Updated 12 January 2017
- The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are good value, with a recent price cut and memory boost
- The new iPhone 7 models have better cameras, but no headphone socket
- If you want to shoot and edit on one device, iPads 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 iMovie is a bit cramped and limited on the phone screen: it’s easier on the iPad. The new LumaFusion app is much more professional, but takes longer to learn. I edit my own iPhone videos using Final Cut Pro X on a Mac.
Apple’s wireless AirDrop feature makes it easy to send iPhone clips to an iPad for editing, either with iMovie or the pro app.
Why doesn’t everybody film on them?
You’ll get soft, ‘noisy’ images in low light, and you may get flare when you shoot into the light. The lens doesn’t 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.
iPhone or iPad?
iPhones have better cameras than most iPads and they’re easier to handhold.
But the larger iPad screen is better for editing, particularly with teams or groups. So if you want to shoot, edit and share from one device it may be a better choice. Most iPad models are less expensive than iPhones.
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.
Which iPad or iPhone?
Every iPad and iPhone since the 3GS and the iPad 2 can shoot video. All the current iPads and iPhones have 1080p Full HD. Get plenty of memory: video takes up a lot of space, so 16Gb models will fill up quickly. The new iPhone 7 models offer the most, with 256Gb options. The SE only goes up to 64Gb, but that should be enough for most people.
Do I need 4K?
Most people don’t need to create finished videos in 4K Ultra HD format. But if you shoot in 4k you can crop the image to 1080p HD. This effectively gives you a 2X digital zoom with no loss of quality.
iPhone 7 and 7+
The newest iPhones have improved battery life, and better low-light performance, compared with the 6S models. The 7+ has a dual camera for high-quality telephoto shots. There’s no headphone socket (though a Lightning to headphone adapter is included) so some audio accessories may not fit.
Both iPhone 7 models can shoot 4K ultra HD and real slow motion (120fps in 1080p HD, or 240fps in 720p), and they have optical image stabilisation for smoother handheld shots.
6S and 6S Plus
These two have similar 4K and slow motion features to the iPhone 7 at a lower price. Only the larger model has optical image stabilisation; the 6S has ‘cinematic’ digital stabilisation. They have traditional headphone sockets. Battery life on the 6S isn’t great.
Best value: iPhone SE
If you don’t mind the smaller screen, the iPhone SE is great value. It has the same video features as the 6S at a lower price. Older users may find it too small, though.
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: iPad Pro 9.7
The standard-sized iPad Pro has a better video camera than the more expensive 12.9 inch version. It’s the only iPad that can shoot 4K (though the Air 2 and the bigger iPad Pro can edit it). It also has full 1080p/120 slow motion and cinematic video stabilisation.
My iPad choice: Air 2
This is the iPad I use most on my training: it’s relatively affordable and the screen is big enough for easy editing.
Most affordable iPad: iPad mini 2
The entry-level iPad is small and easy to handhold, though it doesn’t do slow motion.
Keep your old iPhone too
Old iPhones may be slow, but you can still use them to get a second angle, or as ‘crash cams’ in situations when you don’t want to wreck your expensive new phone. I use my 4S 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
For phones, you could use a selfie stick as a mini-monopod. I prefer to use a clamp or case with a tripod socket. That lets me mount it on any standard tripod or monopod or a pistol grip for handholding.
I carry the ShoulderPod S1 in my bag: it’s well-made, compact and looks professional. I use mine with the optional wooden H1 handle. It’s part of an extendable modular system.
The Ztylus Smartphone Rig, available on its own or as part of their Pistol Grip Kit, has a useful cold shoe on top for mounting microphones or lights. It’s quick to set up.
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.
The Beastgrip phone case is more expensive. But it’s adaptable for different phones, so you can keep it when you upgrade your phone.
The Padcaster is the most professional of the iPad cases. It 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. The current model won’t mount on the iPhone 7 because of the missing headphone socket.
The Rode smartLav+ is a neat lavalier (tieclip) microphone designed specifically for phones.
The Audio Technica ATR3350iS is cheaper than the Rode, comes with a TRS-TRRS adapter, and has a very long lead. But unlike the Rode, it needs a battery.
You can connect professional microphones as well, but you’ll need an adapter.
I’ve done a comparison test of different iPhone microphone options.
For flowing continuous shots, you could get a stabiliser. But I’d recommend getting a simple clamp/pistol grip first: you may find it’s all you need.
The new DJI OSMO Mobile is the most sophisticated stabiliser for iPhones and other smartphones. It’s relatively easy to set up, and its features include motion tracking and programmable motion time lapse.
The Feiyu G4 costs much less than the DJI, but it’s more limited – and Feiyu gimbals need firmware updates that only work on Windows.
The cameras on iPads and 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 Olloclip is a neat standalone lens adaptor for iPhones. It fits on bare phones (without cases) or with the dedicated Ollocase. They are very pocketable though quality isn’t that great. I’ve included samples on my iPhone filmmaking kit page.
The Ztylus Z-Prime telephoto and wide-angle lenses are bigger and heavier with much less distortion; the telephoto is pretty good.
The expensive Zeiss Exolens Pro series are the highest quality lenses you can get for iPhones.
If you want to shoot real cinematic widescreen, you could opt for the (expensive) Moondog Anamorphic converter. (Anamorphic lenses squeeze the image horizontally to fit an ultra wide screen image onto an ordinary sensor). You can buy them to mount directly onto the iPhone 5/5S/SE and 6/6S and Plus models, or with a 37mm mount to fit on iOgraphers or other cases.
I try to avoid carrying lights with me: small lights aren’t great for image quality. But they can be useful for mobile journalists.
The iBlazr 2 is a compact and relatively powerful light that integrates with the Camera app.
You could use a cheap rechargeable ringlight like the iSelfy to provide basic soft lighting and fill for closeups in low light situations. I use mine handheld rather than clipping it to the phone.
A portable external battery/charger is also a good idea, especially for timelapses. I use an Anker charger.
The standard Camera app is easy to use, intuitive and very stable. I’ve been using the more sophisticated FiLMiC Pro: it 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).
It’s easier to edit on the iPad rather than the iPhone as there’s more screen space.
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.
The impressive new LumaFusion app 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). Unlike iMovie, it lets you create projects that match European PAL frame rates.
I provide iPad/iPhone filmmaking training in the UK and Europe for charities, businesses, public sector organisations and schools.