Best Cinematic Video Smartphone – iPhone 12 Pro Max Vs Samsung S21 Ultra

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Cinematic Video On A Smartphone – Are you an independent filmmaker looking for ways to cut film costs without sacrificing the quality of your video footage?

Many of us have a smartphone in our pockets that take stunning videos and pictures. But what if you are looking for a smartphone to use for filmmaking?

Right now, two smartphones on the market today are blowing away the competition in terms of cinematic video quality, and they are the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Samsung S21 Ultra.

But, how do these two smartphones compare in cinematic video quality?

Sure the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Samsung S21 Ultra have big main sensors, 3 rear cameras, are capable of shooting 10-bit color over the standard 8-bit, and they both have dynamic HDR capabilities – Dolby Vision and HDR10+.

In this article, I will go through both of the smartphone’s main features, and see which of the amazing smartphones comes out on top.

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Are you ready to find out which smartphone between the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Samsung s21 Ultra, shoots the best cinematic video?

Here is a rundown of both devices like cameras, specs, how good they are for stabilization, Dolby Vision vs HDR10+, low light performance, compatibility with FiLMiC Pro, and more to make you shooting amazing videos going forward.

Related Article: Essential Guide To Cinematic Camera Lenses – 5+ Key Types Of Lenses For Filmmaking

iPhone 12 Pro Max vs Samsung S21 Ultra : Main Camera

When it comes to the main camera for both the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Samsung S21 Ultra, they both have comparable cameras.

They offer a wide main camera with a powerful large sensor, which is why they are far ahead of the competition in terms of video and picture quality.

The main sensors with both smartphones shoot better in low light and give a shallower depth of field compared to the competition.

Both these smartphones work very well for content creation videos to show on YouTube and other social media platforms.

If you are looking for a camera that works well for review-type videos, as long as you are not too far from the camera, they rival many DSLR cameras in terms of cinematic video quality.

When it comes to pixels, Apple continues on with their 12mp size sensors, compared to Samsung with its 108mp sensor for the main camera.

This is can make a huge difference especially when the iPhone 12 pro max can only shoot in 4k videos, compared to Samsung’s 8K video. Can you tell the difference between 4K video and 8K video? 8K video should be significantly sharper than 4K, and especially HD.

To see all this additional fine detail, you’re going to need an 8K TV. And most platforms are not ready for 8K yet, so the iPhone 12 Pro Max 4K video quality will do you fine for a while.

iPhone vs Samsung: Extra Cameras

Both smartphones have built-in tele lenses and ultra-wide lenses with smaller, less powerful sensors. The drawback to this is they both produce extra noise in low light conditions

The Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max and Samsung S21 Ultra sometimes switch away from the tele lens automatically when using the native app if the phone determines you’re better off with the main sensor.

telephoto lens will allow you to take photos of subjects that are farther away. This comes in handy when you are taking photos of things that you can’t, or don’t want to, get close to. 

Having more distance between you and your subject can help some people feel more at ease in front of the camera. 

The one main difference is that while the iPhone 12 Pro Max has 2.5x optical zoom the Samsung S21 Ultra has double, with 5x.

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iPhone vs Samsung: Stabilization

While I prefer to use a gimbal like the DJI Osmo gimbal or the Zhiyun Smooth Gimbal for better handheld cinematic video, the built-in stabilization on both smartphones works well in a pinch.

Both smartphone devices have electronic and optical stabilization. The iPhone 12 Pro Max has a new sensor-shift optical stabilization on the main sensor, while the Samsung S21 Ultra has gyro EIS & OIS.

For the highest level of stabilization, the Samsung S21 Ultra has a super steady mode. This has a maximum resolution of 1080p as it has to crop into the frame.

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Dolby Vision vs HDR10+

When the iPhone 12 Pro Max was released, it included the dynamic HDR system Dolby Vision. What this did for the iPhone 12 Pro Max was it added an extra level of dynamic range to videos to go with previous HDR

features such as dynamic tone mapping.

With Samsung’s latest S21 Ultra smartphone, the equivalent is called HDR10+. The advantage to shooting with Dolby Vision is it works up to 60fps, the S21 Ultra only allows HDR10+ up to 30fps.

