Best Smartphone For Filmmaking
Do you have a great idea and some filmmaking skills and want to film a feature but afraid of the costs? The biggest equipment cost that any filmmaker to capture his/her vision onto the big screen is a filmmaking camera.
The problem with many filmmaking cameras available on the market today tend to break the budget for many independent filmmakers.
While there are some great 4K filmmaking cameras under $1,000 that can shoot amazing video footage, but what if you don’t have the funds to buy a 4K camera today to start filming?
I have some good news for those filmmakers that are looking for an alternative to a filmmaking camera, and that filmmaking camera may be in your pocket today, and it’s called your smartphone.
That’s right, today’s smartphones shoot amazing 4K quality video production footage. Plus they are stiff competition for some of the best-selling filmmaking cameras out there on the market today.
This post is for filmmakers looking for help to find a cheaper alternative to a filmmaking camera, and what phones are the best for video and filmmaking.
If you are thinking about using a smartphone for your next film project, I will break down what are the best 4k video phone 2022, so you can start filming cheaper than you ever thought possible.
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Smartphones For Filmmaking
Smartphones are not just for making phone calls and playing Angry Birds on them, they are powerful palm-sized computers that also take amazing 4k videos.
Beginning to advanced filmmakers are using smartphones to shoot amazing movies with at a fraction of the cost for a professional 4k filmmaking camera.
Even Hollywood filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh, Zack Snyder, and Sean Baker (Director of Tangerine) have made short-length and full-length features with the iPhone’s, and many Hollywood filmmakers are taking notice of the power of the smartphone.
With so many great smartphones available on the market today that can produce incredible video footage, it can be difficult to choose the right one for you.
Below are reviews of the best smartphones for filmmaking chosen by my filmmaking colleagues shooting short-films while stuck in self-isolation.
Curious about what the quality looks like when shooting with a Smartphone? See the video below.
Related Article: Smartphone Filmmaking 101: Learn to Shoot Mobile Video
Apple iPhone 11 & 12 Pro Max
Since the Apple iPhone 7, filmmakers were given the ability to shoot features with, as long as you had conversion lenses attached to the smartphone.
With the release of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, Apple has finally added 5G to its flagship Smartphone.
It features the powerful A14 Bionic chip, 5G to download and stream high-quality video, a bright 6.7″ Super Retina XDR display, and Ceramic Shield for better drop performance.
Apple‘s new LiDAR scanner improves autofocus in low light conditions and offers night mode for portrait photos.
Apple ProRAW is a filmmaker‘s dream because it will give you full creative control over color, detail, and dynamic range on the iPhone or with a third party app.
It has an extended dynamic range for video up to 30fps and cinematic video stabilization for video in 4K, 1080p, and 720p.
Other new additions include 10-bit HDR with Dolby vision up to 60fps which makes for the perfect smartphone for filmmaking.
Apple continued with the three rear camera system like the predecessor Apple iPhone 11 pro max.
The Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max features a 12mp 26mm f1.8 wide-angle, a 52mm f2.8 2x telephoto, and a super-wide 13mm f2.4 lens, loyal filmmakers to the Apple eco-system are now rejoicing in the fact that they now have an amazing filmmaking smartphone.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max rear cameras will shoot in 4K UHD at 24/30/60fps, 1080p at 30/60/120/240fps, 720p at 30fps.
If you are using the front camera for vlogging, it will shoot in 4K UHD at 24/30/60fps, 1080p at 30/60/120fps.
The maximum storage of the iPhone 12 Pro Max is 512GB with 6GB of Ram, and the screen has a maximum refresh rate of 60Hz.
- Amazing Stabilization
- Fast Focusing
- Excellent night mode
- Versatile triple camera
- Consistent colors across cameras
- Screen size: 5.8-inch Dimensions: 144 x 71.4 x 8.1mm Resolution: 2436 x 1125
- OS: iOS 14
- CPU: A14 Bionic
- Storage: 64/256/512GB
- Battery: 4 hours longer than XS Rear camera: 12MP, 12MP, 12MP Front camera: 12MP
My Filmmaker Friend’s Review: “The iPhone 12 Pro is probably the best smartphone camera Apple’s ever made, it’s and for the price of this camera phone it’s certainly a winner for me.
