Is the iPhone Ruining Film and Photography?

The web has become saturated with surprisingly high quality content created entirely on iPhones. Never before has a device that contains a camera merely as a secondary feature so impacted the worlds of photography and cinematography.

The question is, are these industries better or worse with the arrival of the iPhone? Is this device improving the digital world by putting multimedia-based art forms into the hands of the masses or is it critically cheapening decades of hard work from serious professionals? Let’s discuss.


The iPhone is by no means the first pocket-sized device to record video or even HD video. Nor is it the first cell phone to do so. However, it does mark a significant step forward in that it is one of the first phones to be taken seriously in this context by an impressively large audience.

Movies: Anytime, Anywhere

Making movies was once an intensely technical task that one had to invest serious time into before undertaking. With the advent of portable home video cameras this process was suddenly opened to a much larger audience. However, it wasn’t until affordable, consumer-grade editing software arrived with the digital revolution that custom movie creation and editing really became something that just about anyone could do.

Even still, the video camera is relegated by many to the closet shelf, only to be pulled out for birthday parties and graduations. It’s simply not a device that most people will carry around on a daily basis. A cell phone on the other hand, is something that we all have in our pockets almost all the time. It therefore makes sense that this would become the quintessential device for recording our daily lives.

With the iPhone, you aren’t limited to the dark, grainy and generally ugly video traditionally seen from a cell phone. In fact, you can record bright, beautiful high-definition video whenever and wherever you want. With iMovie for iPhone, you can even edit your movies right on your phone without importing anything to your computer.


iMovie for iPhone

Yeah, But Are They Any Good?

At this point you might be thinking, “Big deal, you can create movies on your phone. It’s not like they’re any good, right?” The reality is however, in the right hands, movies shot entirely on an iPhone can and do look amazing.

One of the first short films in this vein to become popular was “The Apple of My Eye” by Michael Koerbel. A 90-second nostalgia-filled movie about a man and his granddaughter.


Apple of My Eye was shot and edited on an iPhone 4

Also check out this page containing three other movies shot entirely on an iPhone.


Photography hits a lot closer to home for me. Since I am myself a photographer who has invested both the time to learn the trade and the money for the equipment, I am admittedly more sensitive to people attempting to turn one of my forms of income into something that any layperson can accomplish.

Again we see the iPhone pushing the limits of what we can expect from a mere phone. With 5MP and a 5x digital zoom, the iPhone easily challenges consumer-grade cameras from a few years ago and I imagine the gap between the two will continue to decrease.

screenshot touting the powerful iPhone camera

This is combined with some really innovative features for taking photos. For instance, to focus on an object, you simply tap on it. Also, Apple has overcome many exposure problems through an automated on-camera HDR system that I’m quite surprised Canon didn’t think of years ago.

Fun Photo Apps

One of the main factors in the surge of iPhone photography seen around the web is the selection of apps that allow users to easily apply effects to give their images a retro or aged look.


Instagram for iPhone

Hipstamatic ($1.99) and Instagram (Free) are currently at the forefront of this craze. While this may seem like a brief fad, apps like these really do make it easy for anyone to produce stunning images and I wouldn’t expect to see them go away any time soon.

For Better or Worse?

The question that inevitably arise from all of this is, “Are these forms of art better or worse due to the existence of the iPhone?” To come up with a logical answer I had to reconsider my initial inclination.

Every time I see a trendy Hipstamatic photo, I can’t help but wonder if this doesn’t represent the bastardization of photography and I can imagine that many serious filmmakers feel the same about iPhone-created movies.

However, an apt parallel arises when we examine the rise of digital photography. The same arguments that I’d like to make against cell phone photography are those that I shook my head at when film purists shunned the digital photography revolution.

Here was a newer form of photography that made taking photos an infinitely easier process. Not only could you preview and adjust your process live, you could entirely skip the hassles of a darkroom and creating prints. Despite the clear benefits of this now ubiquitous technology, which I readily embrace, countless photographers at the time complained that digital cameras would ruin the art of photography.

