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Forums Creative Community Conversations iPhone 12 as the ultimate indie film camera? NO, but still….

  • iPhone 12 as the ultimate indie film camera? NO, but still….

  • Tim Wilson

    October 16, 2020 at 6:14 am

    Apple has obviously been trying to pitch the iPhone as THE camera for filmmaking for the last couple of editions, and, well whatever man. Rofl But I have to admit that my eyebrows went up this time: 4K/60fps Dolby Vision HDR, the first camera of any sort (mobile or otherwise) to do this. And a new ProRAW format?

    Also catching my eye, the short film by Emmanuel Lubezki (the much beloved Chivo, winner of three Cinematography Oscars, nominated for five more, oh yeah, plus winning four Cinematography BAFTAs, and five ASC Awards) extolling the virtues of iPhone 12 and the future of filmmaking. Again, whatever man, but this is still a lovely little short, and I appreciate his enthusiasm.

    I was also struck by the new choice for image stabilization, via

    The 12 Pro Max also uses a different type of image stabilization technology called sensor shift, which moves the sensor around multiple axes in response to external motion. It’s commonly found in DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, whose makers then benefit from not having to build OIS into lenses. Apple says this adds a full stop of stabilization — in other words, letting you use twice as long a shutter speed, all things being equal.

    So yeah, we’re talking about shutter speeds and stops of exposure on a phone, which I guess we kind of were before, but now we really are.

    And MagSafe is kind of interesting in general, but again, my eyebrows raised when I saw this:

    From a different article at, Forget 5G: MagSafe could be the biggest reason to buy an iPhone 12:

    And why limit our imagination to the kinds of accessories that already attach to a case? Take DJI’s Osmo Mobile 4 motorized smartphone stabilizer, which features detachable magnetic mounts so you can quickly pop off your phone in a pinch. But you’ve still got to attach the Osmo’s claw mount to your phone to begin with, and remove it when you’re done. What if it directly magnetically attached to your new iPhone itself?

    So now your camera is on a motorized stabilizer, and this is getting pretty nutso.

    Of course, we’ll see what we see when it ships. Rofl

    But this raises all kinds of questions for me. Not for me. Nothing could induce me to buy another iPhone ever, and I’m not in the cinematography business anymore. I haven’t shot a frame professionally in this century. These days, I’m just another nerd with a keyboard. But I have questions for you:

    • Your previous iPhone is probably still working pretty well. Does anything about this move the needle for you? The camera, the 5G, the MagSafe, or anything else?

    • I know that no phone will replace a “real” camera in most circumstances, but this kind of IS a real camera, and maybe ProRAW will be something resembling a “real” format. I know that you’d need at least SOME kind of camera AND footage test before even thinking about it, but would you think about this for any kind of filmmaking?

    • I know that the majority of folks passing through the COW are younger than the folks who generally post in this forum in particular, and many of you are working in day jobs that don’t involve cameras (maybe editing or mograph or graphics roles in companies). Is something like this more appealing than a DSLR or mirrorless camera from someone like Sony or Canon? Or would you be up for adding this to your collection that already includes those kinds of cameras?

    What it comes down to really is that, of all the communities on the web, this one is the least prone to hype, because you folks are already working for a living. Your clients and bosses don’t want to hear about what’s next. They want to know what’s NOW.

    So, all hype, all pro-and-anti-Apple feelings aside, what does this make YOU think?

    Yr pal,


  • Winston A. Cely

    October 16, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    Question 1: These new features don’t move the needle for me, mostly because I just bought an iPhone 11ProMax. I think they’re great, and in three or so years, when I have killed my phone, I’ll really look forward to the 2nd or third generation of these features as they’ll be more robust by then. If I had an iPhone that was at least a couple of years old, I would jump at getting a 12Pro if I had the cash.

    Question 2: I would absolutely think about using it as a B camera, as I would with my current 11ProMax. As an A camera, it would depend on the narrative. Documentary, or “simple” fictional stories that don’t require a lot of “post-magic” or highly specific and minute control of camera functions, no. But that’s all sorta obvious.

    Question 3: I would absolutely add it to my collection of cameras. I’m no spring chicken (just passed 40 recently) but I do teach high school students, and this is the future. Most of my students have had a smartphone of some type glued to their hands since middle school. By the time I get these students, they want the ease of use more than anything. They’re perfectly willing to give up creative control to just get things done, so I see smartphones being used as primary cameras soon enough. The biggest obstacle to this right now is the perception of the client; meaning that they expect to see some massive camera with tons of attachments and equipment as “professional” and a smartphone as unprofessional.

