iPhone vs Pro Camera; photo & video, what’s best?

iPhone vs Pro Camera; pt.2 – Image Data [pt.1 – Capturing the Image]

Adding to the clarity

If you haven’t read part one on this topic, Capturing the Image, be sure you have a good understanding of how cameras gather light information to create the image data. Nonetheless, you’re probably here because; you need to take photos and videos and you want to use a smartphone, or you heard that taking photos and videos with a smartphone isn’t the same as a professional cameras. Here’s a deeper look into data formats in a Smartphone and Professional Camera comparison to help you make an informed decision.

Converting light into data

Quick recap; a camera sensor transforms light rays into digital data through the sensors photosites. Each photosite filters the light through three light filters. These filters permit certain colors of light to pass through. Each filter can only capture one of three primary colors (RGB) of additive light and discard roughly 2/3 of the remaining incoming light. As a result, the photosite approximates the other colors in order to have full color at every pixel. Remember, a pixel isn’t a pixel until the light is processed into data through the sensor and it’s photosite.

We’re going to stay out of the scientific weeds

To learn more about photosites and their filtering processes the information is out there for the taking. I recommend reading this article to go deep if you’d like, Understanding Digital Camera Sensors. The focus in this article is on the data captured by smartphones and professional cameras for both video and photo formats. Again, this information is intended to primarily inform you which to choose knowing the intent and need of the video. We’ll stay out of the deep dark sciences and just keep it to the basics.

This article will also avoid the technology argument of the differences between a dedicated photo camera and a dedicated video camera. Additionally we‘ll avoid the declaration that, ”It’s the photographer/videographer who makes the image, NOT the camera.“ These two mentioned topics have a lot to be considered and bring up the wonderful concepts of creativity and artistic expression.

The purpose of this article is to give basic knowledge of data formats, how that information can be used to understand their characteristics, so you can best utilize the data captured for a more efficient and effective file format.

What Video Formats are Made of

Video Format

You are probably very familiar with video file formats such as MP4 and MOV formats. They are the usual file extensions seen anytime you are looking at the end of the file name for a video. However these extensions, referred to as the container, are only referencing one part of a video format. The other part of a video format is the codec. Together the codec and the container complete the video file format.

It’s important to know the differences in a codec and a container and how it will ensure your video is produced in the best format and quality for your needs. The container is often an indicator of what codec the video format is, however the codec may be the more critical component when determining video quality. For that reason let‘s dive deeper into codec after defining containers.


Most articles will introduce the codec before the container, and that makes sense because the codec is the data that is being contained. Without data why talk about the container. However for the sake of building on the information here, we’re going to start from the outside and work our way in.

The container is exactly that, a container. It is the thing the video data is contained in; like a box. It holds the video and audio data that will be encoded as well as the files metadata. The metadata is just as important, some may argue more important, as the video and audio data. Metadata holds vital information such as SEO, captions, and other info critical for playback.

The most typical file extension for video files will be AVI, MOV, or MP4.

MP4 is the standard across the internet as it provides the most practical way of distributing video content due to its small highly compressed file size. MP4s have high compression while maintaining decent quality, their disadvantages include intensive demands on editing software needed for encoding and decoding during the editing process. More on this under I-frames.

MOV file formats are recommend for higher end professional applications and are the preferred format for use in video editing software. MOVs have the least amount of compression giving these file types a huge advantage during editing. Low compression means more data which in turn offers more flexibility and control during the editing process.

AVI file formats are similar to MOV formats with its high quality, however their large file size require high storage capacity and are very bulky to work with during the editing process. In a more technical aspect, they do not support direct streaming, menus and chapters, and their aspect ratios have complications.

Video file package includes a codec and a container


Containers and Codecs are linked, the codec is used to transfer data, often compressed, stored into the container. In a simple explanation the codec is a software that compresses video data to be stored and played back. The advanced explanation, codecs have two main components, an encoder, and a decoder, that work together to make video file size more manageable. The encoder handles the actual compression and the decoder prepares the video file for viewing after the compression process.

Different codecs compress data in varying volumes, the more you compress, the more quality you lose, directly affecting the quality and size of the video file. For the sake of simplicity, most video formats consumed on the internet are a lossy type of codec (lossless is the other). Lossy type codec have variable data rates for compression, this is the compression Bitrate. A Bitrate is the rate (quantity) of bits (data) that are conveyed or processed per unit of time. The higher the bitrate, the larger and more detailed your video will be.

