iPhone 4S vs Canon 5d MKII: video comparison, side by side

[Video Link]

On Vimeo, Robino Films did this "fair" test between the iPhone 4S and the Canon 5D MK II. I've been shooting video and stills with the iPhone 4S for a couple of days, and I've been pretty blown away by the image quality. Was planning to do a side-by-side analysis like this myself, but this guy beat me to it, and the results are visually informative. Snip:

I made a little rig that allowed me to shoot both cameras at the same time side by side. All scenes are perfectly synced together so you can pause and scrutinize the frames! See photo of the makeshift rig in the photo area. Exposure, shutter speed, frame rate and picture style were matched as close as possible between the two cameras. (I used the Zacuto Z-finder to help me adjust exposure for both iPhone and 5D)

This test shows that the tiny F2.4 lens and sensor on the iPhone are pretty nice. It even got a little depth of field!

I did not overlay the exact ISO and Stops 5D settings per shot. It was too much to keep track for this simple test. To be fair I matched 5D exposure to the iPhone so no "Cinestyle" / 24p here.

(via @vincentlaforet)


  1. Glad to hear. I’m thinking about upgrading to the 4S soon and having good video would be a nice bonus! I see that the iPhone has trouble filming that digital billboard however.

  2. Wow, that is pretty cool.  I suppose if you need to change your focal lengths, then the iPhone won’t be very useful.  Also, I worry about the density of the image on the iPhone. Does it start to fall apart after you transcode and start layering filters or effects on it?

    Either way, it’s amazing how far we’ve come.  Here is another video.

  3. The iPhone is impressively competitive with the Canon, at least under these circumstances.  The image is noticeably softer, but at least with the slow pans shown, its seems to render movement cleanly.  I’d be curious to see how they compare during a whip pan. Well done Apple.  All these new improvements are almost enough to make me want to go back to an iPhone.  Maybe when the actual iPhone 5 comes out.

    1. And you think there will be what significant difference? Other than the obvious improvements in processor, memory, storage, battery…
      In fact the same improvements the 4S has over the 4. Or are you just going to use the same excuse the next time? ‘Nah, not enough of an improvement, gonna wait ‘til the 5s/6/6s…

  4. Pretty Impressive,  there are some sharpness issues on the 4s on some areas, and a little more stutter on fast movement but all in all for a phone it is pretty sweet.   The one scene with the video advertisement on it is a bit odd, is it an interlacing issue?

  5. The horizontal banding that occurred on the LED billboards was a bit disappointing. I wonder how the iPhone does under fluorescent lights? The camera in my phone has distinct horizontal banding under fluorescents.

  6. PC World rated the video quality of the Samsung Galaxy S II higher than the 4s… It’d be interesting to see the same thing done with the SGS2…

  7. Interesting to watch this after just having read Seth Robert’s blog post about The Willat Effect, which is the hedonic change caused by side-by-side comparison of similar things. 

  8. Getting a good camera is all about expanding the conditions under which you can take good pictures. Cheap cellphone cameras are good enough these days to take decent low resolution pictures/videos under good conditions (sunlight, deep depth of field, no fast movement, etc.) as we can see here. If all you want is to take wide angle pictures in the sun to post online, then a cellphone is enough. Under tougher conditions (zoomed in pictures, low light, moving subjects, wanting to have a shallow depth of field, etc.) then you need a better camera.

    This video was clearly created to make the iphone look good. Everything was done to avoid encountering any of its camera’s limitations. I wouldn’t call it fair, but it’s pretty impressive still.

    1. Pag is right on. Sure, the iPhone’s almost as good as the Canon a shooting cars on the street in daylight. Now shoot a hummingbird feeding with both cameras. Or the action at a football or tennis match. Or anything at night.

  9. I agree with Pag here.  While the 4S is fairly impressive this test is really showing fairly mediocre environments that shouldn’t tax most video recorders.  It’d be like comparing a sports car to a family sedan when all you did was driving to a friends house (assuming you are obeying all the traffic laws).

