iPhone 15 Pro Anamorphic Experiment – “What Makes a Cinema Camera” by Michael Cioni/Strada

Michael Cioni, one of the founders of Strada, and his crew put the iPhone 15 Pro to the test with an affordable rig to see the smartphone’s capabilities. Does the iPhone fit the category of cinema camera or do we have to wait to see it perform as such? The resulting shots are impressive, so let’s take a look at their experiment.Some weeks ago, we interviewed Michael Cioni (formerly Frame.io/Adobe) about Strada, an AI-enabled cloud platform for content creators founded by him and his brother, ex-Netflix Peter Cioni. On their YouTube channel, they give information about technology and creativity for filmmakers, and in this episode, they wanted to push the iPhone 15 Pro filmmaking possibilities to see if it behaves like a cinema camera. The experiment – pushing the iPhone 15 Pro’s boundaries The video opens with a scene shot with the iPhone 15 Pro that looks impressive. Even if we don’t have an exact definition of ‘cinematic’, the scene fits the category. Of course, Michael Cioni and his team are fully aware of the iPhone’s limitations and that for a project like this, they would most likely use a solid cinema camera. Still, he wanted to experiment and see how far he could push the boundaries to come to his own conclusion. We asked Michael, why he chose to route when it’s possible to achieve similar results with a more traditional setup, and this is what he answered: When I do shoots like this I don’t shoot them with a clear objective in mind. Rather, I shoot them with an open mind and learn along the way. When the shoot is over and I look at the results, I start to get new ideas and draw conclusions as results (good and bad) unlock concepts I hadn’t considered prior to the experiment.Michael Cioni, Strada co-founderUsing Strada to organize the shooting. Image credit: Lorelai RubikCioni talks about the difference between shooting with the iPhone native lenses versus using a focal reducer and an anamorphic lens (in this case, Atlas Mercury 42mm and 72mm). Aside from a more controlled depth of field, the shots show the typical image marks of using ground glass, like some distortion, chromatic aberration around the edges, vignetting, and a light loss of about 1-1/5 stops. Anyway, those are some of the features that we have in our unconscious mind when we judge if an image is cinematic or not. In contrast, when using the iPhone lenses, the result is a sharper, flatter image with a massive depth of field due to the small size of the sensor and the focal length. The separation between the elements is achieved mainly with good production design, lighting, smoke, and a carefully thought mise-en-scene.Filming with an iPhone 15 Pro and a high production value. Image credit: Lorelai RubikThe short film was shot with the Blackmagic Camera app and a custom LUT, and was finished with a 2.35 aspect ratio in post and suitable color grading. In the anamorphic version, we can see a shallower depth of field naturally occurring in the shots, more flaring, and a more pronounced blooming effect around the practicals.A new test with affordable gearAs he says in the video, in a previous episode Cioni and his team shot a scene with the iPhone 15 Pro where they used AI to reduce the depth of field. As DOP Shannon Stutenroth says, they built a massive rig and used top-of-the-line accessories to create that image. A still from the scene shot using the anamorphic setup. Source: StradaThe main criticism after publishing the episode was that the expensive gear overcomes the limitations of the iPhone. However, almost nobody questioned the resulting image quality, meaning that the phone can produce professional-looking images when surrounded by filmmaking professionals and professional gear. But what if they did not use professional accessories? When I realized what I think separates cinema cameras from video cameras, it has significantly changed over the past 15 years. The Oscar nominated “The Creator” was shot on FX3! To see that and Oppenheimer on IMAX proves what makes a camera a cinema camera has dramatically widened and 4K ProRes + Log + 10bit and the Blackmagic Cinema App has catapulted the iPhone closer to that arena. It’s not there yet because Apple has not yet built a camera with removable lenses – so this whole ground-glass approach is a significant work-around, but the rest of the tools behaved like a normal cinema camera. In fact, all the crew responded after the shoot by saying “this felt like a normal shoot”.Michael Cioni, Strada Co-founderThen, Stutenroth and Cioni decided to test again, this time with affordable gear and an anamorphic lens as one of the comments in their previous episode had suggested. They chose accessories available to anyone and rented the Atlas Mercury lenses used in the movie The Creator. What remained the same was their dedicated crew of professionals working on the shoot. Rigging the iPhone with an anamorphic cost-effective setup. Image credit: Lorelai RubikThe total budget for rigging the phone was $1,852 – including the cage, a 2TB SSD, the Beastgrip MK3 DOF adapter, a Tilta matte box, the 2-day lens rental, etc. The cost of the iPhone is not included (remember, it is around $1,200). Conclusion: is the iPhone 15 Pro a cinema camera?While filming the episode, Michael Cioni wanted to push the boundaries, learn, experiment, and have fun with his team. He also reflected on one question: Can the iPhone 15 Pro be considered a cinema camera? For him, a cinema camera has to fulfill five requisites:Cinematic resolutionIntraframe encodingHigh dynamic rangeWide color gamut (10-bit or more)Removable lensesFor now, the iPhone 15 Pro meets four out of these five requirements, all except the last one. But what will happen in a few years? Will future iPhones have a sensor big enough for cinema productions? We will see. For now, we must keep using ground glass like the Beastgrip MK3 DOF adapter. Anyway, judging from this experiment and the results, maybe we are not as far away as we might think…What do you think of using the iPhone 15 Pro for professional productions? Would you consider it a cinema camera? Let us know in the comments below!

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