Apple just wrapped up its first fall event for the year, where it announced many new products across multiple product categories, ranging from the all-new iPhone 13 series to the Apple Watch Series 7 to two new iPads (iPad mini 2021 and 9th-gen iPad).

iphone 13 cinematic mode
IMAGE: Apple

While at large, these iterations feature several improvements—spanning across battery life, performance, and visuals—over their precursors, the most significant upgrades come to the new iPhones. Following its suit of incremental upgrades to the iPhone camera system, Apple is going all out this year to make mobile cinematic capabilities a reality.

One such upgrade that lends itself toward this is the cinematic mode. So let’s dive in to see how it works and what it has to offer on the latest iPhones.

The iPhone 13 Camera System

iphone 13 pro and pro max camera setup
IMAGE: Apple

In terms of camera hardware, Apple has retained its lens configuration from the iPhone 12 series on the latest iPhone 13 models, whereas the iPhone 13 and 13 mini feature a dual-lens system, while the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max include a three-lens camera system.

However, a couple of noteworthy changes this time around include an alignment change in the dual-lens setup on the non-Pro models, which are now aligned diagonally from each other, and the extension of the Pro Max camera’s capabilities to the Pro model.

iPhone 13 Camera Specifications

  • iPhone 13 and 13 mini: Dual 12MP sensors — wide (f/1.6) and ultra-wide (f/2.4)
  • iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max: Triple 12MP sensors — wide (f/1.5), ultra-wide (f/1.8), and telephoto (f/2.8)

iPhone 13 Camera Features

  • Sensor-shift OIS
  • Macro mode
  • ProRes video
  • Smart HDR 4
  • Telephoto Night mode
  • Photographic Styles

Cinematic Mode on iPhone 13

Since its announcement, the cinematic mode has already become the most-talked-about camera feature to come to the iPhone 13 series. And rightly so, as it aims to take mobile cinematography to new heights.

Essentially, what the feature brings to the table is the ability to shift focus from one subject in the frame to another while recording a video. So when you set focus on a subject, the camera holds onto it and blurs out the background until either you manually change the focus to a new subject or a new subject enters the scene. With the latter, the focus automatically switches onto the new subject unless you’ve fixed it onto a particular subject.

Not just that, though, since the cinematic mode also captures a depth map of the video, you can choose to adjust the blur and focus even after you’ve shot a video through the Photos app. Again, however, you’d have little flexibility to play around with focus with this approach.

To give you an idea of a practical use-case scenario, consider a setting where you want to capture two people in a frame gazing back and forth; you can take advantage of the cinematic mode to convey the same message effectively by tapping on the subjects to switch focus and apply bokeh to everything else in the frame.

What Powers the Cinematic Mode?

a15 bionic chip
IMAGE: Apple

As per the limited information available, the cinematic mode on the iPhone 13 series leverages a bunch of tech underneath, ranging from computational algorithms to the new A15 Bionic chip powering the device under the hood to facilitate those smooth focus transitions.

At its core, the A15 Bionic is a 5nm powerhouse that features a 6-core CPU and a 4- or- 5-core GPU to offer a significant boost in CPU and GPU performance on the new iPhones. Not just that, it also packs in a 16-core Neural Engine, which is said to now offer up to 15.8 trillion operations per second—as opposed to 11 trillion on the A14 Bionic—to further accelerate machine learning operations.

And it’s this entire stack, combined with iOS 15, which allows Apple to bring such a feature on a handheld device. A detailed explanation of how all of this comes together remains to be seen. However, from Apple’s presentation at the announcement, we do know that the feature leverages A15’s hardware processing prowess to power the necessary computational algorithms it feeds on.

Is the Cinematic Mode Future of Mobile Filmmaking?

cinematic mode on iphone 13
IMAGE: Apple

A device packing advanced photography or videography features isn’t something new: we’ve seen lots of enhancement features roll out on both Android and iOS devices over the years.

Last year itself, we saw Apple introducing support for Dolby Vision recording with the iPhone 12. However, with cinematic mode, it’s a rather different story, as, in this case, Apple brings the capabilities of a professional-grade camera onto a handheld device to democratize cinematography and liberate the creative possibilities of average video creators.

As a result, anyone can get those cinema-style moments in their videos right from their iPhone 13, no matter their expertise in videography.

Of course, how well the feature blends into one’s workflow and the quality it produces—and the shortcomings it brings along—are still matters for discussion, and we should the answers to these (and many such) questions once these devices are out in the hands of professional videographers and content creators.

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