The phone's Ultra Wide Lens without distortion is just the beginning.
When Apple unveiled the iPhone 11 Pro, and its triple-lens display, some gave the next-generation mobile device a bit of a snicker, stating that it looked like a missile launcher, rather than an actual camera. But thanks to the new ultra-wide lens and it's the ability to move from focal length to focal length rather seamlessly, many filmmakers are not only embracing the new iPhone as a mobile filmmaking marvel, but some say it's not a bonafide cinema camera. Here are five reasons why.
1. That Ultra Wide Lens
One of the drawbacks shooting with an action camera like the GoPro is that while it does indeed have an ultra-wide focal length, it's also got a bit of a fisheye effect that must be compensated for and removed in order to make the image usable. But with the iPhone 11 Pro, there are computational photography algorithms that do it for you.
Additionally, when shooting video, the field of view becomes a bit tighter, so a filmmaker doesn't get the entire width of the lens for the moving image. To compensate, users will rely on a third party ultra-wide-angle lens, like the 18mm from Moment, which was used by Stephen Soderberg for his feature film Unsane. Or, like award-winning director Sean Baker (Tangerine), you can use an anamorphic lens as well. Both Moment and Moondog Labs both offer these solutions.
But with the iPhone 11 Pro, that ultra-wide-angle is natively built-in with it's .5x lens, with a focal length of 13mm f 2.4. “It looks to sit right around a 13mm,” said Caleb Babcock, chief content creator at Moment. “Which is perfect, because any wider on the iPhone and you start to get that fish-eye look.”
Apple let me mess around with their new iphone pro, and I cut together this little thing. Pretty shots of Paris ftw. I usually find phone camera upgrades to be baby-steps and not very exciting, but this wide angle lens is a real game changer.https://t.co/Pg98d5nI9N— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) September 20, 2019
Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson went even further, declaring on Twitter that the ultra-wide-angle lens was a real game-changer for mobile filmmakers. Apple gave the man behind Knives Out a prototype iPhone 11 Pro to shoot with on the streets of Paris. If you look carefully, there is a bit of distortion at the end of some clips, but they are hardly noticeable.
2. The Selfie Camera
While it's easy to get caught up in the hoopla of that new triple-lens array, the selfie camera on the iPhone 11 Pro should not be overlooked.
While the so-called "slowfie" footage got a joyful giggle from the crowd when Apple showed it off, the front-facing 12MP camera lens has been greatly improved and can now capture 4K video at up to 60 fps.
FiLMiC Pro CTO Chris Cohen was greatly impressed with the upgrade of the selfie camera, to the point where FiLMiC Pro could now encourage mobile filmmakers to use it. “We’ve always discouraged it to our users,” said Cohen. “We’ve even had internal conversations of whether we should even let users use the front-facing lens because the quality was just poor. It’s a worthy addition to the lens kit now.”
“As a filmmaker, there’s some really practical use cases for it,” said Babcock. “If someone wanted to record a podcast, you’re sitting across the desk from someone, one camera in the middle, and you’re getting both angles. That goes for documentary use as well.”
3. "Shot, Reverse Shot"
FiLMiC Pro has taken advantage of that fact in the iPhone 11 Pro can record separate streams in 4K from two different rear-facing cameras. This so-called "shot, reverse shot" function, giving filmmakers the ability to manage a two-shot at one time with two separate camera angles. FiLMiC can then merge these two separate streams together in a picture in picture configuration.
That may not be a huge benefit for narrative filmmaking, but for documentary interviews, it's pretty cool.
“These phones are extremely powerful and the benchmarks on the chips in them are not far off from a laptop computer,” said Pasqual. “You’re basically pairing a camera with a super computer.”
4. A Camera and a Super Computer All in One
With processors having gone beyond quad-core performance, today's smartphones are rapidly approaching the power of a supercomputer. That's the opinion of the head of Moment's App Team, who says that the iPhone 11's A13 chip is nearly as fast as a laptop. This is why Apple is going to be using ARM-based processors in its desktop and laptop computers beginning in 2020. They can then design the chip to work with the software and not the other way around.
But when you pair the camera with the power of a supercomputer, then you have the ability to create what Pasqual refers to as "a paradigm shift," in capturing an image. In concert with FiLMiC, the iPhone is now giving filmmakers dynamic range, uncompressed Raw images through Log 2, and professional color grading. And Pasqual says that the next two years are really going to tell the tale. “You’re going to see things with real-time imaging software that’s going to blow you away.”
“Apple, to their credit,” said Cohen. “They could have arbitrarily made the pro artificially superior to the other ones, but they did not do that.”
5. Performance for the Lower-end Version of the Phone Is Good
And entry-level filmmakers don't' have to resign themselves into spending nearly $1500 to get a good quality 4K image with an iPhone 11 Pro. In fact, last year's iPhone XR was the most popular iPhone ever sold, and it still enjoyed many of the features of the higher-end Max models. Sure, the iPhone 11 doesn't have that ultra-wide-angle lens, but it does enjoy the same processor, and that means it can handle a lot of the same functions as the Pro models, with simply fewer options.
One of those is the Composite Zoom. This is where the camera can manage a zoom from one camera to the next, from .5-2x in the iPhone 11 Pro. Well, the lower-end iPhone 11 will enjoy that same function from 1x-2x, giving users a computational, yet optical zoom.
It's a brilliant workaround.