    I’m not really impressed with the “small size” aspect either.  The Canon is an SLR first, camera second, so it has to have the mounts and body shape to support being a camera.  Realistically the same insides could be put into a much smaller body with a fixed lens and be very pocketable.   Or it’d be interesting to see the 4s compared to the video on the Canon S95 or G12.

    But on the positive note at least the new batch youtube videos will be better quality thanks to improvements like this.

  10. so there was a talk at aic2010 (advanced imaging conference – astrophotography) by the guy from QSI. he started his talk with some interesting facts about the new sensors coming onto the market.

    he characterized the state of the industry as investing massive amounts of money in small, back-illuminated sensors for cellphones. to me it’s no surprise that these sensors are so good just because of the huge demand for them. it’s too bad they are so small – otherwise these guys could really give canon and nikon a run for their money.

    maybe all of this will have a positive effect on sony’s DSLRs. but for now these awesome sensors are no good for astrophotography due to their small size and small pixel size.

    you can find all of the AIC talks here, if you are so inclined:


    finally, the small lens on the iPhone is going to be a limiting factor vs. DSLRs, but it still looks damn good.

  11. certainly what is the best camera is open to debate and testing – but the one that you might always carry, and is quick to shoot and produces good to great images under normal ‘snap shot’ conditions has a place. that apple has poured r&d and thought into this should be applauded. faster to boot up? quicker to shoot? better lens, sensor, colors? great. 

    no doubt that a camera with a large sensor, wide assortment of lenses, and more control will handily beat any camera phone out there. but i don’t think most folks want to wander around with a dslr in their pocket or pack. a smartphone is nearly always there…

    i rarely take out the dedicated camera. and i haven’t owned a slr style camera since grad school… 2001,2002? and that was for film / slides / documentation / etc. i’m not a pro photographer, but i like documenting the things i see in my life. been waiting for a better melding of phone / pda / camera.
    i finally jumped from android to iphone when this was released. i’ve found myself using my htc evo as my phone, mail terminal, browser, and camera – and the specs and initial reviews of the 4s’ camera pushed me over to it.

    i’d be happy if apple doubled the thickness of the phone and put a real camera in there… double the battery, get the lens and sensor scaled up, and still include all the other features. would happily carry that around…

  12. Yes, with fair in quotation marks, it accurately describes the test. 

    I’m curious about the aperture settings.  To get similar depth of field between a camera with a full frame sensor and one 1/6 it’s size, you’d have to stop down the full frame a lot.  So far it would cause diffraction.  Of course, ignoring the strengths of the 5d, compressing the result, you’ll end up still kicking around any camera phone (not just the iPhone).  But, it’s hard to believe this story/video keep getting passed around the blogs without a critical view of the “test.”

  13. As others have said, the iPhone was appreciably softer.  It also seemed to lose shadow detail much more quickly than the 5D Mark II. The white balance is different.

  14. I wouldn’t call the iPhone’s images ‘warmer’ or softer.  I’d call them inaccurate.

    Given no colour blindness – after looking at hundreds of thousands of images technically, critically, for-a-living, you do develop a stable and reliable eye – the Willart Effect becomes ingrained, I suppose.

    After a while, you don’t need side-by-side comparison.  Me, I’m not impressed: the iPhone camera might be OK for a phone, but its colour (cough) ‘reproduction’ isn’t that impressive.

    First: Adjust your video playback software so that the top and bottom black (I’m assuming) bars black.

    At the 0:40 mark: look at the colour fidelity in the shadows and the shadow detail.  The green garbage/recycling bins are magenta(!)-gray on the iPhone.

    At the 0:50 mark: Aside from the not-the-right-colour pavement and sidewalks, the Prostate Cancer sign on the iPhone is zebras!

    At the 1:20 mark:  Note that now (brighter and closer to midday – see the shadows)  that the iPhone is now showing the pavement and sidewalk as reddish and slightly yellow.

