Every once in a while, life throws you a nice little gift. I was teaching about zoom lenses to my 35mm class at Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema on the same day I got to play with an iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Since one of the most prominent features of the Pro Max is the 5x 120mm lens and its zoom functionality, I thought it would be fun to set up a "35mm vs. iPhone: side by side" to see what all the hype was about.

So, we mounted the iPhone next to a Panaflex to compare.

Of course, this is a ridiculous situation to put the iPhone in, as these cameras are used for VERY different things, but the comparison sheds light on some things we need to discuss.

The iPhone At A Glance

Before discussing that side by side, the first thing to cover is that the iPhone 15 Pro and the 15 Pro Max are significant steps forward for filmmakers for one massive reason: the USB-C port.

Even if USB-C was the only update, filmmakers should still consider upgrading their iPhones when they get a chance because USB-C will make their lives so, so much easier.

Previously, you could shoot some nice-looking footage with the iPhone, but it was a bear to work with on set. Getting a clean video out to work with a wireless video system for client review was almost a hiccup at best, and getting the footage off the phone was just annoying.

All of that is gone with USB-C.

iPhone 15 Pro USB-C connected to a mac book

USB-C tether is the killer feature with this refresh.

Credit: Apple

You plug in a USB-C drive (preferably a clean format to ExFat, but it worked with an already-used Apple Formatted drive), and it just works. In that classic "Apple" way, it didn't need to format the drive and the other footage on the drive was still there.

It was GREAT. Rather than worrying about filling up the phone, you just shoot and shoot and shoot, and when that drive is full, you swap to another drive while you can back up the first drive. You can even shoot to other storage media like CFexpress cards via a card reader.

iPhone recording to a USB-C drive

When a drive is attached you see the USB-C text and your "max time" defaults to shooting to the drive.

Credit: Selene Almeron

Drive speed here is essential, so an NVMDe style drive like a Samsung T7 or the Caldigit Tuff is required (or anything faster than 220mb/s, so the T5 should work too, but the prices on Samsung T7 drives are getting super cheap these days).

If you run out of hard drives, you can still shoot to internal storage, but then you'll still have faster offloads with the direct USB-C connection than you did with the old iPhone connection. In a pinch, Airdrop is always there as well.

4K 60p Log

Internally you are limited to 4K 30p (which is still a lot), but when recording externally, that opens up 4K 60p.

4K 60p. From your iPhone. That you have in your pocket all the time.

That's just astounding. It was only a few years ago that a lot of folks doing action sports work started defaulting to 4K 60 fps for everything they shot. Not every camera could do that at the time and now your everyday iPhone can.

The more significant news here is Log recording, which allows filmmakers to shoot in a broader range of exposure fitting into a smaller dynamic range file. This is a big step forward for the iPhone and adds a tremendous amount of flexibility to the post-production process.

If you are having trouble finding it, you need to go to your System Settings and find it there; it's not in any of the individual camera app settings. Look in your ProRes settings, and you'll find it.

In our tests, the Log seemed to look better when using the new Blackmagic Camera App than it did from Filmic Pro. I am not 100% sure why this happened, but the Log from Filmic seemed to come out over-saturated once converted back to Linear; you can see that in the "zolly" above, which was shot with Filmic.

Filmic (at least when we used it) only allowed for a 4x zoom, not a 5x zoom, which makes me think it's not fully updated for the 15 Pro yet, whereas the Blackmagic Camera app seems to be.

Log in Post

There are LUTs available for the log footage, but you also get full native transform support for it in both Final Cut Pro and Resolve through ACEs and Resolve Color Management.

Transforms will give you better results than LUTs, so working with this footage in software that supports them will provide you with better results.

The Camera App

One thing to remember is that with the iPhone, the native camera app is targeted at the consumer. So it processes the image to be ready to share on social or in messages. For many pros, this is frustrating since you find the camera applying corrections to your images you might not have.

We recommend using a non-native app for both photos and videos. This is a filmmaking blog, so we will stay out of the still space, but for video, the Blackmagic Video app is just truly astounding.

It's free. It's incredibly powerful and it worked with the 5x zoom straight out of the gate.

It gives you a nice, clean image that isn't heavily processed. Knowing Blackmagic, if they can figure it out, they'll enable Blackmagic Raw to the external drive when they can.

However, it is still an iPhone with a small sensor, so it isn't going to look like an Alexa 35 straight out, but you'll be happier with your results if you use a better camera app.