Why is compression important? Consider this, if there are 4 bytes per pixel, a single frame of high definition video (HD = 1920×1080) is then equal to 8,294,400 bytes. A typical video has approximately 30 frames per second, so each second of HD video would occupy 248,832,000 bytes which is the equivalent of 249 MB of data for every second. This is why we need compression software, and the range of codecs directly take into count the data for each pixel and how that information is compressed.

To recap, the codec is the processing of data through software that is converted into stored data in the container. They are dependent and unified to each other. A codec compresses digital data to be stored and distributed.

If we go back to review containers again, MP4, the short file name for MPEG or The Moving Picture Experts Group, was first introduced in 1988 as a standard for digital film data. MOV is a file format used by the QuickTime framework which is designed by Apple. And the AVI file format was Microsofts solution in contrary to Apples Quicktime.

A container is often telling of the codec type, the common codecs are; H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC (MP4), ProRes (MOV), AV1 (AVI), DNxHD (AVI), and for feature films CinemaDNG. There are numerous codecs within each codec type, and even more for file types that haven’t even been mentioned here. There are too many to list to keep this discussion short and simple. For example Prores codec options include; 422 Proxy, 422 LT, 422, 422 HQ, 4444, 4444 XQ. You can only imagine the vast amount of codec there are… you can check out a complete list on Wikipedia.

The codec process from capture to playback

NO… we haven't forgotten this article is about an iPhone versus a Pro Camera… it should start coming together very soon

Bit Rate

Bitrate is the depth of data measured as the amount of information per second. Each second of video is packed with digital information. 4K video has more information than a video being live streamed on social media. Visit Adobe’s website on bitrate for more in depth information.

Frames Per Second or fps

Have you ever made a Flipbook? You know, where you draw a stick figure on the corner of the pages and then flip through them to see your drawings move. The faster you flip the faster and smoother the stick figure moves. If you’ve never made a flipbook, it’s time! Here’s a video on How to Make a Flipbook.

Much like a flipbook a video file is made up of many images called frames. A videos Frame Rate is the speed at which each image, or frame, is played back, this is the videos frames per second (fps). If a video is recorded at 24fps, then each second of video has 24 still images, or frames. Smooth flowing motion is typically captured in 24fps while high action may be in 60fps. Frame rate choice is based around industry standards however the choice can be made for creative and artistic expression as well.

Okay it’s not that cut and dry, here’s the thing, codec, bitrates, and frames per second are not created equal. Remember the discussion on file size? File size, managed by codec, bitrate, and frame rates, use differing frame types—lets get into them next.

Frames Per Second, FPS

Intra-frames (i-frame) & Inter-frames

As you can start to tell, compression is extremely complex. There are basically two compression methods when it comes to frames, Intra-frame and Inter-frame compression.

Intra-frame means the compression happens within a single frame, for each and every frame. These frame types are also called an i-frames.

Inter-frame refers to compression taking place across multiple frames. Inter-frames are dependent upon i-frames on a set sequence. Inter-frames then determine the data between i-frames recording only the information that is different frame to frame. These frame types certainly save on data usage and saves on storage space, however, they can lead to quality issues. Inter-frames are one of two types, b-frames or p-frames.

Video intra-frames, I-frames

b-frames & p-frames

The most common inter-frame is the bi-directional frame, referred to as a b-frame. These frame types are in-between frames book ended by an intra-frame at each end.

These frames review information of previous and subsequent frames, hence their bi-directional aspect, from intra-frame to intra-frame and determines what data information is constant and different between those frames. Then the b-frame only carries the data for the information that changes frame to frame. This results in the smallest file size for video formats.

A predictive inter-frame, or p-frame (similar to a b-frame) determines data in a predictive manor. The prediction is made from an earlier frame, mainly an intra-frame or a previous p-frame. This results in a reduced file size to i-frames and requires less coding data which makes them more dependable than a b-frame inter-frame.

Video intra-frames and inter-frames; b-frames and p-frames

Video Wrap Up

Much like an afternoon soap opera, it’s complicated. The variables to make an informed choice range from knowing where the video will be viewed, on what type of device, who is the audience, what formats can your camera record in, what is the depth of editing needed, what storage capacity is available, and several other aspects including light quality and light source, gear video format capabilities, and so on.

