Today’s Apple event It was pretty low key, as far as these things usually go. There wasn’t much we didn’t already know from the rumors of the past few weeks, and the hardware changes to the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro were largely what you’d expect from the annual updates.
Instead, the coolest announcement may have been one for software, albeit enabled by the new A15 Bionic processor. It’s called Cinematic mode and I think it will greatly change the way people create video content with their smartphones.
On the surface, it is nothing special. It’s essentially portrait mode for video, which we all knew was coming sooner or later, and that Android makers have been using for some time.
But as is often the case when iPhones are late for a feature first available from Android competitors, Cinematic mode is more interesting than anything you’ve seen from other manufacturers.
First things first: you can see for yourself in this 87-second short film that Apple made.
It’s not perfect, but it’s amazing.
Instead of just adding background blur to your video subjects, Apple instead, ahem, in focus on how this feature could be useful for videographers.
So instead, the company sought to replicate a technique used by filmmakers called rack focus, or focus extraction. This is essentially when the camera shifts focus and defocuses a subject at one depth to draw attention to a person or thing at another depth.
It’s something you may not have given much thought to, but it’s used in almost every movie you’ve seen. It is also very difficult to get it right. In fact, it is so crucial that on a professional film set there is usually one person (known as the first assistant camera) whose main job is simply to operate the camera’s focus ring.
Of course, on a professional camera it also tends to have a much shallower depth of field, so focusing correctly is much more important than for most mobile videos where subjects are already heavily in focus. Still, the technique also offers myriad creative opportunities, and that’s what Apple sought to replicate.
Apple tried to make the feature as easy as possible. If you have one subject in the background and another walks toward the foreground, the camera will automatically change its depth of field effect. If the foreground subject looks away, the camera will return to the background subject.
You can also tap on different subjects to initiate a rack flip, and the camera will try to shift focus smoothly instead of immediately jumping to another subject in a very un-cinematic way. And not only can you control the amount of depth effect, sometimes a subtle effect is all you need, but you can also change the focus of the rack. after you have recorded a video. That’s not something you can do with a normal camera, and honestly, it looks better than I expected for Apple’s first try.
Let me be clear; It’s still obvious to anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with a high-end camera that the effect is digital, at least after a little inspection. As with portrait mode, the edges can be rough, and I can only imagine that in the real world the effect will be even less pristine than in Apple’s carefully selected clips.
But this is just the beginning. And in any case, in the form of video, these rough edges can be much less distracting than in photos; Movement means that these problems are easier to ignore. Not to mention, video quality on YouTube and typical social media platforms is still lower than still image quality, making these artifacts difficult to see.
I bet you the prototype iPhone 14 that I found in a bar (JK Apple, don’t come for me), that you will start to see the Cinematic mode in the videos of social networks. Everywhere and that in the coming years all other Android manufacturers will do the same.
It will also get better over time. The illusion of depth will become more realistic, and who knows, maybe we will even get more creative effects like a anamorphic mode in the future. Along with the addition of ProRes compression for significantly better raw video quality, and the iPhone 13 seems more of a useful tool for filmmakers and video content creators than ever.
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