iPhone 4: How does it perform for video recording?

I took the new iPhone 4 out for a Venice Beach bike ride, to test the smartphone's new high-res video recording capabilities. All footage in this video shot with iPhone 4.

ip4xenith.jpg Remember that the iPhone allows you to tap an icon on-screen to switch the camera orientation from one face to another. For some portions (while riding my bike), the iPhone was strapped on to my left hand with rubber bands (I call this The Rubber Band Steadicam™), and the iPhone camera was facing out one direction with medium-res video recording. In other sections of this video (skaters skating, orchids, ocean, and interview with skater Kiko, age 8) the iPhone camera was activated in the other direction and captured high-resolution video.

You can see the difference, but the verdict in short form is this: iPhone 4 outperforms other smartphones and handheld ultra-mobile digital video camcorders, and I've tried nearly all of 'em for web video production while on the road. When it comes to video recording in a smartphone (and in "Flip" class devices), iPhone 4 is the one to beat.

Again you do have to be mindful of that camera orientation switch option noted above: when you shoot video out of one side of the device, you get lower-resolution 640 x 480 footage, and when you shoot out of the other side, you get far higher-res 1280 x 720. You can tap an area to focus in and balance exposure and hue, even while you are shooting. Video is saved and exported as h.264 QuickTime, and you can email, MMS, or publish to YouTube right from the iPhone. Editing on the device is possible with iMovie for iPhone ($5 in the Apple App store).

See also:



(Special thanks to Eric Mittleman, to Q-Burns Abstract Message whose music appears in this video, and to all the awesome skaters at the Venice Skate Park, particularly Kiko and Drew!)

Watch Video: YouTube, or download MP4.


  1. I cant believe that was shot on a phone. I so want an get an iPhone again. I’m waiting until its on Verizon, I had enough of ATT. :/

    1. This video was cut from lots of different clips, and the size of each clip varies also depending on what data it contains — but I will say that I was astonished with how small the file sizes were. iPhone saves them in h.264. The compression is terrific, preserves quality well.

  2. All so tempting, especially as someone with a 3G.

    How big are the files? Any sense of how much time you can record before needing to off-load?

    Still love flip cameras though. They’re relatively cheap and sturdy and a cinch for getting people who aren’t as used to digital media up and running.

    1. For an example: a 13-second clip of me talking to camera, shot in the medium-resolution (640×480) mode, was 5.2MB.

      A 16-second shot in the high-res 720p, 1280×720 mode, panning over a bunch of flowers, was 20MB.

    2. It’s true that the Flip class of cameras can be very useful. But when you consider the negligible price difference at this point, and the big leap ahead in video quality, this is really a nice new option…

      1. True. Though the iPhones are coming in with an ATT subsidized price of course. I get the feeling flip will be doing some kindle/nook style price-slashing sooner rather than later.

        The video sizes seem pretty decent. I’m sure an app solution will come along, but one thing I dig on flips is the countdown timer. When I do video editing classes with older patrons at our library the number one question is always “How do I know how much time is left to shoot?” A holdover from the tape era :)

  3. Has anyone done a comparison with the new HTC EVO 4G? It is supposed to have high res also….

    1. >And with this, any reason to ever buy a Flip camera is now null and void.

      When the Flip gets App store lock-in, expensive contract lock-in and hobbled data caps. Yeah, sure.

  4. Xeni,
    Was the video editing done on phone with the iMovie app or did you use a desktop app?

    1. Editing was done using Final Cut Studio, but we could have easily produced something pretty much identical to this with the iMovie for iPhone.

      Just, we have an existing workflow for these episodes, and it’s easier and faster for us to convert the footage and do Final Cut for production.

  5. I thought all professional use of H.264 required a license? Did you check the iPhone terms and conditions to see if video shot using the device was for nonprofessional use only?

    I imagine video shot to review a device would not need a license but it’s prudent to mention this previously unpublicized limitation of video encoded using H.264.

    Keep the great reviews coming – these are really good.

  6. Flip cameras are nice, but not all of us want video cameras. I actually want a device that does everything this device does but without the phone part. So I’m waiting to see about the iPod Touch 4G; if and when that comes out. But this seems to truly be a nice “pocket knife” of electronic tools.

  7. I don’t understand why you are just doing product reviews for Apple. iPhones are reviewed by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to my local newspaper. Lots of other interesting stuff out there.

      1. Me neither – I just wish other phones and brands got as much coverage as Apples, esp. iPad/iPhone on BoingBoing.

        I’d love indepth reviews like this for Android & Symbian (for Symbian has the biggest share of the market still, or did in 2009) phones…

  8. My problem with flip and phone video cameras is that they all seem to suffer from shaky hand syndrome. I don’t know if it is from the lack of mass or the awkward way you are forced to hold it, but it seems almost impossible to get a steady shot with one of these things (and I’m not talking about your shots from the moving bicycle).

    Or maybe it’s just my DT’s.

    1. Kodak’s Zi8 has built-in image stabilization. It’s not perfect by any means but it eliminates a lot of the worst shaky-hand noise.

      1. I have one of these as well and I’m not very happy with it. The image stabilization doesn’t seem to work very well on scenes with a lot of movement (including pans).

  9. Still has the same ‘jelly’ issues as the iPod, if better quality.

    CMOS I guess? Sigh.