    Yes: given the same field of view, the full-frame sensor’s lens has to be much longer than that of a 1/6th frame sensor.  And because of the longer lens, the FF’s lens needs to be stopped down to achieve the same depth of field.   And yes, given a sufficiently small aperture, you do get diffraction.  

    But the iPhone’s aperture is also smaller in diameter (y’know, ‘cuz the lens is also shorter) than the FF’s aperture, no?  Thus MORE prone to diffraction.

    Most importantly, the small sensor has NO depth of focus – the focus HAS to be perfect.   Give me the bigger sensor.

    1.  PaulR:  Yeah, that was my point.   In order to get to show the same image, you have to severely reduce the Canon’s image quality by using such a wide aperture.  The iPhone doesn’t have the option of reducing that diffraction issue, so it’s hardly a fair test.  That tiny sensor can only be so good.  By cramming that many pixels, it also induces huge amounts of noise.  Why not keep it at 5 megapixels, but otherwise improve it?  The new canon 1D went backwards in resolution, as Nikon did before them, because MORE megapixels isn’t BETTER.

      You and I are on the same sheet here. 

    2. I would disagree with you. I watched both closely. They had all three planes plus deep focus. 

      The only thing I saw was a “Birds-eye-view” effect. And a lot of people like that. 

      The point is, it’s a multi-use device. The hidden argument is now most people, who are not professionals, don’t have to have two devices.

      Iphone4; Phone, voice recorder, camera, video, browser, more, more , more…
      $400 w/contract + Monthly charges for services.

      Canon: Takes pictures and videos….$3,000+

      At OWS you have significantly greater chance of having the canon taken from you than your phone. The phone can be encrypted too. 

      1. All the specific points that PaulR mentioned are accurate.  It just doesn’t compare in terms of detail or colour fidelity.

        As a consumer device, the iPhone 4S has one of the better cameras, but for people who make a living doing video, it’s just not up to snuff.

  15. This test is like driving a sports car and a family car at the same speed and proclaiming how great the family car did compared to the sports car. The comparison serves to put some shine on the performance of the family ride that bounces off the side of the sports car as it idles along with its blinkers flashing.

  16. BTW:

    Excellent product review, Robino Films.  You took one specific element and focused on it. Great job. 

  17. Wait, so I should take my 5Dii off craigslist where I was going to make a straight trade for an iPhone?

    I see the iPhone as the Polaroid of 2010.  It takes a decent photo you can share instantly but if you really want to take a photo use a different camera.

  18. Damn… I just bought a 5DmkII last week.  If I’d seen this earlier, I could have saved myself a few thousand dollars.

  19. News at 11:  the absurdly tiny, cheap-ass camera in a recently-released smartphone is not as good as a pro or semi-pro bit of equipment with decent glass.

    Here’s the real news:  it’s possible to take reasonably good photos and video with your phone, do a bit of post-processing or video editing and show it to everyone online all with something you will have on your person all the time and all for a relatively small bit of cash.  That’s amazing and I love it.

  20. Really, nobody sees the utter lack of detail in the iphone image as compared to the canon? Just look at the leaf in the upper left at the beginning of the vid. The canon is crisp and detailed whereas with the iphone there’s no sharpness, no detail. My HTC Incredible S takes better video than that.

  21. No really. This is like a Ferrari against Ford race where the speed limit is 30mph.

    Try the both of them in poor lighting conditions, for example. 

    In the daylight, you can’t see much difference between cameras. 

    This is a 2006 comparison between a $150 and a $5000 camera:


    Of course, if you spend several grand and your needs can be satisfied with an iPhone, you’re not that clever.

  22. You’re all got sucked into this iPhone thingy, I know some of you like slick gadget toy. how could the little baby compares to a big boy 5D? put it out of your imagination. Ideally It’s just a phone got enhance with some kind of small size camera to go with. if you’re getting marriage are you going to use iPhone to take the picture of your wedding that only happen one in your life time ? of course not, it’s totally a separated category. most of the time this gadget toy only last not even two years, and the contract not even over yet some of you encountered problem one after another, my brother returned his iphone back to ATT two times to fix the problem on the camera won’t take picture

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