iPhone Video – My First Time Using an iPhone Instead of a DSLR for Club Video

I’ve been shooting video with a DSLR for about five years. A while back I realized that iPhone video was pretty darned good, so I decided to try using an iPhone as a second camera. Then I could mix the DSLR footage and iPhone footage in my video editing software and have multiple camera angles. Heck, maybe I could even leave the heavy DSRL gear behind and use a system built around smartphones.

iPhone Video

The video quality for the Labron Lazenby video was OK considering, in this case considering this was a dark club. If you play the video fullscreen it’s easy to see the noise and grain in the video. Smartphone cameras have small sensors. (The sensor is the chip that converts light into electrical signals.) Small sensors don’t perform as well in low light as the large sensors in DSLRs. Advantage – DSLR.

For the sake of comparison, here is a different show I shot in daylight with my wife’s iPhone 6. With plenty of light, there’s no grain or noise.

Lenses

One big advantage of DSLRs is their interchangeable lenses. To close the gap I bought an Olloclip 4-in-1 lens that fits over the iPhone’s lens. It combines a wideangle, fisheye, and two levels of macro in one unit. I used the fisheye for this video and liked the different look. I’ve wanted a fisheye lens forever, but couldn’t justify $800 for the Nikon or $240 for the Rokinon. I was happy to pay $70 for the Olloclip. I’m finding that iPhone gear is cheap compared to the DSLR equivalents.

iPhone Audio

iPhone video is very compressed, which keeps the volume punchy while preventing clipping from loud noises. I didn’t hear any obvious distortion on the original audio, though parts were pretty darned compressed.

The iPhone audio ain’t bad at all, but that isn’t what you’re hearing in the YouTube videos. For Labron I used a Rode Stereo VideoMic connected to a Zoom H4n digital audio recorder. For Exit 65 I just used the Zoom and its built-in mic. I synced the Zoom audio with the iPhone video using PluralEyes, which is just stupid easy to use. Great piece of software. The Zoom audio was a definite if not Earth-shattering upgrade in quality.

iPhone Autofocus

I brought a Nikon D7000 DSLR to the show for main camera, but all of the D7000 footage was out of focus. That was my fault for wearing contacts instead of glasses.*

I also forgot to take a test photograph. I normally put the camera on a tripod, set focus, and take a still picture. Then I check the picture on the camera’s LCD to make sure the focus and exposure are right. DSLRs let you zoom in on the still picture so you can really nail the focus. Likewise, most have a histogram that helps dial in the exposure. Advantage – DSLR.

On the other hand, smartphones have some focus advantages over a DSLR. The tiny sensors in smartphones give greater depth of field than DSLRs with their bigger sensors. In a nutshell, more depth of field means that more of the scene in front of and behind the focus point will be in focus.

Too, the iPhone’s built-in lens is a fairly wide angle lens (about 30mm). Wide angle lenses inherently have greater depth of field than longer lenses like telephotos. The depth of field for the video was enough to keep everything in focus from the mic at the front of the stage to the drummer at the back.

* My glasses are bifocal, so I can see equally well up close and far away. My contacts are also bifocal, but they don’t work nearly as well as the glasses up close. I either need to wear bifocals to shoot video or wear contacts, but carry a pair of reading glasses for setting focus. Advice to you kids out there – stay forever young. 

Setting Focus and Exposure

To set focus, tap on the part of the scene you want to be in focus. To adjust exposure, tap and then move the sun slider up and down. To lock focus and exposure, press and hold on the portion of the screen where you want to lock focus and exposure until you see “AE/AF Lock.”

If you don’t lock focus, the focus point will move around with the subject. That sounds great, but video autofocus is notoriously unreliable compared to photography autofocus. For DSLR club video I always set focus manually. Otherwise, the autofocus gets confused and winds up moving the focus point to the amps, the mic stands, the back wall, etc. I’ve written about my early focus mistakes with DSLR video.

Support

For Labron’s show I used Olloclip’s iPhone case, which has a clip-on tripod mount. I attached the iPhone to a Joby Gorillapod flexible tripod, wrapped the Gorillapod around the top of a ladderback chair, and set the chair directly up against the front of the stage. * I’ve done this dozens of times and it works great. The chair is heavier than a tripod and has a lower center of gravity, so it’s less likely to get knocked over by drunk people dancing.

In the Exit 65 video, I wrapped the Gorillapod around the security fence in front of the stage. People would occasionally bump into or lean on the gate, shaking the camera and making the video wavy, so I won’t be doing that again.

If you know the band, ask to borrow a spare mic stand and hang the Gorillapod on that. If you have a Gorillapod with magnetic feet the mic stand option is even better. Another option? Use a selfie stick attached to the mic stand. Selfie sticks have huge potential for video. You just have to figure out how to attach them to something.

Three good ways to attach anything to anything are ball bungee cords, plain old 1 inch vinyl electrical tape, and gaffer tape. Gaffer tape is like its poor cousin duct tape, except that you can easily remove gaffer tape without leaving a sticky residue or damaging finishes. I never put duct tape on anyone else’s stuff. Vinyl electrical tape likewise doesn’t leave any residue and a roll is small and costs two bucks.

* BTW, it’s polite to ask permission before recording a show, especially if you’re getting that close with AV gear. I’m friends with Labron and I still asked beforehand. Right before the show I introduced myself to the other band members to let them know I would be recording them and posting the video on YouTube. Later on I sent them download links on Google Drive for the completed videos and the full set in MP3.

And so

Check out the videos of Labron Lazenby and Exit 65 to get an idea of what a 2012-era iPhone 5 and 2014-era iPhone 6 are capable of. Then imagine what the new 2015 6s iPhone can do and the one after that and the one after that.

P.S. The week after this video was shot Labron drove to New York to audition for The Voice. He won’t be on the show – the 20-somethings he auditioned for probably aren’t into the blues – but good on him for trying.

2 Responses to iPhone Video – My First Time Using an iPhone Instead of a DSLR for Club Video

  1. Overload in CO says:

    Which iPhone model were you using? I know the new 6s allows 4K resolution, but I assume the sensor is still the same size.

  2. Les Jones says:

    I used a 5 for Labron Lazenby and a 6 for Exit 65.

    It looks like the 5s, 6, and 6s all use the same sensor size.

    http://www.phonearena.com/news/Apple-iPhone-6s-vs-iPhone-6-vs-iPhone-5s-specs-comparison_id73521