How Apple Built the iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode

Great interview by Matthew Panzarino with Apple vice president Kaiann Drance and human interface designer Johnnie Manzari from Apple’s Camera team:

That’s not even counting tracking shots, where a focus puller is continually adjusting focus as the camera moves and even the subject moves in relation to the camera. It’s a highly skilled operation. To pull off a tracking shot, a focus puller must practice and train extensively for years. This, Manzari says, is where Apple sees an opportunity.

“We feel like this is the kind of thing that Apple tackles the best. To take something difficult and conventionally hard to learn, and then turn it into something automatic and simple.”

So the team started working through the technical problems in finding focus, locking focus and racking focus. And these explorations led them to gaze.

“In cinema, the role of gaze and body movement to direct that story is so fundamental. And as humans we naturally do this, if you look at something, I look at it too.”

So they knew they would need to build in gaze detection to help lead their focusing target around the frame, which in turn leads the viewer through the story. Being on set, Manzari says, allowed Apple to observe these highly skilled technicians and then build in that feel.

Panzarino includes this three-minute video consisting of nothing but Cinematic mode clips from the trip to Disneyland he took with his family to test the new iPhones. There are some really neat shots in the video — I particularly like the one around the 1m:32s mark with his kids on the carousel. That change in focus is exactly what Cinematic mode was meant for.

But the other thing that Panzarino’s video exemplifies is that you don’t have to work to use Cinematic mode. No help from someone else (let alone a crew), no extra lighting, no more difficult than just shooting a regular video mode clip. Something anyone could do — and might want to do — on a hectic day at a fun theme park. If you screw up the focus while shooting you can easily fix it — or just improve it — later.

Thursday, 23 September 2021