  • Steve Connor

    October 16, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    I’ve frequently used my iPhone 11 Pro Max with FiLMiC Pro as a “B” camera to Sony FS5 and FS7 footage and it cuts together really well. Will I be buying an iPhone 12 Pro Max? Yes of course and I’m already planning a short film to shoot on it in HDR!

  • Craig Seeman

    October 16, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    Sure it wiggles my needle a bit although not in the way Apple’s marketing implies. Perhaps the real utility for me isn’t as sexy.

    They seem to be targeting this for the aspirational broke filmmaker who will be buying a phone. For them, this camera might be a possible starter if you can live without the shallow DOF (which isn’t always as critical in some narrative styles) and can work within the ever-decreasing limits phones present. Keep in mind the cost of a 12 Pro Max approaches the ballpark price of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K as well as many good lower end mirrorless cameras with a much more appropriate feature set. So the phone, as Apple markets it, is really for someone who can’t afford those lower budget cameras in addition to the phone they’re going to own by necessity.

    For me, as a solo doc eng style shooter this checks most of the marks. Often enough I’m locked down shooting a speaker at an event or press conference and something starts in the crowd. Being able to pull out a phone and grab the second shot really helps. Being able to do that with up to 5x optical zoom and stabilization that will help my single-handed shooting (the rest of me still has to be focused on my main subject) is really a major boon. Of course, I’ve already done that with my current phone which certainly is good enough but that current phone traded in drops the price for the 12 Pro Max.

    There’s always the stuff that happens as you happen upon it and it’s the camera you have with you. That camera just got a bit better. Additionally, it used to be that the big eng type or rigged camera is exactly the wrong camera in doc eng type work where calling attention to yourself won’t have a good outcome. It used to be the DSLR and then the Mirrorless made you look a bit more one of the crowd but, these days, savvy people react to that as well. Of course, they can react to a phone but when a hundred others are also holding their phones (and not mirrorless cameras) your intent is a bit hard to single out. Yes, 5x optical zoom and image stabilization in a jostling crowd helps.

    So for an aspirational filmmaker, the phone is still the lowest of low budget given how “real” cameras are getting better/cheaper but for the doc eng solo shooter that Apple doesn’t mention, it’s a valuable tool.

    I’m certainly curious to see if Magsafe or LIDAR will have utility for video as well but no one, including Apple, is hinting at those possibilities. Maybe next year’s phone will offer the equivalent of “portrait” mode for a video giving you a bit more flexibility in post.

    So the phone doesn’t curl my toes but, yes, my needle wiggles if it’s got a thing you can use because, you know, next year’s phone will through in another wiggle so it’s more about “can I use it this year or what ’till next?” Considering the low cost of the upgrade, why not?

    And heck, the low light performance might make shooting my cat at 240fps with the lights off a little cleaner. We all know how important an underlit cat slow-mo video is to a monetized YouTube channel don’t we?

  • Peter DeArmond

    October 16, 2020 at 8:39 pm

    The camera aspect nudges the needle for me. I’ve been filming the elk that roam through my mountain community, and the rig I’m using is heavy. I have to count on getting lucky when they’re lounging around, giving me time to set up. But those darned elk don’t pose for me, even when I ask politely, so there have been many times when I missed what would have been a good shot because I didn’t have a newer iPhone. I always shoot and edit in 4k, so the iPhone 12 pro definitely has my attention.

    BTW I’m retired and an amateur, with aspirations to become an “accomplished amateur.”

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  • Tim Wilson

    October 16, 2020 at 9:03 pm

    Amazing video, Peter! Where are you?

    BTW I’m retired and an amateur, with aspirations to become an “accomplished amateur.”

    This is one million percent legit. When I ran beta testing programs at Boris FX and Avid, I made sure to have as many aspirational retirees on my beta teams as I could arrange. Many of them came from technical and engineering backgrounds, and rather than focus the bulk of their energy trying to make the software work, they took pleasure in trying to break it. Rofl I feel like I can always tell software that doesn’t have enough retirees in the beta pool. It may be polished, but it’s not durable.

    Anyway, I agree with you that, even more than the zoom, the image stabilization intrigues me, because that’s what makes the zoom useful. If you can’t keep the subject in the frame because the shot isn’t steady, who cares if it’s in focus?

