Having a GoPro or other action camera is awesome when you want to share your adventures with your friends or the world at large, but they’re not cheap: the GoPro HERO4 Black costs $430, and the smaller and less-able HERO4 Session is $200.
But you don’t need to spend that much money to get an action cam, especially when you probably already have a fantastic camera in your pocket. iPhone cameras have been getting progressively better, so why not use what you already own to your advantage without dropping hundreds on an action camera?
Does an iPhone Make a Good Action Camera?GoPro is a successful company for a reason: they make really great cameras that are good at what they do. They’re waterproof, they can take a beating, and they have expandable storage that lets you use SD cards to increase the amount of video they can store. To top it off, they’re a very reasonable size — take the HERO4 Session for example:
You’re going to have to make some sacrifices in using your iPhone as a replacement for a GoPro. Out of the box, they’re not water or shock-proof, so you’ll need to be a bit more careful. You’re limited in how much video you can record to whatever storage is left on your iPhone (backup your photos and delete them and you should have tons of extra space). They’re also considerably bigger, as you can see in this picture of the Velocity Clip chest mount:
Unless you invest in a serious case, you won’t be using your iPhone as a surf cam, and it won’t be recording any rainy mountain bikes rides. Even with a waterproof case, your phone could take some damage from a fall, and when you’re filming with your phone, it’s not going to do you much good as a communication device.
When it comes to storage and battery life, the iPhone can record a surprisingly large amount of video. According to the HERO4 battery life chart, you can count on recording up to about two hours of video without an extra battery pack. I tested my own phone to see how recording video would affect the battery life, and I got a drop of about 40% for one hour of recording.
However, my phone wasn’t in airplane mode, and the screen was at full brightness the whole time. If you engage airplane mode — which will prevent an incoming phone call from interrupting your recording — and dim your screen, you could conceivably get quite a bit more recording time than the two hours available on a GoPro. You could also carry a spare battery pack with you to juice-up if you need it (using a higher-quality app may drain your battery faster, too).
Another advantage of using your iPhone is that there are tons of video editing apps that you can use to quickly edit your video and post it to Facebook, YouTube, or wherever else your fans are waiting for you. And, of course, if you’re using your iPhone as your action cam, that’s one less thing you need to carry on your adventure, which could be a big help.
With these benefits and drawbacks, does the iPhone make a worthy replacement for a GoPro? That’s ultimately up to you — add your thoughts in the comments at the end of this article.
What You’ll NeedObviously, the most important thing you’ll need is a phone that can take high-quality video. My own iPhone 6 has proven to be very effective for this, and I’ve heard that the Galaxy series of Android phones, especially the recent ones, also take great video. Any phone that can record video will work, but the higher quality video you can record, the better the result will be.
You’ll also need a mount. Here’s the one that I use:
It’s a simple chest mount that I got on Amazon for $28. It has a J-hook mount that lets me adjust the angle of my phone so it captures what I want (avoiding the problem that Tim had with the Hitcase Pro mount of only getting video of his handlebars while on his bike). Female-specific chest mounts are also available.
If you prefer a helmet mount, you can get one of those too; this $40 option has two different adhesive types to stick to different types of helmets:
And you can get an all-purpose head mount, too:
There are probably some other types of mounts out there, but one of these three will almost certainly suit your purpose.
With a phone and a mount, you’re ready to start recording! There are a couple of other things you might want, though. For example, if you’re worried about water damage on your adventure, you could invest in a waterproof iPhone case (it might make it a little harder to fit your phone in the mount, but you can probably find a combination that works).
Another thing you may want to consider is adding a wide-angle lens to your iPhone. GoPro cameras have pretty large recording angles, and that’s one of the reasons that they capture such great video. The Olloclip lenses are popular, though they’re expensive at $80 for a four-in-one kit. You can get the Evileye wide-angle, which comes with a case and screws on for maximum stability, for $34, and there are plenty of other options out there. Or you can just go without. That’ll work, too.
An All-in-One SolutionIf you want all of these accessories in a a single package, you’re in luck: that’s exactly what the Hitcase Pro Action Pack will give you. For $150, you get a waterproof case, a tripod mount, a surface mount, a super-wide lens, and a few other accessories. We recently reviewed the Hitcase Pro and found it to be a great way to capture action-camera-style video with your iPhone.
You can also get the ChestR chest mount from Hitcase for another $50, which lets you capture video while you’re doing just about anything. $200 isn’t a whole lot less than a lower-level GoPro, but for your money you’ll get everything you need to get up and running, and the lenses are of surprisingly high quality.
Which Video App to Use?The iPhone’s built-in video camera app is a good one to use for recording video, and will work for the majority of people. Just hit record and it’ll start filming.
However, if you want more features, you could consider upgrading to another pap. MoviePro ($5.99), for example, lets you record silent videos, making the file much smaller, which is a great way to save space (as video files can get very large very quickly). It also lets you record in a variety of different resolutions, and has a timer so you can start recording once you’ve started your adventure without having to stop and fiddle with your setup.
Filmic Pro ($9.99), an app we reviewed a few years ago, is another highly customizable option. You can maximize video quality by choosing a higher-than-normal bitrate; customise framerates; lock exposure, focus, and white balance; and shoot professional-quality productions right on your iPhone. Apps like FilmLonger ($0.99) promise to decrease the size of your video if you’re running out of space, which could be very helpful.
For most people, the native app should be fine, but if you want to really up your game, check one of these premium apps or use another one of your choosing.
Get Out and Film!Once you have your phone, a mount, any accessories you need, and a video app, you’re ready! Get out and ride your bike, climb up (or ski down) a mountain, go on a hike, or do whatever it is that you want to do on camera.
After that, download the video to your computer, do some video editing to make it look awesome, and share it on YouTube to start your path to internet stardom.