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iPhone video shoot in 15 mins, 7,000 miles from my camera kit

I recently got the chance to compare and contrast a completely impromptu iPhone video shoot with a carefully planned interview shoot with a full-on studio setup – and while the results are certainly not comparable, my iPhone 13 Pro Max did a perfectly solid job.

Not long ago, I helped out a friend by shooting three video interviews. To do so, I used two BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera rigs, a motorized slider, studio lighting, a separate sound recordist with his own gear, and two hours of setup prior to shooting. The results won’t be ready to share for some time, but I’ve been able to review the footage …

When I was in Buenos Aires last month, I had no plans to shoot anything more than video snaps of the trip – as I did with my iPhone 11 last time I visited.

However, I was shocked to find that a fantastic tango teacher and friend I’d met there last time had no website with which to promote herself to other foreign visitors. I offered to create a tiny website for her.

Laura is a very thoughtful and engaging person, and speaks about tango with great passion and insight, so I wanted a video interview to be the first and main thing visitors saw. I had precisely none of the kit I’d used a few weeks earlier.

What I did have was my iPhone 13 Pro Max, a compact Airbnb apartment, and about 15 minutes’ total for both setup and shoot before Laura left for a holiday! This clearly wasn’t going to allow for any great ambitions in terms of production values …

The setup was… basic. The iPhone 13 was on a mini-tripod with iPhone holder. That wasn’t high enough, so the tripod was placed on a cushion. I already knew that Cinematic Mode wasn’t good enough for artificial shallow depth of field – the artifacts were going to be too distracting. All I could do here was maximize the very limited separation available in the small space by shooting from the hatch between the kitchen and living room, with the patio doors to the balcony as the background.

Lighting was… another iPhone balanced on a fruit bowl, with the torch on!

Sound was yet another iPhone, running Just Press Record, and positioned directly under Laura’s chin.

This was as amateurish a setup as you could possibly get, and the contrast with the studio shoot was stark to say the least. The video certainly isn’t going to win any awards.

And yet… it was good enough for the job it had to do. It coped with the low light without noise; it had enough background separation to avoid distraction; and, in truth, the built-in audio was 95% as good as the separate audio track I used. It let me shoot a completely impromptu video with zero kit beyond the iPhones we had in the apartment – and to get a good enough result to use on a website.

To me, that’s pretty remarkable. To be able to do a “proper” shoot like this in 15 minutes using only iPhones is something that would have been unimaginable not too many years ago. It’s no cinema camera, but it was the camera I had on me – and it was good enough to do the job.

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