NextPit

How to use Cinematic Mode on your iPhone — Now in 4K resolution

cinematic mode iphone hero
© NextPit

With the iPhone 13 (Pro) and iPhone 14 (Pro) series, you can shoot videos with a bokeh effect with the Cinematic mode. We explain how you can shoot beautiful videos with depth of field and how to edit them afterwards—on the iPhone 13 and 14 series, as well as on other devices.

You can usually tell right away if a video was shot with a smartphone or an "actual" camera. The big difference would be the selective focus, which lets the person filming choose whether to make the foreground or background float, literally focusing on the subject.

Jump to:

How does the Cinematic Mode work?

While smooth bokeh in the past required system cameras or professional camcorders with large sensors, you can also create a similar blur using software on modern smartphones. Yes, some Android smartphones have already been capable of filming video with bokeh for years: But it simply doesn't work in a user-friendly and clean manner on the competition as it does with the Cinematic Mode found in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 series.

The 'magic' is how the device records a depth map alongside the videos. Raw videos recorded by the smartphone are sharp from foreground to background. Now, if either the iPhone itself or the user sets the focus in the video, the Cinematic Mode will soften the spatial areas in front and behind.

Since the iPhone saves the videos in raw, the depth map and the defined focus point are separate from each other, allowing the focus of the video to be edited afterwards not only on the iPhone itself, but also on other devices.

As for the recording itself, Cinematic Mode is currently available for the wide-angle and telephoto cameras on the back, as well as the selfie camera. The following iPhones support Cinematic Mode: 

Cinematic Mode: How video recording works

Cinematic Mode is prominently featured in the Camera app of the new iPhones, located between the Video and Slow Motion modes. A tap will activate the respective mode, and the record button begins (surprise, surprise!) the recording.

By default, the camera app highlights all recognized faces and animals, for that matter, while recording. While the recording is running, the Cinematic Mode tries to determine the most active person and set the focus accordingly. However, you can also shift the focus manually by tapping on the display.

In the following video, you can see how the focus only changes automatically when Benjamin Lucks speaks to the camera in the foreground. Otherwise, Cinematic Mode keeps the focus on Fabien Roehlinger until we manually change it with a tap of our finger.

By the way, "manual focusing" works not only with people but also with objects. The Cinematic Mode then tracks them and keeps them in focus. With a long tap, you lock the "virtual autofocus" to a certain distance and thus keep, for example, a person or an object in the foreground in focus, no matter what is happening in the background.

Cinematic mode on iPhone
Hold your finger on a point in the display for a long time to activate the "AF Lock" in cinema mode. Ben can now speak into the camera as long as he wants - the focus remains on Fabi / © NextPit

Cinematic Mode offers the following setting options:

  • The curved "f" in the upper left stands for the focal ratio. The smaller the number, the stronger the bokeh effect. With the iPhone 13, "f2.0" offers the strongest background blur, with "f16" being the least.
  • With the flash icon on the bottom right, you can configure the video LED to "Always Off" or "Automatic". With the latter setting, the iPhone signals you before recording whether the LED is about to be activated or not.
  • The small "<" arrow brings the two above-mentioned settings to the right of the display, and also a "±" symbol for exposure correction when filming in Cinematic Mode.
  • Tapping on the "1x" will let you switch between the wide-angle and telephoto lens on the Pro and Pro Max variants. The double arrow at the top right switches to the selfie camera. The ultra-wide-angle cameras do not (currently) support Cinematic Mode.
  • The Cinematic mode also supports Dolby Vision HDR.

Cinematic Mode: How to activate and use 4K resolution on the iPhone 14 series

With the release of the Cinematic Mode, the resolution was limited to Full HD at 30 frames per second. However, Apple has beefed up the feature with the release of the iPhone 14 series. Now it's possible to shoot bokeh-rich videos in 4K resolution on the new iPhone 14 (Plus) and iPhone 14 (Pro). Note that on the ‌iPhone 13‌ series models, video in Cinematic Mode can be recorded only in 1080p at 30fps.

Users can access the feature by opening Camera > swiping to Cinematic Mode. However, the default resolution is at 1920 x 1080 pixels at 30fps. You need to enable the crisp 4K resolution right from the settings. Below are a few steps on how to activate and use the mode with a higher quality.

