I Shot an Entire Wedding on a Cell Phone, the Sony Xperia Pro-I

Using a phone to shoot professional work isn't new, but most instances involve situations where the photographer has almost full control. But how would a phone stand up to the same test if the photographer had little to no control over the lighting and environment? 

For some odd reason, I have always wanted to challenge myself by shooting an entire wedding on a cell phone. I have come close a handful of times, but plans always seemed to fall through. So, when I got my hands on the new Sony Xperia Pro-I, I knew I had to make it happen. Not only is this phone equipped with one of the best cell phone cameras on the market, but it also has some standout features I felt would make shooting a wedding much more possible than past camera phones. 

To start, this phone has the same 1-inch sensor that the high-end Sony point-and-shoot cameras have. This 1-inch sensor is paired to a 24mm lens. The cool thing about this lens is that it is the one and only cell phone lens that is made of actual glass. So, between the larger sensor and glass lens, you have a very capable setup.  

The phone also has two additional cameras that use the more traditional sensor and lens combos on the back. So, what you get is a normal cell phone-style camera in the 16mm and 50mm focal range and then a better lens and sensor combo for the 24mm range.

While the 1-inch sensor is kind of the main draw when it comes to this phone, there are a handful more features that make this phone different. The phone has a dedicated Bionz-X image processor, real-time focus tracking, eye-AF for both humans and animals, and it can even shoot at 20 frames per second. Though, when you shoot at 20 fps, you can only get a JPEG for the file output. If you want to shoot raw, you can only do that in single-shot mode, which is a little disappointing. 

The phone also has a physical shutter button with the familiar half-press to focus ability similar to what you would expect in any type of dedicated camera. And if you already shoot Sony, then the camera app will feel like home, with a very similar layout and menu setup. You can shoot in auto, program, shutter priority, manual, and even a memory recall mode. And although these modes are all nice to have, one feature I missed having is the ability to set a minimum shutter speed when shooting in auto ISO. it’s one of the main ways I shoot with my professional camera, so it would have been an easier transition to the phone had this feature been included. 

So, with some of the technical aspects out of the way, how did using it at a wedding actually go? 

One thing I didn't want is for this brief experiment to turn into me grabbing ideal moments in ideal lighting conditions throughout a wedding. So, instead of simply adding the phone to my camera bag, I wanted the phone to be the one and only camera I used for the entire day, from wedding prep, all the way through to the end of the night. As I was presented with tricky situations, I wouldn't have my better camera to fall back on. I obviously couldn't expect a paying client to let me perform this experiment at their wedding. I reached out to some friends, and Zee Anna Photography was gracious enough to let me second shoot with them for a full day, and I made sure they and the couple had a complete understanding of exactly what I was doing. 

The first thing I want to bring up is that it fully surprised me that I got no strange looks from guests and no questions on why I was shooting on my phone. And I will say that it was very clear I was a working photographer and not just a guest shooting on my phone. I had my camera bag and GoPro mounted to my shoulder, and I was pretty much always shooting. So, this just goes to show you don't need the big lens and updated camera body simply for how a client will perceive you, at least in the world of weddings.

As for the actual shooting aspect, we started the day off with wedding prep, and this is a part of the day when I usually experiment with adding light. I ended up using my Stella Pro Reflex S in constant mode and experimented with this off and on during makeup, but I ended up putting the light away after a bit. As the second shooter working with a lead photographer and a video team, I didn't want to subject everyone else working to my lighting choices. So, once things started moving around the room, I went with natural light for the rest of the day, except for the reception, which we will get into in a little bit.

From here, the ceremony went pretty normally. I did what most second shooters do and wandered around the ceremony trying to find interesting light or compositions while also trying to stay out of the way, although this ended up being one of the more difficult times to shoot. The screen on this phone is really bright and usable in full sunlight, but when you try to tilt the phone or shoot at an awkward angle, the reflection off the glossy screen can be hard to see. But really, this is like when using the flip-out screen on my a9, though the screen on my a9 is less glossy, so it shows fewer reflections.  

