I didn’t take long to put the iPhone X camera to the test, writing last November that I considered its performance equivalent to a $500-600 camera.

In particular, I was blown away by its low-light performance.

The hardware noise reduction does a stunning job. I’m completely blown away by the lack of noise […] That to me is truly stunning quality. There’s no visible grain at all. It’s well exposed (I didn’t adjust this at all). It’s sharp. The colors look great […] This is an absolutely remarkable performance. I’d have had trouble believing that it really was an iPhone shot had I not taken it myself.

I promised then that I’d write a follow-up piece looking at the video performance. That one slipped through the cracks, so I’m rather belatedly correcting that …

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I said before that the acid test for me with the camera is how annoyed I’d feel if I went out without a standalone camera and then happened across something I wanted to photograph. The answer with the iPhone X is ‘hardly at all.’ Most of the time, it does the job perfectly well. Things are, however, different where video is concerned.

The vast majority of my videos are casual ones intended only to capture a memory or share something on Facebook, so the iPhone actually is my default camcorder.

Here’s a fairly typical example – something interesting that I wanted to share, shooting just a short clip, handheld, in daylight.

It does equally well in good interior light. When I was shooting my Behind the Screens piece for 9to5Toys, I wanted to show my camera, and so used the iPhone to shoot that clip. My handheld technique leaves much to be desired, but the video quality was just fine.

Low light is where things get challenging for any camera, more so for video because there isn’t the option of a longer or stacked exposure with video – if you’re shooting 30 frames per second, the camera gets to work with as much light as can be captured in 1/30th of a second and no more.

Here’s a test clip shot from a Docklands Light Rail train, a good sample as it includes both completely unlit areas, and the platform lit by fluorescent lights.

You can see visible noise in the image, and it doesn’t cope well with the high-contrast areas, like the lights themselves and the indicator board. This isn’t a level of quality I’d be happy to use on any serious project – but for casual clips, I’d say it passes the ‘good enough’ test.

This next clip was at a science fiction exhibition at the Barbican Centre. You got to launch a rocket (as I recall, it didn’t exactly involve much skill) with a control desk in front of you and larger screens mounted on the far wall. Filming the screens, I would say the quality was absolutely fine.

This is a clip from a Christmas Blues Brothers show at the O2. Here, the noise is very noticeable indeed, and there are visible artefacts. It’s definitely not an acceptable standard for any kind of professional or semi-professional use. However, even here I would say it passes the Facebook post test – a casual user likely isn’t going to notice anything but the content.

But there is one area where the iPhone out-performs a standalone camera, and that’s the old saying that the best camera is the one you have on you at the time.

On Saturday night, London was treated to a storm with a spectacular lightning show. I had no idea how long it was going to last, and didn’t want to miss any of it by going to fetch my Sony a6300 and set it up on a tripod. Instead, I just leaned my iPhone X against the glass, set it recording and then left it be while I enjoyed the show.

If you look at the footage, there is a huge amount of grain. It’s definitely not the camera I would ideally have wanted to use. But it was the camera that’s always on me – and that was why I got the footage.

The storm lasted about 45 minutes, around 25 minutes of which was behind the City. The individual clips that make up the video are real-time, but I’ve removed all the gaps and less intense flashes to produce a 90-second video.

(If you’re wondering about the ‘Love London’ branding, I’m working on a fledgling YouTube project – feel free to subscribe to the channel if you’re interested in fun stuff to do in London.)

Conclusions

As a stills camera, the iPhone X does a great job most of the time. Really the only significant thing it lacks is genuine control of depth of field. The Portrait Mode effect isn’t yet a good substitute, as I can’t choose the pseudo-aperture for myself, and its algorithms aren’t yet perfect – as we saw last time. But, 95% of the time, it’s all the camera you need.

I can’t say the same as a camcorder, however. In daylight, it’s absolutely fine, and the fact that it shoots in 4K puts it on a par with most standalone camcorders. But once the light goes down, the performance drops off very quickly indeed. And, again, you don’t have control of depth of field for more serious use.

Is the quality acceptable for capturing memories, and sharing experiences with your friends on social media? Absolutely. Is it at a level where I’d want to use it for a serious project? Absolutely not.


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