HD and 4K video recording on your smartphone
Capture the important events of your life in high-definition using a smartphone with HD video recording capability.
If your smartphone has a camera, then it undoubtedly has video recording capabilities to go along with its still shot photography abilities. The quality of the footage you get out of your smartphone can vary widely, however, with some very cheap phones only shooting low quality video. The vast majority of phones at the mid-range at least are capable of shooting HD video, with more premium models frequently capable of 4K video shooting.
What is the difference between HD and 4K video recording?
HD stands for High Definition, a term which has had a somewhat rubbery history thanks largely to the way that television sets capable of showing high definition content were marketed and sold.
If you've got a device (or for that matter a TV) that advertises itself as being "HD-capable", that could mean a resolution as low as 720p (1280x720 pixels), whereas (to use the terminology of televisions again), "Full HD" covers the 1080p definition, which is 1,920 x 1,080. An increasing number of premium smartphones in the current market offer even higher 4K definition video capture at 3840 x 2160 pixels.
Each pixel count represents (at its most simple) an onscreen dot element, so the higher the overall number of pixels in a video shot, the more fine detail will be represented.
HD Video Recording: Why should I care?
The biggest benefit to higher definition video recording from a smartphone is that it gives you a video file with a lot more detail in it. That means that if you do choose to edit that footage in a software package elsewhere, you can trim down the video, perhaps cropping out sides of an image without losing large areas of the detail you want. It's perfectly feasible to do this with lower resolution video, but if you're going to crop anything and zoom in on the rest of your moving image, the lower resolution means your edited footage will be very pixellated.
For many premium smartphones, the HD (or better) video recording capabilities also come with optical image stabilisation features. Unless you're willing to mount your smartphone onto a tripod, the vibrations from your hands will be reflected in the video you capture. A phone that can handle optical image stabilisation will work to an extent to minimise that hand shake in your final video, leading to film that looks better and is a great deal more comfortable to watch.
4K video recording: Is it worth it?
An increasing number of high-end phones such as the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, Sony's Xperia XZ or Google's Pixel XL offer video recording in 4K resolutions, even though their display screens don't scale quite that high. That might leave you wondering what the point of shooting in 4K is if you can’t explicitly see all that detail on your phone's screen.
The core argument in favour of 4K video shooting is that while you might use your phone to shoot in 4K, that may not be the final destination you watch it on. Today 4K televisions are still somewhat of a luxury, but five years from now they’re much more likely to be commonplace. You won’t be able to go back in time to reshoot your video, unless we also invent time travel in the intervening period.
HD and 4K Video Recording: What are the downsides?
The biggest and most pressing downside in recording video in HD or 4K modes is that it takes up a lot more space on your smartphone. As we've seen more and more devices eschew microSD expandable storage, this means that if you want to shoot HD or 4K video on your smartphone, you're going to be limited by the space taken up by anything else you've got installed on it, whether that's mail accounts, photos, music or other apps.
So how much storage is enough? At a rough level, a minute of HD video will typically use between 100-200MB of storage, whereas the same video in 4K resolution will burn through between 300-600MB. If you shoot a lot of video, you can quickly run out of storage space for it all.
Shooting at higher definition is also something of a battery and processor hog; some devices will specifically limit 4K video recording time to stop phones from overheating due to the strain it can put on the processor. Again, if you plan to shoot a lot of high resolution video at one time, be sure to carry a spare battery or external battery pack with you.
Best mobile phones for HD and 4K video shooting
It’s possible to record live sporting performances, concerts, or any other event using a smartphone. The video images have significantly better clarity in high-definition. Below are some of the phones you might want to consider.
- Samsung Galaxy S7 Samsung's latest and greatest smartphone offers exceptional camera quality for both still and video capture, and unlike the Galaxy S6, the inclusion of expandable storage gives you plenty of room for video capture. Read our full Samsung Galaxy S7 review.
- Google Pixel XL Google’s in-house Android handset has impressive battery life and an exceptional camera that also offers 4K shooting modes. Read our Google Pixel XL review.
- Sony Xperia XZ Sony's imaging optics are used across a wide range of smartphones, including, naturally enough, its own models. As the current top of its premium smartphone line, the Xperia XZ is stylish, sleek and 4K capable to boot. Read our Sony Xperia XZ review.
- Apple iPhone 7 Plus Apple's premium smartphone has a premium price, but it's also 4K capable and very easy to use for the novice videographer. Check out our Apple iPhone 7 Plus review.