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, you can get better image quality at a lower price from a DSLR or mirrorless camera.
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.
Current iPhones have better slow motion than many DSLRs or mirrorless cameras: my 6S can shoot 120fps in full HD (or 240fps in 720p), 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 good in low light and they can’t handle very contrasty scenes.
It has a fixed lens
You can’t get shallow focus shots like this unless you use a cumbersome adapter to mount SLR lenses.
You can’t swap lenses (though the iPhone 7 Plus has twin lenses). You can add adapter lenses for wide and telephoto shots, but you’ll usually lose quality. And because the lens and sensor are so tiny, there’s a lot of depth of field so it’s hard to use shallow focus creatively.
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.)
It’s hard to hold steady
Phones are designed to be held vertically for phone calls and screen reading. To get steady shots when holding your phone horizontally for filming, you’ll need to buy a clamp, case or stabiliser.
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 much slower than the buttons and dials on interchangeable lens cameras.
Many mirrorless cameras and DSLRs can record video in higher quality formats that are easier to adjust and correct than iPhone video.
No eye-level viewfinder
The screen is designed to be held away from your face, which can be a problem in bright sunlight. Many mirrorless cameras have eye-level viewfinders, and you can buy loupes for eye-level shooting with SLRs.
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.
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 a (slow) expansion module like the Samsung iXpand.
So, should you shoot with your iPhone? If you’re making news, documentary or factual videos, and particularly if you want to be discreet, the iPhone has some compelling advantages. But if you want more control and the advantages of a large sensor and interchangeable lenses, you could be better off with a more traditional camera.