by Tom Barrance | Updated October 2023
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- The iPhone 15 Pro is the best phone you can get for filmmaking
- All iPhones can shoot high-quality video with optical image stabilisation
- If you want to shoot and edit on one device, iPads or larger phones are best
- You may need accessories like cages 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.
Which iPad or iPhone?
iPhone 15 and 15 Pro
If you’re buying a phone specifically for filmmaking, the iPhone 15 Pro is the best choice (though an iPhone 14 Pro is just as good for most users). Both phones have ‘Cinematic’ mode, which lets you film shallow focus shots that look as if they’ve been filmed on a large pro camera. You can easily ‘pull focus’ from one subject to another, and even change the focus after you’ve filmed the shot.
These phones have three cameras:
- The main (1x) camera is equivalent to a 24mm wide angle lens on a full frame camera. Its 48MP sensor means it can also record full quality at 2x (48mm), which will give more natural perspective for closeups.
- The 0.5x lens is a 13mm extreme wide angle.
- The 3x telephoto lens is equivalent to 77mm. This is close to the ideal focal length for closeups, which is why I’m buying a Pro rather than a Pro Max. (The 5x telephoto lens on the bigger phone could be useful for travel, but 120mm is a bit too long for regular filmmaking.)
The 15 Pro and Pro Max are the first camera phones to shoot in the professional ProRes format. They can record in ‘log’ mode, which handles contrasty subjects better and is easier to colour correct and match to other cameras. (Cinematic mode can’t use ProRes or Log.)
I got the 256Gb model as the 128Gb model can’t shoot ProRes at 60fps.
The 15 Pro models can record to an external drive over USB-C, so there’s no real need to buy the larger (512Gb or 1Tb) models. Apple’s built-in storage costs much more per Gb than an external SSD like the Samsung T7.
The non-pro iPhone 15 has two lenses and can shoot 0.5x, 1x and full quality 2x. It can’t shoot ProRes or Log mode.
iPhone 13, 14, 13 Pro and 14 Pro
These are the oldest iPhones that can film in Cinematic mode. If you’re not planning to do professional colour correction, a new or refurbished iPhone 14 Pro is a good option for filmmaking. Its specs are fairly similar to the 15 Pro except that it can’t record in log mode. Find iPhone 14 Pro on Amazon
The older iPhone 13 Pro has a smaller (12MP) sensor. Find iPhone 13 Pro on Amazon.
The 2020 iPhone SE is the most compact and affordable current iPhone but it’s limited for filmmaking. I’d get a refurbished iPhone 13 or 14 (Pro or standard) instead.
iPads for filmmaking
The basic iPad is the cheapest current Apple tablet, with up to 256Gb memory and a headphone jack, but it can only shoot 1080p HD and slow motion is limited to 720p.
The latest iPad mini can shoot 4K slow motion, and 1080p HD at up to 240fps. It doesn’t have a headphone jack so you’ll need an adapter.
The iPad Air 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 2Tb of memory. The top iPad Pro can record video in the professional ProRes format.
If you’re buying used or refurbished, go for a fairly recent model. Older iPads can’t be upgraded to the most recent version of iOS. (Apple support phones for much longer.)
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 and the microphone can struggle with 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 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.
- They’re better for group use (eg in schools).
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.
Apple have removed the headphone socket from all current phones: you’ll need an adapter if you want to connect a microphone.
Choosing a used or refurbished phone saves money and emissions (around 80% of an iPhone’s lifetime carbon footprint goes into making it). My refurbished SE 2020 works just as well as a new one.
If you do upgrade, you could keep your old phone to get a second angle, or as a ‘crash cam’ in situations when you don’t want to wreck your expensive new phone. If you get the pro Filmic Pro app, you can also use your old phone as a remote.
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.
Accessories for filmmaking
A cage makes your phone easier to hold steady and to mount on a tripod. It also lets you fit accessories like microphones or lights. You may need to take your phone out of its case to fit the cage.
The basic Ulanzi U-Rig Pro is one of the most affordable cages, with a universal phone clamp and three cold shoe mounts.
Smallrig make a range of cages and other accessories for mobile filming, including wireless handles and mounts for accessory lenses.
A separate microphone will make a big difference to sound quality. My sound equipment page includes a number of microphones that are suitable for using with phones, mounted on a cage.
For extra smooth shots you could get the Osmo Mobile SE. It also has object tracking and can film cool motion timelapse video. But the cinematic stabilisation on the latest iPhones is so good that you may not need it.
Apple’s own Camera app is easy to use. It’s the only app that allows you to film in Cinematic mode.
Using a pro camera app will give you direct access to manual camera controls.
The new, free BlackMagic Camera app has the same clean interface as BlackMagic’s professional cameras. All the main camera settings are on the main display.
Filmic Pro is a subscription-based app. It has similar features to the BlackMagic app, and also offers remote shooting (you can monitor and control your device from a second iPhone or iPad).