The take away here is to know what your parameters are and work inside those parameters as best as possible. There is no right from wrong here—only recommended standards. Meeting those recommended standards as much as possible will result in the best viewing experience for your audience. And what is most important, rhetorically, is the audiences experience. If the experience is poor that reflects back onto their perception of your brand, product, or service.

Make the video experience the best experience possible. If you are unsure, contact a professional and get expert knowledge and know-how.

What are Photo Formats

Image File Formats

We will not go as in depth with photography, but has a similar message as iPhone video versus a pro camera video. The same details matter, each file format contains a varying amount of data. When you vary the data you vary the quality.

Quoted from the article Understanding All the Different Image File Formats, “Choosing the right file format is important and can even be critical, depending on the level of quality – and the level of post-processing – that you require.”

It’s a fairly basic concept, again like video, the more data captured in a file the great the flexibility of the information for editing and processing, resulting in a higher quality image. The smallest file size, containing the smallest amount of data (least amount of information for editing) is the JPEG format. The largest file format is the RAW format, these are an advanced file format and have the highest quality image.

Smartphones like the iPhone capture images most commonly in JPEG formats. Where as RAW file formats are reserved for professional higher end cameras and devices. Be sure to check this article on file formats for an in depth look, and this article about smartphone file formats!

For simplicity, here is a brief overview of the most common and their data competences.

Photography file formats


Best known format, default output of many cameras, typically for personal use on social media and small personal prints. JPG’s are compressed in camera and have the most loss in detail and quality. The intent of the JPG format is to save storage usage and store as many files as possible in the least amount of space.


PNG files are compressed in a lossless format and retain a large amount of detail, making them ideal for use on the internet. PNG files allow for partial or total transparency, making them a perfect format for overlays and logos. However their compression quality although perfect for online use the quality is not good enough for printing.


Commonly used in professional photography, usually uncompressed, typically for printed images. TIFF files offer a greater amount of data for post-processing due to their uncompressed data. They are bigger files, and will use more storage space.


PSD is an Adobe Photoshop file format and allows for the image to have individual layers. This advantage allows for the manipulation on specific layers, rather than just the main image itself. This is essential for photo retouching and editing without damaging the original image. The negative is that these file formats can become very large in file size with their additional layers of data stored. Typically a PSD file is saved as a copy in a more compressed format for use.


RAW format is the highest quality image format available and retains all the information originally captured. With their retention of all information, RAW file formats allow for detailed image adjustments, due to the cameras image capture capabilities and processing software. These adjustments include white balance, exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpness, and many more through the use of image-editing software. RAW image files require considerable storage space due to their robust depth of data information recorded for editing purpose.


HEIC, created by Apple to replace JPGs, is a format that records images in higher quality but smaller-sized files than the JPG format. This reduces the amount of storage needed on memory cards and mobile devices. We will begin seeing more and more of this new file type in the years ahead, however, its lack of compatibility with other systems and devices is currently its biggest negative.

Photo Wrap Up

Although not as complex as video formats, photo formats are no different. Knowing the use, the outcomes, the needs, the intent, are all critical to the image taking process. The most important thing to remember here is quality of the data recorded—you can always reduce the images data information, but you can never get it back.

Once you take a low quality image, up sizing is rarely even an option (some software attempts to make this possible). Start with the best quality you can possibly capture, then reduce data and information as needed. Use image processing, editing, and manipulation software for those needs. Save your files to the appropriate file format, resolution, and data sizes as required by the intended use.

Are you still unsure, maybe more confused than before, then contact a professional that has the knowledge and experience. If you are unsure if they have that knowledge and experience, ASK THEM! If they can give you a portion of this information that’s a good thing.

TO CONCLUDE… It’s not just the gear that matters

The hardest thing is knowing what you don’t know. If you are informed in the least bit you are one step ahead of where you were. If you learned a lot here, and can apply this information into making an educated choice, you are several steps ahead of the rest.

The intent of this article and its predecessor is to inform and educate. There is no RIGHT choice, only an informed choice. There are even more factors to be aware of; such as lighting quality and quantity, lens types and lens settings, and more that can be for another article.

We want to help you make the right choices. Contact us if you have more questions, direct your questions to us and hopefully we can continue to bringing clarity to the question of quality and why does it matter. Make an informed choice, do it for your audience and in turn it will only elevate your business, service, and/or product.