Why I will be ordering an Apple iPhone 12Pro immediately.

 I'll admit that I've acted like one of those recalcitrant photographers from the early years of this century who claimed that digital would never supplant film, that analog photographs would always be superior to electronic files, and so on. But my Luddite tendencies have never been aimed at film versus digital (we started shooting commercially with digital cameras back in 1998) rather I've been a reluctant convert to the relevance, convenience and quality of smart phones. 

A number of years ago some wag created a category of image making he called, "iPhoneography" and the whole idea back then left me cold. The phones didn't have the resolution I thought they would need and the video wasn't nothing to write home about, not to mention that storage was small and expensive. But that's all changed. And the ascendancy of photography and video production with phones is being hammered in conclusively with the launch of the iPhone 12 Pro (but was evident with the iPhone 10 and 11 models too!). 

One of my video producer friends sent me a link last week that showed an interview with famous cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, and about 3 and a half minutes of wonderful video that Lubeski shot with the new iPhone 12 Pro. It also has him doing a voiceover and explaining why he feels that the new phone will change filmmaking forever. Before undertaking any knee-jerk reactions just watch and listen to what he says: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3m07zMRXXP0

Yes, the video is sponsored by Apple but "Chivo" (Lubezki) is a much sought after cinematographer with a tremendous record of achievement and it's not likely at all that his opinion was "bought." And, yes, it's true that part of the reason the video looks so great is the combination of: great locations, great models, potentially hundreds of thousand of dollars of support equipment (professional level drones, cranes, specialty lighting, etc.) but the fact remains that the files coming out of the new camera are impressive in their own right. Lubezki's great work should be seen as something aspirational, after all, he's using the exact same camera and lens that you can pick up in the next few weeks from your favorite cellphone service provider for around $1K. 

To say that it's cheating to show work that was created out of a support-rich environment is like saying that having 30 years of daily, hands-on experience is unfair. The tool is neutral. It creates quality based on what the operator brings to the project. The phone itself isn't a magic wand.... And is actually a democratizing addition to the whole world of filmmaking. 

But back to that "magic wand" thing. What attracts me to the new phone are things that I would loved to have used on projects over the last few months. The first one being 4K, 60fps HDR footage. The images coming off the 12 Pro are in some ways more beautiful in their dynamic range than any of the best, under $5,000 traditional hybrid cameras which, in order to match the 12 Pro have to be used in V-Log and then meticulously color graded in long and grueling post production sessions. The difference is that the iPhone 12 Pro is doing all the work with in-camera processing and showing you the finished product on screen, as you shoot. It's the first phone to offer video in 10 bit, 4:2:2 and it's a wonderful to carry around and use on small, lightweight (but very effective) gimbals. 

While I might still need traditional video cameras for commercial work it's mostly because, for now, I need to be able to plug in and use professional XLR connected microphones to record traditional interviews. I need long, fast lenses for situations like this evening when I'll need to shoot from a static position but cover a waist up or mid-torso up close-up of a stage performer from 50 feet away. Maybe, just maybe, my full frame cameras will have less noise at the higher ISOs I'll need to use this evening. But, maybe Apple's incredibly fast A14 processor will be able to stack multiple frames in real time and make the noise a non-issue. We'll know when we get hold of one. 

The new camera comes with three lenses as well as LIDAR for low light and no light focusing. The lenses have some optical zoom range but I haven't dived into those numbers yet.

The model I have in mind is the 12 Pro. There is a bigger one called the 12 Pro Max but it's too big for me to comfortably use as a day-to-day phone, and it's more expensive but doesn't really have any additional production-oriented features. The price for the one I want is $999. I'll select the graphic finish for mine. I'm not really a big fan of bright colored phones and if I wanted to momentarily become aesthetically flamboyant I can always toss on a cute protective case covered with something topically current. 

Of course the new phone won't replace every camera on every shoot but I can't imagine that I'll want to use anything else again on a gimbal. I can't imagine that anything else will be as convenient and comfortable to use. 

