September 26, 2019

5 Reasons Why Filmmakers Should Use the iPhone 11

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.

The ultra wide angle camera of the iPhone 11 Pro has a 120 degree field of view with little distortion.
Credit: Apple

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.”

 

 

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. 

Paris 9/19 from rcjohnso on Vimeo.

 

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.”

FiLMiC Pro's  Shot Reverse Shot feature uses two iPhone Cameras at once
Credit: FiLMiC Pro
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.”

Director's Viewfinder in FiLMiC Pro on the iPhone 11
Credit: Apple

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.      

Your Comment

20 Comments

This is reasons why it is or is not a bonafide cinema camera? I think there's an error in your thesis statement that got missed in proof

September 26, 2019 at 12:44PM

3
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Caleb Fortune
Filmmaker
13

This may be good as a stop-gap or backup, but it seems extraneous in a market with so many affordable, small/portable, and purpose-built DSLR & mirror-less cameras already available for shooting video. Having your phone regularly tied up with shooting or downloading footage could become a hassle.

September 26, 2019 at 1:48PM

1
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Marc B
Shooter & Editor
848

From a filmmakers point of view, would be interesting to compare to the Sony Experia 1 which has 3 lenses, 21:9 option and 10bit 4:2:2 video capture. Saw a recent review on youtube that was pretty impressive. (No I don't work for Sony, just curious). The Sony goes for under 1K USD and uses MicroSD cards for storage. Here is a link to the review on youtube. No affiliation to the guy...
https://youtu.be/TrZAb4dUfHQ

September 26, 2019 at 1:55PM, Edited September 26, 1:58PM

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How you look on set is a big part of why 99.9% of people will never shoot a paid project on a phone.

The iPhone could shoot 8k and have excellent cinema camera like features, but at the end of the day all the client (who in theory doesn't know much about cameras) sees is that you showed up to set to shoot with an iPhone. Possibly the same model they have in their pocket. Which leads to them thinking there may be a cheaper way to get their projects done if it can be done on a phone.

September 26, 2019 at 2:18PM

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Alex Everingham
Video Editor
696

I used it on a lot of paid projects this year. I showed up with my iPhone X, a gimbal and lights. They were very happy because I edited it almost on the spot.

September 27, 2019 at 10:20AM

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Jan Becker
DP, Director, Producer
560

Well... maybe not in the 100+ Million dollar budget paid projects... Unless it was Apple paying someone to do it.

But for paid professional Videography and low to mid tier film making... I have seen it. I know it makes every camera nerd cry, but a lot of the corporate messaging market has been cut down due to the fact they just don't really care too much about raw bits of technical data as much as how fast and conveniently they can shoot and record something.

And since most local advertising and communications people have to juggle a cut budget and have to do more and more jobs themselves a lot of them are resorting to the easiest thing: Shooting it on their phone.

Also Apple offers free classes in how to learn to shoot movies on iPhone and how to edit a video with an iPhone, it makes the turn around ridiculously fast compared to the more traditional way of shooting things.

And since about 90% of the videos are going to an officer monitor maxed out at 1280 x 1024 or on a cell phone... you really don't need anything larger than 4k... until some technology makes higher resolution displays smaller and dirt cheap.

September 27, 2019 at 1:53PM

1
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Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
1012

You know you can get a Panny G7 with waveforrm and other video features for less than half the cost of an iPhone. If you can't afford a camera because you keep upgrading your phone, your priorities are in the wrong place for a filmmaker.

September 26, 2019 at 2:40PM

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Alex Alva
1173

The camera shouldn't be the camera but the story.

September 27, 2019 at 10:21AM, Edited September 27, 10:21AM

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Jan Becker
DP, Director, Producer
560

How about you live in the real world where money is an issue for some people. The camera matters as much as your story does. You're going to be able to produce a better story if you buy a cheaper camera with actual video feature, than if you just upgraded your phone.

September 27, 2019 at 1:48PM

1
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Alex Alva
1173

Here is the thing; people pay for video work don't care much about lo-fidelity. Sure, having perfect 4K 4:4:4 10bit masters would be fantastic for deliverable.