Years later we are now facing yet another shift towards simpler technology that is easily adopted by a much larger audience. I suddenly see friends and family that are intimidated by terms like “aperture” and “depth of field” constantly uploading their photos and videos to Facebook and Twitter. I can’t help but give in and be happy for those falling in love with photography and cinematography for the first time.


In the end, people aren’t becoming wedding photographers and Hollywood directors with their iPhones. It is possible though that individuals will be pushed towards pursuing such fulfilling careers after discovering their love for the trade on their phones.

I’m forced to conclude that this movement is great for both the photo and movie worlds, from amateur right on up to professional. As people find new and easier ways to express themselves, it’s all too easy for purists to turn their noses up while favoring their own version of technology that once threatened to “ruin” the industry.

So iPhone developers, bring on the photo and video apps. Help us do amazing things that we used to be completely unqualified to do. Help us shake things up and ruin a few industries while we’re at it. Most of all, help us all create pocket-sized records of the world the way we see it.

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  • Dave M.

    Really, you didn’t bother to proof-read your article title? Makes me wonder about the rest of the article if the title hasn’t been proof-read.

    • Joshua Johnson

      Good catch, fixed!

  • Carsten Kumari

    Fair enough… He should have caught the mistake in the title. But seriously Dave: read the article instead of complaining about a stupid error in the title! It’s a great article. I really enjoyed reading it!

    • Dave M.

      I did read the article and it was an interesting take.

      Look, I can understand typo’s and errors in the body of an article. I make them all the time. But, to make such a blatant error in the title of the article. That’s an entirely different story. It takes a total of 5 seconds to read the headline and it appears everywhere, RSS feeds, site article lists, site comments lists, etc… To make an error like that really makes the site look bad and so the writer should be very careful of that specific part.

      I’m just saying…

  • Aubrey

    All the iPhone does is allow for elegant photo sharing. No one is going to pay $15 a seat at a mbira theatre to watch an iMovie film made on a jumpy camera. No ones going to print an iPhone quality photo for a major publication. No ones hiring an iPhone photographer for their wedding.

    There’s still a need for professional entities of film and photography, these apps just afford quality to the masses. I actually like it, I rarely have to look at garbage design/aesthetic quality.

    I’ll eat my hat the day a cell phone produces a blockbuster film / makes the cover of Vanity Fair.

    • Mediumjones

      Maybe you should start looking for good hat recipes…

      Macworld Cover –
      Fashion shoot iPhone 3G –
      New Yorker Cover –

    • Joshua Johnson

      I imagine the same was said of a digital camera, and then of an SLR. Now we have the 5D mkII producing astounding video that frequently makes it to the big screen.

      I’ll bet one day in the future some indie flick created on a phone will take off!

    • zdlo

      I don’t know about the Vanity Fair, but here’s the The New York Times:

  • Ilz

    That was really long, but a better argument is if phones will replace regular family cameras and video cameras.

    • Joshua Johnson

      That’s actually a valid point that I was driving at but never really stated. We’ll never see cell phones replace professional technology but for the average individual, there might soon no longer be a need for a cheap family camera as every member of the family already has one in their pocket!

  • Peter

    Great article. It seems somewhat analogous to the relationship between the iPad and a full-fledged computer. It doesn’t provide anywhere near the power or functionality, but for a huge number of use cases, it’s perfectly fine, and possibly even more so, as the author points out, because it’s there when you want it.

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  • Henrik

    I just wish that photo-app developers would start taking metadata seriously. There are way too many apps that saves images without any metadata.

    Apple should also be more focused on metadata. The built in Photos app is probably the only photo-viewer application I have ever seen (regardless of platform) that does not show any metadata. That’s quite terrible.

  • Febby Tan

    I’m an iPhoneography enthusiast. Reading your article’s title tickle me to come and read the whole thing. So, is the iPhone Ruining Film and Photography? No. It’s not.

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