To the caveat about audio and the need to use external microphones, does anyone imagine that a bluetooth or wi-fi app won't soon be available that will allow the wireless connection of mixers and microphones that will provide the same level of control we currently enjoy with our big, double-use (photos and video) cameras right now?

The technology that Apple is delivering in the new products is just stunning. And it's not just "potential" or advertising stunning; you see amazing results from current iPhones in real life all the time. 

If filmmaking gets technically easier and easier then great ideas get more and more valuable. The barriers to entry continue to fall; which is neither good nor bad. You can reject the change or embrace it. It doesn't matter. I'm on board because I've already seen what a two generations older iPhone can do on a gimbal. 

A filmmaking powerhouse that really fits in a pocket and creates stuff in a way we would have thought was magic just a few (very short) years ago amazes me. Please deliver mine now. 

Funniest comment I've read about the phones so far. Of course from a DP Review commenter:

"If it doesn't have dual card slots I'm out." 

I have to assume that was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.


Gato said...

OK, you sold me. Dammit. This plus the still photos I see coming from my friends' phones has me convinced.

I've been saying my next major camera purchase would be a phone, and this sounds like the one. I've never been an Apple fan, but I can change. Specially if it gets me better photos or video with less effort. And less gear to schlep around.

Look forward to seeing what you do with it and hearing more about how it works out for you.

Mark the tog said...

I just got an 11 a week ago (yes I knew the 12 was coming) and it is a delight.

However, I would note that even though I take almost zero video, my (now dead) iPhone 7 delivered astonishing, stabilized video.

As a proud grandfather (wow makes me sound old) I have made a number of delightful videos as I chased my extremely lively grand daughter across hill and dale. The 11 and 12 will only add to the abilities of funds challeneged film makers. I am excited for those young creatives that have access today to the capabilities of even the older models.

Raptor7 said...

I think that the 12 Pro Max has bigger sensors in the cameras, so the high ISO should be better than the one in the 12 Pro. You should check it...

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Thanks Raptor7, I'll check that out carefully. Thanks for the heads up.

Ray said...

I can understand Cannon and Nikon clinging to older ways but I'm disappointed in Sony and Panasonic for not fully embracing the absolutely very latest greatest bleeding-edge video technology. I would think anything a cell phone can do, a large sensor camera really should do better, but it's almost like the entire camera industry has a communal death wish.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Ray, I've been thinking that a lot lately. A lot of what it boils down to is that the smaller sensors are able to read and write much quicker coupled with Apple's A14 processor tech which is so, so, so much faster than the processors in just about any other image device at any price.

Anonymous said...

Kirk wrote, "A lot of what it boils down to is that the smaller sensors are able to read and write much quicker coupled with Apple's A14 processor tech ... "

A recent Lens Rental podcast included an interview with "Mark Weir, Senior Manager in Technology and Marketing at Sony" who addressed that very problem/solution.

"One of the great advantages of having just the right number of pixels is you can get data off the sensor very rapidly which can be a huge benefit. Not only for rolling shutter reduction and for auto-focus performance." He used the example of (from memory) getting data off the sensor when doing 4k, 120 fps video.


Michael Matthews said...

I’d be next in line if it were not for the cost. Budget is blown for now...maybe the next iteration will be even more enticing.

Joel Bartlett said...

I think you should take a look at Pro Max too. According to the Apple material and https://www.macrumors.com/guide/iphone-12-pro-vs-iphone-12-pro-max/, Pro Max has bigger pixels, bigger sensor, better low-light images, and a different OIS system.

Jeff said...

Do you have any interest in the iPhone as a still camera or are you just looking at video?

Anonymous said...

If you or some of your readers are active military or veterans they can qualify for a discount by ordering from Apple's military and veterans store. https://www.apple.com/shop/browse/home/veterans_military

Gary said...

