Slow-motion videos are an awesome concept. Through them, we get to see events that usually happen way too fast for our visual perception in a way that’s both impressive and just plain cool. Specialized high-speed cameras have been around for a while but now even the cameras on our smartphones have slow-motion and even super slow-motion modes.
Slow-mo often remains neglected by reviewers and users alike. In our recent poll regarding “secondary” camera modes, only 3% of people said slow-motion is the mode they use the most after photo and video.
That’s why we decided to take three high-end smartphones and compare both the experience of shooting slow-motion videos with them and the quality of said videos. Our lineup consists of Apple's
. The three companies’ top phones right now.
To keep things fair, we shot at 240fps. As far as slow-motion goes, that’s not a very high frame-rate, but it’s the highest that all three phones support. However, we also have a few examples of the S20 Ultra’s super slow-motion, which comes at 960fps (technically 480fps with interpolated frames).
How easy it is to shoot slow-motion videos?
When it comes to 240fps videos, things are quite simple. You record the video as usual and then you can edit it, by choosing which part of it should be played in slow motion, so don’t have to sit through slow footage of nothing happening.
The interface is similar on the three phones but we found the Samsung’s editing menu especially annoying. It kept disappearing whenever you’re trying to move the sliders bracketing the slow part of the video.
960fps is a whole other ball game. Аt that framerate, phones can usually record about a second of real-time action. That makes timing extremely important and getting a good shot difficult. But you’ll probably be able to take a super slow-motion video of your kid batting at a softball game, given a few opportunities. There is an option for the phone to start recording whenever motion is detected within the frame but it's not useful in every situation.
On the plus side, super slow-mo looks very impressive when the stars align and is what you’d expect to see, to begin with. In comparison, the 240fps videos are a bit lackluster since they don’t slow down things as much.
The good news is that phones will only get better in that regard, so a couple of years from now the quality and ease of use should be significantly improved.
But enough talking, let’s see some slow-motion videos!
Scene 1: Bouncing balls
We're starting off simple, just a baseball bouncing off a volleyball. The iPhone's video has a bit too much contrast to the point it looks grainy. The S20 Ultra looks somewhat similar but keeps things more balanced. The colors in the Pixel 4
video look duller in comparison, but overall the quality is quite good.
We see that in this scene, although the balls were dropped from a low height and moving relatively slowly, the 240fps isn't enough for an impressive shot. We added a 960fps video from the S20 Ultra for comparison and it's evident that slowing down the action comes with an obvious reduction in quality but it's generally much closer to what you'd expect to see in a slow-motion video without any other context.
Depending on your taste, your top pick for this scene will likely be either the Pixel or the S20, with the iPhone taking the third place.
Scene 2: Balloon meets sharp plant
This scene is a good example of some cool shots you can take even at 240fps. The moment the balloon pops but the water keeps its shape before clashing with the plant and then spills over it, is definitely something you can't enjoy with a regular video. The three phones are also a lot closer when it comes to quality, making it difficult to pick a winner. However, the Pixel's color balance gives it a slight edge in my book.
Sound is also a big part of the slow-motion experience. Hearing the splashing sounds slowed down and amplified definitely gives a dramatic feel to the video. You'll see that more pronounced in later examples.
Scene 3: Balloon meets concrete
Again, very similar results in terms of video quality. While 240fps isn't enough to capture the full glory of the exploding balloon, our canine participant in this scene shows that slow-motion video can successfully be used to capture reactions to quick events, which is just as entertaining. The real star of the show here is the 960fps video from the S20 Ultra. With a frame-rate 4 times higher, you can clearly see the balloon squishing before it disintegrates and the water splashing in spectacular fashion. Sure, at that resolution it won't look great on a 4K TV, but it works great for gathering likes on social media.
Scene 4: Bow shooting
With more challenging lighting conditions, the differences between the three phones get more obvious once again. This time, however, the iPhone 11
Pro and the S20 Ultra seem to have done a better shot, with the Pixel 4 XL footage being too soft and the colors a bit off. When it comes to motion capturing, the arrow is too quick for 240 fps to show anything intriguing, but the same can't be said for the bow itself. The motions the bow goes through after the launch give us curious insights about the stresses it endures.
Scene 5: Archery target practice
In this scene some extra sharpness is almost necessary. Wanting to capture a full arrow flight meant we couldn't have been picky about the background. As a result, the Galaxy S20
Ultra edges out the Pixel and the iPhone when it comes to the clarity of the video, making it slightly easier to track the arrow. Speaking of which, it's still too fast for 240fps, but at least you get to see it wobble after it hits the target. The 960fps footage, although grainier, does reveal that while flying, arrows are anything but straight.
Scene 6: Falling dominoes
The only scene we shot inside and you can tell. Despite having 3 lights on in the room, the videos from the iPhone 11 Pro and the Galaxy S20 Ultra are darker beyond comfort. Additionally, on the iPhone video there's a weird ghosting effect around some of the domino pieces even before they start falling.
By far the best video is that from the Pixel 4 XL, with the Samsung phone somewhere in the middle, but closer to the iPhone. The sound from all three is particularly satisfying in this video, but in the Pixel video, it's slightly out of sync.
So, all said and done, if there has to be one winner, which phone would it be? The Pixel 4 XL and the Galaxy S20 Ultra are neck and neck for the first place. Since we're talking about slow motion, however, we can't ignore the fact that the Ultra has super slow motion as well, so we'll use it as a tie-breaker, giving the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra the win.
It's worth mentioning that the S20 Ultra is the only 2020 model, albeit being only a few months newer than its competitors (and much more expensive). While the iPhone places last in this comparison, things might be different come November.
Tell us in the comments below if you'd like us to revisit the slow-motion experience once all the flagships for 2020 are out.