Did you know that the very first mobile device to include a built-in camera was the VP-210 VisualPhone, which was manufactured by Japan's Kyocera Corp. and released almost two decades ago, in May 1999?
The VisualPhone boasted a built-in camera with 110,000 pixels and a screen capable of displaying 65,000 colors—the equivalent of just 0.11 megapixels.
This might sound a little underwhelming today, but in 1999, this was truly revolutionary.
By contrast, today's mobile devices feature lenses so sophisticated that they give even “prosumer” cameras a run for their money.
Apple's iconic iPhone in particular is renowned for the quality of its camera for shooting both video and still images.
In this post, we'll be showing you how you can record professional-quality video using nothing more than your iPhone. We'll be covering a range of topics, including making the most of your iPhone camera's settings, avoiding common pitfalls, and shooting pro-quality video on your iPhone by following some general tips and tricks.
Although we'll be focusing primarily on optimizing your iPhone's settings to achieve amazing-looking footage, the only peripheral you might want to invest in is an inexpensive tripod or mount for your iPhone. We'll be taking a look at the iPhone's built-in image-stabilization function, but a decent little tripod or mounting bracket might be worth a few bucks. It's by no means essential or required, though.
With that out the way, let's dive in!
How to shoot pro-quality video with your iPhone
Apple's iPhone boasts some of the best camera hardware of any mobile device on the market. That said, one of the best ways to improve the quality of your video footage considerably is to really delve into each of your iPhone's camera and video settings. The better your understanding of each setting and what it controls, the better your footage will look.
First, we're going to talk about a specific setting or function of the iPhone's camera, and then we'll look at how to apply these settings to real-world shooting situations. Some of these functions work automatically or may not have a video-specific application. If that is the case (as it is for Burst Mode, below), we'll just provide an overview of what that feature or setting does.
Ever tried to take a picture of a fast-moving object like a fast-moving car or a bird in flight? If so, you probably already know how difficult that can be. Fortunately, the iPhone's Burst Mode is designed with this very purpose in mind.
Burst Mode allows you to take 10 individual photos per second for a short burst, which makes capturing dynamic action shots much easier. Burst Mode will continue to capture multiple images per second for as long as the shutter button is held down.
You probably won't need Burst Mode if you're only shooting interior shots for your online course, but for capturing high-speed objects, it can mean the difference between getting a once-in-a-lifetime shot or missing it completely.
There are no special settings you need to know about to use Burst Mode. To activate Burst Mode, simple hold down the shutter button as you shoot your subject; the longer you depress the button, the more shots you'll take.
When it comes to keeping your shot steady, you have two options: a tripod, or your iPhone's built-in image-stabilization feature.
Generally speaking, the iPhone's image stabilization feature is excellent. It's worth noting, however, that your results may vary depending on a range of factors, including how much unwanted camera motion is in the shot, what resolution you're shooting at, and whether you're shooting still images or video.
For example, if you try to stabilize a shot taken from a moving rollercoaster while shooting in 4K high-definition, you're not going to be able to get rid of the unwanted motion entirely.
Think of your iPhone's image stabilizer as a handy way to eliminate slight hand motions while shooting, not as a replacement for a proper tripod.
Note that, unlike some smartphones, the iPhone's image stabilization is a hardware feature. This means you cannot disable it manually as you would a software feature.
How—and when—to use a tripod
There's an easy trick to remembering when you should use a tripod.
Always use a tripod.
Seriously, though, you should use a tripod in virtually all situations unless you have a good reason not to.
One of the best ways to think about setting up your shots is to minimize how much work your camera has to do.
That means you should adjust the elements of your scene, such as lighting, to be as close to the desired finished look as you can.
Although you can adjust settings such as exposure in postproduction (by using software tools such as Adobe After Effects), it's better to do as much of the work in the scene—and as little as possible relying on camera functions—before you start recording.
This is especially true of image stabilization, so if you need a steady shot, use a tripod.
The next iPhone camera setting we'll be looking at is exposure.
Exposure refers to how exposed, or bright, the lighting of your shot is. Shots with too much light are overexposed, whereas shots that are too dark are underexposed.
In all cameras—not just the iPhone's camera—exposure is controlled by a mechanism known as the aperture.
The aperture mimics the way the human eye sees, controlling the amount of light that passes through the lens to the sensor. Just as the irises of our eyes dilate (or open) to see better in the dark, a camera's aperture can be enlarged or reduced to control how bright or dim your shot will be.
