iPhone 13 Cinematic mode tested — here’s the pros and cons

iPhone 13 cinematic mode
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone 13's "wow" feature is definitely Cinematic mode, and it's available across all four new iPhones. In my iPhone 13 review I had a blast playing with this new video mode within the camera, which adds a bokeh effect to your videos.

But Cinematic mode isn't just the video equivalent of portrait mode for photos. There's much more going on here, and it wouldn't be possible (Apple says) without the advanced A15 Bionic processor.

Here's what you need to know about Cinematic mode for the iPhone 13 — and the pros and cons based on my testing. 

What is Cinematic mode on iPhone 13?

Cinematic mode is designed to bring a depth-of-field effect to your iPhone 13 videos by leveraging its A15 Bionic chip and advanced computational algorithms. Just as important, Cinematic mode can provide automatic focus changes when there's multiple subjects in the frame. The iPhone 13 is even smart enough to switch from one subject to another if, say, one person turns their head towards another.

The goal of Cinematic mode is to make your iPhone 13 videos look more immersive and dynamic. And while the iPhone 13 can switch focus between subjects automatically, you can tap on subjects as you shoot to direct where you want the focus to be. In addition, you can tweak the depth-of-field effect and the level of bokeh after you record in editing.

How do you use Cinematic mode on iPhone 13?

It's actually very easy to start using Cinematic mode on your iPhone 13. All you need to do is open the camera app and slide over to spots to the left where it says Cinematic. From there you just hit Record.

I would suggest that you try to position the iPhone 13 camera in front of your subject or subjects in such a way that you'll see the bokeh effect in action before you start shooting. You'll see a live preview of what your Cinematic mode footage will look like as you move your iPhone 13 around.

How good is the iPhone 13's Cinematic mode?

Overall, Cinematic mode footage looks pretty convincing in terms of the depth of field effect, and it's fairly remarkable how quickly the iPhone 13 processes a scene in real time with moving subjects. In one clip of me walking in a park, my face and green shirt in the foreground really popped, and the trees in the background were artfully blurred.

In another clip I recorded of two dogs, the iPhone 13 was smart enough to put the pup in the foreground in focus first as I approached. And I like how I could change the focus point on the fly with a tap of the display.

The only major drawback to Cinematic mode is that the footage is capped at 1080p, so you can't get 4K quality in this mode. However, since most social networks output at full HD, I don't think it's a huge deal in terms of sharing your creations.

The iPhone 13 can also get tripped up in terms of focus if there's subjects coming in and out of the frame, but it reacts fairly quickly. 

iPhone 13 Cinematic mode: Bottom line

A lot of times when people get a new iPhone they want to play with a feature that makes is stand out first. Cinematic mode is that feature, and I think it's a lot of fun. It's not perfect in terms of execution, but overall it's a remarkable demonstration of the A15 Bionic's power in the iPhone 13. 

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.