iPhone X: The Best Film-Making Smartphone Yet
2017 has been a great year for smartphones. Refreshing new trends in design with manufacturers pushing for bezel-less displays with crystal-clear high-resolution screens, jaw-dropping processing power comparable to low-end laptops and desktop computers, and a multitude of immersive technology including augmented reality and virtual reality have been made mainstream.
Just as with every other year, Apple launched its latest offerings in the first week of September. Everybody following the tech rumor mills over the last six months, including me, wasn’t surprised to see all the leaks turn out to be true. The release of the iPhone 8 & 8 Plus with incremental hardware upgrades packed into the same old lackluster design from over three generations behind, was honestly disappointing. But, a special release, named iPhone X, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone launch back in 2007, was the highlight of the event. As expected, social media went bonkers over the insane cost, as well as the late adaptation of existing technology such as OLED displays, wireless and fast charging, tap to wake, etc. (finally!).
Over the last one week, I’ve been following everything from news & discussions to memes & trolls about the iPhone X, and it is surprising that there is not one article highlighting the revolutionary cameras on all three iPhone models!
“Bleh! What can be revolutionary about iPhones, right? They have always been late to adopt existing technology or copied off their rivals”.
Well, the latest-generation iPhones are the FIRST (yep, you heard that right!) mainstream smartphone with support for native 4K 60fps video recording, as well as Full HD slow-motion at 240fps!
WHY 4K 60FPS?
Now, I’ll break down why this is a revolutionary feature to my not-so-camera-savvy audience:
4K is the current industry-standard video resolution which has four times the number of pixels (8 million pixels) of a typical Full HD 1080p video (2 million pixels).
Video is technically a collection of still pictures displayed quickly one after the other, in order to create the illusion of smooth motion, to the eye and the mind - hence the term “motion picture”. Usually, most videos are played at 24fps (frames per second) or 30fps, which translates to 24 pictures (or 30 pictures in case of 30fps) displayed sequentially.
Cinematic video, like the ones you would've seen in music videos, high-quality documentaries, and so on, are usually shot/produced at 48fps or 60fps, and converted to 24fps or 30 fps to be displayed to the audience. For example, a 1-second long video in 60fps will transform into a 2-second long video in 30fps format. (Since, in 60fps, 60 frames = 1 second; while in 30fps, 60 frames = 30 x 2 = 2 seconds of video). Hence everything recorded on camera at 60fps becomes 50% slower when viewed by the audience at 30fps. This subtle “slow-motion” effect adds a cinematic feel to the videos. For a visual example, check out this video.
In real life, exiting the car and walking isn’t as slow as portrayed in the video. But this subtle slow-motion adds a lot of drama and cinematic vibe to the music video, which is pleasing to the eye/viewer.
Now imagine if your camera could only record video at 30fps. If it was slowed down by 50%, the final video essentially becomes a 15fps video, which is choppy and not smooth in playback. (Our eyes can differentiate individual pictures up to speeds on 16fps, hence a 15fps video would actually feel more like a couple of pictures being shown in quick succession, instead of the butter smooth video that we are accustomed to. For a visual example, check this comparison.
Hence, cameras without a 60fps or higher video recording capability are severely limiting for film-makers and video enthusiasts.
4K 60FPS IN YOUR POCKET!
Now, coming back to the iPhone X! It is capable of recording in 60fps at a whopping 4K resolution, not just from its main lens, but also from its 2x optical zoom secondary lens, both of which have optical image stabilization to eliminate shaky hands for a buttery smooth video! Both lens are also among the fastest in the market, with apertures of f/1.8 and f/2.4 respectively. Imagine the possibilities - cropping from the 4K into 1080p for better control of the composition during post-processing and editing; the capability to shoot crisp videos underwater; and the clarity and color depth of a 4K footage, even on the 2x optical zoom lens, with bokeh (background blur) in video - all packed in a tiny form factor for portability and ease of use. iPhone X is also the first smartphone with 240fps Full HD super slow-motion video capture capabilities.