Does anyone know what's the diff between the 12 and the 12 Pro, for photographers? Thanks in advance.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Gary, I looked carefully through the specs for both phones and I came away with two main things. One is that the Pro will shoot a higher video spec letting you get to 60 fps with HDR. The second is the inclusion in the Pro of LIDAR and also the addition of a third, longer "telephoto" lens. It's only the equivalent of a 65mm but hey. The LIDAR will enable focusing in just about any light and is combined with object detection which should improve AF tracking. Anyone else find some other differences?

TMJ said...

Stunning! Although I just kept thinking, stay away from the very edge.

Just happens I need a new iPhone, so many thanks for making my choice so simple Kirk.

Wayne said...

I'd wait to see the reviews before buying sight unseen. I remember seeing some reviews of the iPhone 11 a year ago, about how the processor is so fast that it can film 4K60P at 120FPS in extended dynamic range (i.e. every frame is an average of two exposures.) But some of the final results that I saw on YouTube were underwhelming. Though it could retain a lot of details in skies that were blownout by a Sony A7III, I still felt the overall contrast and colors were a bit mushy, that natural shadows were completely flattened out.

Do you currently shoot with Filmic Pro and the cinematographer add-on? I really like the low-key look of the video files filmed in Log V2 mode. I find the videos files filmed with the stock Camera app to be way too contrasty and oversharpened.

Maybe you should wait until Filmic Pro gets updated and some reviews get posted.

Larry Watson said...

As I understand it, the difference between the 12 Pro and the 12 Pro Max is that the Max 26mm lens gets sensor shift stabilization, while the regular size Pro doesn't get sensor shift. Also for the 26mm lens, the Pro Max gets a larger sensor. The Max has a 1.7 pixel pitch and the regular Pro has a 1.4 pixel pitch (only for the 26mm sensor). For the "telephoto" lens: the Pro gets a 65mm equivalent and the regular Pro gets a 52mm equivalent. I like the size of the regular Pro, but prefer the camera specs for the Pro Max.

RT-CA said...

That’s not quite right. Apple made it confusing this year by having three different camera systems.

12 vs Mini: no difference
12/Mini vs Pro: Pro adds a ~52mm equivalent f2 lens/sensor, LIDAR for supposedly better AF, and the ability to do Dolby Vision HDR at 4K60 instead of ‘just’ 4K30 (due to the extra RAM the Pro models have).
12 Pro vs Pro Max: the telephoto lens/sensor is 65mm-equivalent f2.2 instead, the ‘wide’ 1x sensor is bigger, and has IBIS, not OIS, which all the other iPhone 12 models have.

I’m looking forward to reviews to see how much those improvements make a difference.

urbanviewphoto@gmail.com said...

Hey Kirk,

Excellent post. With regards to the latest iPhone 12 Pro...

We've been shooting professionally since 2011. Not too long after, we found Chase Jarvis's excellent book "The Best Camera is the One That's With You", and with the rise of iPhoneography, we realized phone cameras were not just a passing fad. Nevertheless, we discounted iPhones as serious photographic tools (back then) and embraced the DSLR world. Choosing Nikon, we soon had clients and were working with full-frame cameras. We shot Olympus mirrorless for our personal projects, but soon employed the EM1 for our client work as well. We saw the mirrorless wave coming on, and after a few years, got our hands on a full-frame mirrorless camera and never looked back.

Meanwhile, the iPhone improved…we’ve owned one or another iPhone since 2012. While on a shoot for a client, the developer asked us to photograph a particular building in the Bronx, while he shot the same building with his iPhone 8. They used our images, but when we compared ours to his, they were not that different. Another time, while at Port Canaveral on vacation, we spied a young woman doing acrobatics in front of the Port Canaveral museum, while her friends took photos of her escapades with their iPhones. We offered to take a "professional portrait", which she agreed to. It was at dusk, so we had to tweak the D850 to get the best exposure. Our image was good and she posted it on her Instagram feed, but when we looked at her friend's photos...they were surprisingly good for nighttime photos.

