If you are thinking of starting a Youtube channel, want to become a Vlogger, want to make professional tutorials, or maybe you are starting a media company, etc, etc. You are in the right place.
All of these things could be accomplished by a smartphone as long as you pick the right smartphone for your needs.
If you want to know what video quality could be achieved using a smartphone. The movie ‘high flying bird‘ was shot on a smartphone. Check the result yourself.
I am going to list and explain all the factors that make a smartphone camera good for video recording.
First and foremost, we need to understand the specifications of a smartphone camera. The specifications for a camera to take good photos and videos are different. I am just going to explain the specifications that are important for video recording.
Pixel size is probably one of the most important specifications you should be looking at. Pixel size is written in the camera specifications as μm or micrometer (1/1000000 of a meter). Megapixels in a camera represent the number of pixels in a camera but the pixel size determines the size of each pixel.
A higher number for pixel size would allow a smartphone camera to capture more light. So for a smartphone, the higher the pixel size, the better. Larger Pixel size also means more ISO range which helps reduce noise in low light. There is no disadvantage of having a larger pixel size in smartphones. If you are planning to make videos in low light or indoor, the larger pixel size is really important.
The pixel size of a camera depends on the Camera sensor size and number of megapixels in that sensor. If the sensor size of the two smartphone cameras is the same, the camera with lower megapixels will have a larger pixel size. Similarly, if the megapixels are the same for two cameras, the camera with a larger sensor size will have a bigger pixel size too.
Let’s compare the camera of different smartphones from 2019.
For Reference, the sensor sizes in descending order are: 1/2.0″ > 1/2.55″ > 1/2.8″ > 1/1.33″ .
The pixel sizes in descending order are: 1.4µm > 0.8µm
|Smartphone||Sensor Size||Megapixels||Pixel Size|
|Samsung S10||1/2.55″||12 MP||1.4µm|
|Samsung A70||1/2.8″||32 MP||0.8µm|
|iPhone 11 Pro||1/2.55″||12 MP||1.4µm|
|Google Pixel 4XL||1/2.55″||12.2 MP||1.4µm|
|Xiaomi Mi Note 10 Pro||1/1.33″||108 MP||0.8µm|
|Nokia 7.2||1/2.0″||48 MP||0.8µm|
|Xiaomi Mi 9T||1/2.0″||48 MP||0.8µm|
Most of the Flagship smartphones are sticking with 12MP and 1.4µm because this is the sweet spot for balance between megapixel count and pixel size.
The peculiar camera is MI Note 10 Pro 108 MP with 0.8µm pixel size. Yes, you can not have 0.8µm with 1/1.33″ and 108MP, the thing is the camera in Mi note 10 pro produces 27MP for 0.8µm. When you take a 108MP shot on Mi Note 10 Pro, the pixel size is significantly lower than 0.8µm.
Aperture is the opening of a lens. Aperture is fixed in smartphones and only a few smartphones like Samsung S-series have a variable aperture. Aperture is written as f/1.8, the larger the number with the f, the smaller the opening. Look at the image below, at f/1.4, the camera lens has the biggest opening which means it is the largest aperture.
The aperture is responsible for two things in our smartphones, i.e. Capturing Light and Blur or Bokeh. The larger the aperture, the more light a camera lens can capture. Since smartphones pixel size is relatively smaller, it is important, we pick a smartphone with a larger aperture or lower f-number to get as much light as possible in our videos.
A larger aperture or lower f-number also creates a large amount of background blur. I am talking about the natural blur of the lens and not the artificial blur produced with software for portrait shots
We can not just test any two smartphones with different apertures to test the image quality because image processing is different in each smartphone. This is why just look at the results of the Samsung S9 pictures with f/1.5 and f/2.4 pictures to understand the difference. GSMArena review is a good source.
More megapixels are not good for video. As you can see in the above table, smartphones with large megapixels like 48MP or 108MP have very small pixel size which is bad for video recording. I think megapixels from 12-16MP are perfect in smartphones for video recording. So please avoid smartphones with crazy megapixel counts, if your focus is video recording.
Yes, the processor also plays an important role in video recording in a smartphone. Unlike the DSLR that have big sensors and lenses, a smartphone has to rely on software processing to produce a good quality video.
Having a good processor enables a smartphone to handle exposure, stabilization and custom shutter speed in video recording. By today’s standard, you should not consider a smartphone with processing power lower than Qualcomm Snapdragon 665.
The last specification you need to look at is image stabilization. Image stabilization is used to reduce shakiness in images and is extremely important for videos.
When making a video on a smartphone, we change the ISO or shutter speed which increases the shakiness of the video. If there is no image stabilization (OIS), the footage is blurry.
There are two types of image stabilization.
