Shooting professional-quality video on your smartphone is now a thing. As video becomes more popular with hobbyists and pros alike, and various mobile video editing apps make footage a cinch to edit, more and more people are turning to their smartphones to record video. As smartphone tech advances, video quality has zoomed past 1080p to 4K and even 8K capture — though the massive files the latter create can only be viewed on compatible TVs and monitors.
Some phones also offer higher frame rates of 60, 120, 240, and even 960 fps in lower resolutions for shooting in slow-mo. Cinematic software modes provide additional manual controls. Automatic scene selection and image correction and stabilization are becoming even more common. These advanced features often rely on some degree of artificial intelligence. With the right features, smartphones can assist in creating professional productions, and some are better than others. Here are the best smartphones out there for shooting video.
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If you’re specifically seeking a smartphone to serve as a video camera, look no further than the Xperia 1 II as an example of the genre. The device shoots video at 4K resolution at 24, 25, 30, or 60 fps and supports HDR for gorgeous color and contrast. You can also shoot at 1080p at 30, 60, or 120 fps slow motion. Its 4K HDR OLED 3840 x 1644 display lets you view your footage at original captured quality directly on your screen.
The Xperia 1 II features OIS/EIS video stabilization with Intelligent Active Mode 5-axis stabilization. The phone has three 12-megapixel rear cameras with a primary wide-angle camera, ultrawide-angle camera, and a telephoto. Sony has pre-installed two custom camera apps — Cinema Pro and Photo Pro — so its smartphone cameras act as an extension of its pro-level equipment and provide similar versatility in a compact, portable device. The Cinema Pro app offers complete control over how you shoot video on the handset, from the focus to the shutter speed, including white balance, ISO, and the overall look of your footage. For civilians, these custom apps will be a significant challenge; for experienced videographers, this will be a piece of cake. Stay tuned for the upcoming Xperia 1 III and the Xperia 5 III, which have been announced but not yet released.
Sony’s Xperia Pro is specifically designed for a niche audience of pro videographers to integrate with their video equipment to achieve a professional workflow. It’s great for users who want to live-stream or automatically transfer footage while on the go. The phone offers a range of tools — look color management presets, 21:9 movie recording, 4K HDR in 24, 30, 60, and 120 fps slow-motion, intelligent wind filter, and more — to enhance your cinematography. Its HDMI input allows the Xperia Pro to act as a large, high-quality monitor for Sony cameras. The phone features some high-end specs including a Snapdragon 865 processor, 12GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, a 4,000mAh battery, and a 6.5-inch 4K OLED display. The back has a triple-lens camera, which includes a telephoto camera, an ultra-wide camera, and the main 12-megapixel camera.
However, all this tech doesn’t come cheap, and the Sony Xperia Pro starts at the eye-wateringly expensive price of $2,500. But if you want something truly show-stopping and budget isn’t a concern, this should be your choice.
The triple-lens, 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max features a three-camera system and a 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display, powered by the A14 Bionic chip. It can shoot UHD 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, There’s also support for 120 fps and 240 fps, 1080p, and slow-motion video at up to 240 fps. The primary camera is 12MP shooting at 26mm, with sensor-shift image stabilization. That’s alongside the wide-angle cam at 13mm and the telephoto at 65mm. A panorama mode, burst mode, and time-lapse shooting are also available. The iPhone 12 Pro Max features facial recognition, digital and optical image stabilization, and autofocus for focusing and tracking.
One advantage for filmmakers is the Dolby Vision feature — included in all iPhone 12 models — which delivers 10-bit HDR video. This is highly compressed to reduce file sizes for streaming or sharing, and it can help with post-production color grading. Anything shot in Dolby Vision will only contain the extra HDR quality when viewed via a supporting system.
If you want the ultimate standout photo- and video-centric Android smartphone, you want the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. There’s a main 108MP, 1/1.33-inch sensor and a 12MP ultra-wide 1/2.55-inch sensor, both with a laser autofocus plus two 10MP telephotos. It features a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2x display with 20:9 aspect ratio, 3200 x 1440-pixel resolution, and flexible frame rates up to 120 Hz.
For video, the Galaxy S21 Ultra can record 8K video up to 30 fps, and all of its cameras can capture 4K video at up to 60 fps. The best video upgrade is the Director’s View feature, where you can see live thumbnails of each camera while you’re recording video, so you can quickly swap between them. A new vlogger mode lets you use the front and back cameras at the same time for recording video. The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s footage looks impressive, delivering nearly cinematic results. You can feel free to move around a lot while shooting too, thanks to the phone’s Super Steady mode.
The Google Pixel 5 is somewhat cheaper than the other super high-end specialty phones and is easy to use for shooting great-looking photos and videos. It features two dual rear cameras, making it easy to shoot good images without much effort. The primary camera has a 12.2MP, f/1.7, 27mm lens while the second camera has a 16 MP ultrawide lens with an f/2.2 aperture. The camera can shoot at 4K at 30 fps; 1080p at 30, 60, 120 fps; and 1080p at 30 fps. You can record slow-motion, augmented-reality (AR), and time-lapse videos that speed up when you play them. The phone includes some helpful modes like the low-light mode, Night Sight, and Cinematic Pan. The phone’s camera also has an HDR Plus feature that allows you to capture multiple images and combine them into one for the best exposure.
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