It’s reliable – you take a shot and it’s likely going to be a good one, even in middling light. Dynamic range is strong, and with three cameras, it’s versatile too.
If you are looking for the right smartphone for filmmaking that stays within the Apple ecosystem, the latest iPhones are the right choice. It’s one of the best phones for making movies.”
Upcoming Cinematic Mode iPhone 13
What’s Cinematic Mode? With the recent announcement of the new Apple iPhone 13, coming out late September 2021, the new iPhone 13 Pro will offer Cinematic Mode that may be a game-changer in smartphone filmmaking.
Cinematic Mode is specially designed for content creators who love to record Cinematic videos from an iPhone. It allows users to record video with depth effect and dynamic focus transitions automatically to create movie-like cinematic content.
Once you start recording videos using Cinematic Mode, the device will track a moving person. When a new person enters the frame, the Cinematic Mode shifts the focus automatically, or you can use a finger tap to change focus while recording.
Is Cinematic Mode Coming to iPhone 12 Pro Max? Unfortunately No. Cinematic Mode is not available for iPhone 12 Pro Max or any other older iPhone as Apple specially build this feature for iPhone 13 series. Many users think that iOS 15 will bring Cinematic Mode for iPhone 12 models.
But only the iPhone 13 series, which has a new A15 Bionic Chip, will be able to take the load of Cinematic Mode, which uses depth data to record video in 1080p at 30FPS.
Apple iPhone 13
For a filmmaker, you will have a lot of fun playing with this new video mode within the camera, which adds a bokeh effect to your videos.
But Cinematic mode isn’t just the video equivalent of portrait mode for photos. There’s much more going on here, and it wouldn’t be possible without the advanced A15 Bionic processor.
Here’s what you need to know about Cinematic mode for the iPhone 13 — and the pros and cons based on reviews.
What is Cinematic mode on iPhone 13?
Cinematic mode is intended to bring a depth-of-field effect to your iPhone 13 videos by leveraging its A15 Bionic chip and advanced computational algorithms.
The Cinematic mode can provide automatic focus changes when there are multiple subjects in the frame. The iPhone 13 is even smart enough to switch from one subject to another if, say, one person turns their head towards another.
The purpose of Cinematic mode is to make your iPhone 13 videos look more immersive and dynamic. And while the iPhone 13 can switch focus between subjects automatically, you can tap on subjects as you shoot to direct where you want the focus to be. In addition, you can tweak the depth-of-field effect and the level of bokeh after you record in editing.
How do you use Cinematic mode on iPhone 13?
It’s very simple to start using Cinematic mode on your iPhone 13. All you need to do is open the camera app and slide over to spots to the left where it says Cinematic. From there you just hit Record.
Recommendations from reviews I have read are to position the iPhone 13 camera in front of your subject or subjects in such a way that you’ll see the bokeh effect in action before you start shooting. You’ll see a live preview of what your Cinematic mode footage will look like as you move your iPhone 13 around.
How good is the iPhone 13’s Cinematic mode?
Overall, Cinematic mode footage looks rather impressive in terms of the depth of field effect, and it’s exceptional how quickly the iPhone 13 processes a scene in real-time with moving subjects.
In the clip below, it really shows what a filmmaker can do with making the foreground really pop, and the background artfully blurred.
The only major drawback to Cinematic mode is that the footage is capped at 1080p, so you can’t get 4K quality in this mode. However, since most social media platforms output at full HD, it’s not a huge deal in terms of sharing your creations.
The iPhone 13 can also get tripped up in terms of focus if subjects are coming in and out of the frame, but it reacts fairly quickly.
- Size: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
- Splash, Water, and Dust Resistant: All-glass and surgical-grade stainless steel design, water and dust resistant (rated IP68 – maximum depth of 6 meters up to 30 minutes)
- Camera & Video: Triple 12MP cameras with Portrait mode, Depth Control, Portrait Lighting, Smart HDR 4, and 4K Dolby Vision HDR video up to 60 fps. Front Camera 12MP TrueDepth front camera with Portrait mode, Depth Control, Portrait Lighting, and Smart HDR 4
- Battery Life: Video playback – Up to 28 hours Video playback (streamed): Up to 25 hours Audio playback – Up to 95 hours 20W adapter or higher (sold separately) Fast-charge capable – Up to 50% charge in around 30 minutes with 20W adapter or higher
The iPhone 13 Pro Max’s stellar cameras, 120Hz ProMotion display, and longer battery life add up to a practically perfect phone in our testing. The charging could be faster and Touch ID would be nice, but overall this is a beast that can’t be beaten.
