When Steve Jobs launched the original iPhone in 2007, he pitched it as three revolutionary products in one: a mobile phone, a music player and internet browser. What’s wild, looking back, is that he didn’t even mention the camera.

But constant competition between smartphones means a budding Spielberg or Scorsese can now fit a film studio in their pocket. The arms race in the palm of your hand means clients often ask us if it’s worth using fancy professional gear at all. After all, as phones get ever more affordable, even big name directors have started shooting films on their dog and bone. To give just one example, Steven Soderbergh filmed High Flying Bird for Netflix back in 2019.

Here at Definition, we obviously have an opinion on this, but we thought we’d go with one of the golden rules of film making: show, don’t tell. (Ok, there might be bit of tell afterwards.)

Spot the difference?

Sunny Cambridge gave us the perfect opportunity to do a cheeky head-to-head. We interviewed our very own Jamie using both an (older) iPhone 12 Pro Max, and the Sony FX9, which is quickly establishing itself as a popular choice for professionals. With our operator handling both at the same time, we’re now able to make a direct comparison.

Have a gander here:

You probably picked up on a few differences, but here’s our comprehensive breakdown:

  • Skin tones and colour rendition: we think the Sony does skin more subtly, with more natural complexions and details, while the iPhone skews towards red and purple. Likewise, the Sony does a better job with small areas of contrast, like the dark t-shirt or Jamie’s hair.
  • Dynamic range: the iPhone doesn’t handle the details in the lightest and darkest areas as well as the Sony. It looks compressed, while the Sony’s wider variety gives a more balanced – even calmer – image.
  • Motion: speaking of calm, we think the iPhone video looks choppier and tenser. The Sony, on the other hand, is much smoother when it comes to anything moving. (And smoothness is a real hot potato at the moment – as Tom Cruise explains.)
  • Depth of field: the Sony has a shallower depth of field (which means the background is blurry.) That isn’t always better – but in this case, it helps to isolate Jamie from the background and stops the people behind him from being a distraction.
  • Sharpness: both images are sharp and in focus. But again, we think the Sony pips it in this department, with a sharpness that doesn’t sacrifice the subtle boundaries between tones.
  • Compression of space: the Sony comes with changeable lens – the longer lens we used here compresses the space, making for a more pleasing composition.

The grand finale

Across the board, we think the Sony gives a more cinematic picture than the iPhone. So is that it – case closed? Not quite.

Cinematic doesn’t automatically mean better. Here at Definition, we don’t have time for tech snobs. We use the best tool for the job at hand. So yes, if you’re putting together say a commercial, or a documentary, or a corporate brand video, the Sony is the way to go. But for something more casual, or immediate, or even, dare we say it, authentic? If you’re filming user-generated content (or something that’s supposed to feel like user-generated content) then the iPhone’s the better shout.

Of course, the technology you have isn’t even half of the equation. It’s whoever’s using it that really determines how successful your story will be. The storyboarders, directors, animators, editors – they’re the real stars of the show. So if you need help with a project, we have the right equipment and the right people to bring it to life.

And in the meantime, much as we love the Sony…we won’t be giving up our iPhones any time soon.