Filmic made a splash at Apple’s Fall 2019 iPhone event, showing the ability to record video with the phone’s front and back cameras simultaneously for a multicam effect. That effect isn’t yet part of the company’s primary professional video tool reviewed here, but Filmic Pro is packed with professional video shooting features. That’s right, this app is all about recording the video with the detailed control used by pros—it’s not a video-editing app. Its support for many recording formats, push effects, and high bitrates make Filmic a rival to dedicated video cameras. After all, if Lady Gaga can use Filmic to record a recent video, the app is certainly up to the task for your social media clips.
Getting Started With Filmic Pro
Filmic Pro costs $14.99 on the App Store and runs on both iPhone and iPad. There’s no free trial version, but the company’s DoubleTake app, which does offer multicam shooting, is free. Note, too, that some of Filmic Pro’s more powerful tools require another purchase. Companion Remote ($9.99) and Apple Watch apps are also available. There is an Android version, but it lacks some advanced features such as log recording support. I tested on an iPhone X and a Samsung Galaxy Note 8, both of which have superb cameras.
The first thing you see after installing the app and running it for the first time is a list of five permissions it wants: camera, audio, cameral roll, location, and notifications. You can use the app without giving it the last two permissions.
Another video app targeting pros and serious amateurs is Adobe Rush, which requires a $9.99-per-month subscription, though it does let you use the full app free with a limitation of three exports. Rush differs from Filmic in its ability to edit as well as shoot, and it syncs all your videos to cloud storage so you can easily pick up editing on the desktop.
Formats and Quality Settings
Filmic’s pro-level aspirations are evident in the sheer number of its format options—more than any photo or video app I’ve ever used. You can choose from eight aspect ratios, including less-common cinematic ones like 2.76:1 and 2.39:1, in addition to the more typical 16:9, 3:2, and 4:3. You can also choose resolutions from SD to 4K 2160p, though the iPhone’s standard photo app can do this, too. What the iPhone’s native app can’t do is change the frame rate from 24fps to 240 (for HD—the iPhone can only record 4K at up to 60fps.) Time-lapse options let you extend that down to a single frame per minute.
Another capability Filmic offers that you won’t get with the built-in iPhone shooter is control over bitrate quality. The app’s Filmic Extreme quality delivers 100Mbps for 2K-4K and 50Mbps for HD. Even the default Filmic Quality setting has 33 percent more information than Apple’s default bitrate. It’s ability to record log format is something normally only found on professional video cameras.
Filmic displays one of the most powerful camera interfaces I’ve seen in any photo or video app. Its manual focus, zoom, and exposure controls are particularly well done. These use large arcs at the side of the screen to let you more easily adjust those parameters. It works in both horizontal and vertical positions, the latter of which is suited for Instagram Stories and the like. A gear button takes you to a tile menu for the various format options discussed below.
As with Adobe Rush and many camera apps, there are in-viewer controls for focus and exposure. These reticles turn red when you lock them by tapping on them, and long-pressing on them brings out the manual arc controls. A zoom rocker simulates the kind of zooming you see in professional productions.
As good as the on-screen controls are, they still can’t substitute for hardware controls you get on a video camera or DSLR. That said, those cost thousands, while the app only sets you back $15. I did have a little trouble getting the focus to work on a distant object when there were other closer things in the frame. There’s no f-stop control, which is a big deal if you want a true bokeh effect, but that’s not the app’s fault: Smartphone cameras use a fixed aperture.
One thing to note about the app is that it doesn’t obey your screen shutoff power setting. It keeps the screen on as long as it’s open. I found my battery running down faster than usual because of this.
Exposure and Focus
I already mentioned the exposure reticle control, but there’s also an arc control on the left that lets you manually adjust ISO and shutter speed. Another slider in this control group lets you set an acceptable ISO range. This is better than Rush’s controls if you need to adjust while shooting, since in Rush the controls only appear after you tap the shutter icon in Pro mode. The same holds for manual focusing and zooming.
The Pull functions get you into real pro movie- and TV-style effects: This can smoothly transition from one focus point to another, zoom evenly, or increase or reduce exposure. You set the minimum and maximum points and tap on the arc at the opposite position from the direction you want to go in to start the transition.
The app delivers a nifty feature that pro videographers care about: Live analytics. These include four options with buttons at the top of the screen when you tap the A at the bottom. They’re for showing under- and overexposed image areas. One of the more interesting of these, zebra stripes, indicate overexposed regions with red and underexposed with blue stripes.
The Clipping option shows solid blue for areas so underexposed that no light or color information is present. A final tool in this set is not exposure-related, but focus-related. The Focus Peaking tool shows a black-and-white screen with green edges on objects that are in critical focus. It’s also supposed to show light blue areas of noncritical focus, but I never saw those in testing the app, however.
Some of Filmic’s most impressive capabilities involve color. Unfortunately, some of these require an in-app purchase. For an app that already costs a lot more than the average iPhone app, it’s frustrating to see tantalizing-but-unavailable features in the interface.
The three-color overlapping icon opens the Temperature, Tone, and Color Behavior tools, the last two of which are the most interesting but require a $7.99 in-app purchase and an iPhone 7 or newer. As you can see from the screenshot, you can control temperature and tint from sliders or both at once by picking a point on the color square. Note there are also presets for incandescent lighting, sunlight, and so on, as well as auto white balance.
The Tone tool lets you adjust highlights and shadows, and it also lets you pick a gamma curve of Natural, Dynamic, Flat, or Log. The first uses the iPhone default color mapping, and the rest are proprietary to Filmic. Log is the most interesting, as it widens the dynamic range of the video, bringing out shadow detail that you couldn’t get without it. Filmic makes LUTs available to use while editing this format in Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut, and other software.
The Temporal Noise reduction (the bottom left button in the panel) is similar to HDR, using three exposures at once. Finally, this view also offers saturation and vibrance sliders.
Pro video isn’t much without good audio controls. Filmic lets you choose which of the phone’s microphones to use, as well as letting you use an external mic. You can record in AAC, AIFF, or WAV at 44.1, 48, or 96KHz (with an external mic). The app includes a couple of special audio features: Automatic Gain Control, and Voice Processing. The latter highlights audio in the frequency range of human speech.
Sharing and Output
The triangular Play button at the bottom right of the screen opens clips you’ve recorded, and Filmic includes its own content management system. First and foremost, this lets you name clip files logically, rather than using the iPhone’s IMG followed by a number for the filenames. Filmic lets you use your production name along with scene and take numbers. You can also save clips to the phone’s camera roll or share to the typical share-sheet targets.
A New Way to Film
Filmic Pro takes some impressive steps towards turning high-end smartphones into movie cameras. With its many features expected by cinematographers—including push controls, frame-rate choices, aspect ratio options, log format, and high bitrates—it’s no wonder that high-profile projects have used it. If you’re serious about shooting video on your iPhone or Android, you need Filmic Pro. Note that it’s not intended as a post-production tool, however. If you need to do your editing on-phone, look to Adobe Rush or Apple iMovie. But for the ultimate in shooting controls, Filmic Pro is unrivaled.