- Best cameras in a phone
- Superior performance
- Cinematic video mode
- Brighter display
- Excellent battery life
- Could use faster charging
- Cinematic mode capped at 1080p
We placed our smartphones beside each other on tripods and shot the same landscape. Let’s just say that the Huawei P30 Pro, with its phenomenal camera, won that battle easily.
Now that Huawei has introduced the P40 Pro, I would have to say that it would probably win the battle again as the best smartphone for filmmaking.
Before I go into the incredible camera features of this great smartphone filmmaking camera, I have to warn you that due to Huawei and Google not getting along.
This means that many of the great applications on Google Play won’t be found on the Huawei P40 Pro.
The Huawei P40 Pro’s Leica-branded imaging system is initiated by a brand new 50MP sensor, which uses RYYB (Red, Yellow, Yellow, Blue) sub-pixel formation.
The company insists that this Huawei claims this gives its cameras the ability to manage shooting dark scenes like a pro, which my friend still brags about.
The P40 Pro main camera lens features a standard f/1.9 aperture like many of the smartphones on the market today, but with a huge sensor size and OIS, coupled with Huawei’s impressive electronic image stabilization, it can pretty much see in the dark.
Plus, the smartphone features a 40MP f/1.8 ultra-wide camera, a 12MP telephoto camera that’s capable of 5x optical zoom or 50x digital zoom, and a time-of-flight (ToF) sensor for creating bokeh effects.
- Fantastic Battery Life
- Amazing Camera
- Limited Software
- Main camera: 50MP (f/1.9)
- Telephoto: 12MP (f/3.4)
- Ultra-wide: 40MP (f/1.8)
- OIS: Yes
- Front camera: 32MP
- Weight: 209g
- Dimensions: 158.2 x 72.6 x 9mm
- Battery size: 4,200mAh
- Max video quality: 4K 60fps
- Storage: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB
- Memory card slot: Yes
A short review from my filmmaking friend who owns the P40 Pro: “The Huawei Camera App is the best in the business, and I can shoot Ultra HD / 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, as well as a super slow motion at up to an eye-watering 7680fps.
I haven’t seen anything else come close. This is the smartphone for filmmaking that will Neve leave mysids”
Related Article: Warning: These 9 Filmmaking Mistakes Will Destroy Your Film
Samsung Galaxy S21+ Ultra 5G
Years ago I owned the Samsung Note 4, and I thought that was the best camera on the market at the time. Then the battery issues happened, and the Note 4 went into lockdown mode.
So, I was a little apprehensive about buying a Samsung smartphone again. But then the Samsung Galaxy S21+ Ultra 5G came along and change my mindset on Samsung phones.
With this smartphone, you are able to bring a pro-level studio wherever you go with Galaxy S21+ Ultra 5G’s super-speed processing and complete pro kit of camera features – including the groundbreaking 100x Space Zoom and cutting-edge AI – in an immersive 6. 7” Infinity-O display.
Galaxy S21+ Ultra 5G’s modern design gives you a cinematic experience and enhanced viewing comfort with next-level functionality.
Take pro-quality, hi-res images and video with a full system of studio lenses with super stabilization a groundbreaking 108MP camera system that captures millions of more pixels in each shot.
Features like the Single Take AI make it quick and easy to capture multiple photos and videos with a single tap.
Zoom in super close, even from 300 feet away, and capture pro-grade video and dazzling photos at night, even without flash, with Ultra Bright Night mode.
Plus it has wireless charging!
- 108MP primary camera
- Up to 100x zoom
- 8K video
- 100x zoom of limited use
- 8K video comes with restrictions
- Battery life is an issue
- Rear cameras: 108MP (primary f/1.8, 26mm, OIS), 12MP (ultra wide angle f/2.2, 13mm), 48MP (telephoto f/3.5, 103mm), ToF depth-sensing camera
- Front camera: 40MP (f/2.2, 26mm)
- OIS: Yes
- Weight:222 g
- Dimensions:166.9 x 76 x 8.8mm
- Max video quality: 8K video
- Storage: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB
- Memory card slot: Yes
Samsung has always delivered in video quality, and the latest phones today and tomorrow are the perfect choice for your smartphone for filmmaking.
