Cinematic mode debuted alongside the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro as a way of shooting smooth, cinematic footage with an emphasis on depth-of-field. We’ll show you how to shoot your next masterpiece with it.
Cinematic mode is a function found in Apple’s default camera app. At its heart, this mode is all about adding depth-of-field to shots 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 not dissimilar to that seen in the iPhone’s Portrait mode. This delivers a much more pronounced depth-of-field effect than you’d normally see in from a smartphone camera.
The idea is to emulate both a focus puller and the rich bokeh you’d normally see in wide aperture lenses. But it doesn’t end there, since you’re able to edit your focus pulls in post after you’ve shot the footage. This is the real star of the show since it allows you to make significant adjustments to the way your video looks without reshooting anything.
Cinematic mode isn’t perfect, though it does a pretty good job on the whole. Like any feature that relies on machine learning and software prediction, Cinematic mode can occasionally pull focus at inopportune moments or to a subject you weren’t intending to focus on. When this happens you can painlessly edit the video in post to better realize your vision.
Captured video is limited to 1080p Dolby Vision HDR at 30 frames per second, compared with up to 4K Dolby Vision HDR at 60 frames per second in regular “Video” mode. Apple may add support for ProRes video in Cinematic mode when it arrives on the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max in a later update.
Since Cinematic mode is tied to hardware, only the iPhone 13, 13 mini, 13 Pro, and 13 Pro Max are currently supported. Older devices like the iPhone XS or XR and newer, the iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation or newer), iPad Pro 11-inch (1st generation or newer), iPad Air (3rd generation or newer), and iPad mini (5th generation or newer) can edit Cinematic mode videos provided they have been upgraded to iOS 15 or better.
Apple did not retroactively roll out the ability to shoot in Cinematic mode to the iPhone 12 family or earlier, nor the iPad Pro. Apple may add the feature to future devices including the iPad Pro, which has shared many high-end iPhone features like LiDAR and Face ID.
You can shoot in Cinematic mode using the default iPhone Camera app. Simply open it up and swipe to change the modes. You’ll find Cinematic mode two-swipes to the left when holding your device in Portrait mode.
iPhone 13 users will only be able to use the regular wide lens and front-facing lens while shooting in this mode, while iPhone 13 Pro users can use both the wide and the telephoto lens on the back plus the front-facing camera. The ultra-wide lens being unavailable hints at how Apple has achieved impressive subject tracking even when subjects are out of frame.
Tap on the “f” button while shooting to change the effective aperture, measured in f-stops. The smaller the number, the wider the effective aperture, and the shallower the depth of field. A shallow depth of field means more of the background will be out of focus when locked on a subject. You should experiment for yourself and see how this value affects the frame.
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For shots where you want all of your frame in focus (like a landscape), increase the f-stop number. For a “filmic” look that draws eyes to your subject, reduce the f-stop to blur more of the frame and direct viewers’ attention. While a smaller f-stop value would let more light in on a real camera lens, there isn’t any appreciable difference in Cinematic mode since the software is doing most of the heavy lifting.
You can also change the exposure value (EV) as you would while shooting in “Video” mode as normal. You can do this by tapping the small arrow icon then using the “+/-” button to brighten or darken the scene.
One of the best features in Cinematic mode is subject tracking. This means that your iPhone can recognize and track certain subjects including people, animals, and even objects like cars or food.
To focus on a subject while shooting, tap on it as you would normally. You can then tell your iPhone that you want to track the subject by tapping again, at which point you will see an “AF Tracking Lock” message on-screen. While your iPhone can predict and automatically track some subjects as they enter the scene (particularly faces and people), inanimate objects aren’t often “remembered” when they go out of frame.
When a subject has been tracked you can move around and the iPhone will attempt to track that object and focus on it. This includes if you try to move closer or further away from the subject, effectively pulling focus for you. If you’d rather lock focus on a specific distance from the camera as you would in “Video” mode, tap and hold.
Cinematic mode has a bit of a mind of its own too. 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 largely depends on what else is in the shot, but luckily you can tidy any missteps up in post.
Editing videos taken in Cinematic mode is a bit like shooting in Cinematic mode in the first place. You can do much of the same things, including tapping on subjects to focus or track, plus you can change the effective aperture for the whole clip by tapping on the “f” value in the top-right corner of the screen.
At any point, you can disable the Cinematic mode blur and other features by tapping on the “Cinematic” logo. You’d get higher resolution video at higher frame rates by simply shooting in “Video” mode in the first place, but the option is there nevertheless.
Along the bottom of the screen is the video timeline. You can move the start and stop points to trim the video, just like you would with regular video. Beneath this is another timeline, this time to record focus pulls.
At any point in the timeline, you can tap on a subject to focus on it (or double-tap to track). This will be added to the focus timeline with a dot or a yellow dot in case of tracking. You can tap on these yellow dots to remove tracking instructions and add additional pulls throughout the clip.
Any white dots you see on the focus timeline demonstrate inputs you made when recording your video in the first place, and if you “Revert” to default as per the button in the top-right corner of the screen these pulls will be restored. You can also tap on the yellow “Tracking” button (it looks like a viewfinder box with two circles in it) to disable tracking for the entire clip.
For best results, compose shots that emphasize the depth of field. This is best achieved with a subject that’s close to the camera and a background that’s at a distance, though the iPhone tends to do a good job of appropriating the effect at a range of depths.
Apple’s stabilization will automatically be applied to Cinematic mode video, which is great if you have shaky hands or are shooting while moving. To assist with this, try and keep your movements as smooth as possible when panning or moving for a more convincing effect.
Experimentation is key, particularly when you’re editing your video. You should play with the various depth of field and focus effects available to you and see how they work and how to best use them. To make even better use of your device’s camera, check out our full list of iPhone camera tips.