Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” Lunar New Year short films always get to me. I’ve said before that I know that these short films are iPhone ads, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are effective at communicating the importance of the intersection of technology and liberal arts, as the late Steve Jobs was fond of bringing up.
In its sixth year, Apple’s shared a short iPhone film just ahead of Lunar New Year. Directed by Peng Fei, the 15-minute-ish “Through the Five Passes” film was shot with the latest iPhone 14 Pro. And like past Lunar New Year films, it’s an impressive showcase of how the iPhone’s video capture remains best in class. Buying an iPhone isn’t going to make you the next Steven Spielberg, but having camera features like Action mode, Cinematic mode, and three lenses on the 14 Pro does give you a strong toolset to start telling visual stories.
Less is more
The biggest misunderstanding people have with making films using an iPhone’s camera is not accepting its limitations. The iPhone 14 Pro is a very capable video camera, but it still has constraints. Almost everyone in the tech press mocked the iPhone 13’s Cinematic mode, which allows users to “rack focus” between two subjects. But as Fei demonstrates in “Through the Five Passes,” using such a mode with subtleness is key. Just because the iPhone has a bag full of camera tricks and features doesn’t mean the story or cinematography requires using all of them.
As Jobs famously said: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
Unique camera angles
Easily my favorite thing about these Lunar New Year films is the behind-the-scenes look at how the scenes were captured. Every director in the past has praised the iPhone’s compact design as a way to capture from new angles and Fei is no different. I took a few screenshots of my favorite:
No ProRes footage
One interesting nugget is that Fei didn’t shoot in ProRes with the iPhone 14 Pro. ProRes is the lossy video footage that allows for greater adjustments in the editing process. ProRes was highlighted as one of the reasons to get an iPhone 14 Pro over the regular iPhone 14/14 Plus.
There could be several reasons as to why “Through the Five Passes” was probably not shot with ProRes. One: the iPhone 14 Pro’s slow transfer speeds, which over Lightning are capped at USB 2.0 data transfer speeds of up to 480 Mbps. That’s supposed to change once Apple switches the iPhone to USB-C, which could push data speeds up to USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 4 speeds depending on what Apple decides on. But on iPhone 14 Pro, even if you shot 1TB worth of ProRes video, downloading them to a computer would be painfully slow.
And reason two: Action mode and Cinematic mode, two features Fei used are not available in ProRes format.
Bring Final Cut Pro to iPhone and iPad
One thing I noticed at the start of “Through the Five Passes” was the fine print: “Shot on iPhone 14 Pro. Additional hardware and software used. Professionally edited.” The last part stuck out to me. It’s well known that iPhones have the best video recording capabilities out of all smartphones, but editing the footage is another story.
It’s time for Apple to invest in the editing part, specifically making iMovie on iPhone and iPad better or bringing its Mac video editing app, Final Cut Pro, to iOS and iPadOS. I’m sorry, but Clips ain’t it. Creators have been clamoring for Apple to make a more feature-packed video editing app for iPhone and iPad, but the company has yet to do so. With DaVinci Resolve now on iPad, it’s really time for Apple to show how Final Cut Pro can harness the power of the silicon in its iPhones and iPads. What is the point of the A16 Bionic or M2 chips if there’s no software that can truly take advantage of their performance?
LumaFusion remains a great video editing app for iPad, but just imagine if this time next year, Apple can tout its 2024’s Lunar New Year film was shot and edited on iPhone 15 Pro (or 15 Ultra or whatever this year’s high-end iPhone will be called). That would be even more impressive.