Related Article: 5+ Best Tips To Make Your Smartphone Cinematography More Cinematic
Google Pixel 5 & 6
This ultimate 5G Google phone is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor, 8GB of RAM, and Android 11 for smooth streaming, gaming, and more.
With stunning photo and video capabilities, wireless charging and water-resistance, it’s an amazing tool.
8MP f/2.0 front-facing camera, along with 12.2MP f/1.7 dual-pixel and 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide rear cameras, let you take amazing photos and videos.
With the Google Pixel 6, you will get a camera with an incredible 50 MP wide – 12 MP ultrawide – 8 MP front camera.
As a smartphone for filmmaking, the cameras have loads of features including autofocus detection, optical and electronic stabilization, Live HDR+, Night Sight, Portrait Light, powerful photo editing tools, and more.
So you can capture stunning vlogs, selfies, portraits, landscapes, food, and beyond.
The rear camera can shoot up to 4K at 30fps and 60fps, as well as 1080p, to deliver crystal-clear, highly detailed videos with fun features including cinematic pan and a suite of editing tools.
For a smartphone for filmmaking, the video quality out of the main cam in 4K is quite good. The Pixel 5 captures a lot of detail, though there’s also a fair bit of noise in the footage.
Plus, the Pixel exposes scenes a little darker, thereby creating a more realistic image most of the time.
When the lights go down, the phone generates more image noise than many rivals, but this is a product of Google’s more restrained noise reduction processing.
The Google Pixel 5 XL is the more useful of the two Pixel 5 phones, particularly if you’re a power user or heavy picture-taker, thanks to its sharper screen and bigger, longer-lasting battery.
- Outstanding primary rear camera
- Solid build
- Low storage options, and not expandable
- Occasional UI demons
- Rear cameras:12.2MP (28mm-equiv. wide angle lens, f/1.7, PDAF, OIS), 16MP (45mm equiv. telephoto, f/2.4, PDAF, OIS)
- Front camera:8 MP, f/2, 22mm (wide), ToF 3D Camera
- OIS: Yes
- Weight: 193 g
- Dimensions:160.4 x 75.1 x 8.2 mm
- Max video quality: 4K video
- Storage: 64/128 GB
- Memory card slot: No
A short review from my filmmaking friend who owns the S20: “Pixel 5 is a great mobile phone that probably has market-leading camera technology.
Love the camera, good as the new iPhones, battery lasts all day no problem.”
Xperia 1 II & Xperia PRO
The Sony Xperia 1 II is the best smartphone out there for the true cinematographer looking for the right smartphone for filmmaking.
The Cinema Pro “powered by CineAlta” user interface has easy to control features like framing guides, shutter speed (angle), touch autofocus, auto exposure, manual white balance and more.
If you are looking at filming movies with the similar parameters and color settings as the professionals, this is the smartphone for you.
With eight different color settings, you can bring the mood of different cinema styles to your videos. Plus, the 21:9 ratio, 4K HDR, and 24 fps give you the tools you need.
This is the perfect smartphone for post-production editing tools like Premiere Pro or Da Vinci Resolve.
ZEISS optics calibrated specifically for your Xperia smartphone. The ZEISS T* Coating contributes to exquisite rendering and contrast by reducing reflections.
The Xperia 1 II includes an industry-leading audio separation technology, for highly-effective wind filtering. It truly is a filmmakers smartphone.
In terms of the Sony Xperia PRO, there’s never been a smartphone camera that can capture shots like the Xperia PRO. It was co-developed with the engineers behind the latest Alpha 9 series cameras for industry-leading autofocus. Real-time Eye AF works on both humans and animals, and the interface is designed to meet the demands of professional photographers with new manual controls and RAW support.
Plus, it offers ZEISS optics calibrated specifically for the Xperia smartphone. The ZEISS® T* coating contributes to exquisite rendering and contrast by reducing reflections. For true creative freedom, the Xperia PRO has three lenses in versatile focal lengths: 16mm, 24mm, and 70mm.