How to shoot in oversaturated and low-light conditions
Nothing ruins a shot faster than too much or too little light. Exposure problems are among the most common pitfalls you're likely to encounter, so it's vital to understand how to shoot in a variety of lighting conditions.
The exposure settings on your iPhone's camera can be set automatically, but you can also adjust the exposure manually. First, frame your shot then tap the subject of your scene. This will focus your shot on that point.
You'll also notice that when you tap to focus on your subject, a sun icon appears to the right of your focus point. This is where you control your exposure settings. Tap the sun icon to access the exposure slider, then move it either up or down to increase or decrease the camera's f-stops (the photography term for the individual steps in a camera's aperture).
Frames per second
This setting isn't unique to the iPhone, but it's an important setting nonetheless.
Frames per second (often abbreviated to FPS) refers to—you guessed it!—how many frames of video are shot per second. Although videos appear smooth, they're actually made up of multiple individual images that, when played in sequence, create the illusion of motion.
There are several different FPS settings in modern media. Most modern video games, for example, run at 60 FPS, whereas NTSC video (the video format used primarily in the U.S.) has a frame rate of 24 FPS.
Although FPS really comes into play when you want to shoot slow-motion video, we're more interested in setting the frame rate of our iPhone videos.
To adjust the frame rate of your video, go to your iPhone's camera settings and tap the “Record Video” menu option. You'll then be able to specify the resolution and frame rate of your video.
Note that if you choose to shoot video at 4K resolution and 60 FPS, you'll need to compress the video using the H.265 codec, and the resulting file size is likely to be very large—one minute of 4K footage recorded at 60 FPS will be really smooth, but it'll also take up around 400MB of disk space, so bear this in mind before recording longer videos!
Next up in our guided tour of the iPhone's camera functions is gridlines.
Many digital cameras feature grid-line overlays. These grids, which won't appear in your actual images, are a visual way to achieve more satisfying or aesthetically pleasing compositions, which is a photography term for how a shot is framed.
Grid lines are useful in all sorts of ways. You can use grids to ensure that the horizon remains level in landscape shots, to check that vertical lines are straight, and to serve as the basis of the “Rule of Thirds.”
They're super handy for leaving enough space for a picture-in-picture overlay, which can be helpful for creators making videos that require step-by-step screencasts.
Grid overlays can also help ensure that each subject in a scene featuring two people has enough space.
How to use grid lines to compose your shot
Whether you're shooting a scene of yourself speaking or filming some B-roll footage for your online course, your iPhone's grid lines can be super handy when composing your shots.
Unfortunately, the grid-line setting isn't as convenient as your iPhone's exposure settings.
To turn on grid lines, you'll need to delve into the Settings of the Camera app itself. Launch Settings from your iPhone's home screen, then scroll down to Photos & Camera.
From here, scroll down about halfway and you'll see a toggle switch called Grid. Tap this to enable your iPhone's grid lines.
Now that we've got grid lines enabled, it's time to actually frame our shot.
If you're producing an online course, you'll probably need to shoot a few scenes in which you (or your presenter) are centered in the frame.
Simply frame your shot so that the two center-most grid lines neatly frame the presenter. (If you can, find a friend who is similar in height, and use them to help frame your shot.)
Similarly, if you're planning to use video overlays as part of your instructional videos, simply ensure that there is sufficient space to the left or right of your presenter:
Similarly, you can use grid lines to frame other types of shots. Landscapes can be quite dramatic if you use the lowest horizontal grid line as your horizon point. To learn more about composition, check out this guide on how to record video for your online course.
Going beyond the basics of the iPhone camera
So far, we've looked at how to achieve sleek, polished, professional-looking results using nothing more than your iPhone camera's settings.
However, while these tips might be enough for most iPhone videographers, what if you want more control? Fortunately, there's an easy way to go beyond the basics of your iPhone's built-in settings by using an app called Camera+ 2.
Camera+ 2 lets you manually adjust most of your iPhone's camera settings as if it were a DSLR camera.
Virtually every setting can be adjusted further than the standard camera app will allow, including shutter speed, exposure, and white balance.
Camera+ 2 can also be used to take long exposures, and its Macro mode can be a great way to “fake” greater depth of field by focusing on elements in the extreme foreground of your shot.