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iPhone 6 Slow Motion Powers E Insomnia

In my earlier post, I asked “Would you trade your SLR for a smartphone?” The question was tongue-in-cheek, albeit substantiated by reports that, thanks to their connectivity and relentlessly improving image quality, smartphones have not only trampled the compact camera marked, but also started edging out dSLRs in some use cases.

Well, that was then and this is now. And now my iPhone is capable of 240fps slow motion video. And I couldn’t trade that up for a dSLR, because NO dSLR available today – NONE – is capable of capturing 240 frames per second at 720p or better. The cheapest camera capable of the feat is a SONY NEX-FS700 costing $5K (body only).

Here’s how a high frame rate, such as 240 frames per second, becomes slow motion:

  1. You shoot your action at 240fps instead of the normal cinematic 24fps.
  2. When editing your video, you interpret the footage you’ve captured at the regular 24 frames per second. When you do that, because there are 10x as many frames, the footage becomes 10x longer and plays at 1/10th the speed.

If you took a regular 24fps footage and slowed it down 10x, it would become very choppy and blurry – but not if your camera, set to 240fps, shot 10x as many frames to begin with. The added bonus of slow motion is that it slows down any camera shake along with the action, so even handheld footage looks quite smooth.

There are a couple of reasons it is very hard for the manufacturers to enable a camera to shoot at 240fps:

  1. Each of those frames becomes 10x shorter in duration. That means, the camera’s image sensor only gets 1/10th the light, and the less light the more difficult it is to capture a high quality image.
  2. The camera’s processor has to work 10x faster to process and save all those frames.

That’s why it is astounding that the little iPhone 6 is capable of this, well ahead of even professional grade dSLR cameras in their video mode.

So what does iPhone 6 slow-mo look like in the real world? I shot this at night on NYC subway and edited on the phone too (iMovie). Handheld, available light, no processing outside the phone.

HD on Vimeo       HD on Youtube

A little about the film E Insomnia: NYC subway’s E train propels its riders through the city that never sleeps. Late at night, however, it also dissects the city’s social fabric, showing New Yorkers at their most vulnerable. I am writing a script for the film, and will direct it.