5 Useful Cinematography iPad Apps

5 Useful Cinematography iPad Apps for Filmmakers

As part of the iOS family, all of the cinematography apps available in Apple's App Store will run on the iPad (and most are universally formatted for it), but there are a handful of iPad-specific apps. These cinematography apps will enable you to watch dailies, make shotlists, diagram lighting schemes, compare depth-of-field, and even control a camera.

It may not fit in your pocket as you sit next to the camera, but the iPad is slowly finding itself on more and more film sets between slating scenes, monitoring takes, and watching dailies — not to mention killing time between long setups.

So even though the iPad isn’t as portable as its phone-call-making brethren, you may find it proves useful to have in your toolkit armed with these five apps for filmmakers.

Lighting Designer Cinematography App IconLighting Designer

Price: $24.99
Lighting Designer at iTunes App Store

Very few cinematographers I’ve worked with have walked onto a film set without a plan. Maybe their plan isn’t yet fully-formed, but they at least have some idea of what they want to do.

And in terms of planning, many cinematographers (and gaffers) like to make lighting diagrams — maps of a location with characters loosely blocked and equipment labeled on it.

Lighting Designer iPad Cinematography App Screenshot 1

Lighting Designer hopes to enable that in the digital age. Now more than ever, we are ditching tasks thought better left to a pen and paper to an iPad. And the beauty in Lighting Designer isn’t just that it translates a paper diagram into a digital one, but that it does it even better.

Lighting Designer iPad Cinematography App Screenshot 2

If you have poor drawing skills or you simply prefer the cleanliness of thick, solid lines, Lighting Designer makes diagrams more colorful (used for labeling different kinds of lights) and easier to understand. Once you have a diagram finished, you can email it out to your respective crew.

Not only will this help cinematographers wrap their heads around complex scenes during pre-production, but it will help best boys, gaffers, and AC’s get an idea of where a shoot is going.

And it’s amazing how much time a production can save when grips, electrics, and the camera department all know exactly what needs to happen equipment wise to get the camera rolling.

Note: Lighting Designer is now a universal app that works on iPhone/iPod as well.

VisualDOF Cinematography App IconVisualDOF

Price: $4.99
VisualDOF at iTunes App Store

Part of the reason you may struggle with focus pulling and depth of field is because visualizing and conceptualizing the numbers and math is tough. After all, can you really tell the difference between 42 feet and 52 feet without seeing it?

That’s the idea behind VisualDOF — to illustrate the effect your exposure has on depth of field through clean, crisp graphics in a highly visual format.

VisualDOF iPad Cinematography App Screenshot 1

You input the usual data — format, distance, focal length — and the app gives you a rundown of depth of field at various stops of exposure from f 1.0 to f 22.0. The only downside is that, at this point, the app only compiles data for 16mm and 35mm film. Also, it does not display metric system data.

VisualDOF iPad Cinematography App Screenshot 2

While the scope of the app is limited, its usefulness manifests itself in ways that are a bit understated. For instance, you can:

  • Use it to determine exposure when trying to split-focus
  • Make multiple DOF calculations at once if your exposure is constantly in flux
  • Instinctively get a feel for DOF in regards to exposure

Overall, the app could certainly do more, but that’s the price paid for an interface that cuts the clutter away and allows you to focus on the visual aspect of depth of field in regards to distance.

F65Remote Cinematography App IconF65Remote

Price: Free
F65 Remote at iTunes App Store

Sony’s F65 made a big splash when it was announced at NAB in 2011, mainly for two reasons:

  1. 8K resolution
  2. The ASC deemed it to have a latitude greater than film

Fast forward to now and the F65 has received a lot of praise, even if it has yet to pierce the digital cinema market in the same way as RED Epic or ARRI Alexa.

But one of the cooler, lesser-known features of the F65 is the ability to control the camera wirelessly via iPad + the F65 Remote app.

F65 Remote Cinematography iPad App Screenshot 1

While I haven’t tested it alongside the camera, I did download the app and was amazed at how much you can control. You’re given access to nearly everything from the main settings of the camera down to the nitty gritty menus and sub-menus — you can even re-assign functions to the user keys!

