May 16, 2017

Watch: How Does an iPhone 7 Plus Stack Up Against an ARRI Alexa?

The iPhone 7 Plus has a pretty powerful camera, but how well does it perform next to the industry favorite ARRI Alexa?

Remember back in December when we shared that video by filmmaker Parker Walbeck comparing the images captured by an iPhone 7 Plus and a RED Weapon? Remember how well the iPhone 7, a device that everyone and their grandma has in their pocket, stood up to the $50K cinema camera? Well, there's a new comparison video making its rounds on the interwebs that is similar to Walbecks, only it has two key differences: 1.) it puts the iPhone 7 Plus up against an $80K ARRI Alexa, and 2.) the smartphone clearly gets blown out of the water. Check out the video from Potato Jet below:

I know what you're going to say. You're going to say that comparing an iPhone 7 Plus to an ARRI Alexa is like comparing apples to oranges that have a 35mm CMOS sensor and 14+ stops of dynamic range. It's completely unfair and contrived and stupid, but—just stay with me.

Let's remind ourselves of a couple of things. First of all, what we saw in Walbeck's iPhone 7 Plus vs. RED Weapon video was pretty impressive. Did the iPhone win? Of course it didn't—it's a smartphone from 2016; they have tiny sensors and limited latitude. Second of all, we are at the point in camera tech where people are starting to wonder how well smartphones stack up against cinema cameras. 

So no, smartphone cameras are not as good as cinema cameras. We all knew that. However, we're in a time when filmmakers and other image makers are starting to get curious about whether or not they really need super expensive camera gear to shoot films, or if it's possible to shoot films with the same device they use to play Candy Crush.

We're obviously not quite there yet, at least when it comes to the iPhone 7 Plus. Honestly, it'd be really interesting to see comparisons like this with other smartphones like the Google Pixel and HTC U11, which have much better cameras.      

Your Comment

27 Comments

But what's amazing is that in a relatively short period of time the iPhone has gone from the quality of the original version to something that - with a bit of Neat video in post - can work in a pinch, so long as you don't mind losing some control over depth of field.
Once computational photography gets even better at that (and Apple's Portrait mode is already impressive) you wonder how the high-end models will justify their price difference in another decade's time.

May 17, 2017 at 3:55AM

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There was a shot in "The Wolf Of Wall Street" that was shot on an iphone :)

May 17, 2017 at 12:30PM

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And that shot is?...

May 17, 2017 at 2:54PM

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Chris Kas
Jack of all trades
180

This is wonderful.
Am pretty sure this video will help me to save a lot of time, explaining my client.
Wonderful stuff. Thanks.

May 17, 2017 at 4:22AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
390

Why? I'm asking a serious question here. Why do you post this crap?

May 17, 2017 at 10:30AM, Edited May 17, 10:30AM

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Ryan Blaske
DP/Editor/Director
147

I think seeing the differences between the iPhone and the Alexa is interesting.

First, we *know* the differences between the cameras, but have you really ever compared them side by side? You know the differences, but have you experienced them? It gives a much more real and concrete example of why we pay so much for expensive gear. And I think if you've got the right attitude, there's something to learn here, which is something we should always be doing.

Second, *We* know the differences, but others may not know. Especially some of our clients. They've seen some great videos shot with phones, there's a lot of marketing done by phone companies to show how great the cameras are. To someone who doesn't understand what we do, something like this is a much bigger deal.

And finally, it's just interesting. It's like that show "How it's made". Do I really need to know how they make red Solo cups? No. But it's still interesting enough to spend 10 minutes learning about it.

May 17, 2017 at 12:14PM

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Cuz it's interesting...

May 17, 2017 at 2:55PM, Edited May 17, 2:55PM

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Chris Kas
Jack of all trades
180

It's a fun comparison. Who gives a shit?

May 17, 2017 at 6:53PM

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Steve Yager
Filmmaker
203

I agree with you here, this is crap. I feel that in the last few months about 50% of articles in this site are written by V Renee who clearly doesn't have much idea about filmmaking. This is the conclusion I come to after seeing the sort of crap she keeps posting. A couple of days ago was the "using the fist as a lightmeter" malarkey, it just keeps getting better!

May 18, 2017 at 5:37AM

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Pol
14

Comparing an iPhone 7 Plus to an ARRI Alexa is like comparing apples to oranges that have a 35mm CMOS sensor and 14+ stops of dynamic range. It's completely unfair and contrived and stupid.

