What Are the Best Smartphones for Filmmaking?

While film- or documentary-making with an iPhone isn’t a new concept, the technology that makes it possible just keeps getting better. With constantly-improving cameras that are capable of capturing crisp details (even in low-light settings) and advanced tech that makes editing a streamlined process, there’s never been a better time to try your hand at shooting with an iPhone. 

Image: Apple via YouTube

Now that there are new models on the market, it might be daunting to figure out which is the best for your filmmaking needs. What makes an iPhone an ideal choice for creative pursuits like filmmaking is, of course, primarily the camera capabilities. However, the processing power, battery, size, and editing capacities all make a difference as well. 

Today, we’re outlining an iPhone model-by-model comparison so that you can determine the most appropriate option to use for your filmmaking needs. Let’s dive in. 

iPhone 13 Pro Max and iPhone 13 Pro

Apple’s newest iPhone, the iPhone 13 Pro Max, is the latest, and arguably most innovative, of the batch. Since it was released the most recently, it has the newest technology — and a lot of this technology improves the camera’s recording experience. 

The most obvious difference between the Pro Max and it’s sister model, the Pro, is the size. The Pro Max has a large 6.7” Super Retina XDR display. If seeing things larger is your style when you film, you’ll like this option. 

The iPhone 13 Pro Max contains Apple’s three-camera system, which includes a telephoto lens, a wide lens, and an ultra-wide lens. These cameras offer quite a few improvements over past iterations: 6x optical zoom and the capacity for macrophotography and macro videography (for the first time on an iPhone). This iPhone model also includes Night Mode on every camera —and the Ultra Wide camera now captures 92% more light than other models (and when outdoors), making it an ideal option for heavily-outdoor shots. 

Arguably the most exciting new piece of technology that this phone introduces is Cinematic Mode. Essentially, this allows users to focus on a subject while shooting, and then seamlessly shift the focus to another subject in the same frame. When the first subject looks away, for example, the second would automatically come into focus. There’s also a manual option where you can control who or what is in focus, all in one shot. It feels professional — it takes the filmmaking capacities up a notch. And what’s really cool about this feature is that you can edit this after the fact; you can change the focus after you’re finished filming without having to reshoot the whole thing. Every camera on this phone can shoot in Cinematic Mode, and Cinematic Mode works with Dolby Vision HDR. 

The iPhone 13 models also introduce what’s called ProMotion, which is a super-fast (120 Hz) refresh rate. This means viewing film (or simply scrolling for standard workflow items) is a lot more fluid. 

The processor on the iPhone 13 Pro Max is something to mention, as well. Apple calls it the “world’s fastest smartphone chip,” and it makes possible the advancements mentioned above. To put it plainly: it offers a super smooth, super-fast user experience, which of course is not to be ignored when deciding on a phone to film with. 

The iPhone 13 Pro Max makes the editing process as streamlined as it could possibly be on a phone. These models include ProRes, which provides professional-looking shots that are ready to be edited right away. You can even do the edits right on the phone, in either ProRes or Dolby Vision. Alternatively, you can edit using a software like Final Cut Pro on your Mac. Either way you choose, the iPhone 13 series makes the editing process more streamlined than ever before.   

Finally, the iPhone 13 Pro Max offers up to 1TB in storage capacity. This means that you’ll have plenty of room to store the photos and videos that you’re working on, without fear of slowing down the processing or dealing with an external storage system. And with a battery that lasts 2.5 hours longer than previous models, you’re setting yourself up for a nice, long shoot day (or night). 

Image: Apple via Youtube

Best for: The iPhone 13 Pro Max is an ideal choice for filmmakers who plan to do a lot of filming at night or outdoors, since it offers great light-capturing capacity. It’s also a great choice for those who want to keep their workflow on the phone itself (including edits), since it offers the ability to manage footage in either ProRes or Dolby Vision. If you’re interested in Cinematic Mode, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is ideal for taking advantage of it — and being able to see it happen on the large display. 

iPhone 13 Pro

The iPhone 13 Pro is another amazing option for shooting video. That’s because it offers every feature that the Pro Max offers — but with a smaller screen and a bit of a shorter battery life. The Pro includes roughly 22 hours of video playback, while the Pro Max offers roughly 28 hours’ worth. 

This means that you can shoot in Cinematic Mode, take advantage of the incredible Night Mode capabilities, enjoy the advancements in the three-camera system, and film in ProRes or Dolby Vision. You’ll just be doing all of these things with a phone that has a smaller screen at 6.1”. 

Image: Apple | The iPhone 13 Pro

Best for: Like the iPhone 13 Pro Max, the iPhone 13 Pro is an ideal choice for serious filmmakers and videographers, as it contains the camera advancements and processing advancements of the “big sister” version. For those who prefer a smaller, more manageable display size and who aren’t as concerned about losing the extra hours of battery life that the Pro Max provides, this is a solid, top-of-the-line option.

iPhone 12 Pro Max

While the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Pro are the interesting, shiny new additions to Apple’s repertoire, the iPhone 12 Pro Max continues to be a strong, solid choice for film- and documentary-making. Here’s why.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has another great camera system that was much-improved over the models before it. Like the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Pro, it contains the three-camera system that makes Apple’s cameras as innovative as they are. The camera system uses Night Vision as well as Deep Fusion, meaning that the texture, clarify, and sharpness of the imagery is clear and crisp. 

The iPhone 12 Pro series was the first to introduce Dolby Vision recording right on the phone. An HDR format, Dolby Vision is what lets the phone adjust the metadata it’s collecting in real time, so that filmmakers don’t have to manage that during editing or post-production. This is a boon (and a time-saver) for those who are looking for a solid system. 

With the iPhone 12’s introduction to LiDAR technology, filmmakers can use it for visual effects needs like set design and prop planning and usage. By using LiDAR-focused apps, this kind of pre-filming planning can happen right on the phone, keeping the workflow contained and consistent. 

Like the iPhone 13 models, the iPhone 12 offers 5G capabilities (and was the first in Apple’s lineup to do so). This means that when tapping into 5G, speed — and processing in general — may be improved. When used for filmmaking, 5G can improve the production process overall, so that editing using an app on the phone is smoother and more reliable than before. 

Image: Apple

Best for: The iPhone 12 Pro Max remains a strong iPhone for creators looking to keep workflow in one place and take advantage of innovations like Dolby Vision and LiDAR. If your production isn’t heavy in human subjects, or you feel you wouldn’t often use Cinematic Mode, we’d recommend the iPhone 12 Pro Max. 

As with every piece of technology, the iPhone you choose for filmmaking is personal to your preferences and your project. If you need help deciding which one to rent, let us know. We’re happy to walk you through each device and recommend the one that’s best for you. 

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