Cinematic mode debuted alongside the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro as a way to shoot smooth, cinematic footage with an emphasis on depth of field. We’ll show you how to shoot your next masterpiece with it.
What is cinematic mode?
Cinematic mode is a feature found in Apple’s standard camera app. At heart, this mode is about adding depth of field to images with smooth transitions between different subjects.
By using multiple cameras on the back of the device, Cinematic mode can intelligently track subjects as they enter or exit the scene and apply a faux depth of field effect that is no different from that seen in iPhone’s Portrait mode. This gives a far more marked depth of field effect than you would normally see from a smartphone camera.
The idea is to emulate both a focus puller and the rich bokeh you would normally see in wide aperture lenses. But it does not end there as you are able to edit your focus pulls in posts after you have shot the footage. This is the real star of the show, as it allows you to make significant adjustments to how your video looks without resuming anything.
Cinematic mode is not perfect, although it does a good job at all. Like any feature that relies on machine learning and software prediction, cinematic mode can occasionally draw focus to inappropriate moments or to a topic you did not intend to focus on. When this happens, you can painlessly edit the video in post to better realize your vision.
Recorded video is limited to 1080p Dolby Vision HDR at 30 frames per second, compared to up to 4K Dolby Vision HDR at 60 frames per second in normal “Video” mode. Apple may add ProRes video support in movie mode when it arrives on the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max in a later update.
Which devices can record in movie mode?
Since movie mode is hardware-related, only the iPhone 13, 13 mini, 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max are currently supported. Older devices like iPhone XS or XR and later, iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation or later), iPad Pro 11-inch (1st generation or later), iPad Air (3rd generation or newer) and iPad mini (5th generation or later) can edit movies in movie mode, provided they have been upgraded to iOS 15 or better.
Apple did not retroactively roll out the ability to shoot in cinematic mode for the iPhone 12 family or earlier or iPad Pro. Apple may add the feature to future devices, including the iPad Pro, which has shared many advanced iPhone features such as LiDAR and Face ID.
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To record video in movie mode
You can shoot in movie mode using the standard iPhone Camera app. Simply open it and swipe to change modes. You will find Cinematic mode two-swipes on the left when you hold your device in Portrait mode.
iPhone 13 users will only be able to use the standard wide-angle lens and the forward-facing lens while shooting in this mode, while iPhone 13 Pro users will be able to use both the wide-angle and telephoto lenses on the back plus the camera on the front. The ultra-wide lens, which is not available, suggests how Apple has achieved impressive subject tracking, even when subjects are out of frame.
Press the “f” button during shooting to change the effective aperture, measured in f-stop. The smaller the number, the wider the effective aperture and the lower depth of field. A shallow depth of field means that more of the background will be out of focus when locked on a subject. You should experiment yourself and see how this value affects the frame.
RELATED: What is an F-stop in photography?
For images where you want your entire frame in focus (like a landscape), increase the f-stop number. For a “cinematic” look that attracts the eye to your subject, reduce the f-stop to blur more of the image and direct viewers’ attention. Although a smaller f-stop value would let more light into a true camera lens, there is no noticeable difference in cinematic mode, as the software does most of the heavy lifting.
You can also change the exposure value (EV) as you wish while shooting in “Video” mode as usual. You can do this by pressing the small arrow icon and then using the “+/-” button to make the scene lighter or darker.
Automatically track items in your shot
One of the best features of cinematic mode is subject tracking. This means that your iPhone can recognize and track certain items, including people, animals and even objects such as cars or food.
To focus on a subject during shooting, tap it as you normally would. You can then tell your iPhone that you want to track the subject by tapping again, after which you will see an “AF Tracking Lock” message on the screen. Although your iPhone can predict and automatically track some subjects as they enter the scene (especially faces and people), lifeless objects are not often remembered as they exit the picture frame.
Once an item has been tracked, you can move around and iPhone will try to track that object and focus on it. This includes if you are trying to move closer or further away from the subject and effectively draw focus for yourself. If you would rather lock the focus at a certain distance from the camera as you would in “Video” mode, press and hold.
Cinematic mode also has a bit of a mind of its own. For example, a subject looking away from the frame may cause the iPhone to focus on something else and vice versa. How the device behaves depends largely on what else is in the shot, but luckily you can clean up any mistakes in the mail.
Editing videos taken with cinematic mode
Editing videos taken in cinematic mode initially looks like footage in cinematic mode. You can do many of the same things, including tapping items to focus or track, plus you can change the effective aperture for the entire clip by tapping the “f” value in the upper right corner of the screen.
At any time, you can disable the movie mode and other features blur by tapping the “Cinematic” logo. You would get higher resolution video at higher frame rates by simply shooting in “Video” mode at first, but the option is there anyway.
Along the bottom of the screen is the video timeline. You can move the start and stop points to trim the video, just as you would with regular video. Below this is another timeline, this time to record focus moves.
At any point in the timeline, you can tap an item to focus on it (or double-tap to track). This is added to the focus timeline with a dot or a yellow dot in case of tracking. You can tap these yellow dots to remove tracking instructions and add additional features throughout the clip.
All white dots you see on the focus timeline show the inputs you made when you first recorded your video, and if you “Reset” to default according to the button in the upper right corner of the screen, these moves will be restored. You can also press the yellow “Tracking” button (it looks like a two-circle viewfinder box) to disable tracking for the entire clip.
Get better shots in cinematic mode
For best results, compose images that emphasize depth of field. This is best achieved with a subject that is close to the camera and a background that is at a distance, although the iPhone tends to do a good job of acquiring the effect at a range of depths.
Apple Stabilization will automatically be applied to video in movie mode, which is great if you have shaking hands or shooting while moving. To help with this, try to keep your movements as smooth as possible when panning or moving for a more compelling effect.
Experimentation is key, especially when editing your video. You should play with the different depth of field and focus effects you have available and see how they work and how to best use them. To make your device’s camera even better, check out our full list of iPhone camera tips.
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