For smartphone filmmaking, you can record films that the pros would be proud of. Drawing on expertise from our Digital Cinema Camera engineers, the Xperia PRO offers a range of tools to enhance your movie-making. Get creative with Look color management pre-sets, 21:9 movie recording, 4K HDR in 24, 30, 60, and 120fps slow-motion20, and Intelligent wind filter.
- Excellent pro video features
- Stunning screen
- Decent battery performance
- Display Port support Type-C Cable or USB-C to HDMI Adapter Cable (Display Port 4K 60 fps).
- Best suited to serious content creators
- Colors prioritize accuracy over the wow factor of other handsets
- Rear cameras: 12pm (24mm f/1.7) + 12pm (70mm f/2.4) + 12MP (16mm f/2.2)
- Front camera: 8MP (f/2)
- Rear camera aperture: f/1.7 + f/2.4 + f/2.2
- Dimensions: 167 x 72 x 8.2 mm
- Max video quality: 4K video
- Storage: 128 GB
My Review: “If you have a Sony Alpha series camera, like the a7II, you will start using and loving the camera on this phone immediately. It’s a fantastic smartphone for filmmaking.“
Great accessories for your camera phone
If you have decided that you are going to shoot your next feature on a smartphone, then I would suggest getting some valuable accessories to make your films more cinematic.
Here are 6 Essential Smartphone Filmmaking Accessories you will need to get the job done:
JOBY GorillaPod Mobile Rig
Designed for content creators, this smartphone rig is flexible, portable, and user-friendly.
The locking GripTight mount secures most smartphones, which can then be easily adjusted via tilt and landscape-to portrait mode as needed.
Up to three additional devices such as mics, lights, and action cameras can be added using 1/4″-20 connections, and included are two 6-socket Gorilla arms with 1/4″-20 connections, plus two cold shoe mounts and one GoPro mount.
Why not buy the GorillaPod Mobile Vlogging Kit it’s the perfect Starter Kit for next-generation Influencers.
DJI OM 4 - Handheld 3-Axis Smartphone Gimbal Stabilizer
This gimbal brings smooth Steadicam motion to your smartphone.
The gimbal has built-in auto-tracking capabilities and fingertip rotation control.
It’s perfect for filmmakers working on everything from run-and-gun action sequences to long-form moving live streams.
Moment - Anamorphic Lens
The Anamorphic lens is the holy grail of filmmaking. Sweet horizontal flares and that widescreen, letterboxes look.
Its 1.33x design brings the organic look and character of 2:40:1. it’s like shooting a wider focal length in the horizontal direction and a longer focal length in the vertical.
Works with the Moment Pro Camera App to de-squeeze the image when shooting smartphone video and photos.
For iPhones, you will need a Moment Photo Case for the lens to attach to the smartphone.
Ulanzi U Rig Pro Smartphone Video Rig
iStabilizer Dolly for Mobile Devices
Rode smartLav+ Lavalier Condenser Microphone for Smartphones
The Rode smartLav+ is a lavalier microphone for your Apple or Android mobile device that is designed to deliver high-quality audio recording.
The smartLav+ clips on to your shirt or lapel, and the sensitive, omnidirectional condenser capsule captures the sound equally from all sides of the microphone.
This design lends to effective, hands-free recording of speeches, interviews, dictations and more.
GorillaPod Mobile Vlogging kit
A do-everything, go-anywhere kit that’s been expertly crafted for mobile content creators, the GorillaPod Mobile Vlogging kit lets you rig up your phone and give your content real impact. You’ll have everything you need in one box.
- Gorilla Pod Mobile Rig
- Beamo Mini LED
- Wavo Mobile microphone
- Audio cable for mobile phone & camera
- Apple MFI certified lightning connector
Filmmaking with Smartphones is a complex game but with a little experience and sufficient practice you can accomplish remarkable results.
With the best smartphones for filmmaking mentioned above, the way the cameras perform on a Smartphone are no different from any other filmmaking camera.
With a little practice, the best smartphone for you, and the right smartphone gear, there is no telling what you as the filmmaker can accomplish.
Now, get out there and start filming!
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