Video quality on the smartphone has moved on in terms of definition, and these days your handy mobile can also be your ultimate camcorder. We asked a professional film-maker to test our shortlisted contenders as bona fide video recorders to give the final verdict.
The criteria: Smartphones only make sense as video capture tools to be used spontaneously. And as all filmmakers know, video pictures only look real if the sound sounds real. So with that in mind the four criteria are: practicality, image quality, special effects, and sound.
This is a wonderfully easy phone to use for filming. I found it the easiest to grip of the five, and only three touches away from recording. The weight, shape and screen size of the HTC One X all seem to be in perfect harmony – and that screen is exceptionally sharp and vivid. The lens itself produced exceptional video. On blustery days, with dramatic changes in light, and with moving leaves, the camera coped well. In low light the f/2.0 aperture and 28mm lens worked remarkably well, and the close-up is the best of the group, although still ropey compared with a dedicated video recorder. Still, if you intend to post clips online, it is very important to give them an aesthetic, if only a jokey one. Here there is a pleasing built-in ‘filter’ icon, with a large choice of ‘looks’ to give your shot, all without having to resort to post-productionon a computer. I liked the vintage and sepia filters.When it came to sound, there was a noticeable microphone rustle on all the phones in windy conditions, but recording my daughter playing the cello produced very acceptable digital sound.I tested the sound on the clips on broadcast-standard speakers, but the Beats audio stereo on the One X makes the watching and listening experience exceptional.
Practicality 5/5Image quality 4/5Special effects 5/5Sound 4/5
Overall: 18 points
Very much the equal of the HTC in terms of screen quality, the S III is quick on the draw, and with a bit of fiddling in the settings menu, it is possible to adjust a picture’s controls – whether you want to tweak white balance, or change ‘looks’ from negative, black and white, washed-out, and many more. The mechanical zoom function achieved by toggling the long volume control is great.Image quality is right up there with the best. The close-up on the zoom was the best of a bad lot, although I still doubt if anyone would use it for anything serious. As with the HTC, I got nothing but pleasure from the special effects. I recommend playing with the white balance – try the ‘cloudy’ setting in more than just cloudy conditions. It warms up the shots and stops them having that gritty urban, too-blue look unless, of course, that is what you are looking for.Unfortunately, its sound was mediocre compared to the others.
Practicality 5/5Image quality 4/5Special effects 5/5Sound 3/5
Overall: 17 points
Apple iPhone 4SA major flaw soon becomes apparent: the position of the lens on the back of the iPhone. With the two-hand grip required to keep video steady, it is incredibly easy to put your finger over the lens. Filming felt all about the careful handling of an exquisite object rather than a tool capable of good video.I found the shots slightly overexposed, something that was corrected very easily with the other phones. The default auto white balance and exposure compensation worked well, but there is no easy way of changing them.Sound effects are completely absent from the standard phone setup. Of course ‘there’s an app for that’, which is reasonable from one point of view – we might want something more or less sophisticated than what’s chosen – but the omission seems quite mean compared with most of the other manufacturers.
Practicality 2/5Image quality 3/5Special effects 2/5Sound 4/5
Overall: 11 points
Sony Xperia SThis is a heavier camera, but is very easy to grip. It also has a wonderful trick – you can take photos without unlocking the camera. After you press the shutter, all icons disappear, bar a red record light, to allow complete concentration on the picture, for a pure filming experience.The screen is fabulous and the focus works extremely well with face detection and swift response to light changes. But the quality of the footage is slightly less smoothly recorded in anti-shake mode. Sound reproduced exceptionally well, though.Sony offers pre-shooting modes such as night, sport, beach and snow, and portrait. These work well, but as a user you have to be happy to let the camera choose the aesthetic for you. I found the pictures to be a little metallic looking, so despite the intelligence of the menu of modes, I felt the process lacked the creativity of the others. Of course, apps are available to overcome this problem.
Practicality 5/5Image quality 3/5Special effects 4/5Sound 4/5
Overall: 16 points
LG Optimus 4X HDPicking up the 4X HD to shoot, you waste time trying to position your hands to avoid the lens. The screen, though big, is noticeably less sharp than the others. The sound was competently recorded however, playing back captured the video on this 4.7-inch screen was bright and vibrant, when played in full HD.Image quality was reasonable, except its lens was far slower focusing than the other cameras. This gives an indecisive feel to the footage. As for special effects, the 4X HD offers only a basic range of options – normal, monochrome and sepia – buried in a menu. I enjoyed shooting in monochrome. From a practical point of view, this is not the best videographer’s tool, but having a microSD slot rescues a point – it is helpful to store extra video if the native memory runs out
Practicality 2/5Image quality 3/5Special effects 3/5Sound 3/5
Our video expert
Randall Wright is a multi award-winning documentary film maker, whose latest film about Lucian Freud, Painted Life, was broadcast earlier this year to much acclaim on BBC2.