That 5x Lens

The previous iPhone Pro models (and the current 15) have a 3x zoom, equivalent to about a 77mm focal length. This has been a really useful addition when doing a scout or a blocking rehearsal and previsualizing your scene.

However, it's not quite as far along as a lot of the competition, and Apple has stepped up with a new Pentaprism 5x lens to get you closer to the action.

Look at those sharp eyes and fine fur detail.

Before anything else, the first thing to establish is that this is a game changer in life. If you are going to your kid's school concert and want a close-up of them on the stage, the 5x will be much more crisper than you had before. It's absolutely worth doing just for day-to-day living.

For a lot of people, it means better cat photos without spooking your cat. And that's great.

However, we think it's a valuable filmmaking tool as well. If you regularly shoot a lot of longer lenses, like an 85mm or a 150mm, having a real optical 5x lens built in the iPhone is going to lead to better previz photos and better quality images when you decide to shoot natively with the camera.


With the 5x, the zoom range is just insane. On top of that, Apple has built in some very nice image stabilization that even though we are hand-holding there, it's still quite acceptable.

We punch past the full 5x for a second, and you see the digital artifacts, but at 5x, it looks just fine. Considering the benefits to image quality we're getting with the new log recording, that's increasingly a real option.

35mm Film vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max

Because I happened to be shooting in my 35mm class "zoom dolly" shots, we figured it would be fun to compare a 35mm zoom/dolly shot at the zoom/dolly on an iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Obviously, the Pro Max zoom isn't quite as smooth since it's "bumping" digitally between three different lenses, but it was still a great way to see how well the zoom worked and get a sense of the optics from a variety of zoom settings.

The other thing to pay attention to is we shot tungsten film and we light it to tungsten, but the iPhone is natively daylight-balanced. This makes sense in the modern era (mostly shooting under daylight or LED light) but might have left the iPhone a bit noisier than usual since it was exposed to warmer light than it's optimized for.

Huge thanks to my students, all talented DPs in their own right: in front of camera talent Tatiana Gomez and Bryan Cortes for shooting great BTS, and to Selene Almeron. And as always, come to Feirstein, we shoot 35mm! We've got summer 35mm classes! Check us out!

Lens Flares and Gate Flares

For the sake of the test, one of the things we deliberately did was put a 650W incandescent light right in the frame and going down the barrel of the lens.

We wanted to see what a "gate flare" looked like (the flare that happens when a bright specular light passes over the edge of a gate of a film camera), and it was interesting to see the flares on the iPhone.

The image you see here is another Zoom lens we were comparing to the Panavision and to the iPhone—the classic Cooke 20-100, on an Alexa LF. Again, come to Feirstein. We spend all our classes doing cool stuff!

Credit: Selene Almeron

​The image you see here is another Zoom lens we were comparing to the Panavision and to the iPhone—the classic Cooke 20-100, on an Alexa LF. Again, come to Feirstein. We spend all our classes doing cool stuff!


Look, if you are a parent (to a human or a furball), it's worth the upgrade for better photos of your kid on a recital stage alone. The 5x optical lens is just a massive leap forward for Apple (and yes, we know others got there first, but ecosystems are ecosystems, and we're happy Apple is here).

Compare the above image with the "normal" lens to the below image with the 5x lens. It's a world of difference.

If you aren't a parent, the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max are still worth considering for filmmakers because the images are getting good enough that they are going to keep being useful to you in just a shocking variety of ways.

Obviously, better low-light scouting photos and better long-lens preview photos in Artemis are huge. But the camera is also getting to that place that the 5D used to be in, where it'll likely start showing up on a lot of shoots in a D or E camera position.

The view with a normal lens.

You are setting up a scene, maybe it's a stunt or a music video, and you've got your three big cinema cameras getting the main action, but you'll have an idea for another angle and just pop the iPhone up without thinking.

Sure, you can do that for the last ten years, but with rare exceptions, the images didn't quite live up to it, and getting the footage or previewing the image was a hassle.

The 5X has a natural out of focus Bokeh that isn't a digital

USB-C and Log recording have gone a long, long way towards fixing that. I remember thinking, "This means we'll get ProRes Raw to USB-C soon," but honestly, that doesn't really matter nearly as much as the Log straight to disk.

That's enough for now. However, it'll be fun to have RAW when we can get it. I almost wonder if it'll be from Blackmagic as well.

Big thanks to all my students: Vaishali Sahu, Samuel Romero , Min Cho, Selene Almeron, Bryan Cortes, and the wonderful Tatiana Gomez, who stood in for so much of our footage.