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Select Camera.
  3. Tap Record Cinematic.
  4. Choose 4K at 30fps or 4K at 24fps (film style).
Screenshots showing how to activate 4k Cinematic videos
iPhone 14 Pro Max: You can enable Cinematic Mode from the Camera section in Settings / © NextPit

Ultimately, 4K videos offer more details and sharper image quality. There are still downsides present with this option such as bigger output size that could be challenging for any iPhones 14 model with paltry 128 GB base storage. If you're just using the recorded cinematic footage for personal use, we still recommend the 1080p resolution that reduces the file size by a third.

Cinema Mode: How to edit your videos

The biggest advantage that Cinematic Mode has over the current competition: You can still adjust the focus in the videos after recording. This way, you can perfectly adjust the focus transitions according to the action recorded. By the way, editing after the fact works not only on iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 models, but also on the following Apple devices in the Photos app:

For macOS, Apple allows editing on the computer using Final Cut and iMovie. We also explain how to use iMovie to edit your Cinematic videos in this article. 

Edit Cinematic Mode videos on iOS

Editing videos on iOS is as simple as it gets. Simply open the clip in the Photos app and click "Edit". You will then see the video with the thumbnail timeline right below. What's new here is an additional timeline that shows when Cinema Mode automatically and manually changes the focus. Here you can add new focus changes or eliminate existing ones at will. In the following clip you can see how this works:

Edit Cinematic Mode videos on iMovie

The first thing to know about editing videos on another device - like a MacBook - is that you will have to send the clips via iCloud Photos or AirDrop. Otherwise, you'll lose the depth information that the iPhone stored in Cinematic Mode. Before doing that though, make sure that the option All Photos Data is toggled. Here is how to do that:

  • In the Photos app on your iPhone, open the Cinematic mode clip or select multiple clips, then tap the Share button
  • Tap Options at the top of the screen, turn on All Photos Data, then tap Done (you will need to turn this option on each time you transfer using AirDrop).
  • Tap AirDrop, then, in the Devices list, tap the Mac you want to transfer the clip to.
How to edit Cinematic videos with iMovie
Make sure that the option All Photos Data is toggled before sharing Cinematic Mode files on macOS / © NextPit

Also note that for each Cinematic clip that you transfer using AirDrop, a folder containing four files appears on the receiving Mac. In the folder, locate the MOV file that does not begin with “IMG_E,” then import it into iMovie.

How to use iMovie to edit Cinematic videos
Always import the "IMG_" and never the "IMG_E" for better editing experience / © NextPit

After importing your Cinematic video files into iMovie from a compatible iPhone, editing the videos using Apple's free video editor is easy. Simply open the right clip as a new iMovie project, drag and drop the clip into the video timeline, and select the camera icon on the top of the video preview.

After that, just select the box "Depth of field" and you will be able to manually changes the focus. Here you can add new focus changes or eliminate existing ones at will. All the steps are explained in the following video gallery:

Conclusion

In the 90s and 2000s, amateur videographers were still crafting DoF adapters for videos with bokeh. Then in the '10s, DSLRs and DSLMs democratized filming with depth of field. And now it's the turn for smartphones to experience this revolution. Sure, Huawei has had the feature on board since the Mate 20 while Samsung offered this option in the Galaxy S20 series. But let's be honest: Have you noticed this?

If you're interested in how other manufacturers are developing the video bukeh function, check out our Cinematic mode comparison between the iPhone 13, Vivo X80 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra models and draw your own conclusions regarding image quality.


The article was updated in September 2022 and the tutorial on how to activate and use 4K Cinematic Mode added.

Stefan Möllenhoff

Stefan Möllenhoff

I have been writing about technology since 2004 with a strong passion for smartphones, photography, and IoT, especially in the world of smart homes and AI ever since they debuted. I'm also an avid cook and bake pizza at least three times a week using my Ooni Koda 16. In order to compensate for all the consumed calories, I indulge in sporting activities on a daily basis while strapping on at least two fitness trackers. I am strongly convinced that you can DIY a lot of things if you put your mind to it - including a photovoltaic system and power station.

View all articles

Recommended articles

Liked this article? Share now!
Join the discussion

2 comments

Write new comment:
All changes will be saved. No drafts are saved when editing
Write new comment:
All changes will be saved. No drafts are saved when editing