May 17, 2017 at 10:46AM

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I disagree. I find it fascinating to see what the current difference is between a phone camera and a state-of-the-art system.
It narrows with each generation, which both benefits all of us and spurs Arri (and others) to invest further in R&D.

May 17, 2017 at 11:57AM

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You must be fun at parties...

May 17, 2017 at 2:55PM

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Chris Kas
Jack of all trades
180

Maybe the joke was too vague...

May 18, 2017 at 12:04PM

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Also these photos from the Alexa and iPhone were shot in more challenging lighting conditions than the RED shootout ones. Hence, the much bigger difference. Although Alexa is awesome, no doubt.

May 17, 2017 at 11:26AM

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Patrick Ortman
I tell stories. Sometimes for money. Sometimes, not.
775

Patrick is correct

May 17, 2017 at 2:22PM

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Indie Guy
641

Also I think one of the main points here is that even though the iPhone shoots 4k, teh Alexa's 1080p still outperforms. This is again, something some of us may know, but with the race for everything to be 4k it's important to have some solid side by side to show that it's not always better. And I'm talking about even real 4k cameras that are for production. Sometimes 4k just doesn't solve things and as someone else pointed out in the comments here, it's good to have that to take to some clients.

May 17, 2017 at 12:39PM

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There's a video on YouTube that compares Amira @ internal UHD upscaling with Red Dragon 6k and the difference is negligible at best. Even if the difference was bigger, most consumers don't sit Cloe enough to their screens to fully appreciate 1080p, let alone UHD!

May 18, 2017 at 12:39PM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
552

NFS has officially lost all credibility with this line... "Walbeck's iPhone 7 Plus vs. RED Weapon video was pretty impressive". The only thing impressive about that video was how he made the RED footage look like it was shot on an iPhone. On a positive note, the Alexa is an incredible camera which this video really shows.

May 17, 2017 at 3:58PM, Edited May 17, 4:30PM

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Kaster Troy
Director, DP, Editor
829

Thank god soneone said it - the Red vs iPhone was not "impressive." It was "let's crush the Red footage to make it look like an iPhone."

May 18, 2017 at 2:13AM, Edited May 18, 2:13AM

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Guys I understand what I'm gonna say is controversial, but I believe the iphone 7 could be much closer to the arri than this video shows, and that the test isn't fair to the iphone.

Hear me out:
The alexa is shot in LOGC with a rokinon xeen lens
The iphone is shot with stock settings with the base codec

A closer comparison would have been the iphone using log mode in filmic pro with a DOF adapter and a Rokinon Cine DS lens. NOW THAT I WOULD LIKE TO SEE

I have a feeling that with enough time grading the iphone and very little time grading the alexa the results would be significantly closer. If you don't believe me google "filmic pro iphone 7 plus" and see if you share my theory.

I'm not delusional, I work with higher end equipment exclusively and recognize its value. I can find any reason for me at this point in my life to ever shoot with an iphone. I'm not saying they are the same at all.

I remember reading dvx user a few years ago when hvx200 was all the rage and seeing the feature films that were shot with them. It seemed to me that with a DOF adapter, proper lenses, and enough lighting and lighting control you could emulate the look of film somewhat. I feel like this is the same idea. Take tangerine for example.

I'm not gonna stop using better cameras, but I wish I had this in highschool, were for a small investment I could've but myself a dof adapter, lens, a handheld gimbal and a mic(and recorded on another iphone) and made kickass shorts with a lot of free labor from people who have no financial obligations and lots of free time (if you are in high shool, do this!, or buy a pocket if you can)

I think the reason we don't see more people doing this kind of thing nowaday is because cameras are so much cheaper now, and the the amount of effort it would take to compensate for the iphone's inherent limitations, versus say, a second hand blackmagic pocket is not worth the financial additional cost to nearly anyone, maybe even high school students.

Still kinda cool seeing how fast the gap is narrowing from the lowest end to the high end.

May 17, 2017 at 9:05PM, Edited May 17, 9:06PM

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Diego Ramirez budowski
Director/ Executive Producer
154

This comparison was better done than 10s of others out there.

You DON'T want to test camera in a controlled environment studio with 5600k lights.. this is what all the camera manufacturers like to calibrate their camera to as it's the laziest thing ever so of course cameras will perform their best there..

you have to put them out of their comfort zones.. strong daylight, tungsten light mixed with fluorescent/led/halogen, strong colored lights that show how colors saturate to white in the burned areas, mix of streetlamp colors (where RED notoriously goes to disgusting greenish yellow colors which are a pain to remove in post.. I know one colorist on a movie said - fek it we're keeping it that way because he couldn't help it properly)

Anyway... 2000's era stock analog > Alexa > F35 > F65

May 18, 2017 at 2:21AM

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Kokles
90

You gotta post a link all the stuff I saw for filmic pro iphone 7 plus was pretty bad

May 18, 2017 at 3:34PM, Edited May 18, 3:34PM

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Indie Guy
641

No need to watch really: the answer is no.