For portrait time, I would normally use some type of flash. I really love adding my light to accentuate a scene, add drama, or even completely transform a scene. But as I was prepping for this wedding, I found out I couldn't use flash like I thought I could. I had planned on linking up to the Flashpoint M1 mobile flash unit., which would then allow me to pair up with some of my bigger lights. Unfortunately, while I could connect to the trigger and fire the lights with the test button inside the app, the app didn't actually support the phone yet, so I couldn't open the camera from the app. Because of this, I got the idea to bring a strong ND filter, hoping to get a low enough shutter speed I could manually trigger a flash, but like most wedding day timelines, things ran a bit late, so I didn't have time to experiment with this. So, I simply shot where I could and directed when given the chance.  

 From here, as portraits were ending, the sun went down further and things got a bit more difficult. While I would normally rely on the higher ISO capabilities of my Sony a9 or do some type of off-camera lighting, instead, I just had to make do with what I had. Though, because I was shooting on a phone, I tried my best to stick to the lowest ISO as much as possible. This was fairly easy to do throughout the day, though as soon as the reception started, I had to raise my ISO. The highest I ended up needing to go was ISO 640. But there were times I would have normally chosen to go with a higher ISO, but I just chose a slower shutter speed than I’d normally choose and simply overshot a bit to make sure I got a sharp image. 

For the first dance, here I wanted to make sure I had some type of light I could use. So, I checked with the lead photographer and video team to see if I could place a single light on the dance floor, but neither of them cared, so I could use the same setup I use for all my first dances, and that's a single light placed behind the couple. This gives me a nice rim light for the couple and some good bounced light to fill in faces. And again, for this situation, I used the StellaPro Reflex S. For this setup, I had the light set to 2,000 lumens, which is 1/3rd power when working on the light's battery.   

Now, when the lights went even lower for the party dancing, things got even more difficult. For a little while, I could use the video team's lighting setup, but when that got turned off, I had to resort to waiting for the DJ lights to line up with something. But since these DJ lights were constantly moving, it was hard to get things to really fall into place. Mostly, when the lighting was good, there just wouldn't be much happening, or there would be a lot happening and the light would be pointing up at the ceiling or something.  

But, at the end of the day, I could make a similar style slideshow that I make for all of our couples. It shows key moments of the entire day, and I’m quite proud of the images I was able to include. I don't feel like I had to search for filler images or leave out certain things because I wasn't able to capture them well, aside from the fact that I would have normally included some groom prep, but he was in a different location, and I never got access. I also would have normally included a few more reception images, but I was still happy with what I got given the circumstances. So for me, I think this little experiment was a success. 

Now, I would never suggest any of you all trade in your professional camera and start shooting full time on your phone. Although in a pinch, I do think someone could get by with this. But mostly, this is just a testament that this makes for a great everyday carry-in-your-pocket camera. This camera has features like full manual control, AF tracking, a better sensor, and better glass. And these are things you'd normally only be able to find in a dedicated camera, so add in the fact it has a phone included, and that's a big win in my book. Because if I can take professional and deliverable wedding images on this phone, then surely, it’s enough to document everyday life.

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33 Comments
Paul Sadler's picture

Cool comparison to P&S capability too.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

What kind of budgets from Sony do experiments like that involve?

Jason Vinson's picture

I got exactly zero dollars and didn't get to keep the phone.

Roger Cozine's picture

Me personally, I wouldn't take a phone photographer seriously. Especially for a wedding or any sort of real professional work, except maybe documentary work where capturing the moment takes priority above all else. But this is good information for those planning a wedding on a budget. Or those who simply don't need a real photographer. Very few people carry a dedicated camera, virtually everyone carries a cell phone. Knowing the capabilities of that phone is definitely an asset. It's always better to capture the moment using whatever tools are available, over losing it completely. This is also great info for those in the market for a new cell phone. Everyone always having the best bang for their buck!

Stuart C's picture

It could also be seen as a massive lesson to all those gearheads who claim (insert model here) dedicated camera can’t do this, that or the other… because the sensor is too small, AF is poor, EVF isn’t enough resolution, not enough bokeh, can’t shoot 50fps burst or whatever else they endlessly argue about.

