Matthew York

It provided a corkscrew, a tiny saw, tweezers, a toothpick, a nail file, a screwdriver, a bottle opener, several different sizes of knife blades — even some diminutive scissors. In theory it was a tool to replace all other tools. As I recall, all the retractable apparatus worked sort of OK, but none of it was spectacular. I suppose a seamstress somewhere in the world could have used the tiny scissors to cut fabric to make a quilt, but it’s not likely. In reality, the tiny tools were great alternatives to having no tools at all, but there was never a big movement of people throwing away their regular screwdrivers, can openers and corkscrews because they had a Swiss Army knife.

Today’s smartphones are like digital versions of the Swiss Army knife. They are remarkable devices that are packed with a multitude of features. The typical smartphone combines telephone, watch, computer, Internet browser, music player, video player, eReader, calendar, alarm clock, still camera and video camera into one pocket-sized device. While you have likely used your smartphone for many of these things, you may have found the experience to be like that of using a Swiss Army knife. While your phone can be used for simple computing in a crunch, no one is abandoning their desktops, laptops and tablets just yet. There are some jobs that are are best done by full-featured computers.

The same is true of shooting video with a smartphone. Simply rotate the phone so the frame is oriented horizontally in the correct video aspect ratio, hit record and frame the action. That’s it. There is no further instruction required. While the smartphone may be adequate for capturing a few quick clips, serious shooters will quickly realize that their smartphone’s limited video capabilities are not adequate for capturing footage for produced productions.


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The biggest difference between using a smartphone to record video versus a dedicated video camera comes down to control. The best videographers are notorious control freaks. This includes everything from directing the delivery of lines from talent to lighting and shot composition. Smartphones are fully automatic, so they offer little or no control to the savvy shooter. Dedicated video cameras provide manual adjustment of aperture, white balance and shutter speed. They provide much higher quality lens optics that permit optical zoom from a lens servo and precise control over focus. Many dedicated video cameras also provide microphone inputs and control over audio levels. Other more subtle advantages include the ability to mount the camera to a tripod for stability and smooth pan and tilt moves.    

At first, all of these controls may seem intimidating to the novice shooter, but the advantages and satisfaction of shooting with a dedicated video camera will quickly surpass any momentary learning curve. That’s not to say that one should never use a smartphone for recording video. All the tools in the Swiss Army knife are useful tools in the right situation. However, I still wouldn’t recommend cutting anything precise with those tiny scissors.

Susan is the Art Director at Videomaker and YouTuber Magazines.


  1. A pretty accurate summing-up about both ‘Swiss Army Knives’ and smart-phones. I have never owned either and don’t intend to, but I did have a fishing-rod once which was claimed to be ‘all things to all-people’, except that its fly-casting abilities were pretty much on a par with your knife’s scissors. It could do anything, on paper, but none of it all that well. Any video I have seen shot on a cell-phone/smart-phone strikes me the same way.

    Despite claims from the overly optimistic, I don’t see them replacing camcorders any time soon; however the shortcomings in their performance for shooting video don’t seem to register with the kind of people who use them for that purpose, so, I guess, no harm is being done.

  2. Is a smartphone really sold as a universal tool? It does calls, maps, email ,messaging, browsing, photos and maybe mp3 and video. viewing.- all pretty well That’s pretty impressive.
    A swiss army knife was a camping tool just like a leatherman is a workmans tool and least half their utility items probably get used.
    I’m pretty sure people that didnt use them often got them bought for them. I ended up with a few as cheap non offensive gifts – and probably gave a few. Last minute shoppers unite !!
    Sure a smartphone is a crap video camera and I’ve never seen it advertised as a camcorder replacement – it does a good job of catching stupid home videos and white cops blowing away colored folks (sufficient justification right there) .
    But the only people who think a smartphone might be a vidcam are newbies and there is a simpler slapdown. Audio is not sufficient quality for any commercial , broadcast or even festival use.The device is crippled the cheapest used camcorder is probably superior – usually the conversation ends right there and is not repeated.

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