A crucial part of preparation for a film is deciding how to shoot or “lens” the picture – what choice of lenses or cameras you use will make a difference to not only the look of the final film but how you will shoot it.

Our current project A SHAMROCK AT MY SIDE will involve filming in very small restricted spaces. Not only will several key scenes be shot inside the cramped confines of a Spitfire cockpit, one scene will also be shot on a real 1930’s bus and many of the set-pieces we will be using are working museums with very small rooms. So, the smaller our equipment, the better.

Like every other film-maker out there, we’ve been hearing a lot about the iPhone 13 Pro’s new “cinematic” camera. In fact, it seems that Apple’s biggest selling point on their new release is that it’s a “Hollywood camera” in your pocket, making it a very big draw for us when thinking about cameras.

Of course, when it comes to ads selling a product, you have to take it all with a pinch of salt, but, if you’ve read our previous blogs on smartphone filmmaking, you’ll know we are big believers in the potential of them as film cameras and have been impressed with the footage we’ve captured.

iPhone 13 pro with SmallRig cage.

Another thing that we had read that made a big impression on us, regarding the iPhone 13 pro, was its impressive low light ability. To be honest, we were not expecting overly great results in this department because of the camera’s tiny sensor compared to a dedicated camera, but the results did indeed turn out to be very impressive.

But, the most exciting thing about the iPhone 13 for us was the ability to capture footages in Apples ProRes format in 10 bit (as opposed to the 8 bit H.264 format of previous iPhones). ProRes is a far more robust format for colour grading, making it the codec of choice for most professional video editors, ourselves included (when not shooting in RAW format).

Below are two stills from test footage we shot in very low light conditions. It is undeniably impressive, even if a little too silky smooth, but that’s easily fixed in post by adding some film grain to get that more organic film look.

Stills from iPhone 13 low light video test

For shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, a good ND filter is essential. An ND filter is designed to give greater control over the amount of light that ends up on the camera’s sensor, while maintaining the image’s colour, tone and contrast.

After shopping around for the best quality one, we settled on the “Motion Variable Filter” from Sandmarc (shipped from America). In their own words, “the Motion Variable filter is Created with durability in mind, engineered from a cinema glass yielding true to life colours, accurately adjusting exposure”.

The filter certainly has the look and feel of a high quality product and it comes with a clip mount for easily attaching it to the phone.

But it was disappointing to discover that we couldn’t use it with the cage from SmallRig that we had purchased for attaching other accessories while filming.

Motion Variable ND Filter from Sandmarc attached to the iPhone 13 pro via a clip mount

We decided to get another rig from a company called Andycine, it’s made of aluminium and feels pretty solid.

iPhone13 Pro in the Andycine rig with Motion Variable ND Filter attached.

As impressed as we’ve been with our test shooting, we still don’t believe a smartphone will replace a dedicated cinema camera just yet, but the iPhone 13 pro certainly gives many of them a run for their money – when used in the right conditions and by someone who knows how to get the best out of the captured footage in post.

Below is a short video of test footage we shot wth the iPhone 13 Pro.

Talking of dedicated cinema cameras, for SHAMROCK, we’ve decided to also shoot on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4k camera, again based on the fact we have always been big fans of the images the original Blackmagic camera captured and its reasonably small size – it certainly will not fit in someone’s pocket when rigged up for professional filming!

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema camera rigged up and ready for action

Once again, our faith in Blackmagic’s Cinema camera was quickly proved right when taking the camera out to shoot some test footage. For us, nothing really comes close to the Blackmagic when it comes to capturing that old school film look that we love so much.

The new RAW format Blackmagic have developed (BRAW) is incredibly small in file size considering the information it’s holding. You can read a great article on what exactly RAW is and why it’s such a great choice for professional colour grading here.

Still from a low light test with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K camera, shooting in RAW format

Of course, with a camera like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema, you’re going to need to buy a fair number of accessories (something to bear in mind when buying any new camera really, if you want to make it cinema ready).

First on the list was batteries – as was the case with the Blackmagic Original Pocket Cinema camera, the battery life is shockingly short. instead of buying lots of spare BMPCC 4K batteries, we opted to get a “battery plate adapter” which allows us to use high capacity Sony F970 batteries as these will last a lot longer.

The battery plate we went for was the one made by Tilta – not the cheapest make out there, but certainly the best in terms of build quality.

Next on the list would be a good cage/rig. This allows you to attach accessories such as small lights, microhomes, monitors etc to the camera. Lucky for us, a Tilta cage was included in the price of our camera.

Alongside ND filters, when shooting outside in bright sunlight with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K you’ll going to need a sun hood for the camera’s built in monitor. We opted to once again go for Tilta.

Blackmagic Pocket 4k Cinema camera with Titla cage, battery plate (on top handle) and sun hood.

We’d like to finish this blog by saying a huge thank you to Tony Ellis for his generous donations and continued support.