Having the ability to manipulate those things from the iPad tablet just feels so… futuristic.

F65 Remote Cinematography iPad App Screenshot 2

And if, like me, you’re stuck without the $65,000 camera to play with, you can still use the app to muck around with — useful in its own right as a menu simulator much like the ARRI Alexa one.

Is this app essential? No — not even if you’re using the F65.

But is it cool and functional? Absolutely.

Shot Lister Cinematography App IconShot Lister

Price: $13.99
Shot Lister at iTunes App Store

Shot Lister claims to be the “only professional shot listing app.”

Those are some big words considering the proliferation of shot list apps available. And as the new kid on the block, Shot Lister has a lot to prove.

Shot Lister Cinematography iPad App Screenshot 1

I had seen Shot Lister mentioned in some filmmaking circles, but I didn’t really look into it until I saw an article on Slashfilm, a film news website that had assistant director Reza Lackey share his opinion. In the article, Lackey refers to Shot Lister as “the new cargo pants”:

I am so happy that there is finally a great way to schedule and manage shoots. Before now, it has been a very cumbersome experience. I can finally retire my cargo pants as I won’t need as many pockets to stuff paper work into.

There is no doubt that Shot Lister will help film crews of all sizes and experience levels make the most of their days on set. Assistant Directing a film is a game of constant course correction, looking for the north star on an overcast night.

Shot Lister is like finally having a compass.

It’s true Shot Lister is more an app for producers and those in production, but the fact that the app’s core project files can be shared means any crew member can take advantage of Shot Lister’s feature set which includes a “live view” that gives you real-time data on your current status.

(Don’t tell me a DP has never stressed how they’re doing on time.)

It could also be a time-saver if you work on small, skeleton crew shoots or when you’re in the unenviable position of being a one-man-band filmmaker.

Shot Lister Cinematography iPad App Screenshot 2

In terms of interface, Shot Lister contains a lot of information, but in a logical format. It’s like reading a well-organized chart or infographic: yes there’s a lot to digest, but it’s segmented in ways that make sense and that allow you to focus on what you need.

In short, Shot Lister is doing a good job so far of living up to its self-proclaimed “professional” title.

Note: Shot Lister is a universal app that works on iPhone/iPod as well.

OnSet Cinematography App IconOnSet

Price: Free
OnSet at iTunes App Store

DIT’s (Digital Imaging Technicians) tend to be a fickle bunch. That’s because they’re generally pixel peepers — paid to keep a keen eye on every single bit of data that comes out of a camera and onto a hard drive. Usually they’re working on pimped out workstations with custom made workflows and a whole lot of computer know-how to make it run smoothly.

That’s what OnSet is up against when it claims to be “the intelligent way to manage digital dailies on your film set.”

OnSet Cinematography iPad App Screenshot 1

What OnSet does is allow you to compile, review, and aggregate clips, camera data, and script data into a digestible form. In plain English: you can watch dailies with all the important information about them at your fingertips.

OnSet doesn’t do any H.264 encoding (that’s still up to the DIT), but it does allow directors, cinematographers, or producers to review and circle good takes, then send that information on to an editor or post-house.

But OnSet’s real power comes in its ability to pair documents such as call sheets, camera reports, sound reports, scripts, and continuity reports with video clips.

OnSet Cinematography iPad App Screenshot 2

While viewing dailies, OnSet also allows you to:

  • Circle Good Takes
  • View the documents mentioned above
  • “Quick-edit” sequences together
  • Sort by scene and take number

OnSet’s design is very utilitarian — rarely straying from the Apple stock designs we’re accustomed to — but that’s OK given most of the attention should be on your dailies, not the app.

And if you are able to work this into your workflow, OnSet has the potential to streamline the review process and accelerate the pipeline between production and post.

Filmmaking Made Easier, Faster, Better

With the iPhone, you’re able to put tons of power in your pocket and rid yourself of tools like depth of field calculators, levels, and insert slates — all because they were replaced with one gadget.

And while you can’t put the iPad into your pocket (if you can, get some new pants), it is portable, lightweight, and turning into a potentially powerful on set device. Already we’ve seen it used for tasks like slating scenes to monitoring them.