Recently, we’ve been called on to do more video. After much wrangling, we decided to invest in a Ninja V and use the external video capabilities of the Z6. After spending over $1000 for the recorder/monitor, cage, batteries, etc, we have a working rig - that weighs over 10 pounds. Putting this on a handheld gimbal is out of the question...we chose to use a monopod and video head (one you recommended, btw, the Sirui VH-10X). And even with all that, we still have to spend an additional $200 to have our camera ready to record Apple ProRes Raw. Fast forward to today...we just finished reading all the specs on the upcoming iPhone 12 Pro. So, what do we consider necessary to produce compelling video? IBIS, Auto-Iso capability, 10-bit Pro Log, Pro Res Raw recording, 4K 60P, HDR video, pro level audio, and a few other "minor" things like superior recording time (not limited to 30 minutes), ability to use LUTs, etc.

So...back to the iPhone 12 Pro:
- IBIS/Sensor Shift
- Auto-ISO
- Auto-White Balance
- 10-bit Pro Log/Pro Res Raw
- 4K 60p
- HDR video footage
- Pro level Audio
- Unlimited Recording Time
- Ability to use LUTs (in post)
Can the iPhone 12 Pro deliver? We think so. But don't take our word for it. In the words of 3-time Academy Award winner Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki, "These new cameras are extraordinary in the sense that they are almost starting to think. One of the things that is really exciting about the iPhone Pro is that you have Dolby Vision HDR in real time...so you are able to see an image that is already color corrected… I think the next great cinematographer...is already making movies with one of these devices."

We will be in line next week when the iPhone 12 Pro is released. If nothing else, we plan to see first-hand if the excitement is indeed warranted.

One nagging doubt persists, however; will a client be willing to pay to watch a photographer use an iPhone - regardless of its whiz-bang capability? Time will tell.

Regardless, as professionals, we no longer believe we can safely ignore these devices. They continue to improve. The camera world (Canon, Sony, Nikon, et al) must adapt. Just as cameras evolved from film to digital, from DSLR to mirrorless, so they must evolve again in order to remain relevant.

Frank Villafane & Rose Rios

Robert Roaldi said...

I can't help but think back to your comment the other day about how you are bored with modern movies. This is happening at a time when the hardware barrier to making movies is coming down all the time, so you'd think that producers could then devote more of their budget to the writers or or other creative thinkers since they don't need to spend as much on the equipment.

I haven't been to a movie theatre in about 10 years and rarely watch one at home. But I have been watching lots of serious episodic TV. There's less tendency to flog special effects at 14 year olds on TV, for the moment anyway.

FoToEdge said...

I will be ordering the iPhone 12Pro Max in November to get the much larger sensor with the little bit longer telephone lens which is what I have been waiting for. I'll give my iPhone 11Pro Max to my wife and get her upgraded from her iphone 8+. My 11Pro Max has given me Color and Details that I have not duplicated on my Digital Cameras. Plus There is extra picture to each image outside of the border of the picture, saving the day many times. Unbelievable Gear!

crsantin said...

I have the 11 Pro Max and I happily use it to shoot stills and video. I've taken some nice protraits with my iPhone, easily as nice as anything I've done with a regular camera. I don't use it exclusively but I do not hesitate to use it and in some situations the results I get from it are preferable to what I might get from a mirrorless camera. Lots of great apps to help get the most from the iPhone. I may not get the 12 Pro but when I am ready for my next new phone it may be the one that gets me away from traditional cameras and lenses. For personal video the 11 Pro is more than up to the task for my work, letting me worry about traditional cameras for stills only.

Thomas Hill said...

Tom's Guide has a good breakdown of the similarities and differences between the Pro and the Pro Max: https://www.tomsguide.com/news/iphone-12-pro-vs-iphone-12-pro-max

Peter B said...