    We do have an interesting angle on this conversation, because I feel like for the first time, a phone may be throwing down on “real” cameras. Before, when looking at specs side by side, even identical specs favored the “real” cameras in actual shooting conditions. But this stabilzation? I dunno. All of a sudden OIS is seeming borderline passe. Rofl

  • Tim Wilson

    October 16, 2020 at 9:23 pm

    @craigseeman sez

    I’m certainly curious to see if Magsafe or LIDAR will have utility for video as well but no one, including Apple, is hinting at those possibilities. Maybe next year’s phone will offer the equivalent of “portrait” mode for a video giving you a bit more flexibility in post.

    Well now it happens that on another thread, @mathieughekiere raised a very interesting possibility based on the existing 3D compositing in Motion that exists today. Somebody actually did a tutorial where they took a Lidar’d scene, composited himself into it, and had the camera tracking around him, in that space. As Mathieu wrote:

    I didn’t think so much about it until I saw this tutorial on Youtube ( where they put someone from Green Screen in a USDZ model in Motion. So does that mean I for instance, could go to a special location, scan it in 3D, later film myself in front of a green screen, and put myself in a 3D set I all made myself with an iPhone?

    LIDAR is a bigger and bigger deal in general. I spoke to the VFX supervisor for the Netflix hit, The Old Guard, Sara Bennett. As an aside, Sara happens to also be the only woman to win an Oscar for VFX supervision, and only the second woman to win an Oscar for any contribution to VFX, but she told me that they LIDAR’d every inch of every scene, even ones that weren’t on the call sheet as VFX shots.

    The team’s feeling is, hey, it’s easy enough to capture the scene while nothing else is happening, so let’s get it while we can. The fact is that you don’t know for sure that some shot might not actually become a VFX shot in post. “We just noticed something we need to remove”, or “there’s something we need to add”, etc. With LIDAR scans already in hand, nothing is a crisis. You’re ready to get to work immediately.

    Now being able to do LIDAR scans with an iPhone, why would you not? Even if you don’t use it for a phone, right?

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  • Mark Suszko

    October 16, 2020 at 9:26 pm

    Tangerine already showed us the way.

    I might be an oddball about cameras, because I really don’t fetishize them. To me, they are just a tool for story-telling, and I’ll use whatever tool I think helps me tell my story, within my means. I’m happy to rent instead of own, long as someone else is paying for that rental (because this is still also a business). iPhones as acquisition devices have to be taken seriously now, at least for a performance niche, and that niche opens up a little more with every iteration of these things. What’s not growing nearly as fast are the skill sets to take advantage of the tool and everything it can do. There’s a funny t-shirt I saw that said: “everybody’s a photographer – until (picture of the DSLR options knob turned to the ‘M’ manual settings mode)”.

    We’re at that place now with people using phone cams; they’re depending on automatic settings and not yet confident to open things up and play with manual setting to get better aesthetics.

    I think one place the phone as camera is really going to take off is oral history/documentary, done on a non-theatrical scale, but with a lot of the theatrical-scale aesthetics. Youtubers as well, obviously. Battery life and storage are always going to be a problem in this form-factor, so I see a growing market of strap-on memory and battery packs for these. Might as well make it an audio interface dock while you’re at it, so you can integrate mics. Add handles for smoother hand-held. A bigger monitor… And now, we’re looking at something similar to the early DSLR science-fair project-like rigs for shooting video off what was supposed to just be a stills camera.

    It wasn’t all that long ago I made a parody photo of an elaborate Zacuto rig of rods, handles, arms lenses, focus whips, monitors, etc., built up to support one of those original palm-sized soccer-mom digital movie cameras that were all the rage for about 2 years. I now have to update that parody image to replace it with a smartphone.

    And yet…

    This is the likely camera to capture history in the making, just because it will be so ubiquitous. It isn’t yet the most serious challenger to the Red or whatever, but there’s a saying: “quantity has a quality all it’s own”. Getting the camera into more and different hands, and away from a techno-priesthood, can only be good for our culture, because it will expand the various possible points of view and give voice and image to folks heretofore unheard and unseen.

    I’m one of the older guys in this forum, and I can recall the same arguments happening over and over, like the Architect Scene in “The Matrix” “…and we’ve become exceedingly good at it”. Umatic replaced 18mm. Betacam replaced Umatic and 35mm. DV came in and blew up the market forever, a sea change. Then HD, then 2k and 4k and SpecialK and how many people shoot on chemistry-soaked acetate any more?… and every time, pundits wagged their heads and wondered if the added democratization of image acquisition tools would be “good” for the industry or not, “good” for story-telling or not.

    A lot more crap will be shot. But also, in the middle of that, some real art. More than before. And *different* than before. Embrace this. Accept this. Flow with it and ride it. Because it won’t stop for any of us.