The future is only going to continue to show innovations on the iPad, especially as digital cinema begins to take advantage of the ecosystem of wireless devices we all carry with us to set each day — whether that’s in our pockets or in our backpacks.

So while an iPad isn’t a required piece of kit for any camera assistant, cinematographer, or filmmaker, it is quickly becoming a useful piece of kit that makes life on set easier, faster, and better.

Read about more useful cinematography apps from this series

  • Doug Daulton

    Great list Evan! Thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      No problem, Doug! Glad you enjoyed em.

  • Benjamin_Tubb

    Nice one! Hadn’t heard of that VisualDOF one, downloaded it, big fan. It’d be nice to be able to input inches as well as feet, or maybe even “5.5 feet”, but you’re limited to whole feet integers, unless I’m missing something. But close enough for government work. The 16mm/35mm limitation isn’t that big of a deal. Most camera systems, except specific ones, are super35 size anyways, or are at least close enough. And if not, you can custom input CoC and do it yourself.

    Shameless self promotion:
    Speaking of using an ipad on set, check out the frontboxes I built:

    The one on the left is mine, the other one is the one I built for a friend while it was still under construction, unstained. But they both have an iPad slot AS WELL AS a slate slot, enabling an ipad to be kept close to camera at all times. Helps me when I DP, as I keep all my camera plots, shot lists, notes, etc in my ipad.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Nice — thanks for the heads up on the VisualDOF limitations.

      As for the frontbox, awesome job! Do you have diagrams or anything?

      • Benjamin_Tubb

        Not really. I found some rough schematics online, but I changed so much I basically started from scratch. Even when I made my friend’s, the only thing I copied from mine was the iPad slot/slate slot idea. Everything else was different, even the overall shape, based on his design requests.

        I’m glad you like them!

      • Benjamin_Tubb

        Ooh, I just found a big problem with VisualDOF. I double checked its results against pCam, and they only match up when pCam is set to Vistavision. Apparently some idiot developer thought to use STILL photography as the standard for the 35mm option. It’s a close match for 5D, or other “full-frame” cameras, but totally off for actual 35mm film, or Red, Alexa, or anything else.

        Not a HUGE deal, as you can just custom input the correct CoC to fix it. But definitely worth noting.

  • http://twitter.com/awesometheo awesometheo

    Shot Lister just got themselves a customer. Thanks for the tip!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      No problem! It’s going to be a popular one methinks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Garrett-Robinson/100000193364932 Garrett Robinson

    If you haven’t made mention of it elsewhere I would recommend adding Cinemek Storyboard Pro to this list. It’s a hefty price ($25, I believe) but a great tool. Compatible with iPhone or iPad, if you’ve already got locations (or even if you haven’t) this is a tremendously useful storyboard app for the filmmaker on a budget.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      I can’t remember if I have covered this as well either, but thanks for pointing us towards it Garrett! I’ll make sure to check it out.

  • http://eldar-craftworld.blogspot.co.uk/ Adam

    I really wish one of the stock footage archives would create an app to help us find free stock footage to add to our films. Searching for the right clip to pad things out can be a nightmare otherwise.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      And I really wish stock footage archives like ITN SOURCE wouldn’t resort to taking advantage of all the hard-work I put into writing an article by trying to spam the comments with a link.

  • Denis

    Let me add my two cents about visual dof representations. If you need a learning photo aid, please check LensTutorial – an interactive iPhone/iPad app. You can get it free at http://www.lenstutorial.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/PeterJohnson6502 Peter Johnson

    Hi Evan,

    if you’d like to try out ShotList, our app to emulate a production stripboard to help planning and tracking your shoots, please drop me a line at solubleapps.com.



  • hamid

    Thanks a lot !
    Great apps !
    Can you introduce some useful ” free ” app for ipad too ?
    Really appreciate it !

  • Jeff

    Great review! I’ve been using shot lister since 2013 and has some really cool features. But for the past few weeks I’ve been using Action Pro and I like almost everything about it http://www.Action-Pro.tv I’ve been recommending it to all my film making friends