See how the iPhone 7 Plus stacks up against a $50,000 cinema camera

Much has been said about the need (or not) for a high-end camera when it comes to getting a cinematic look in your videos. Interchangeable lens cameras offer large sensors, sharp optics, and extensive manual control — but what if all you have access to is a phone? Parker Walbeck of Full Time Filmmaker decided to answer this question by shooting a short film on an iPhone 7 Plus and comparing it side by side with a $50,000 Red Weapon cinema camera.

In short, the iPhone does a decent job of keeping up with the Red, but as always, there is more than meets the eye. Walbeck explained his tricks in a second video, starting with how he got around the iPhone’s limiting default camera app by using Filmic Pro, a $10 app that unlocks powerful manual features. This enabled him to control exposure and white balance automatically as well as increase the bit rate of the video to 100mbps.

Secondly, the iPhone was mounted to the same gimbal that held the Red. By disabling the phone’s default image stabilizer, Walbeck took advantage of the better stabilization of the gimbal. Such gimbals can cost in the thousands of dollars but if you do not actually need to support a cinema camera, something smaller like the DJI Osmo Mobile will yield similar results.

On the post-production side, two things dramatically helped make the footage look more cinematic. The first was a simple letterbox matte to copy the wider aspect ratio typically used in cinema. The second was some basic color correction to punch up the footage.

Even knowing all of the work that went into it, it’s difficult to watch the side-by-side footage and not be impressed by the iPhone’s performance. The discerning eye will notice the lack of dynamic range compared to the Red, but the average viewer might not notice any objective differences between the two cameras. Walbeck comments that one reason for this is simply due to YouTube’s compression. Thanks to compression, virtually all of the video available online won’t come close to demonstrating the true quality of the camera that shot it.

There are myriad reasons why a “real” camera will always be better than a phone, even without regard to image quality. Still, Walbeck’s video demonstrates that aspiring filmmakers don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to get professional looking results. With a little blood, sweat, and tears, even the most basic gear can go a long way.