Why the iPhone 13’s Video Camera Is a Big Deal for Everyone

Nobody is left out

Key Takeaways

  • Rumors say the iPhone 13 will get video portrait mode and ProRes video format.
  • Portrait mode will make a home video look like a Hollywood movie.
  • ProRes video will make professional videographers very, very happy.
Someone using video marking board.

Jon Tyson / Unsplash

The iPhone 13 will change the way you shoot video.

According to reliable Apple rumormonger Mark Gurman, the iPhone 13 will bring Apple’s excellent background-blurring portrait mode to video. It also will add a new high-quality recording format called ProRes, along with a new system of color-enhancing filters for both photos and video. This will be a significant upgrade for the iPhone’s already impressive video camera, but will professionals want a gimmicky portrait mode?

"I think like most software-based advancements in the history of filmmaking, we will see a lot of purists plug their noses and dismissively say that a feature like portrait mode coming to video on iPhones won't make much of a difference at all," Ishaan Mishra, a design director TikTok, told Lifewire via email.

"To me, I believe the opposite is true, as computational photography improves and algorithms and software get better at being able to close that gap between analog and digital, we will see increased use."

Pro iPhone Video

The iPhone captures amazing video and already has been used to shoot major feature films from directors like Steven Soderbergh. Recent revisions to the iPhone camera have improved low-light capture and added high-quality image stabilization. Now, Apple is adding portrait mode to the video camera. 

"In my opinion, the biggest thing on iPhone 13 is the ProRes and 48 million pixels, not the portrait video."

Portrait mode is the feature that calculates the depth of the elements in a scene, detects the human subject, and then blurs the background. This mimics the shallow depth-of-field that occurs naturally in cameras with larger sensors, and most of the time, it looks great.

For you and me, having this feature in the video camera will elevate our home movies, giving them the look of a big-budget Hollywood production. But do actual Hollywood filmmakers want such a gimmick?

Even when it’s working well, portrait mode is glitchy. For example, it often thinks that a pair of spectacles should be part of the blurred background. This is fine for everyday snapshots, but not for pro video, and that may be good enough.

"As more and more beginners use this as their first touchpoint into learning more about depth of field and how to shoot video using this feature in a thoughtful way, I believe we will see some amazing innovations because of this feature," says Mishra. "This will lead to the bar being raised as people continue to learn and remix and improve the content they put out with this feature."

Running the iOS 15 beta, you can get a sneak peek of video portrait mode inside the FaceTime app. It’s not bad, and surely the iPhone 13’s new A15 chip will make it even better. 

Still, it almost doesn’t matter because there’s another feature that will totally change iPhone video for the pros, too.

Someone using an iPhone to record video.

Angela Compagnone / Unsplash

The Video Version of RAW

"In my opinion, the biggest thing on iPhone 13 is the ProRes and 48 million pixels, not the portrait video," Xiaodong Patrick Wang, creator of the Focos and Focos Live apps for the iPhone, told Lifewire via email. These apps allow users to blur the background of photos and video with more control than the built-in feature and even change the focus point after shooting. 

ProRes is Apple’s Emmy-award-winning video codec, used in its Final Cut editing software. ProRes combines high-quality, relatively low-storage needs, and presumably, the iPhone 13 hardware will be optimized to be even more compatible.

ProRes means that pro videographers will be able to extract the maximum quality and detail from the iPhone’s camera, giving them maximum flexibility in editing and post-production. Effectively it’s the video version of RAW photo files, which Apple added to the iPhone 12 Pro. If there’s anything that movie photographers love more than a small phone-sized camera, it’s options for screwing with their footage when they’re done shooting. 

Cameras are one of the most exciting parts of phones right now. The technology is getting significant yearly upgrades, and it looks like this will be a great year for iPhone video makers, whether professional or enthusiastic amateur.

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