown in recent years to include new horizons and new tools such as using smartphones like the iPhone to put together film projects. If this kind of creativity appeals to you & you’re curious enough to learn more, take a moment to check out IPR’s Digital Video Production and the training that they provide on-site about the tools needed to succeed in that area.

Contact us today to learn more about the digital video and media production program and how to go about creating a career in the film industry.