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Updated February 2021
- All iPhones can shoot high-quality video with optical image stabilisation
- If you want to shoot and edit on one device, iPads or big screen phones are easiest
- You may need accessories like tripod clamps and microphones
If you own an iPhone, you’ve always got a small, easy-to-use camera in your pocket. It’s great for filming where other cameras would attract too much attention. Video quality can be excellent, so they’re increasingly being used for news and documentary. People have even shot feature films with them.
You can also edit on them, though the free iMovie is a bit cramped and limited on the phone screen: it’s easier on the iPad. LumaFusion or Adobe Premiere Rush have more professional features. I edit my own iPhone videos using Final Cut Pro X on a Mac.
Why doesn’t everybody film on them?
You can get soft, ‘noisy’ images in low light, and you may get flare when you shoot into the light. The lens doesn’t have true optical zoom, it’s hard to use focus creatively, and the microphone struggles in wind and background noise. But if you avoid shooting in difficult light – and you use the right accessories – you can get remarkably good video out of iPhones.
If you already have a recent iPhone or Android phone, you could also consider getting the DJI Osmo Pocket: it’s a little stabilised camera that can use your phone as a screen.
iPhone or iPad?
Reasons to buy an iPhone:
- They generally have better cameras than iPads
- They’re smaller and easier to handhold.
Reasons to buy an iPad:
- The bigger screen is better for editing
- Most are less expensive than iPhones
- Some (not the Pro and Air models) have a 3.5mm minijack for connecting headphones and microphones.
You can shoot on your iPhone then move your clips onto another device – such as an iPad or Mac – for editing. AirDrop, found on all recent iOS devices and Macs, makes this easy.
If you’re on a tight budget, the iPod Touch is the cheapest device for iOS filmmaking, though the screen is small.
Apple have removed the headphone socket from all current phones: you’ll need a Lightning to TRRS dongle if you want to connect a microphone.
Which iPad or iPhone?
Every current iPad and iPhone can shoot Full HD video, and all the phones can shoot 4K and slow motion.
Get plenty of memory: video takes up a lot of space. The iPhone 12 Pro models offer the most, with a 512Gb option.
The new SE is the cheapest current iPhone. It’s the same size as the older iPhone 8 but has better video capabilities and costs less. Its single rear camera can shoot 4K video at 60fps, 1080p at 240fps slow motion, has extended dynamic range (better contrast handling) for standard video, and records stereo sound.
The iPhone XR has a bigger screen and better battery life, but video performance is essentially the same. The main difference for video is that the front ‘selfie’ camera has extended dynamic range.
iPhone 11, iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini
These iPhones have twin lenses (Wide and Ultra Wide), plus Night mode for low light shooting, improved battery life, and twin lenses – wide and ultra wide. iPhone 12 models support 5G networks and have HDR video recording; the 12 Mini is more compact.
iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max
The top iPhones have three lenses (Ultra Wide, Wide and Telephoto). The Pro has a 4x optical zoom range. The larger Pro Max has a 5x range. It has a larger sensor for better camera performance (especially in low light. The other key feature is sensor-shift optical image stabilisation, which can allow smooth handheld shots without a stabiliser.
Cheapest iOS filmmaking device: iPod Touch
If you’re really on a budget, don’t forget the iPod Touch. It’s smaller, lighter and much cheaper than any iPhone or iPad, but still shoots full HD video.
Best iPad for filmmaking?
The standard iPad is the cheapest Apple tablet, with up to 128Gb memory and a headphone jack, but it can only shoot 1080p HD and slow motion is limited to 720p. The iPad mini has similar features but up to 256Gb memory.
The iPad Air has better stabilisation and can record 4K video at up to 60fps, and 1080p HD at up to 240fps. It doesn’t have a headphone socket so you’ll need an adapter.
The iPad Pro models come in two sizes, both with twin cameras. They can shoot 4K, have full HD 240fps slow motion, continuous video autofocus, and optical image stabilisation. They come with up to 1Tb of memory; like the Air, they don’t have headphone sockets.
Used iPhones can be great value. I still use an iPhone 6S, though Apple will eventually stop supporting older models.
If you keep your old iPhone you can use it to get a second angle, or as ‘crash cams’ in situations when you don’t want to wreck your expensive new phone. You can also use one with a lavalier (tieclip) mic as a cheap alternative to a radio mic: put it in the actor/presenter’s pocket and sync it up later.
The biggest issue with iPhone and iPad filmmaking is shaky video, followed by poor sound.
Keeping it steady
It’s tricky to hold a phone steady when you’re holding it horizontally for filming. A clamp or case with a vertical handle makes it much easier. (You could also use a selfie stick). If you can afford it, I’d recommend getting a stabiliser such as the Osmo Mobile. You probably won’t need this if you opt for the top iPhone 12 Pro Max because of its powerful built-in stabilisation.
All these clamps and cases (except for the MPod) have tripod sockets, so you can mount your device to any standard tripod.
I keep the ShoulderPod S2 in my bag: it’s well-made, secure and looks professional. It’s part of an extendable modular system, and has a standard tripod socket on the base.
I carry the little Joby MPod in my pocket when I don’t have the Shoulderpod with me. It’s a combined mini-tripod and elasticated clamp: you can straighten out the legs to use as a handgrip.
