Review of the iPhone 5S 120FPS super slow motion
FACT: Everything looks better in slow motion…well almost everything…gross things in slow motion look more gross! The joy of slow motion and super slow motion is that they capture something we cannot see with our own eyes (unless you are on that drug that was in the excellent Dredd movie!) This is the same reason why we find timelapse so fascinating.
My first camera to shoot slow motion properly was the Sony EX1. It could overcrank up to 60fps, which is enough, to be honest, for most things… but we always want more. We are a greedy race aren’t we? The EX1 slow motion was only 720p, but I loved it and shot a lot with it.
When the Canon 5DmkII came out, there was no slow motion on it, that was fixed with the 7D 50p/60p mode…this is not “overcranking” but recording at a higher frame rate that, when played back, looks cheap and TV like to (It’s actually 2 fps more than the 48fps Hobbit that I disliked so much). When you conformed this footage to 24 or 25p in Cinema Tools though, essentially stretching it out, you had a nice looking slow motion. The MKII remains the only Video DSLR with no slow motion ability.
We still don’t have 1080p slow motion on any Canon DSLR or even the C300/ C500/ C100. The only Canon cameras that do are my favourite, the 1DC which has 1080p 50p/ 60, also their little XA20 and XA25 that I recently reviewed.
Sony have also had 50p/60p in their DSLRs for a while. Sony are often ahead of the pack when it comes to features.
Their FS700 was the first “affordable” S35 camcorder to have a high frame rate mode. 60fps was not slow enough, enter 240fps in an 8 second burst. It could also do 480fps and 960fps albeit with a loss of quality, especially the latter frame rate. This was the dawn of affordable high-speed cameras.
Blackmagic cameras whilst high-specced don’t go over 30p at all…high speed is more useful than 4K for 99% of people!
Super slow motion (otherwise known as high frame rate) features are massively desired. Who wouldn’t want it in their cameras!?
The FS700 has recently been improved and can now can do continuous 240fps with its raw upgrade. I have a review of that coming this week, as I used it for a few days in Tuscany a fortnight back. A mixed bag really of “love the image, don’t like the system.”..but more of that in the next post. 😉
The highest frame rate camera I actually own I have had since 2008. The Casio FX1 stills camera. It could actually go up to 1200 fps in a puny 336×96 resolution! Yeah. It was not good. It did 60p OK but the other modes were not good. It’s in my house somewhere…not sure where!
Fast forward to 2010 and I was the owner of a lovely RED Epic which was capable of a maximum 300fps continuous. This was wonderful despite recording that frame rate via a crop of the S35 sensor.
To get super slow motion, many people have resorted to doing it in post with Twixtor. A lovely plug-in, but it takes a lot of work in post to make it shine. There are some tutorials on this under the Education/ Post section of my site in the top menu.
So whilst Sony has implemented HFR into some of the cameras (The F5 and F55 are capable of it, the F5 only via the raw recorder and the F55 internally and also to the raw recorder at varying frame rates) we patiently wait for Canon, Nikon and Blackmagic to give us 1080p 60p modes, let alone HFR…meanwhile a little known Californian company called Apple have gone and given us a 120fps video mode in their new iPhone 5S. Yeah it’s not a large sensor camcorder, it’s a phone (although the actual phone part is about 1% of what I use it for!) It has a tiny sensor, but it performs well, the sills are excellent too, it’s about as convenient a device you can own that can shoot in this mode.
Is it any good though? Well I upgraded my iPhone 5 to the 5s. I didn’t get in quick enough, I was one hour late after the phones went on sale online, so I had to wait until last week to get it. I only really got it for the 120fps really and because I am a gadget freak. Most of the improvements are rather incremental. I do like the finger print thingy!
Last week I was in Tallinn Estonia to teach 2 workshops on filmmaking to around 130 people. Despite having both my 1DC and F55 with me (and Movi!), I needed to take a break from shooting video and I concentrated on taking stills instead (Do check them out on Flickr, some nice ones in there, there is a link below the video) Then on my one day off I decided to shoot some 120fps with the 5S whilst walking around. I wanted it to be really simple, like most people would use the iPhone…handheld, no tripod, no rig, just in my hand, inside my bookbook cover. I wanted to see what I could do with it, or more accurately, what the 120fps video mode was capable of.
With super slow motion, you need light, you also need high shutter speed. Shooting at high shutter speed under non TV/ Film lights normally means you get nasty flicker (I will actually show you how to remove this in my next post). Luckily as we were so far North in Estonia we had some lovely low-ish sun from around 2pm which gave me some lovely light for around 4 hours. Although much of this 4 hours was spent drinking outside people watching!
