Why Filmmakers still use expensive cameras when smartphones can shoot 4K

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Smartphones have come a long way in terms of camera quality and the ability to shoot up to 6k videos. The newly launched Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra can shoot up to 6k and a pretty good number of other smartphones can as well produce good qualities.

VariCam 35

Does that mean we can rely on them for high quality Hollywood movies or even on the local scene shoot Nollywood films with phone cameras? The simple answer is NO!

In doing justice to this discussion, let us observe the best of phone cameras and how they fare up against highly sophisticated Video cameras which are usually handled and operated by a team of professionals with a convoy of artic trucks at their disposal. is it possible to have same result?

See also- The era of multiple Rear cameras in smartphones

SPECIALISATION

Smartphones are used more than just for video creation. It is used for more tasks such as: media consumption, downloads, messaging and so much more. On the other hand, a professional video camera has one and only one purpose: to produce high quality videos.

So the manufacturers have abundance of space and resources to put the best of tech in developing a professional camera which can capture high speed chase, action packed punches, glamorous superstar entries, super slow motion videos and much more.

There’s a huge difference between a personal video shot at 4k with a smartphone camera and a commercial movie made with professional camera. ‘Unsane‘, is a movie shot completely on an iPhone 7 Plus. It was shot with the leading smartphone camera available in the market at the time, with so many gadgets and accessories to enhance its capabilities, yet the result is just visually unimpressive.

iphone camera on tripod

It could not manage to provide the adequate movie experience, even with a great artistic performance and powerful Director’s direction. The movie simply lacks the cinematic effect.

These expensive professional Video cameras help to craft the cinematic effects essential for a movie experience that smartphone cameras are not capable of. It takes good expensive camera with a lot of equipment mounted on huge rigs by an army of Technical experts led by a skilled professional cinematographer with great understanding of visual storytelling, to produce a cinema standard images in motion.

The successful execution of this complex process of cinematography in movie making results in a worthy cinematic experience.

LENS

Meanwhile, early camera phones had fixed-focus lenses. This was possible due to “hyperfocal range”. Basically, a lens at any given setting can deliver an acceptably sharp image over a range of distance. As you lower the focal length of the lens, that range increases. And as you narrow the aperture, that range increase. So, just like cheap point and shoot cameras of old generation, early camera phones had lenses that typically focused from 2 or 3 feet to infinity. That was plenty for many uses. That meant an f/3 -f/4 lens and usually a very tiny sensor, maybe 1/4″, allowing for a very short lens, perhaps 3mm.

As demand for better camera phones got higher, this was no longer possible. Users want more pixels which required larger sensors. Modern Smartphones range from the 1/3.2″ sensor in Apple’s phones to the 1/2.3″ sensor in Sony’s, and Nokia even used a 1″ sensor in one phone, but scaled that down in subsequent models.

Movie Camera Lens

That mandated larger lenses. And they demanded better low light performance, which required wider apertures. So, lenses grew just a bit wider and longer, plus a demand to use the camera for other things, like barcode scanning, which requires very close focus.

So pretty much all high-end smartphones, and a good number of mid-range models, have focusing lenses. Not external focus, the front element is sealed to the case, behind a protective bit of glass. They’re using an internal focus system. some of the elements move to focus the lens.

DETAIL

Unarguably, it is impossible to shoot with detail using a phone camera. Phone cameras have improved undoubtedly since past decade but they are no where near professional cameras and they don’t have to be, because they successfully serve their own purpose which is not professional photography and definitely not movie making.

The highly celebrated phone camera may not even stand a chance against the basic digital camera which is probably cheaper than these phones. The advantage here is because even while shooting with cheap digital cameras, there is the opportunity to shoot with details – they are made for that purpose.

RESOLUTION

It is worthy of note that, resolution is surely not the most important thing in digital photography! There are so many other factors which contribute to the high price of movie cameras, though, all high end movie cameras shoot high resolution videos.

All movies are basically shot in 4k, 6k or 8k in RED. A video camera is compatible with a huge array of lens, from super telephoto to the widest in the lens family.

red movie camera

SENSOR

Another big factor in the Phone Camera/Video camera comparison is the camera sensor. The sensor on an average Video camera is almost 10times the size of phone camera sensor.

The sensor size determines dynamic range, better depth of field, low light performance for shooting dark scenes.

Overall, Movie cameras give you control with RAW codecs, global shutter, sensor size, interchangeable lenses, dynamic range, 10-bit-per-channel colour, filters, low light performance, audio inputs, frame rate, mechanical aperture control, editing work flows, in camera light metering, polarizing filters, tripod mounts, steady cam rigs, battery life, and many more things.

There is currently no smartphone that can shoot 4k at 120fps. The phone cannot mount the plethora of cinema lens or match the bit rate or bit depth of those cameras. A typical phone storage will run out in a matter of seconds for that quality of video.

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