What is the best budget Android smartphone for professional video?

We get this question a lot, and typically the low-end of the market suffers on Android because the Camera2 API that is required by FiLMiC Pro to run is not implemented properly.

However one device that *almost* gets it perfect is the Xiaomi Pocophone F1.

This device can be picked up for about $300 USD making it one of the most affordable handsets with impressive specs:

  • Snapdragon 845 CPU
  • 4000mAh battery with fast charging via USB-C
  • 12 MP, f/1.9 rear camera with dual pixel autofocus
  • 6GB of RAM
  • Adreno 630 GPU
  • A headphone jack for external audio

The State of Camera2 API Support on the Pocophone F1

For filmmakers wanting professional results on mobile, great specs mean nothing if the manufacturer did a poor job implementing the Camera2 API (the android framework for camera functionality that FiLMiC Pro relies on).

As it turns out, Xiaomi did a mostly excellent job. Here are the results from the app Camera2 Probe which is freely available on the Google Play Store:

Results for the Xiaomi Pocophone using the free app Camera2 Probe

It has ‘full’ support which is just one step below the highest ‘Level_3’ rating. However there is one area when the camera2 probe results are inaccurate and that is related to white balance.

To put it bluntly: custom white balance does not work on this device as it should. Once a manual white balance is entered, it can’t be reset to auto white balance without closing and reopening the app. We are hopeful that Xiaomi will correct this in the future via a system update.

Does the budget Pocophone F1 produce budget looking video?

Incredible results can be achieved with the Pocophone F1, but how does it compare to flagships with a price tag more than three times higher? You tell us which do you prefer the look of? Camera A or Camera B?

Can you tell which is the Pocophone F1 ($300) and which is the Samsung S10+ ($1,200)?

You’ll notice that Camera A has better color reproduction than Camera B, but poorer dynamic range. Color casts can be corrected effectively in post-production, whereas dynamic range can’t be added after the fact.

So which smartphone camera costs $1,200 USD and which costs $300?

Camera A is the Samsung S10+ which costs approximately $900 more than the Pocophone F1 (Camera B)! To be fair though, in the above example we had HDR disabled on the S10+. When HDR is enabled the Samsung does a little better when it comes to dynamic range — but does it warrant close to an extra thousand USD? You be the judge (and let us know your thoughts in the comments below).

Dynamic Range on the Pocophone F1

When it comes to dynamic range the Pocophone F1 is a solid performer, especially when used with FiLMiC LogV2 (included in the Cinematographer Kit in-app purchase). Our friends at FilmConvert let us use their Xyla chart to see how it measures up.

Using the native curve of the device (in FiLMiC Pro this is called ‘Natural’) the Pocophone achieves a respectable 9 stops of dynamic range!

When using FiLMiC LogV2 you’re looking at 10 stops of dynamic range!!!

Waveform results for Pocophone Natural vs LogV2 Xyla Chart Tests

That is just two and a half stops less than the iPhone XS Max, and 1.5 stops less than the Samsung S10+ with HDR enabled!!! Well played Xiaomi.

Check out the difference between the native curve of the device and FiLMiC LogV2, which offers an extra stop of dynamic range:

Natural vs FiLMiC LogV2 comparison on the Xiaomi Pocophone F1

Real World Shooting — How Does It Perform?

Xiaomi Pocophone F1 + FiLMiC Pro cinematic video sample

We decided to put it to the test at Pike Place Market in Seattle. Our film was shot at 4K 24FPS using LogV2 to maximize the dynamic range. We also used the Freefly Movi Cinema Robot as our gimbal of choice.

It was a rather cold day so we felt a black and white film look was perfect. We used our favorite plugin FilmConvert to achieve this, and selected the FJ Neo film stock. It was edited in Premiere Pro and we chose to output at 2554×1080 for a cinematic widescreen look.

Make sure you watch until the end if you want to see the original untouched footage vs graded.

With the exception of the inability to lock and reset custom white balance outlined above — the Pocophone performed wonderfully. It was reliable and the big battery meant we could shoot for a couple of hours with plenty of battery to spare.

We were really happy with the final results and will continue to shoot content on the Pocophone (especially when a 3.5mm microphone is key). We love that unlike many smartphones, the Pocophone doesn’t seem to crank up the digital sharpness as much, which gives it a more pleasing aesthetic .

Is the Xiaomi Pocophone F1 the best budget smartphone for filmmakers?

Without a doubt! At least we are yet to test a device priced at $300 USD or less that not only works this well with FiLMiC Pro, but produces such high quality video.

The Good:

  • Excellent specs make the Pocophone incredible value for money
  • Great dynamic range (approx. 10 stops with LogV2)
  • Supports 4K capture at high bitrates
  • Fully compatible with the Cinematographer Kit in-app purchase and LogV2
  • Headphone jack makes external audio easy

The Bad:

  • Current error in white balance implementation requires app to be closed and reopened if you wish to return to auto white balance.
  • No access to image stabilization (EIS)
  • Currently no access to 4K 60fps
  • Prone to chroma noise in the shadows
  • White balance not as accurate as other makes (Samsung)
  • Shadows especially have a green hue. It tends to render an image warmer than real life.

Final Thoughts

The Xiaomi Pocophone hints at the incredibly exciting opportunity that Android devices can extend to filmmakers the world over: flagship video quality without the flagship price.

To achieve this feature set and video quality on a device that can be picked up for about $300 is staggering. With a minor system update the white balance issue could be resolved making this device unbeatable.

And we can’t stress how nice it is to have a headphone jack! All those great microphones can be used whilst simultaneously charging your device via the USB C port!

Please let us know what you think in the comments below. Should we continue to review new handsets?

Make sure you’re subscribed to the FiLMiC Pro Youtube Channel for more reviews, smartphone video samples and tutorials.

Thanks for reading!