So whilst walking around with my friends James, Anna and Megan, I kept stopping (much to their annoyance) to grab shots. I kept on going until sunset and until my phone filled up. I may have a 64gb one but it’s packed with apps and music; with no micro SD card slot you have to make do with your internal memory.
It looked great on the iPhone screen but is not testament to quality, you have to see it on a proper screen. Also the video recorded is only 720p…no 4K here 😉 (I still can’t believe smart phone manufacturers are boasting that their cameras will soon shoot 4K video…why?!??!)
A lovely little feature that you can do in-camera is select where you want the speed ramp once it’s been shot. It’s very slick indeed and you can take your result and share it/ bore all your friends with it on Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo etc by uploading it internally.
The phone records 30p by default and that is the result you get if you upload it to one of these services internally, as it needs a real-time timebase to show the slow motion off, but when you pull it off the phone manually it’s 120p footage and the speed ramp is gone. That’s fine. Easy to do in post!
So I took the footage into computer via USB and the built in software on my mac called image capture. Please only use the original footage for optimum quality. I then converted it to ProRes 422 and ran it through Apple’s Cinema Tools as a “batch conform” to 23.98p. This would give me the slowest looking footage and a nicer looking playback than the 30p the iPhone pumps out normally.
The downside to this is the bit rate gets reduced a lot. It records the 120fps in around 30mb/s so when you conform this to play at 24p you are getting around 7mb/s. Very low which means grading is going to be hard.
Of course by going into ProRes I wasn’t editing with a bit rate as low as that, when conformed it came out as around 38mb/s which is more respectable. It’s still not really proper 38mb/s but by converting a low bit rate to a higher bit rate, it will hold up a lot better. That’s why so many colourists I know insist on DSLR footage converted to ProRes HQ.
The results aren’t bad. Considering it’s a phone especially. They are pretty respectable. I wouldn’t call the image detailed, or sharp. It’s a bit soft really. It aliases and moires all over the place and the dynamic range is atrocious. Worst of all though it looks REALLY video-y…BUT with care in the grade, you can work with it and remove that video look. That’s why editing in camera would not be ideal. There are no colour grading apps that touch on the ones I used here.
I did initial colour correction with Red Giant’s Colorista II as usual. Changing the RGB curve, bringing the shadows up to see more detail in those seemingly lost areas, I was actually pleasantly surprised I was able find something in there. I also tweaked the green and blue curves individually and adjust highlights to make them more creamy coloured and of course to even out the exposure.
Once it was all even, I added an adjustment layer in Premiere CC and put on my good old favourite plug-in Film Convert. Using the Velvia preset on a C100 profile within the software. There is of course no iPhone profile within the software, for now, so I just went through the cameras until I found a preset I like. It happened to be that camera.
It’s the FilmConvert that really made this footage look less like video. It’s a marvelous plug-in and I cannot recommend it enough. Don’t forget the discount code for both these plug-ins below!
I got some pretty nice results. It made things a little bit more organic. I had the grain set higher than normal at 40 as it helped mask the banding of the image. Normally I keep it lower to around 22 but 40 was fine here.
The finished video worked well, the music helped of course, thank to The Music Bed again for providing an amazing library of cracking music!
So will we see loads of super slow motion video online soon? You can count on it! It’s a no-brainer. Babies in slow motion. Cats falling into the bath in slow motion. People sleeping in slow motion. Paint drying in slow motion! BUT it doesn’t have to be just home video things. With some care when shooting and perhaps using a tiny hand grip or tripod, the results could be pretty decent and you could use it for quick shots in your productions when you need a slow motion shot and don’t own a camera that does it. Just be careful of hard lines that will alias and fine patterns. Also be careful of high contrast areas like I had. It’s hard for the camera to deal with them. Hard but not impossible.
I look forward to Filmic Pro 2 being updated to give me manual control of the camera for this mode. The built-in camera app is auto exposure and the focus, although chosen by touch, changes on its own all the time. There is a lock apparently. I didn’t seem to have much luck with that!
Will it replace my FS700 and F55? I think you know the answer! But how often do I go out and about with either of those cameras in my man bag? I would need a man suit case, not a man bag!! As they say they, “the best camera high frame rate/ super slow motion camera is the one you have on you” and now I have a 120fps camera on me!
You can see the little video below. Massive thanks to my friends James Miller, his assistant Megan Clay-Jones and the lovely Anna Stocco for being willing super slow motion victims. James especially as I shot gross eating stuff with him! :0
You can also see my photos from the trip which are on Flickr shot with my Leica M and Samsung Galaxy NX below (my 35mm and medium format film photos are to come as they are not developed yet!)
It really was a wonderful trip and massive thanks to all who came to my workshops. I hope to see you again soon!
You can download a native clip using the excellent WeTransfer by clicking the image below.
I have also included some of my other slow motion videos with other cameras below this if you have not seen them!