The present and future of post production business and technology | Philip Hodgetts



The iPhone 4S as a production camera?

By now you’ve likely seen the iPhone 4S vs Canon 5D Mk II side by side comparison that Robino Films put up on Vimeo. They are reproduced at Boing Boing and my friend Steve Oakley’s blog. On the face of it the iPhone 4S camera stands up to the 5D MkII very well. Improved resolution to 1080 and real time rolling shutter and stabilization makes this a very much improved video camera over the camera in the iPhone 4.

What isn’t obvious about the test, and what makes it unfair, is that the iPhone 4S camera is a fixed wide angle, fixed lens and limited manual control with the basic camera app. (I expect third parties will create a better camera app in time for the 4S camera.) A DSLR by comparison has a wide selection of lenses, usually manual control and generally more flexible.

The iPhone 4S camera has the advantage that it’s likely to be always with you, and going to give you a decent picture whatever comes up, but is it a production camera?

Not in the classic sense, but I can see it becoming a “C” camera in some circumstances.  For example, I’m in the early planning stages for a reality show next year that will be in very cramped circumstances, with limited space to store gear, so every tool has to do multiple duty. Current planning is that our primary camera will be a NEX FS100 with other NEX family cameras as confessionals/B cameras.

Some interviews will need to be recorded and for interviews I’m a big fan of multiple camera setups, simply because it makes editing easier in my opinion. So A camera is the FS 100, An FS 7 for the B and in a Glif mounted on a Gorillapod is an iPhone 4S as a safe, wide shot of the whole interview setup. Something to fall back on!

As an aside, I’m also thinking of using the heavier duty Gorillapod as a way of mounting a Lightpanel 1×1 for soft scene lighting, balanced with some judicious on-camera Lightpanels mini.  There are Gorillapod models that will support the 1×1.  This is because storing C-stand(s) will be tricky.

In reality production, having a camera that’s ready in seconds makes it more likely a shot will be obtained when needed! I’m sure you know the adage very well: “The best camera is the one you have available when needed!”

And while production cameras don’t get updated every year or two, the iPhone (and all smartphones) do.  Just one year after the just-barely-ok iPhone 4 video comes the vastly improved iPhone 4S camera. In mid-to-late 2012 will be another release, with better camera software and tech.

Oh, it’s a halfway decent point-and-shoot still camera as well.


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  • Ben Balser · October 27, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    And remember, Philip, an iPhone can get into places and get shots and angles a larger DSLR can’t!

  • Author comment by Philip · October 27, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Absolutely. No-one thinks twice about seeing an iPhone taking pictures, but turn up with a pro camera etc, and that’s a different story in some places.

  • Andy · October 27, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Apparently the iPhone 4 was used for C camera/last minute idea shots in the Avengers…

  • Author comment by Philip · October 27, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    And learnt tonight that it was a really fancy iPhone app for lens previz that was used on the iPhone on The Avengers, so the iPhone was used on set but not in the pictures.

  • Phil Balsdon · October 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    The biggest problem is the iPhone appears to use shutter speed to control the exposure. Take a look at the Robino Films footage, in some of the street scenes there is “rolling banding” on some of the signs. Also notice the strobing effect on the movement of cars through the frame, especially the faster cars closer to the frame. I would imagine in low light, especially with such a tiny sensor this is going to cause major problems with motion blur as the shutter speed slows down.

    • Author comment by Philip · October 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm

      All reasonable points. I saw the nasty strobing myself, but for a C camera, I could live with the deficiencies.

  • Ben Balser · November 1, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    My FCP Users Group holds an annual iPhone short film contest. It’s amazing what these folks do with them. I mean the one’s who really exploit the form factor, getting shots larger devices simply can’t get. It’s no DSLR, but, it’s nice. Can’t wait to get my hands on a 4S and test it out myself.

    • Author comment by Philip · November 3, 2011 at 11:12 am

      I’d also like to test the 4S myself. I like that I can have a decent camera in my pocket all the time. And I think it would make fine “C” camera for interview setups.

  • Simon Morice · November 12, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    I’m so glad to see that the iPhone is beginning to be taken more seriously. I’ve been experimenting with it for a while now. Combined with other bits of technology and the right app it is potentially a game changing reporting tool. Interestingly, you need to consider the technology of story too in order to make short but complete stories.

    I gave a talk at the RTS a while back, here is the first of a two part blog – one dividend is that you can shoot,edit and upload in a few minutes. We also demoed this OB truck in your pocket at IBC.

    • Author comment by Philip · November 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm

      Interesting post there.



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