As an old cinematographer, I'm amazed about what the little iPhone 12 Pro can do. The little video puff piece, however, doesn't really impress me. I see it as a fashion shoot with movement, not a movie. Except for a few shots, the scenes aren't cinematographically challenging: just one person ambling about in a desert.
And do I really want footage with every setting automatically baked into the images? A bit like shooting the next generation jpegs rather than raw.
The video "Tangerine" was shot with an earlier version iPhone. There I was quite impressed. So there is hope for the iPhone 12, in spite of the vapid puff piece.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Peter, I guess my first question is: "what's wrong with a fashion shoot?" Second, you can use Filmic Pro to put in as much or little baked in stuff as you want. You might have also missed the announcement that they'll be adding raw files in the near future. What exactly does it mean to you to have a scene be: "Cinematically challenging?" There are more than one promo peice out there about the video capability of the camera. I've seen images of one mounted on a truck going down a dirt road filming horses in slow motion that was absolutely amazing.

I'm not sure what you were watching the promotional video (not a feature film; not billed as a feature film) on but you do know that stuff on the web gets compressed and flattened out. It's never going to be the same as watching a movie projected.

Finally, "vapid puff piece"? Really? If that's your standard for something worthy of disdainful derision, of a quick promo, I'm going to guess you've never sampled the stuff offered up on YouTube....

Why don't you buy an iPhone 12 and see what it can do for yourself. Maybe all the stuff you watched and didn't like was a stylistic difference of opinion. You could fix that....

Craig Yuill said...

You published this the very day I went out and got an iPhone 11 - the two-lens variety. The “12” models look enticing. But my six-year-old Sony Xperia decided to die on me a couple of days ago, and I need a phone NOW.

I tend to be budget conscious. I was looking at the SE and Xr models, but went with an 11 because it is only a bit more than an Xr (still a good phone) but has more RAM, a faster and newer processor, and (most important) night mode and improved video specs. The 12’s should be even better - but equivalent models will cost noticeably more.

With the announcement of the 12’s, the prices of the 11’s dropped a bit. Anyone who is interested in getting a pre-12 iPhone should take note that ALL iPhones will no longer come with a charger or earbuds. The Apple Store rep who sold me an 11 found a box that still had a charger and earbuds - a pleasant surprise.

DGM said...

Thanks for the heads-up! This generation looks like it has got me. I currently use a little LG flip phone that does not even have a camera. My daily shooter is the Fuji GFX 50R. When Fuji comes out with their GFX 100R, I will probably grab that, since I have the lenses I want already.

However, I have been wrestling with the video decision for some time. Reluctant to jump into any of the current crop of hybrid super cameras and loathe to get back into dedicated video cameras, this looks like the one for me!

Thanks again,

Anonymous said...

Shure has an extremely flexible and overlapping MS-pattern system designed specifically for use with Smartphones (MOTIV series and apps). With raw recordings, you can even adjust the resulting steroe/mono and directional pattern in post. Comes with both Lightning and USB-C connectors (audio is digitally transmitted to the pghone), and the microphone has a dedicated output for 3.5 mm stereo headphone connection. I use an in-ear super light set.


Sound is very good in my view, and the size beats hauling around my huge, classic Beyerdynamic supercaridoid ribbon microphones any day - even my large condensers with accompanying cables, adapters and mounting gear.

A nice touch is, that one can lock settings (in the app), allowing use in anything capable of recording from USB, where mic configuration is impossible.

I have a set of cheap dead cats (covering the "naked" microphone or microphone including "windscreen"); they're better than nothing, but not (quite) professional quality (and not priced like that either)


I've used the kit in a lot of tricky situations (audio, physically, environment) and I've come to prefer the RAW recording, which allows near perfect audio massage, if required, back at the desk.

I've found no comparable travel kit. Weight is small, usability high, sound quality very good.

I use the microphone with FiLMiC Pro on iPhone or Android, as well as my prerferred iPhone App Mavis. And - of course - for audio only recordings of very high quality. Recording on Mac and PC is no problem either, and the accompanying microphone cables can be extended by a simple micro-USB 2 extender between microphone and Shure cables (making final connection of no concern).

Try it. You'll probably not find a better "lightweight travel kit"

Michael Matthews said...

One more yelp in the chorus of praise for the iPhone 12 sample video: the color. Wide spectrum, vivid yet realistic where not shot or graded for effect. Let us join now in launching a sweeping wave of reform — “Repeal Orange And Teal!”. Lose those cheesy LUTs.