1) Optical Image Stabilization (OIS): This image stabilization involves moving the camera sensors in different axis to keep up with the smartphone movement. This is the preferred stabilization method. But OIS is only found in some smartphones because it is expensive. But if you need to make videos on your smartphone, this is a really important feature. If you ever have to pick one stabilization method from OIS or EIS, always pick OIS.
2) Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS): This image stabilization is implemented through software and there is no additional hardware installed in the camera sensor like OIS. EIS uses software and smartphone sensors (gyro) information to stabilize the image or video. EIS is not bad as long as you have plenty of light in the image. But in low light, EIS is not reliable.
The best combination that is being used in most of the smartphones these days is the combination of OIS and EIS.
Try to get a smartphone with 4K resolution. Most of the midrange smartphones have 4K resolution these days. I am not just saying that 4K is better. Even if you want to upload a video in 720p or 1080p resolution, it is better to record that video in 4K.
If you record a video in 1080p resolution vs if you record a video in 4K resolution and then reduce the resolution in editing to 1080p, the latter would produce a better quality video than the former.
I would recommend you to stick to 4K 30FPS because the stabilization is not good in 4K 60FPS in most of the smartphones.
If you want to make a professional-grade video, you have to use manual mode in your smartphone. Only a few smartphones have manual mode by default. The examples are LG V-series V50 and Sony Xperia 1 with cinema pro. I would recommend you to get an LG V-series smartphone if you need to make videos regularly.
If you are into long exposure photography, you can do that only with manual mode. Look at the shot below, this is only possible with manual mode.
The photo is just an example of course. If you are curious about taking good pictures on your smartphone, check this out:
But if you can not get a smartphone with manual mode. There are always third-party applications like Filmic Pro to help you get manual mode on your smartphone.
The problem with Filmic Pro and other third-party applications is that they do not run perfectly on every smartphone. So make sure to search on the compatibility of the smartphone with third-party applications you are going to buy.
If you want to get an idea of what could be the video quality from a smartphone like LG V50. A Youtuber named Juan Bagnell uses LG V50 to produce most of his videos. Watch the video below.
ISO and Shutter Speed
As you know, a manual mode is essential is to capture great quality videos. A normal guide is to not change the shutter speed and only adjust the ISO according to your needs.
Also, depending on your project, keep the focus fixed on the subject. A smartphone’s biggest problem is exposure. As soon as the lighting condition change, the video is either underexposed or overexposed. You have to cater to this by using the focus creatively.
If you have to move a lot, use a gimbal to reduce the shaking of the footage.
If you must change shutter speed, you need a smartphone with OIS at least because a smartphone drops frames or stutters when we reduce the shutter speed, the OIS helps the smartphone to control that lag.
Audio quality is one of the key components of a good video. The fact of the matter is, if you want a professional Youtube video, you can not use the microphone of your smartphone.
You are better off buying a microphone for as cheap as 50$ which will produce audio five times better than your smartphone microphone. Read about cheap microphones by clicking here.
But if you do not want a microphone for some reason. I will list some smartphones in order with respect to their audio quality.
- LG V50
- iPhone 11 Pro
- Samsung S10
- Sony Xperia 1
- One Plus 7 Pro
Why DSLR is better than a smartphone?
A DSLR will outperform a smartphone camera in every lighting condition. As we have been discussing in this article, it is all about the sensor size of a camera. Well, guess what, DSLR sensor sizes are three to four times bigger than a smartphone camera sensor.
The bigger sensor and lens of a DSLR helps capture more light and details. The DSLR does not even have to process any images, so no software processing which reduces digital noise. A DSLR can handle faster and slower shutter speeds way better than a smartphone.
The images of a DSLR have far more details and a dynamic range of colors to which a smartphone does not even come close. You might be thinking smartphones capture more pleasing photos and that would be true.
But we are talking about details in an image. We can edit a DSLR photo to look however we want it. On the other hand, a smartphone removes some details to provide a more eye-pleasing picture and we can not get those details back. Even if we shoot raw images on both, the DSLR would win in image detail again.
For more details on DSLR vs Smartphone, read this article from Techradar.
Some smartphones are better than others for video recording. The smartphones that I recommend for video recording are:
- LG V50
- iPhone 11 Pro
- Huawei Mate 30 Pro
- Samsung S10
- Sony Xperia 1
Well, this list was for people who can afford 1000 dollars. But the next list is of midrange smartphones good for video recording.
- Xiaomi Mi Note 10 Pro
- Xiaomi Redmi K20 Pro
- Google Pixel 3a
- Samsung Galaxy A50
- Moto One Zoom
- Motorola Moto G7 Plus
- Nokia 7.2
The last list is of the Flagship from previous years. Some of them can still be bought new and some of them are used.
- LG V40
- Samsung S9
- iPhone 8 Plus
- Sony Xperia XZ3
- Xiaomi Pocophone F1
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