After I started taking pictures, it was time to test my video capabilities on the iPhone 14 Pro Max – and I was incredibly impressed with how well the camera performed, especially at night.
OK, it still won’t replace film cameras anytime soon, but my experience has given me a lot to think about…
About iPhone 14 Pro Max video test
For this shoot, I used the FILMic Pro app, which offers extra control over the Apple Stock Camera app. This is because my Journal pieces reflect my actual use of Apple devices and this shoot was a test I wanted to do for my own benefit.
The tl;dr explanation is that I really enjoy video projects, but they are a lot of work, so I shoot less than I expected. Part of that is the logistics and effort involved in transporting and setting up my film kit, so I wanted to see if it could be realistic to shoot outdoor footage with my iPhone.
That’s not a question I expect to answer in one shoot and I’ll be experimenting more, but I have to say I’m very encouraged by the results.
Also read – What happened to the 2022 MacBook Pro?
FILMic Pro allows full manual control of ISO, white balance and shutter speed – and offers greater control over exposure and focus point, including manual focus. If I were to shoot anything approaching a serious video, it would be with this app.
One of the biggest challenges for smartphone-sized sensors is low-light video. For this reason, although I have included a good portion of this.
I shot a mix of slow motion and time lapse/hyperlapse, with only a little real time footage. Again, this is because it reflects my real life experiences shooting outdoors. I shoot most of the real-time footage indoors with lighting.
Let’s start by looking at it, then I’ll talk about my thoughts on it. Note that the video is straight from the camera, with no color grading.
With all images below, click to view full size.
For such a small sensor, the first two disadvantages were not surprising: noise in low light and limited depth of field control. However, the iPhone 14 Pro Max performed significantly better than I expected in both respects.
It’s all about the light
In daylight and good indoor light, the recording is incredibly clear. In very low light, of course, we see noticeable noise – but as I mentioned, it’s less than I expected.
With minor adjustments, there is plenty of recoverable shadow detail in the shot. It’s still muddy, but I’d say not dramatically more so than similar mirrorless shots:
The footage from Covent Garden Market really impressed me. Obviously, you’ll see motion blur in the shot, but the dynamic range is excellent, capturing a well-lit face and dark background:
Limited depth of field control
A small sensor also means a limited depth of field.
The classic solution is to place the subject reasonably close to the camera. In this case, I started close, focused on her face, pulled away, then went back in. A more reliable method is to start close, pull back and then reverse the shots in the edit, but that would have the bus backing up on the bridge.
When you are further away, you have extremely limited control. But again, background separation was better than expected:
I’m honestly not sure if it’s all natural or if there’s some computer photography going on, but the focal drop definitely looks natural.
I’ll also try Cinematic Video mode again to see if that improves to any useful degree.
I expected to use a gimbal for this shoot, but I actually found I didn’t need it.
Granted, this is partly because slow motion smooths things out a lot, but check out the Waterloo Station clip at 0:31-0:35. It’s so stable you could almost shoot it on a tripod. Other shots depend in part on how smooth my hand motion is, but I was extremely surprised at how stable the shots looked. It doesn’t look like handheld video.
I mentioned it already in 2019 when taking photos with the iPhone 11 Pro.
One weakness I have noticed is that there is quite a lot of internal reflection when the lights are in focus. For example, when panning in a bookstore, the iridescent crescents of light are reflections of the balcony lights bouncing around inside the lens array. I see a lot of similar reflections in other clips.
The problem is getting better all the time, but you still see them on some shots. They can’t be captured in the pictures, but check out the shot from 2:19 to 2:23. It definitely happens a lot less than before, but I’d still like to see more work done on the lens design to reduce it further.
iPhone 14 Pro Max: Conclusions
Of course, the iPhone 14 Pro [Max] is not comparable to a film camera. Once you start pixel-peeping, it’s not hard to find flaws, especially in low light.
But it’s quite remarkable to me how close the video performance is to mirrorless now. So much so that I think it comfortably passes the travel video and travel photo test.
For more serious work… well, it depends. You have to determine the quality threshold yourself. I know some people who would dismiss it for anything outside of amateur video, and others who are comfortable using it as part of their camera arsenal, especially in decent lighting.
But it gave me pause for thought for three reasons…
First, if you’re shooting in a “public” location that’s actually private, then a serious camera tends to attract serious attention. Try filming in the Apple Store with a cinema camera and I’m sure someone will come up and ask you what you’re doing. When I did it with my iPhone, no one cared. The same in other pseudo-public places in London.
So if you want to shoot in the big city, guerilla-style, there’s a lot to be said for doing it with an iPhone.
Second, film cameras—even basic ones like mine—are bulky and heavy by the time you take them out. This is a significant setback when it comes to street photography, and certainly not something you would ever wear “just in case”. So if I were making this video with a film camera, I would do less walking and get less shots. As the old saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you.
Taking photos with my iPhone was quick, easy and seamless – so there’s no doubt I’ll be doing more. How far I can take it remains to be seen, but it was a really fun experience and I look forward to doing more iPhone photography in the future.
Which brings me to the third thing. Getting good at anything takes practice, and the more experience you get, the more you’ll learn and the better your results will be. Video is time consuming, so gaining experience is a slow process I’ve found.