The iPhone is a great little device for filming. Video is sharp, with good colours, and impressive slow-motion. So I use mine a lot, but it has its limitations. Here are the pros and cons to help you decide whether you should use your phone or an SLR/mirrorless camera.
Why you should…
You’ve already got one
If you already own an iPhone, that’s one of the main advantages: you can start filming straight away without needing to buy a camera. But if you don’t own one, a mirrorless camera may give you better image quality, especially in low light. However, as phones improve, the difference is becoming less obvious.
It’s small, light and discreet
Nobody paid much attention when I filmed with my iPhone in this Paris market.
The iPhone is inconspicuous and people are used to them. You can shoot with it in situations where a big video camera or DSLR would attract too much attention. It’s small and light, so it’s easy to carry with you anywhere, and to mount in unusual places.
People are usually less self-conscious when you film them with a phone rather than a pro camera. You’ll probably get more natural responses by using a phone – but not if you overload it with accessories.
To shoot this film with an SLR, I used a big carbon fibre tripod, a monopod, a loupe, a stabiliser, a wheelchair and four lenses…
…but this one just needed an iPhone, a stabiliser and a wireless microphone.
Stabilisers are affordable
Using an iPhone and DJI OSMO on a boom pole for a crane shot.
Good iPhone stabilisers are much less expensive than ones for bigger cameras. So that makes smooth tracking shots really affordable. Mount the stabiliser on a boom pole or monopod and you can shoot crane shots without having to carry a big jib around with you. And the most recent iPhones (from the iPhone 13 onwards) have such good image stabilisation that you may not need a stabiliser.
iPhones have better slow motion than many DSLRs or mirrorless cameras. Most can shoot Full HD at 240fps; even my old iPhone 6S could shoot 120fps, while my Panasonic G80 can only manage 60fps.
You can shoot and edit on the same device
Being able to film and edit on your phone is a big advantage if you need to be able to put a movie together quickly in the field. It’s really useful for journalists and researchers.
…and why you shouldn’t
The camera is tiny
Mobile devices have tiny cameras and sensors. So that means they’re not as good in low light and very contrasty scenes. This also means it’s hard to film shallow focus shots. (Cinematic mode, on more recent phones, can simulate shallow focus effects).
Audio is limited
You’ll either need to get close or to use a separate microphone. It can be difficult to monitor audio as you shoot. (However, many SLRs and mirrorless cameras have similar limitations.)
Limited control and limited quality
Manual controls are limited. You can get pro camera apps like Filmic Pro which let you control shutter speed, aperture and white balance, but adjustments are limited and slower than the buttons and dials on interchangeable lens cameras.
No eye-level viewfinder
The screen is designed to be held away from your face, which can be a problem in bright sunlight. Most mirrorless cameras have eye-level viewfinders.
No articulating screen
Many SLRs and camcorders have swivel screens – or the option of outputting to an external monitor – which makes it easy to monitor high and low angle shots. (But with Filmic Pro, you can use a second phone or iPad as a remote monitor for your phone.)
iPhones have fixed, limited memory and you can’t swap memory cards. So for extended filming, you’ll need to transfer your footage to another device or an expansion module like the Samsung iXpand.
So, should you shoot with your iPhone? High-end phones like the iPhone 13 or 14 (especially the Pro models) are great for learning filmmaking skills. If you’re making news, documentary or factual videos, and particularly if you want to be discreet, they have some compelling advantages. But if you want more control and the advantages of a large sensor and interchangeable lenses, you might be better off with a more traditional camera.