Codec. Lens. Rolling shutter.

No.

May 18, 2017 at 12:41PM

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That's just data though. I'm speaking about images. The data says the ursa mini 4.6k has more resolution, more dynamic range and as good a codec as the alexa, therefore it should be vastly superior which we know to be false.

May 18, 2017 at 1:24PM

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Diego Ramirez budowski
Director/ Executive Producer
154

Hi Diego,

I'm passing through, but see you posted similar opinion to mine. I don't know what you are replying to in the last post, but I can refect on things from the technical side.

Data means as much as how you use it. I've see stuff on the dragon and the BM sensors I don't appreciate (helium is better). I questioned on how the range was obtained and what they were doing, at the top and bottom end technically. I could see unpleasant things there, which is probably where arri shines. Same sort of thing with the new Sony mini sensors and HDR years ago, harsh clipping and blobs of color at the region of burnout, requiring careful handling to avoid. Going one step further, the sort of codec rendering results are pretty harsh on some cameras (even m4/3 Sony sensor cameras) that can be made more like the Ursa min 4k by good software like primers for grading. However consumer video does rubbish stuff that obviously they don't need too, as it can be limitedly corrected in 8 bits in post, which shouldn't be much possible if it was authentic. The sickly white blue sky is a classic example. These cameras can be dealing with 10-12 bits plus internally, more then enough.

What we need is a standard measurement metric of how many stops a sensor can do without any washout over 6 brightness ranges, for x bits of target filming (is 8/10/12/16 etc), along side the full stop range value. We also need the values at which it starts to burn out and it goes to black for each range and target depth. This would make some nice multiple point graph plots, but just a plot of a special graph to measure primary and complimentary colors over brightness range with a plot of the recorded value deviation above each color would tell people exactly how anything is rolling off, and deviations from true norm. You would be able to pick cameras with the same look you want.

May 19, 2017 at 3:25AM, Edited May 19, 3:46AM

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Wayne M
Director of a Life
97

Seriously, will guys stop this. The result of the last test was clearly the weapon was more top notch, but the Apple was acceptable where you don't want top notch. But the comparisons were very unfair, you need to be able to film with lots of control over the Apple and visually lossless or lossless in maximum bit depth, even 4:2:2/bayer and then show graded and ungraded comparisons. Not too mention rigging it up and putting an optical lens adaptor on it for more real comparison.

Years ago Vizzygig's achieved 600mb/s mpeg1 on an Apple phone in 4k p24, which barely scrapped the max quality the phone can do.

If they want to determine the maximum quality, look at sensor spec sheets to do with datarates, and shoot the maximum quality still at the best common resolution that the sensors can deliver at motion rates with booth cameras with the best software. Then compare. This will indicate what is possible that the camera manufacturer maybe holding back from the design they sell you.

May 19, 2017 at 3:12AM

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Wayne M
Director of a Life
97

Oh, grief, he didn't make much of a comparison. I mean I saw the video header still and could see issues, but this comparison. He made the iPhone look better by the poor generic render on the Arri. But say, if it was set to emulate a mid 1980's vhs camcorder instead, what would that prove? It's what you can do with it putting in reasonable effort.

Now, the codec on the iPhone, and aggressive low pass filter, themselves are going to make it look less sharp than the arri, unfair. The processing for the consumer recording could account for the makeup rendering issues (even the sun). I wasn't expecting the dynamic range on the arri to be great compared to the iPhone, and it wasn't. We can see some of the hdr sensor issue in the sun shot I believe. The color generally was nicer on the I phone compared to the generic yellowish render of the arri. What does that prove, except in dynamic range, not much? You have to tax your camera to reasonable maxes. Just using what Apple gives you, is like buying a pro camera without a recorder and concluding the other camera records better. You have to equip it with appropriate parts. But my conclusion is that the Apple did surprisingly well, enough to consider a rig testing with good software on the lower end/Television portable even. Of course standard is rubbish, and fit for the home markets "low end".

May 19, 2017 at 5:27AM

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Wayne M
Director of a Life
97

No fair!!!!! You color corrected the big cam!!!!

May 23, 2017 at 1:38PM

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