Cinematic Mode on iPhone Explained: What It Is & How It Works

The iPhone 13 Pro’s new feature lets you shoot movies like Hollywood pros.

Apple’s new iPhone 13 series has officially been unveiled. The new iPhone 13 series comes in a wealth of color options and new storage options. They also feature the faster A15 chipset (but sorry, still no under-screen Touch ID) and the Pro models come with MAJOR camera enhancements.

One of those camera enhancements is called Cinematic Mode. Cinematic Mode is a new feature on the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max that allows for some pretty cool Hollywood effects without you doing more than lifting a finger.

Those Hollywood effects revolve around the rack focus – and before the iPhone 13 Pro series, you’d need a professional film camera to pull off rack focus shots. But with the iPhone 13 Pro and Cinematic Mode, rack focusing on the iPhone is incredibly easy.

What Is A Rack Focus? 

Cinematic Mode on iPhone Explained: What It Is & How It WorksPin

In filmmaking, a rack focus is one of the oldest tricks in the book. A rack focus is when a subject in the shot (like a superhero) is in focus on the screen. However, when the meteor lands behind him, the focus suddenly shifts to that fallen space object, blurring the superhero in the frame in the process.

This change of focus on the subject (and subsequent blurring of the original subject) is known as a rack focus (or occasionally a focus pull). A rack focus is an essential tool when the filmmaker wants to direct the focus of the audience’s gaze to something new in the same shot.

On a film set, you pull off a rack focus by manually adjusting the lens on the camera – physically rotating it so the perfect focus goes from one subject to the next. A rack focus must be pulled off perfectly or else the shot will look funny. A rack focus can be too fast, too slow, or not crisply focus on the other subject as desired.

That’s why camera crews usually have a focus puller – a crew member dedicated to only doing rack focuses. It’s a highness specialized manual talent.

Well, it was until the iPhone 13 Pro came along.

Cinematic Mode Brings Rack Focus To The iPhone

Cinematic Mode on iPhone Explained: What It Is & How It WorksPin

With the iPhone 13 Pro series, Cinematic Mode brings the rack focus to the iPhone. But there isn’t much manual technique of the user involved. Instead, Cinematic Mode handles almost all of the rack focus manipulations automatically.

This is thanks to the powerful computational photography processes built into the iPhone 13 Pro series. To enable Cinematic Mode on the iPhone 13 Pro, in the Camera app, tap “Cinematic” and then do the following:

  • Tap on any part of the frame to focus on the subject you desire. When you tap on a subject, Cinematic Mode will artificially blur the rest of the frame.
  • (This part you don’t have to do anything): Cinematic Mode leverages the wide-angle camera when you are shooting video to keep a lookout for a new subject that is about to enter the frame in the lens that is recording the video. This means Cinematic Mode can know BEFORE a new subject enters the frame so it can be ready to pull focus to them when they appear.
  • (This part you don’t have to do anything): Now when another subject enters the frame, Cinematic Mode will automatically pull focus (rack focus) to them. But Cinematic Mode is smart. It knows that if you original subject that was in focus (say, a man) turned to look at the new subject (say, a woman), then when the man turns back to frame, Cinematic Mode will refocus onto them again.
  • Tap on any person in frame and then tap on them again. This will make sure Cinematic Mode tracks them no matter where they move in the shot – even if other subjects are in the shot too. This ensures the selected subject will always be in frame.
  • Cinematic Mode also lets you pull focus (rack focus) AFTER you’ve recorded the video in Cinematic Mode. This means you can play around with rack focusing even after you’ve shot the footage. 

Cinematic Mode is only available on the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max. It requires iOS 15 or later.

Michael Grothaus

Apple expert and novelist, Michael Grothaus has been covering tech on KnowYourMobile for the best part of 10 years. Prior to this, he worked at Apple. And before that, he was a film journalist. Michael is a published author; his book Epiphany Jones was voted as one of the best novels about Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Michael is also a writer at other publications including VICE and Fast Company.

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