CAMERA SENSORS & PERFORMANCE:
Now, since each frame in a 4K video is 8 megapixels in size, packing up to 60 such frames in a second requires data acquisition and transfer from the camera sensor at incredible speeds of around 100 megabits per second (Mbps). This was made possible by Sony’s latest generation of image sensors which include a DRAM (dynamic RAM) embedded in the sensor circuitry for super fast buffering of collected image frames/videos from the sensor to the storage element in the smartphone. Handling such high amounts of data throughput is computationally very heavy, and as of now, only Apple’s new A11 Bionic processor is capable of such feats.
Argument: The latest offerings from Samsung, LG, OnePlus, etc. have 8-core processors like the SnapDragon 835, paired with 6-8 GB RAM, while the iPhones have a six-core processor and 3 GB RAM. Why is it that the "more-powerful" rivals can't handle these videos?
Fact: Apple is often criticized by the less-enlightened for apparently under-powering their hardware. But the countless number of cores and the gigabytes of RAM in the rivals means nothing when it comes to real-world performance. The latest iPhones with the six-core A11 Bionic and 3GB RAM smokes the competition by a huge margin, with over 200% performance than the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, with an 8-core processor. The latest generation iPhones are at par with MacBook Pro laptops in benchmark tests! Another fun fact - the 2016 iPhone 7 with a 4-core processor beats the 2017 Samsung (with 8-core processors) flagships in benchmarks! (Scores from GeekBench 4 benchmarks)
HIGH-EFFICIENCY VIDEO COMPRESSION = MORE FREE SPACE!
Interestingly, Apple also developed a custom codec (video compression standards) called HEVC or H.265 that uses half the storage space of the current standard (H.264/mp4 format) without any compromise in video quality. This is very practical since smartphones have a fixed amount of storage, and any space savings in video storage is always welcome!
Argument: Other manufacturers have support for inserting external microSD cards for expandable storage.
Fact: To record 4K 60fps videos directly to microSD cards, you would need a card that has a write speed of around 100+mbps, i.e., UHS-II graded cards. They cost extremely high for larger capacities like 128 & 256 GB. It is more financially practical to record videos onto the inbuilt flash storage of iPhones (which are generally faster) and then transfer the recorded videos to an external hard drive or the cloud when the phone storage gets low. (This argument is hypothetical at the moment since no other phone is capable of recording 4K 60fps. :P )
CHEAP IS THE WORD!
All this revolutionary smartphone camera tech costs $1000 or Rs. 89,000 in the Indian market (for the iPhone X). But wait, all of this is also available on the iPhone 8 ($699 / Rs. 64,000) and the iPhone 8 Plus ($799 / Rs. 72,000)
Some of the other cameras that shoot 4K 60fps are Panasonic GH5 (Rs. 1,50,000), on the lowest end, and Sony A9 (Rs. 3,30,000) and Canon 1DX-Mark2 (Rs. 4,50,000) on the higher end! Obviously, dedicated cameras with interchangeable lenses would produce better 4K 60fps video, but bringing this technology to the mainstream in under Rs.1,00,000 is amazing. The iPhone 8 is three times cheaper than the most economical 4K 60fps camera while providing much more features in an integrated all-in-one device!
THE FILM-MAKER'S NEW FAVOURITE!
To conclude, the latest generation of iPhones bring cinematic 4K 60fps to the masses, and especially into the hands of enthusiast film-makers and hobbyists (such as myself) at a fraction of the cost of purchasing dedicated cameras. This opens up a lot of creative possibilities that were not possible earlier on. The 4K 30fps feature on my two-year-old iPhone 6s Plus was never used since I couldn’t slow it down to mimic the cinematic videos. Similarly limiting are all the current flagships from every other rival manufacturer.
In addition, iMovie, Luma Fusion, and Adobe Premiere Clip apps on the latest iPhones run exceptionally smooth when editing and post-processing these extremely heavy video files! The new OLED panel with HDR support will make the experience of shooting, editing, and consuming media a visual treat.
If I had the money, I’d upgrade to the latest iPhone in a heartbeat, just for that amazing new camera.
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