So why did Apple go to all that ‘trouble’ to shoot this week’s keynote with an iPhone? And by ‘trouble’ I mean all that lighting and production stuff usually reserved for fancy cameras worth $50-thousand. The truth is, the production setup was no different to a normal professional shoot at Apple HQ.
So it was probably no trouble at all.
I believe Apple wanted a lasting impression after the show. That little ‘oh really’ understated response from the viewer. Apple waited until the very end of the keynote to drop a little credit that eagle-eyed creators pounced upon.
They wanted to see if you noticed during the presentation that something was different. And you know what? No one did. And that proved the point better than any press release or testimonial by a DP. The iPhone, in good lighting, is a superb video camera. And now it’s even better with the introduction of Apple Log, USB-C for external recording and pro apps like Blackmagic Camera.
“We were able to get the same complex shots with iPhone 15 Pro Max,” said documentary film director Brian Oakes. Oakes led the production team with with multiple iPhone 15 Pro Max devices.
“It’s amazing to see that the quality from a device that is so small and so portable can rival a large $20,000 camera.”
COULD YOU TELL?
I was streaming the event in 1080P via YouTube on a 4K Samsung TV but didn’t give a second thought. I do remember thinking I liked the look. It was different, but in a good way. The night setting at Apple Park was new too – so there was no direct comparison to previous events.
When something is shot well on a small device it can be hard to tell the difference when it comes to a more expensive, professional camera. Especially when well lit. The issue comes when you attempt to push the phone’s camera beyond its capabilities. I often quote Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry when advising people on camera choices.
“A man’s got to know his limitations”
Dirty Harry – Magnum Force
Apple knows exactly what the iPhone is capable of so you’ll never see a poor result from one of these events. Even the drone was brilliantly executed.
“This year, iPhone 15 Pro Max was supercharged with the ability to record ProRes to an external drive, and Apple Log, our flavour of a format that all of the very high-end digital cameras shoot,” said Jeff Wozniak, who has worked on productions including Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Avatar, and Iron Man 2.
The crew reported nothing out-of-the-ordinary with the keynote shoot. It was just like any other professional gig. The production used Tentacle Sync to synchronise audio for editing later on. Connected via Bluetooth, Tentacle Sync drives timecode and enables all devices on set — including Macs and preview screens — to be synced throughout the production. Beastgrip accessories, including cages and rigs, were also used during the production.
“There’s cranes, there’s dollies, there’s all the toys that you want as a filmmaker, and everybody’s moving and has their job to do, and it’s just a very exciting and lively environment,” added Oakes.
iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max are the first smartphones in the world to support the Academy Colour Encoding System (ACES), a global standard for colour workflows. But the big change that allows long shoots like this is USB-C. iPhone 15 Pro Max can transfer data up to 10Gbps with a compatible USB 3 cable. This supports new workflows like ProRes video recording directly to an external SSD drive, allowing the crew to review footage in near real time and make adjustments on the fly. ProRes Log encoding allows for better dynamic range and better flexibility for colour grading in post-production.
Apple’s so far resisted adding pro features to the native camera app for video. They have added important settings like PAL/25P recording (something I asked for when in California for an Apple event – so I’m taking the credit). But when it comes to a pro-like experience, Apple has been happy to let companies like Blackmagic Design take the lead. This camera app, covered here on Image Matrix Tech, is so good that Apple used it on the keynote.
“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes working with a great third-party developer, Blackmagic Design, that has created an incredible app that allows us to have huge amounts of monitors and crew, and everybody working how they traditionally would,” says Apple’s Jon Carr, a Pro Workflow video specialist whose credits include Top Gun: Maverick and Terminator: Dark Fate.
The takeaway is simple. The iPhone is two phones in one. For those with zero camera knowledge – you’ll get a great result with the native camera app. For those with expert knowledge – you’ll get a professional result, as long as you shoot to the phones limitations.
The following quote sums it up nicely from Stefan Sonnenfeld, Company 3’s CEO, who coloured the presentation and has worked on projects including Stranger Things, The Equaliser 3, and Fast X.
“I think what I love about the iPhone is it enables everybody who uses it to have access to incredible amounts of information, and with a really intuitive operating system, so that whether it’s myself or my 7-year-old, anybody can pick it up and pretty much use it right away.”
So well played Apple, the iPhone is still the king when it comes to video.