Thanks to Filmic Pro, the iPhone is capable of recording in both Log (HEVC) and ProRes 422 HQ. Both formats have their pros and cons, and it’s important to know how to best use each.
I’ve been having fun experimenting with Filmic Pro and trying to really push the iPhone to its limits. Recently I shared this test shoot where I compare the iPhone to an Arri Alexa, and today I want to share another experiment.
Filmic Pro has offered Log recording for a long time, which is a favorite feature of many filmmakers. It creates the flattest possible starting point to maximize dynamic range, much like any dedicated cinema camera would.
But only more recently has it become possible to record ProRes internally on the iPhone with Filmic Pro. This is a massive achievement that can benefit not only your production workflow, but your post-pipeline too.
To put the new ProRes recording feature to the test, I shot a few side by side comparisons with each setting. Below I’ll unpack the results.
Log vs. ProRes 709 vs. ProRes 2020
Filmic Pro gives you the option to record in either 709 or 2020 color space when recording to ProRes.
709 is of course what most filmmakers are already well versed in, whereas ProRes 2020 is newer and more specifically optimized for an HDR workflow.
For the purpose of this quick test, I captured a handful of shots in ProRes HQ using both 709 and 2020. I then compared those against shots captured in Log / HEVC at the highest bitrate (Filmic Extreme).
No Log With ProRes
One important thing to note: There is no ability to shoot in Log color space while recording to ProRes on Filmic Pro.
For me, this is no big deal.
I actually prefer not to shoot in Log on the iPhone, as I don’t like monitoring with flat colors. Seeing contrast and color balance helps me make critical decisions about camera placement, framing, and lighting.
And as we’ll explore soon, there is no loss of dynamic range when shooting ProRes.
HD Resolution On Some iPhones
Resolution is another limitation of ProRes recording on Filmic Pro worth noting. In Log you can shoot up to 4K resolution, whereas with ProRes you are limited to 1920 x 1080 HD on the 128gb models. With larger phone capacities, you can record in 4K too.
For some this may be a big factor, but again for me, it’s really not a deal breaker.
I’ve never been one to chase the most resolution, and often prefer to work with 2K cameras anyways when shooting digitally.
The iPhone in is so sharp in 4K that it often needs to be softened in post to look its best. By shooting in HD, a bit of the harsh digital edge is naturally lost – which I kind of like.
Still, some projects need to be 4K for one reason or another, so definitely keep this in mind.
Log Vs. ProRes File Size
Before I get to the visual comparison, let’s briefly look at the file size difference between each recording format.
The 3 highlighted clips below are each exactly 6 seconds in length. They were shot in this order (top to bottom): 1. ProRes 2020, 2. ProRes 709, 3. HEVC Log.
Both versions of ProRes are almost identical in size at just over 120mb. The HEVC recording (in HD) is just 22mb, nearly 1/6th that of ProRes.
This file size difference is to be expected, as you’re capturing so much more data with ProRes. Below, we’ll see how it impacts the image, and whether the tradeoff is worth it.
When shooting in either version of ProRes, the dynamic range is quite strong. But there is no question that you get a boost when shooting in ProRes 2020 as it is designed for HDR.
I have to say though, the Log recording in HEVC holds up really well too. It seems to capture nearly as much dynamic range as ProRes.
Below is an HEVC shot next to ProRes 709 & 2020 shots. They’re not all that different with regard to dynamic range, at least straight off the camera –
The differences become more noticeable in post-production when pushing the contrast. That’s where you start to feel the limits of the more compressed format.
If you don’t plan to add much stylization to your footage, HEVC could do to the trick. It looks good straight out of the gate, even if less flexible when colored.
If you want to retain maximum flexibility in post though, ProRes is the way to go.
The difference between Log / HEVC recording and ProRes becomes slightly more apparent when looking at detail.
Take a look at the difference in detail in the rocks below. The image on the left is ProRes 2020, and on the right is HEVC. Both are zoomed in and cropped to the same degree:
Clearly there is more detail in the ProRes shot, making for a more subtle and natural image.
The HEVC footage was shot in HD resolution to make it an even comparison. In 4K, you will see some improvements, but remember that more resolution doesn’t necessarily mean more detail.
Again though, Log / HEVC definitely holds its own. Just because ProRes is a little stronger doesn’t mean it’s not capable of beautiful results too.
The bigger difference between formats is color quality, which we will explore next.
Color Quality & Performance
After taking some test shots, I used the Filmic Pro V3 LUT to transform the HEVC footage out of Log and into Rec 709 color space.
The ProRes clips didn’t need any color space conversion, since they were not shot in Log. Although I did have to manually adjust the exposure of the ProRes 2020 shots to work in a Rec 709 (non-HDR) timeline.
Seeing the shots side by side, it was clear that the ProRes clips had the best color quality and performance.
The baseline of the uncolored ProRes shots were just that much more natural than the Log footage with a conversion LUT. Here’s an example:
The Log image (with a LUT applied) appears to have a bit of a green tint to it. It actually works for this image, but the ProRes colors are more true to life, which is what you want as a starting point.
Much like dynamic range, you notice the difference more obviously when actually color grading the footage.
The ProRes shots are easier to grade, and feel more responsive to both nuanced color tweaks and heavy stylization. In a Rec 709 timeline, both flavors of ProRes perform similarly, but the ProRes 2020 files do you give you some extra color information to work with.
In this department, ProRes is the clear winner. And specifically ProRes 2020. For any narrative project I would choose to shoot in ProRes HQ 2020, mainly because color is such an important factor to me.
I don’t want to deter anyone from shooting in Log, however. It is extremely capable too. It just comes down to your priorities on a given project.
No matter if you shoot Log or ProRes, your footage is in good hands with Filmic Pro.
If image quality is your top concern, ProRes 2020 is probably the way to go. The only real argument against it is the HD limitation on some devices, but for most projects shot on a phone, 4K delivery isn’t going to matter anyways.
At the same time, there is something to be said about the smaller file sizes that HEVC offers. For certain productions – especially documentaries – quantity is essential. And HEVC is a great middle ground, giving you great visuals with much smaller file sizes.
I’m looking forward to experimenting more with Filmic Pro, and seeing what’s coming next.
Have you done any mobile filmmaking? Leave a comment below!