  • Mathieu Ghekiere

    October 16, 2020 at 9:40 pm

    I have an iPhone 8 Plus that is broken on the front and the back after a couple of falls. I’m still pretty happy with it, but because it’s broken I can’t get a cheap battery replacement so I’ll probably go for a new iPhone 12 Pro Max. (I wanted to go for the small Pro but the camera improvements on the new Max really have me excited).

    I worked in an Apple Premium Reseller last year, and I really was impressed with the quality of the iPhone 11 camera’s. Especially the built-in stabilisation was crazy good IMO. I did a kind of vlogging-style youtube video a couple of weeks ago, to talk about a movie, which I cut togethet with fragments of the movie. I put my iPhone with an 18mm Moment wide Angle lens, and shot on Filmic Pro. It has its limits, but with the better dynamic range that iPhones had since the previous generation, I am interested in it as a filmmaking tool. It isn’t cheap in itself, but if you add accessoires and the cost of those in comparison with how much these accessoires cost for a ‘normal’ camera, the financial difference starts to add up. (the DJI gymbals are so cheap and give such great results often)

    The thing that still bothers me the most is how sharpy/videoy it often still looks. Sometimes there are great examples. Apple’s own Chinese New Year – ish videos last year come to mind. I really liked their vertical filmmaking add from Damien Chazelle. It showed an artistic interpretation of vertical compositions. I’m wondering if with enough Cinebloom or Promist filters, we can get a bit rid of that look.

    When I saw the Lubezki clip in the keynote, I thought it looked good but not wow. But I downloaded the add you linked to in 4K and watched in on my iMac 5K and to be honest, I was pretty wowed with the images there. The biggest disappointment for me and my biggest hope for this year was a ‘portraid’ mode for video with the Lidar sensor, and it wasn’t there. Maybe later through software, but that’s probably more wishful thinking.

    I also made a thread a bit ago (no replies) where I was thinking that with the Lidar sensor we can now make a 3D scan of a room now and export it to a USDZ-file. Yes, the same USDZ file you can import in Motion now, since the last update. And then with the 3D tracker of MotionVFX, you can film someone for a green screen, and afterwards put them in a 3D environment where you maybe didn’t have time to film. Pretty crazy to think about it. EDIT: I just saw Tim Wilson added my previous post in this thread. Thanks! It’s all part of the same discussion.

  • Tim Wilson

    October 16, 2020 at 9:50 pm

    I think trend-wise, the ship has already sailed. Apple poo-pooed HD and 4K resolutions when they didn’t have them, but are now flying past that. Right now, it seems that they’re putting their focus on exactly where they should, make all this resolution usable with proper stabilization.

    This is the likely camera to capture history in the making, just because it will be so ubiquitous.

    Except that I’m not sure it will be. Apple’s highest-end phones aren’t its best-selling ones, and nobody thinks that Apple has anything resembling the biggest marketshare. Even within the iEcosystem, Apple’s biggest competition for This Year’s Model is always Last Year’s Model, which is probably still banging, and has another year or two of useful life.

    If not more. I used to be a once-a-year guy with computers and phones, but with both, I’m now no less than two, and often three years between upgrades. Not because of money or even inertia as lack of urgency. I don’t have anything currently on my radar that would make me move to a newer model of my current phone or any other phone.

    (Certainly not 5G. I think The Verge is WAY off base thinking that customers care much about this. Am I wrong? I get that the egg does in fact come before the chicken, and that the presence of usable networks is a prerequisite for demand, even before the phones.)

    But I think you’re very much on the right track for phones in general. I’d hate to be in the pocket-sized camera divisions in companies like Sony and Canon. Today’s equivalent of DV cameras aren’t cameras. They’re phones.

    And I think that for both better and worse, you’re on the right track about Zacuto-izing iPhones through MagSafe. At its most basic, MagSafe speaks to Apple’s late-breaking understanding of how badly people want to customize their phones. That was a small but compelling reason for my own departure from Apple in general and iDevices in particular, but ironically, a huge part of why I’d never go back. Apple hasn’t gone a quarter as far as they need to to catch up to what I’ve been expecting from customizability for my phones for a full decade now.

    But I do see filmmaking add-ons being an interesting sideline for the MagSafe “platform”, if you will. Heck, why would Zacuto not get in on the fun themselves? Even the image in my post at the top of this thread is starting to push the bounds of what any of us would call handheld. Yes, it’s in a hand, and the hand is holding it, and without diminishing for a second how cool I think it is as tech….but c’mon.

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