The thing is that a lot of people are buying this phone because they don't use a computer, and don't have the money to buy an actual mid grade camera and for all the same reasons have no need for all the extras that a mid grade camera requires.

As for narrative; But I could go out and buy a $200-$500 DV Tape Camera on the market right now that has decent lens. I could rock the world with the next big indie feature with it. Sure, it would require some extra work. But as long as the story is good, the general audience is willing to forgive a multitude of video quality down grades.

Obviously we would be pulling sound separately, getting dramatically modern post work put in, and using the most advanced algorithms to scale the video to the quality needed for feature release.

But it has been done several times, and since they didn't spend $40-200K on renting a camera for a week their production was better and super profitable in the long run as they didn't start with super steep overhead due to quality concerns.

September 27, 2019 at 2:30PM

0
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Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
1012

Oh yes, the iPhone is a real Pro Camera. You can use SD Cards, spare batteries, headphones, microphones, field monitors and if you connect it with your computer you can just drag and drop the files like on a hard drive. Oh wait, .. it's just Pro because it has three lenses, like all the other current smart phones?!

September 27, 2019 at 3:10AM, Edited September 27, 3:29AM

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It's extremely practical to get footage in such a small device and I drag and drop it from my photos app right onto my hard drive. Nothing easier than that.

September 27, 2019 at 10:19AM

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Jan Becker
DP, Director, Producer
560

Don't get me wrong, I do believe that you can realize great Projects with a Smartphone. I also don't deny that the new iPhone Pro has some practical features. But I don't understand the hype, like it would be some kind of a game changer. Literally every other major company has multiple cameras since years (Nokia has even a Phone with 5 Cameras for more depth) and some of them are at least as good as the new 'Pro'. And it is a great thing how Phones make filming and taking pictures more accessible (but not cheaper). There are also definitly cases where a small and light Phone is more practical then a ton of equipment, yet it can't replace it in other cases. But that change happened continiously over the last years and is nothing that the new iPhone 'Pro' invented over night. It's like talking about how the 'E-Mail' will change communication.

September 27, 2019 at 2:22PM, Edited September 27, 2:23PM

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I wouldn't rely on the phone only on most projects. For my documentary I use FS7, A7sii and iPhone. On the other hand some of the footage I shot with my iPhone 6 ended up on television!

September 28, 2019 at 3:42PM

2
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Jan Becker
DP, Director, Producer
560

Actually, you can drag and drop a file to an external drive directly from the phone. Or you can send the files wireless via airdrop.

September 27, 2019 at 2:33PM

0
Reply
Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
1012

Then maybe you can just plug the cable into any computer of any OS and see files like a hard drive, like it would be possible with an SD Card ot other Phones. And even send them to any computer wirelessly. I didn't know that and I have no problem to admit it. Yet, my point is that it still is a phone with a camera and can't be used or equipped like a real camera. And while a Smartphone in general can be a great thing for filming, it's not more Pro then any other Phones.

September 27, 2019 at 3:11PM

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I already used it on two paid projects within the first week of owning it. It's pretty impressive, but compared to the footage of my FS7 and A7s it can't hold up. But I'm using it for everything that goes strait to social media and as a C-cam for my documentary.

September 27, 2019 at 10:17AM

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Jan Becker
DP, Director, Producer
560

Cool to see the sensor is no stupidly amazing, been waiting for Sony to make up their mind about the A7s III or A9s.

September 27, 2019 at 2:35PM

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Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
1012

I believe the iPhone 11 has the ultra wide lens, unlike what the article says. The pro adds a telephoto.

September 27, 2019 at 1:34PM

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Mike Eden
Photographer
93

Hate to be that guy but I think every article I've read from James has had pretty crucial mis-information in it. The iPhone 11 has the wide angle but not the telephoto lens. Also, where is the source *from Apple* using ARM processors in 2020 for their desktops and laptops? People have speculated that for years but it's not a for sure thing.

September 27, 2019 at 5:07PM, Edited September 27, 5:07PM

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Jeremiah Kuehne
Filmmaker
1009