The latest iteration of the iPhone, the all-purpose smartphone, comes with a lot of bells and whistles. It’s certainly a must to consider for film production, no matter if you are working on indie movies or a new low budget film, although some of the most intriguing features are yet to be available.
Here’s a rundown of the main attractions:
The new iPhone marks the debut of Apple’s brand new A15 Bionic chipset up to eventually become the heart of all of its products, from upcoming iPads to desktop computers. Think of this as a preview of things to come. Tech specs announce 15 billion transistors capable of performing 15.8 billion operations per second. Everything is faster than the competition or promises to be. CPU speed is reported as 50% faster; a new graphic processing unit runs 30% faster. There is an improved neural engine which is, you guessed it, faster!
Say bye-bye to slow encoding and re-encoding. At last, you can record video using Apple’s stalwart codec. Since its deployment in 2007, it has become the industry standard in television. It’s not by chance that it won an Engineering Emmy In 2020. It finally arrives at the mothership’s signature multimedia device, with its efficient compression rates and full resolutions capacities intact. At the top of the line, the new iPhone touts up to 1TB in storage capacity, although the ProRes versatility makes it difficult to assess how many videos you can store. The codec remains compatible with the most popular editing software: Avid, Adobe Premiere, and of course, Final Cut Pro.
The Pro Camera Systems offers three different lenses that turn this device into an all-purpose video-capturing machine. There is a telephoto lens with a 77 mm focal length and a 3x optical zoom; an Ultra-Wide lens with a 13 mm focal length; and a wide lens with a 26 mm focal length. Larger sensors and the interplay between the lenses bring more light into the capturing process.
The magic combination of hardware and software allows for something Apple calls “Cinematic Mode”, which adds the capacity to shoot images with shallow depth of field and automatic shifting of focus between subjects in the frame. The software will be able to rack focus automatically when someone enters the frame. Even more impressive, we will adjust and edit the effect after shooting, which implies new features in Final Cut Pro. That’s a relief since you would not want to cede that kind of control to AI in your next low budget film.
That fancy Ultra Wide lens, working in tandem with the autofocus system, can focus on subjects at a mere 2 cm of distance. That allows for some nifty macro photos and video if we go by Apple demo images. On their website, there’s a brief video of a person’s fingers hitting the keys of a piano. You can make out the fingerprints! It looks very cool, and the possibilities are mind-blowing for indie movies and film production more broadly. You can expect a barrage of extreme-ultra-super close-ups, very much like the abundance of zoom shots in 70s cinema. No matter the era, filmmakers are the same: we love to show off our new toys!
Apple has been using OLED displays since 2017, with the 10th anniversary iPhone X, but the new capabilities of the phone make great use of its potential. The new Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion can refresh up to 120Hz. That’s 10 to 120 times per second, allowing for smoother, clearer movement of filmed subjects. ProMotion automatically adjusts the refresh rate to preserve battery life. If you are scrolling the app menu, it slows down to 10 Hz. If you open up a video game and start blasting away aliens, it ramps up to 120Hz. Yes, we know you are getting this for work. Right? Still, it’s nice to know you can improve the quality of life of your inner gamer, or watch independent movies online with a great display.
Apple is promoting the new iPhone capability of allowing for end-to-end workflow with broadcast-quality video. This feature was not available at launch. It’s the kind of thing that sounds nice to have, but you dread using it. Even if you go for the larger screen, top-of-the-line model, nothing beats an expansive desk-size monitor, or two, or three. Still, the feature promises to be a major boon for on-the-field reporters doing ENG. If this is something you see yourself using with some regularity, you will want to pony up for the top-of-the-line Pro Max model, with the largest screen of the lot, at 6.7 inches. At this size, even half an inch makes a big difference.
Apple promises the phone screen is 25% brighter when you use it outdoors, with up to 1200 nits of peak brightness. This would allow you better visibility when checking shots on the screen. No more squinting or looking for shade to see. Or not as much as before. Also, 13 Pro and Pro Max models achieved a rating of IP68 under IEC standard (that’s the International Electromechanical Commission for you). That means it can withstand exposure to water better than previous models. We wouldn’t go as far as testing under a downpour, but at least you can relax a bit more if a drizzle happens upon an outdoor shoot for your low budget film.
As usual, third-party developers and accessory designers are scrambling to make their products take advantage of new features and capabilities. Once the hardware gets in the hands of content creators, expect more goodies and insights to come to light.
Granted, a good old-fashioned camera rig is the best option for film production, but the leaps companies like Apple make in developing their products lower the entry bar for cash-strapped artists, pushing them closer to making their low budget film dreams a reality.
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