You could also get an iOgrapher case for iPhones or iPads. These have handles for easy handholding, a tripod socket, a 37mm mount for fitting adapter lenses or filters, and cold shoes for mounting accessories like lights and microphones. Most are designed for specific phone models, though they also make an adaptable Multi Case (which doesn’t have a lens mount).
I’ve recently bought the versatile and inexpensive Zecti rig (above): it’s not as elegant or quick to set up as the iOgrapher, but it adapts to most phone sizes and includes two cold shoes, several brass tripod sockets, a spirit level and an adjustable mount for 17mm and 37mm adapter lenses.
The compact, versatile Manbily A-222+M1 monopod is very affordable. It comes with a detachable tripod base. You can mount a clamp or case directly to it, or add a video head or ballhead. You can also fit the tripod screw to the base end and use it as a boom pole for high angle shots.
The Beastgrip phone case is more expensive than the other cases. But it’s adaptable for different phones, so you can keep it when you upgrade your phone. You can also adapt it with a depth of field adapter to fit professional SLR lenses.
The Padcaster gives you several different mounting positions for accessories. You can buy it as a bundle including a microphone and wide angle conversion lens. Some bundles, like this one for the iPad mini include a Lenscaster adapter which lets you mount SLR lenses for shallow focus shots.
To improve the sound, you can connect separate microphones.
The Rode VideoMic Me is a useful, affordable cardioid (directional) microphone with an effective windshield. But the current model won’t mount on the iPhone 7/8/X because of the missing headphone socket.
The Rode smartLav+ is a neat lavalier (tieclip) microphone designed specifically for phones.
The Boya BY-M1 is a bargain lavalier mic for cameras and smartphones. The quality and sound level are remarkable for the price. Like some other microphones it can have problems with the iPhone 6/6S headphone socket. I’ve solved this by using tape to cover the brass surround at the base of the plug so that it doesn’t make contact with the body of the phone. You could also use this TRRS extension lead.
You can connect professional microphones as well, but you’ll need a TRS-TRRS adapter.
I’ve done a comparison test of different iPhone microphone options.
Electronic gimbal stabilisers are much quicker to set up than tripods, and allow you to shoot smooth tracking shots.
The $119 DJI OSMO Mobile 3 is a compact, effective smartphone. It’s easy to set up, folds down for easy travel, and its features include motion tracking, gesture control and programmable motion time lapse.
The cameras on iPads and single lens iPhones don’t go very wide when shooting stabilised video. (You can get a wider angle by using apps like Filmic Pro that let you turn off stabilisation).
You can add wide angle, telephoto and macro conversion lenses. Wide angle adapters are the most useful. You can get in closer and shoot in cramped spaces, and they make camera shake less obvious. But you’ll lose some sharpness.
The best quality iPhone lenses are made by Moment. You can get telephoto, wide angle, fisheye and anamorphic lenses. They’re fairly large and heavy and mount on Moment’s own cases. You can get telephoto, wide angle, fisheye and anamorphic lenses.
Small lights aren’t great for image quality, but they can be useful as ‘fill’ or for very low-light closeups.
The Aputure AL-M9 is very good value, compact and controllable. It has good colour rendition and comes with a couple of gels and a diffuser. You can handhold it or mount it on a cold shoe.
The iBlazr 2 is a compact and relatively powerful light that integrates with the Camera app.
You could use a rechargeable ringlight like the iSelfy to provide basic soft lighting and fill, but these cheap lights have poor colour rendition.
A portable external battery/charger is a good idea, especially for timelapses. I use an Anker charger.
The Camera app bundled with iPhones and iPads is easy to use, intuitive and very stable. But it can’t film in standard European frame rates or at the 24fps used by filmmakers.
FiLMiC Pro lets you set manual focus and exposure separately, choose different aspect ratios (screen shapes), frame rates and video quality, adjust colour balance, display overlays to help with exposure and focus, and even ‘pull focus’. It was used to shoot Tangerine, a feature-length iPhone movie selected for the Sundance film festival. Usefully, you can turn off video stabilisation to get the full benefit of the iPhone’s 29mm lens (stabilisation crops the image). But it’s not as stable or easy to use the Camera app.
Adobe Premiere Rush (see below) includes a camera app with manual control options and a choice of frame rates.
It’s easier to edit on the iPad rather than the iPhone as there’s more screen space. Some editing programs have more features in the iPad versions.
Apple’s iMovie (above) is easy to use and works on both devices. It lets you add cutaways and voiceovers, use just the audio from clips, and insert and add motion to still photos. But it’s only designed to work with video filmed on iOS devices, and serious filmmakers and mobile journalists will find it limited.
VN Video Editor is an impressive free editing app for iPhones, iPads, Android devices, PCs, and recent Macs.
LumaFusion brings a raft of pro editing features to both iPhone and iPad, with up to three video and three audio tracks, and far more flexibility and control than iMovie. It works with a range of different aspect ratios (screen shapes). But the interface is complex, especially on the phone.
Adobe’s Premiere Rush works on iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC and some Android devices. It’s mainly designed for online video creators.
VideoLeap offers sophisticated effects including keyframe animations, layers, chromakey (green screen) and more. There’s a free version, but to unlock all the professional features you need the paid version. You can pay monthly or annually, or with a one-time fee.
I provide iPad/iPhone filmmaking training for businesses, organisations and individuals (online only during the current Covid pandemic).