This pretty much proves that all that waffling nonsense is pointless.

Joaquim Gonsalves's picture

I can't believe someone down voted your comment. I mean what you've stated is not false at all. Yes, we understand the caveats but our point here is that one should seldom, if never, blame the gear. Discussing gear, etc. is of course fun and no one is discounting that. While most are genuinely talented, it's no secret that there are a lot of people who just get off on stating some other device sucks. Every device is imperfect and it is up to us to use our god given brains to find solutions around the device's shortcomings. Else we all might as well bow and call ourselves button pushers.

KDB .'s picture

Exactly! Real photographers shoot with whatever they have. Amateurs/gearheads just keep on complaining and criticizing as usual when they are not even capable of doing as good.
Amateurs talk, pros do.

As I have stated, new gear is an excuse to lack of talent/skills.

A bad driver with a Hyundai i20 is still a bad driver with a Nissan GTR Black.

David Pavlich's picture

Right out of the box, a phone is miserable to shoot with. Even if it could compete with my camera, I wouldn't use it because I hate the way it feels in hand. It's the reason I won't buy a Sony camera....in hand feel is miserable. Yea, it's subjective, but if I can't have a camera in my hand that feels like it belongs, I don't need to be taking pictures.

Michael Krueger's picture

I agree, phones have come a long way but the ergonomics just don't work for me. I take a lot of photos with my phone simply because it's what I have with me, don't carry a camera unless I'm planning to use it.

Robert Edwardes's picture

It's a $1700 phone in an era with $50 phones. There are people doing wedding photography with less.

Jason Vinson's picture

This is a $1700 camera that has a phone built into it. Also, a potato will take better photographs then one the cheap $50 phones.

Leon Kolenda's picture

That's great for simple shots and impromptu shooting. But I HATE the way a phone feels in your hand and the ergonomics of shooting with it. It's so Clumsy to me. About the same ergonomic feel as Picking up your DSLR or Mirrorless camera and texting or answering a call on it! There is a reason so many photos are taken in the portrait mode, instead of landscape, people feel comfortable shooting in the portrait mode because it's the way they use their phone when calling, or receiving a call. They don't like shooting in the landscape mode, and that has created a very poor habit of shooting along with bad shots!

Mike Ditz's picture

What bugs me is when someone sees a news event and then shoots it V instead of H.

Joaquim Gonsalves's picture

Really glad to see this article. Personally been considering doing a similar experiment with a Sigma sdQuattro. A camera that is really not meant for fast paced events.

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

I am not sure anyone if there are a lot of brides who would want professional phone photography. I must say using a phone as an additional camera is not a bad choice. It can capture moments that cameras cannot because of access. I still remember taking a picture of a bride when a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds. No photographer captured it. She still cherishes that photograph the most.

Mike Shwarts's picture

About the app for the Flashpoint M1. How did you get the app on the phone? The Xperia is an Android phone, and Flashpoint's website shows the M1 to be in iOS device.

Were you trying to use the Godox app (Android) with the M1 instead of the Godox A1?

A quick look around the web makes me think the M1 pictured in the video requires the R2 remote, but the M1 Pro has a built in R2 remote.

Jason Vinson's picture

Ah ya I was using the godox app. I was under the impression that they were interchangeable but maybe not. I was able to connect to the trigger. The app just couldn't open the camera... 🤔

Anthony Mair's picture

"For some odd reason, I have always wanted to challenge myself by shooting an entire wedding on a cell phone."

Can photographers top doing this on clients time? challenge yourself with your own projects. It can be done, yes but is it going to give you the best results you can give? no, not even close. You have limited yourself and your client with this.
If a construction worker turned up to your house and wanted to do a job that would be way better with a drill but insisted on using only a screwdriver youd be baffled im sure.

Jason Vinson's picture

Tell me you didn't read the entire post or watch the full video without telling me you didn't read or watch the video 👆

Jason Vinson's picture

"I obviously couldn't expect a paying client to let me perform this experiment at their wedding. I reached out to some friends, and Zee Anna Photography was gracious enough to let me second shoot with them for a full day, and I made sure they and the couple had a complete understanding of exactly what I was doing."

