The Pros and Cons of Shooting on
an iPhone in Central London
a Guest Post by Declan Taafe
I decided to shoot a short BMX race film on an iPhone a few weekends ago. Why a race type film? Because I’ve never directed anything like that before. Why on an iPhone 7? Because that’s what I had.
Hitchcock had directed around ten feature films before he was thirty. Most filmmakers these days won’t get a chance to do that. Studios don’t make feature films to that extent these days. He, however, couldn’t have imaged how cheap it would be today to go out and make something on your own. That’s one advantage this generation has over Hitchcock’s and I don’t think we’re using it enough.
So, my theory was this:
- Find a type of project you haven’t done before.
- Do it with whatever you have.
- Don’t burn a hole in your meager artist’s bank account.
There will be limitations, but that’s all the better. You’ll start with an idea of how you want to film something but chances are the limitations of your gear and money won’t allow it, so you’ll have to adapt. You’ll have to find a way. A way you wouldn’t have thought of before.
For example, iPhones don’t do shallow depth of field well, so we staged the action in depth; I wouldn’t be allowed to fly a drone across Central London (and I’m bored of drone shots in everything anyway), so I made an animated sequence in Google Maps to show the race route instead; mounting the phone on a bike led to horrible rolling shutter so we just ran after the bikes while holding the phone on a cheap rig.
But that’s just me. I feel like Mentorless is about sharing knowledge to help others(and there’s a lot of very bad info out there about shooting on a phone) So, here’s most of what I can tell you about where the iPhone does well and where it doesn’t.
Pros and Cons of iPhone 7 Filmmaking
There are a ton of articles extolling the virtues of shooting on a phone, and they can produce a great image but there are issues you should be aware of.
- You don’t want to waste any of your precious shooting time waiting for batteries to charge or footage to transfer so pay attention to the phone’s capacity for both.
I bought clip on battery packs which extend the life of the iPhone by around 80%. This was enough to give us about 6 hours of use (shutting off the screen when it wasn’t being used).
We used a 128gb iPhone at 4k with the highest bit rate setting available. We could have easily got through a day without needing to backing up (you should still back up as often as possible, of course).
- Rolling shutter is something to be aware of.
I’ve seen lots of videos talking about how easy it is to clip your phone to a car, bike etc for cool shots. It’s true it’s easy to mount it, but it’s not easy to get rid of the rolling shutter the vibrations will produce. We tried mounting the phones on the bikes and even the minor shaking from the bikes created unusable jelly images. There may be ways to reduce this but I’d advise figuring that out in advance.
- A low light environment is not the iPhone’s friend.
If we tried to film in the early morning when there was even a hint of darkness left in the sky we got a noisy image. We were able to deal with most of the noise in post, but it is one of the iPhone camera’s major drawbacks.
- You need some sort of app to give you the ability to control things like Frame Rate, Bit rate, and Exposure.
We used the Filmic Pro app.
- The one major issue I didn’t have to deal with on this film was recording dialogue. Which is good because the phone’s microphone is nowhere near good enough. It’s fine for guide track, but that’s all.
I recorded the sounds of the bikes and general location noise separately on a sound recorder and mixed them in post production.
- The small size of the phone and fact that it doesn’t look like a “real” camera is a huge advantage when filming in busy locations.
People ignore you much more than if you had a big camera set up. We were never stopped by police or security, and the amount of random people staring at the camera or ruining the shot in some way was far lower than I’ve experienced with pro kit.
What I’ve taken away from shooting on an iPhone is this: it has limitations you must be aware of and it’s still a long way off being ideal for filmmaking, but shooting on 35mm film has limitations too (cost being the obvious one). However, if you take a little time to work around the phone’s limitations you can produce great stuff and hopefully, when you are directing on 35mm film your time shooting on your phone will have put a few more tricks up your sleeve.
Watch Declan Taaffe’s short film below: