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Pan’s Snap Filter for iPhone – a Hands-on Review

October 1st, 2022 Jump to Comment Section
Pan's Snap Filter for iPhone – a Hands-on Review

Cameras in smartphones keep getting better and better every year, but they lack one thing to make more professional images with them: filters. Options so far were cumbersome and had their limitations, but Pan’s Snap Filter (on Kickstarter for a few more days) ups the game significantly for iPhone users. So buckle up, here is my Pan’s Snap filter for iPhone Review.

Tim Pan is a tech YouTuber (with the channel Mediastorm) from China, and unless you speak Chinese, you might never have seen the channel – yet these guys do lots of camera and equipment reviews, and they do an amazing job indeed. I watched some of their videos, many of which offer English subtitles, and they are definitely worth following in our space, with a very fresh and open style. Mediastorm were invited by Apple to shoot one of the launch films for (and using the) iPhone 13 Pro in China, and out of necessity to create the nicest looking footage, created this filter tray. We reported about their new Kickstarter campaign for this product recently already.

Pan's Scheme Snap Filter system for iPhone
Pan’s Scheme Snap Filter system for iPhone. Image credit: CineD.

How does Pan’s Snap Filter Base work?

It’s as simple as it is brilliant: Pan’s Snap Filter is a magnetic filter system that attaches to the back of the iPhone via its built-in MagSafe magnet. I actually can’t believe nobody has thought of this before – there is no cumbersome case that you need to “force” your iPhone into, you simply take the Snap Filter Base, hold it to the iPhone’s back, and – snap – it’s attached. Done.

The backside of Pan's Snap Filter Bases
The backside of Pan’s Snap Filter Bases shows the iconic Magsafe circle to attach to the iPhone. Image credit: CineD.

The Snap Filter Base is made of a very solid, hefty piece of aluminum, and surely has some weight to it. I am guessing it needs to be as thick as it is in order to hold very stably on the back of the iPhone, and that it does remarkably well. When you hold it, you won’t worry that it can fall off – even when you un-attach and attach new filters to the holder. Yet it’s also not a problem removing it from the back of the phone. Before I tested it, I was worried that one of these things – fearing it would fall off or worrying you can’t get it off anymore – would be the case, but they somehow have found the sweet spot, so the device can be used with confidence.

Normal and Kickstarter special edition versions
Normal and Kickstarter special edition versions of Pan’s Snap Filter Bases for iPhone 13 (Pro) and Pro Max. Image credit: CineD.

So now that we have the Pan’s Snap Filter Base attached, let’s take a look at each one of the included filters.

Attaching the filters

The filters themselves are not attached magnetically to the Snap Filter holder, they slide in mechanically. There’s a lever that will click once they are in securely, which is also very reassuring. The same is true for releasing them – no issues whatsoever there. The filters’ frame is made from the same aluminum, so I don’t think one needs to worry about the filters wearing out over time when using the slide-in mechanism to attach them.

Slide-in filter mechanism
Slide-in filter mechanism. Image: CineD

What really stands out for me is the fact that Pan’s filters cover ALL the cameras of an iPhone (even the 3 cameras of the Pro versions) without any limitation. That is not always the case with other clip-on filters that often don’t work on all the cameras, particularly the wide-angle often get less love because some filters will vignette there. Plus on top of that, the attachment mechanism means that the front side of the iPhone is not affected in any way either. The whole system feels like it’s made with practical everyday use in mind. A huge plus.

The filters

ND filters

Most importantly, Pan’s Snap Filter system includes 4 ND filters, with -2 / -4 / -6 / -8 stops, which is of course needed to get more cinematic motion from a phone. As a rule of thumb, you should keep your shutter speed at roughly “twice” the frame rate, in order to get cinematic motion. For example, when shooting 24p, you should have your shutter at 1/48th of a second. Any faster shutter results in stuttering, staccato-style motion, because the individual frames are too clearly exposed – we need motion blur to create the illusion of movement. And this is exactly why ND filters are the one most important accessory for anyone who wants to create a video that looks professional (on any camera, including smartphones of course).

ND filter attached to Pan's Snap Filter system
ND filter attached to Pan’s Snap Filter system. Image credit: CineD.

Pan’s ND filters that come with the Snap Filter system offer a great range that is enough to cover overcast to full-blown sunny days. One challenge is the fact that adjusting the shutter speed when shooting iPhone is not something that is easily accessible – I recommend using FiLMiC Pro if you are serious about filmmaking on your iPhone, because it allows you to adjust virtually every setting of the camera including shutter speed, and also record in better quality (if you are not deterred by their new subscription model which has upset a lot of people).

It’s refreshing to see moving images shot on the iPhone recorded at the correct shutter speed, with the resulting nice-looking, smooth and cinematic motion. I think I will use these ND filters on my iPhone all the time now!

The quality of the filters seems to be very high – cheap ND filters often have a color tint, I couldn’t discern any tint in Pan’s Snap Filters … they are very consistent and clear.

Black Mist filter

One of the biggest issues on iPhones is the constant artificial sharpening that is happening to the images in both video and photo modes and the high contrast. The Black Mist filter counteracts both of these issues. Funny enough, when looking at images shot with this filter I completely forget that they have been shot on a phone. The softening is very pleasing to the eye and is also very flattering on faces when taking portraits, particularly in sunlight and with hard shadows. In the future, it would be nice to see the Black Mist filter also in other strengths.

Gold Streak Filter.
Gold Streak Filter. Image CineD

Blue and Gold Streak Filters

This is a fun way of “faking” the typical horizontal anamorphic lens flare effect when you have a light in your shot. It creates massive streaks when you point it directly at a source. The effect can still be there for indirect light sources, but subtler. In some cases when I tested it, the streaks were visible also on surfaces, which surprised me, and was a little distracting.

Pan's Snap Filters
Pan’s Snap Filters – here you see the Blue and Gold Streak Filters, both for vertical and horizontal shooting. Image credit: CineD.

On the wide-angle camera of my iPhone 13 Pro Max, the streaks didn’t show as one line, it was an interrupted line in both directions from the source. This might have to do with processing, but I am not sure – I couldn’t get a straight line to show on the wide-angle camera.

Gold Strike Filter, wide angle lens
Gold Streak Filter used with iPhone’s wide-angle- Streaks didn’t show as one line. Image: CineD

For both the Blue and Gold Streak Filters, the team at Pan’s Scheme includes two filters each – for both horizontal and vertical shooting. Please note that when you want to achieve horizontal streaks, in your image, you need to use the filter that shows vertical lines (from the perspective from which you are shooting), otherwise you will have vertical streaks (if you use the filter that shows horizontal lines), and vice versa.

Cross Star Filter Effect
Cross Star Filter Effect. Image: CineD

Cross-star Filter

The Cross-star Filter is a bit similar to a streak filter, but it turns round light sources into star-shaped sources. It seems to work particularly well in night scenes.

Structure of the Cross-Star Filter
Structure of the Cross-Star Filter. Image credit: CineD.

Compatibility with iPhones

The version we received for review is made for iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro and a separate version for the iPhone 13 Pro Max (which is the phone I own and use). Pan’s Scheme team is currently working on a slightly changed version to fit the iPhone 14 series, and they said it’s going to be available in December 2022.

I think that of course, some iPhone 12 users would love to use the filter system as well (which already has Magsafe), and I saw that this might also be possible. For even older models of the iPhone, there are too many small differences to maintain, and after all, the cameras in the newest generations are the ones that are the most “pro” when you treat them right, for example with filters. But never say never, maybe they will also consider making a Base version for even older phones down the road if this version is successful enough.

PAN's Black Mist filter
PAN’s Black Mist filter. Image: CineD

Downsides

I talked a lot about the upsides of Pan’s Snap Filter system, so you might ask: where are the downsides? Like with everything in life, there are some downsides here as well, yet I don’t find them too significant. First of all, as comfortable and easy to install the Snap Filter holder is, it also means that you can only use your “naked” phone with it, it will not work with any cases. That’s a bit scary for many users who always keep their phone in a protective case (like I do too), but I think it’s an acceptable compromise … at least it allows me to use the iPhone in its “full glory” again.

Maybe the team behind the filters wants to think about adding an iPhone case option as a filter holder in the future, as an alternative – and if it looks cool and doesn’t add too much bulk when there is no filter attached, people might also want to use it as their regular case and thereby surely increase usage of the filters, which could be more readily used.

The second small downside is the weight of the Snap Filter Base. I measured the one for the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which I used, and it’s 68 grams. If you are after staying as light as possible, this might be an issue, yet I personally liked the heftiness of the Base, because it makes it more seem like holding a “real camera”.

Lastly – the filters cannot be stacked. There is no way to stack an ND filter with a streak filter, for example, which would be a typical combination. Hopefully, in the future, they would think of a base that could allow just that.

Availability

Before Pan’s Snap Filter system enters the retail market, they are running a Kickstarter campaign, which is about to run out in a few days from now. It starts at $99 for a special edition of the Base and goes up to $159 if you want all the filters included. I think the pricing is impressive and definitely reasonable considering it’s a phone accessory – I was expecting them to charge more than they actually did. My hope is that future Base versions for future iPhone models will support the same filter sizes, because that means one could really invest in new filters versions as they become available – with the certainty that they can also be used on future phones, with a new Snap Filter Base.

Conclusion

Pan’s Snap Filter system is the most advanced and professional filter system I have come across for smartphones so far. It’s not a toy – everything is very solidly built, can take a beating, and the filters themselves are of good quality. Any downsides with resulting images seem to be stemming from the processing of the images inside the phone itself, which is something that you can influence by using a different camera app than Apple’s own. Nice work indeed and I look forward to using this in everyday life for filming as well – and I can’t wait to see what other accessories the Pan’s Scheme team might add to the product ecosystem later (I think Tim Pan mentioned a grip in their video … interesting!).

What’s your take on Pan’s Snap Filters? And about smartphone filmmaking in general? Let us know in the comments below!

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