  10. Is this 30 frames per second, or 24 frames per second, or perhaps 30 frames exported to 24 after editing? There seemed to be some interlacing on the shakey-cam shots. It might be the embedded player making the action look a bit strobey. It didn’t seem to cache so I could look at it without the streaming speed affecting playback. The footage looks nice and sharp and saturated. Some wonky lens flare, but that’s to be expected.

  11. Its fine for what it is…

    And if you are getting a phone anyway, great.

    BUT, dont miss the point of optics, etc. Footage really doesn’t compete with a half-decent camera… albeit this is better than standard ipod and flip…. sure.

    For family outings this is great. I really dont see why people are making a fuss.

  12. video quality was good — but, like #26, I was more amazed by pint-sized shredder at the end. Please test more video devices at that park.

  13. The only thing I noticed from a quality standpoint is that the color seemed to have a hard time locking into a steady whitepoint. The young girl’s face went from bluish to oversaturated red/yellow depending on the lighting from second to second. You can see a similar thing on the gray cement in the skate bowl as the pan moves from side to side and light to dark (it turns alternating greenish- to reddish-gray). Xeni – is there any auto-correction enabled in the Final Cut workflow that might have introduced this, or did you see that as well in the iPhone itself?

  14. I don’t mind all the iStuff reviews, but I am with the folks that would love to see some nerdgasim reviews of the same quality form other corporations on occasion. I mean the Evo release slipped by with nothing more than a peep when imo that was as big as the iPhone 4.

    More on topic, I think the camera and video capabilities of the next gen phones are awesome. My pockets have from being stuffed with devices to having just one. My computer was one a bursting with cables and software to support my mass of devices, and now my one device does all of its syncing wirelessly without ever involving my computer and stores most data in the cloud. There is still a place for specialized devices, but you have to have a pretty high quality standard before a stand alone camera it camcorder makes sense.

    All those dreams of do everything devices came true… who’da thunk? Fuck flying cars. This future us just fine.

  15. Xeni i envy your life, you get to be near ocean shooting with new iphone…and i’m stuck in office designing tank parts….*plays a tiny violin* hehehe. That’s a nice quality, i’m getting extra excited for my new phone drooool…

  16. iPhone+ATT contract ~ $2000

    Flip, Kodak Z18, Vado from Creative Labs:
    all under $200

    Price point in NOT coparable.

    BTW I have an aging N78 Nokia that has dual cams front and back. iPhone is unimpressive.

    1. Price point in NOT coparable.

      BTW I have an aging N78 Nokia that has dual cams front and back. iPhone is unimpressive.

      Of course a good smart phone costs more than any one device, but there is a pretty key difference. I now have only one device, and it fits in my pocket. I don’t lug a freaking camera, mp3 player, digital recorded, gps, laptop, and phone around. I have one device that does all of that and pay an extra $30 a month or so for the privilege (Sprint + HTC Evo) over what I pay for a normal cell phone plan. Further, all of those things are integrated into each other. For instance I can bring up a spiffy augmented reality app like Layar that ties together the camera/video, gps, internet connection, and some other sensors to throw down another layer over reality… all that while listening to Pandora and having a phone ready for calling. That is pretty fucking sweet for a little device that fits in my pocket and gives me access to the internet any time I need it.

      Does the phone do all of the things a little worse than their dedicated equivalents? Sure, but a little loss in quality is a price I’ll happily pay to have everything linked together, working together, and fitting in one pocket. I am not saying there isn’t a place for dedicated devices. Want really good camera shots and don’t mind lugging a camera around? Eh, get a real camera. Just need something for taking a few pictures with friends to post on Facebook to capture a few serendipitous moments? Don’t lug a camera around everywhere, use your phone.

  17. I don’t believe the iMovie iPhone app is released yet. Or at least I can’t find it in the App Store.

  18. Too much iPhone. All these posts should have been rolled into one. This isn’t Gizmodo…

    1. Agreed. I’d like to remind BoingBoing readers that there is no “i” in “phone”.

      Now go call your mom.

  19. Can you change the video’s recording volume? I used to take my 3gs to concerts and get decent video but totally blown out audio that I couldn’t do anything about. I hope that is changed in the new model so I can take decent video of my friends’ shows! Thanks for your time in reviewing and also in reading my goofy question!

  20. The resolution was nice, but the frame rate seemed fairly crappy. What frame rate does it shoot at in high res mode?

    And of course, the footage is almost totally unusable for any professional purpose due to the shakiness. But Final Cut Pro has a pretty decent software stabilizer built-in (of course, buying a $1300 software package to fix video shot with a phone is a bit weird).

    Are you forced into automatic white balance, gain, etc.? Or are these manually settable?

  21. Thanks for the enjoyable review. Could you please tell how you got to FCP? I have used Image Capture to get the iPhone file onto my computer. Then I used MPEG Streamclip (free download) to convert. But I’m not sure of which settings to use. Export to QT works, but there are so many other choices. The nice thing about using the iPhone, is that it’s always with me. Sonny

  22. So, what’s the recommended storage for an iphone 4 if you want to use video and all the other whatnots: 16 GB or 32GB? Is 16GB sufficient?

  23. Xeni, can you show us the Rubber Band Steadicam? By the way, I saw a cool mount for an iPhone 4 that gives the iphone a 1/4-20 screw mount and it fits in your pocket. its called the Glif and has a great Kickstarter story. it’s been featured on BB. (i’m not affilated in any way with the product).

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