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

nvm. Jason beat me to it.

Stuart C's picture

Come on man, read the stuff before going all out to look foolish.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Great images, Uncle Bob! :)

Can you imagine if guests took photos with their phones and tablets this well. Scarrrry.

Jason Vinson's picture

😂 😂

Mike Shwarts's picture

Maybe they could with the Xperia, but then...

There is some truth to it isn't the tool, but the user. Aunt Mary with an Xperia might make some good photos if she has the talent. You'll need to hand out Xperias to the guests the way they used to hand out disposable cameras. Hope that with enough snapping, you'll get a few good photos. Maybe a few guests might have some talent.

I would hire a somebody who does this for a living (based off their portfolio), because they have the experience to know what kind of photos to make to tell the story. They know how to deal with various types of lighting situations.

Kirk Darling's picture

This basically proves that any modern dedicated camera can be used to shoot a wedding. No point arguing Nikon, Canon, Olympus, or Sony.

Jason Vinson's picture

True and false. This article I wrote is a few years old, but still relevant to this topic.

https://fstoppers.com/originals/its-not-about-camera-gear-except-when-it...

Kirk Darling's picture

Are you saying that Nikon, Canon, Olympus, or Sony really makes a material difference in the hands of competent photographers?

winzehnt gates's picture

Just a small thing to add regarding the "1-inch sensor" in the Xperia Pro-I. It is true that the main camera module uses the same 1-inch 20MP sensor that can be found in the Sony RX100 VII.
However, the camera system has been adjusted to 12 million pixels, in order to better integrate the image sensor into the small case of a smartphone. Since only part of the sensor is used, the size of the Xperia Pro-I's sensor is roughly 1/1.31 inches.
1/1.31 inches is about the size of all recent flagship smartphone cameras.
The author, just like a lot of reviewers, has fallen for Sony's intentionally misleading advertising.
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PS: The one thing that does set the Xperia Pro-I apart is the dedicated shutter button with the half-press to focus ability.

Jason Vinson's picture

I forgot to mention this in the article, but it did addressed this in the video. While it may seem like marketing hype, Sony didn't use the 1-inch sensor for the size of the sensor, it for the size of the pixel-pitch on that sensor. It noticeably increases the light gathering ability of the lens! ☺

winzehnt gates's picture

It might well be that the pixel pitch increases the light gathering ability compared to older Sony smartphone cameras, but compared with the sensors in flagship smartphones from other manufacturers, Sony is just closing the gap.
E.g. the Samsung S22 ultra has a 1/1.33 inch sensor, almost the same size Sony uses in the Xperia Pro-I. With pixel-binning it has the same 12MP Sony has. The Samsung has even a slightly wider aperture (F1.8 vs the Sony's F2).
So, when you look at the camera hardware only, the only noteworthy difference between Sony's camera module and the camera modules of other manufacturers is the glass lens.
I can't comment on the software/camera-app, but I got the impression that Sony is asking for several hundred bucks more than other manufacturers just for the shutter-button with half-press autofocus.
That being said, I'm sure that the Xperia Pro-I's images are pretty good - I just think that Sony uses half-truths in marketing to somehow justify the steep price
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PS: Personally I'd like to see a smartphone like the Panasonic CM1 (released in 2014). It had a 1-inch 20MP sensor and 28mm equivalent lens with aperture fro F2.8 to F11. For me a 28mm equivalent would be a better "all purpose" focal length than 24mm.

Desmond Stagg's picture

Just confirms, a professional can turn out usable images regardless of which camera they use.
(A while ago, someone said to me, "of course you get good pictures, you have top equipment!"
I said to him, I can get good images with any camera. With that statement he gave me a simple point and shoot, and said, "show me" With that, I captured a number of images, passed the camera back to him, after which, he just stood there open-mouthed.
I said, it is how a pro uses the tools at his/her disposal. That makes the difference.

ted barrow's picture

Great, great article. Thanks Jason.