If you shoot videos with your iPhone in low-light situations, you may not always get the results you expect, and that applies to 4K, 1080p, and even 720p resolutions. But there is a way to maximize your video's quality when shooting in dark environments — you just need to change a few settings.
When taking photos with the Camera app, as long as you have an iPhone 11 model or iPhone 12 model, it can intelligently detect whenever the scene is too dark, and Night mode will kick in to help improve image quality. But when shooting videos, it won't do the same thing since Night mode is only supported for time-lapse videos on the iPhone 12 models.
When shooting at 60 frames per second (fps), less light can come in through the shutter since it takes one frame every 16.67 milliseconds. Less light in dark situations with an iPhone XS or higher contributes to grainier footage with the loss of extended dynamic range. It also means the codec works harder in fast-moving scenes, which increases the file size. The result looks more like a cheap home video rather than a high-quality recording you might expect from an iPhone.
Now compare that to 30 fps. With 30 fps, a frame is captured every 33.33 milliseconds, so twice as much light can come through the shutter. With more light coming in, low-light scenes will look much better in video captures. Drop that to 24 fps, and you get 41.67 milliseconds for light to do its thing, so your darkly lit video will look even more clear. And all of this applies to whether you're shooting in 4K, 1080p, or 720p resolution.
To help you out, Apple has a setting that you can enable that will reduce the fps rate automatically in dark environments to improve the quality of your video. To set it, go to Settings, then "Camera," followed by "Record Video." From here, what you do depends on which iPhone model you have.
Select the "Auto FPS" option, then apply the Auto FPS to the 30 fps video setting. Unlike with older iPhone models, you can also apply Auto FPS to both 30 fps and 60 fps video recordings. That way, you don't have to change to 30 fps shooting mode to benefit.
Toggle on the "Auto Low Light FPS" switch. It can only be enabled in 30 fps shooting modes, so you have to be set on 720p HD at 30 fps, 1080p HD at 30 fps, or 4K at 30 fps. No matter which mode you turn it on in, it'll enable it for the other 30 fps modes; the switch works for all 30 fps rates, not just selected ones.
If you're using iOS 14 or later, you can switch to these recording modes from inside the Camera app directly by tapping on the frame rate in the corner. However, you need to make sure the "Auto Low Light FPS" switch is toggled on for each setting before you can do all of the work from Camera.
In the Camera app, whenever you're recording video and iOS detects that the scenery is not lit well enough, it will switch over to 24 fps. It can do this before you start shooting or during a current recording if the lighting has changed enough to have it kick in.
You won't notice the frame rate change in the indicator in the Camera app before hitting record — it will always show your selected frame rate even if it plans on using 24 fps (as seen below). You can tell it kicked in, though, by utilizing an EXIF analyzer on your iPhone, which will tell you the frame rate the video was shoot with.
If it were dark the entire time, it would be a flat 24 fps, but if the lighting changed in the middle of filming, you might get something more like 25.5 fps or even 43 fps depending on what mode you selected, how long the video footage is, and how often it was at 24 fps versus your chosen option.
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