When filming in these formats, both devices need to use the HEVC video codec, which isn’t always compatible. Both of these systems use metadata to add dynamic range and better color representation, as long as your monitor, TV, and system is compatible.

If you are filming, editing, and mastering in either Dolby Vision or HDR10+ then things start to get pretty complicated. 

As of now, Adobe Premiere Pro doesn’t fully support Dolby Vision or HDR10+, but things could change.

Plus, if you shoot an HDR10+ using the S21 Ultra, sharing a video prompts the device to compress the video back to standard dynamic range.

I would suggest not mixing these types of footage, and shoot everything in the same format. Don’t mix HDR and SDR or Dolby Vision and HDR10+.

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Camera App Features & Usability

When it comes to Camera App Features & Usability, it really depends on the operating software you are used to.

When it comes to the iPhone camera app it does offer a nicer-looking interface and allows for easier access to frame rates and resolution settings.

But if you are looking at trying to change other settings in the iPhone camera app, you will have to go out of the camera app, open settings, open camera settings, open video settings which can take a little time to get the settings you want right.

With the Samsung app, Samsung recently added a resolution & frame rate button to the main interface, and with one button if you are in video mode, takes you directly to video settings in 1 tap. Which I like.

For more advanced settings, you will have to tap buttons just like the iPhone to get the settings you want.

One thing that Samsung has over iPhone is the pro video mode. This has all the manual control settings, white balance, focus, shutter, ISO all in one place. With the iPhone, you will need a 3rd party app installed like FILMIC Pro.

Related Article: 5 Best 4k Filmmaking Cameras Under 1000 Dollars

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iPhone vs Samsung: Low Light Performance

Recently I tested both cameras in an identical low-light situation and only used the native app for both tests.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max appears to come out better here, with quite a bit less noticeable digital noise. Keep in mind that while these smartphones might seem similar they do have very different main sensors. The iPhone has a 12mp sensor, while the Samsung has a 108mp sensor.

More pixels mean smaller pixels that need to be squashed into the same area. And smaller pixels have less ability to capture low levels of light. 

Samsung Ultra’s sensor is supposed to use pixel binning, where 4 pixels combine together in low light situations. But still, the iPhone still seems to come out better here in cinematic video.

Related Article: 12 Important Tools For Filmmaking An Independent Filmmaker Needs

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iPhone vs Samsung: Is there a clear winner?

This is a tough call. I can’t really declare an overall winner because I don’t think there is a runaway winner here. 

There are so many pros and cons to each smartphone, that it all comes down to personal preference. I like shooting with the iPhone 12 Pro Max because of its ability to shoot in Dolby Vision, the cinematic video quality looks amazing on a 4K television.

But, with the Samsung S21 Ultrashooting with 8K is not noticeable yet on tv’s today, but for editing, it allows you to do so much more in the editing suite. 

iPhone 12 Pro Max - Best Auto Settings Smartphone

If you want a smartphone with a fast, settings-free shooting experience, the winner is the iPhone 12 Pro Max. For cinematic video quality right out of the box, the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max wins for its nice easy classic camera UI and high-quality on-the-go video.

The iPhone color science and Dolby Vision are nicer to look at compared to Samsung’s HDR10+. The look of the S21 Ultra out of the box is a bit more saturated, more digital looking. 

Samsung S21 Ultra - Best Manual Settings Smartphone

If you are a skilled videographer or photographer and want more control over the video settings with the smartphone, the winner is… the Samsung S21 Ultra

The iPhone’s aggressive tone remapping which cannot be switched off makes controlling and locking exposure settings much harder which means you need a 3rd party app to do this.

The S21 Ultra with its Pro Video Mode native allows you to switch off stabilization and HDR settings in the phone without the need of adding a 3rd part app.

If you want to add a 3rd party app, you can even switch off noise reduction and sharpening, which can’t be done with an iPhone.

Want more filmmaking content? Then check out or guides to the best skills needed to excel in the film industry, tips to become a better director, or smartphone filmmaking 101.

Want to Learn More About Filmmaking?

Become a better filmmaker with the MasterClass Annual Membership. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by film masters, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Spike Lee, Jodie Foster, James Cameron and more.

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