Action mode on the iPhone 14 lineup shoots smoother footage and could replace the need for an action camera.

This story is part of Focal Point iPhone 2022, CNET’s collection of news, tips and advice around Apple’s most popular product.

Apple’s new iPhone 14 lineup comes with Action mode, a new video stabilization feature that promises smoother video capture and might replace action cameras like the GoPro. The setting counters and removes significant shakes, motion and vibrations, and can eliminate the need for a gimbal when shooting with an iPhone under some rigorous situations. 

As someone who films a lot of on-the-move videos for CNET and my social media pages, I put Action mode to the test to see how it fares in various situations. I compared Action mode on and off and viewed it side-by-side with GoPro Hero 11 video.

To see all of the tests I conducted, including swimming and vlogging, watch the video at the top of this article.

How to use Action mode on the iPhone 14

For tested Action mode on an iPhone 14 Pro, but it works on all four iPhone 14 models. To activate Action mode, open the camera app, go to video and in the top left corner tap the Action mode icon of a person running. Once activated, the camera defaults to the iPhone’s ultrawide camera, which gets cropped in compared to footage shot on the ultrawide without Action mode. 

Action mode is turned on by tapping the icon in the top left of video mode.  Justin Eastzer/CNET

Action mode tops out at 2.8K resolution, down from the iPhone’s max 4K resolution. The crop and downgrade in resolution were easily noticeable when comparing the footage of the iPhone 14 Pro with Action mode off and the GoPro Hero 11 side-by-side.

Action mode is a big leap for iPhone recording

I conducted a few tests with Action mode turned on and off. My goal was to see if it’s worth the upgrade to the latest iPhone models, especially for those who are serious about filming action scenes. Action mode’s stabilization was glaringly noticeable.

The test below shows the two side-by-side as I ran around the reservoir in Central Park. On the left, Action mode does a great job at stabilizing my footsteps. 

Here is Action mode on versus off running around the Central Park reservoir.  Justin Eastzer/CNET

Next, I pushed the iPhone even further with some bouldering. About 30 blocks south of the reservoir is a bunch of large boulders perfect for climbing and filming an action scene. For this test, I put on a chest strap that holds both the iPhone and GoPro.

Below is a GIF of Action mode video side-by-side with the GoPro’s footage. I recorded the videos as I climbed up the boulders. Both cameras recorded at 60fps, and the GoPro was set to hypersmooth stabilization, one of its several stabilization settings.

Action mode on the iPhone 14 Pro versus a GoPro Hero 11 on HyperSmooth stabilization. Justin Eastzer/CNET

The GoPro’s 4K footage looks sharper and the color is significantly more saturated than the 2.8K video from the iPhone. Stabilization was comparable between the two, which was surprising, especially since the iPhone and GoPro were against my chest during such intense running and jerkiness. The GoPro’s stabilization was definitely better when I jumped off the boulders

The GoPro and its wider lens did a better job at including my arms within the frame. The camera can go even wider with its Hyperview lens that also adds a fisheye look to video, which some people prefer.

The GoPro stands out with intense action

Biking is a popular use for action cameras, so I mounted my GoPro and iPhone 14 Pro on my chest for a mandatory ride over a bumpy cobblestone road. Below is a GIF showing off Action mode side-by-side with the GoPro Hero 11 footage. 

Action mode on the iPhone 14 Pro versus the GoPro Hero 11 on a cobblestone road.

I appreciate the GoPro’s wide view and increased resolution. The slightly distorted edges make you feel like you’re experiencing the action first hand. The iPhone’s footage looks flat and feels less immersive.

When I hit big bumps on the ground, the iPhone’s video had noticeable blur and appeared more unsteady. The GoPro handled the bumps so well that you’d never know they were there. 

If you’re going mountain biking or off-roading, an action camera seems better suited for recording your trek than the iPhone’s Action mode.

iPhone 14’s Action mode in low light

One major downside to Action mode, besides its crop and 2.8K resolution, is that it requires a lot of light in order to record. When a location didn’t have adequate lighting, a “more light required” message appeared on screen. It’s surprising how much light Action mode needed to run at its best. Even under the my apartment’s ample lighting, my iPhone 14 Pro still asked for more.

You can enable a setting that lets you record Action mode videos in low light. This decreases the stabilization to optimize for less bright scenes. The GoPro doesn’t fare well in low light either. In many of my tests, I found that the iPhone was able to brighten up scenes better than the GoPro. And if backgrounds were bright, the iPhone did a better job at adjusting for them.

Can the iPhone 14 replace an action camera?

Whether the iPhone 14 can replace an action camera really comes down to your own needs. For many people, the iPhone 14’s Action mode will be more than enough for shooting fun action sequences to share on social media or for passion projects. But for those who participate in extreme sports, Action mode may not suffice. Also, people may not want their expensive phone to be used as a camera in intense situations, especially when there’s a possibility that it might get damaged.

Next, action cameras typically have a plethora of accessories, some of which are incompatible with a phone like the iPhone. Also, a camera like the GoPro Hero 11 has tons of extra features, such as multiple stabilization modes, pro user-settings, multiple wider angle lens options and the ability to shoot at 5.3K at 60 fps with stabilization. The iPhone 14 Pro doesn’t.

I’m excited to see what people create with Action mode and share on social media like TikTok and Instagram. I can see this feature being used to shoot some cool music videos and action sequences. In fact, we shot our own action scene in the video at the top of the article. Make sure you check it out.

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