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iPhone 11 Pro: Is it good enough to replace a professional video camera?

We challenged award-winning filmmakers to shoot a film using only the iPhone 11 Pro.

The iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro pack incredible cameras, and their pictures have already impressed us in our reviews and our camera tests in San Francisco and Scotland. I've even gone so far as to call the iPhone 11 Pro a DSLR replacement in some shots. But what about for video? 

To find out if it can hold its own as a professional video tool, I challenged our sister brand, Carfection, to produce a video shot entirely on the iPhone 11 Pro. This wouldn't be some quick, rough vlog mind you -- Carfection has won numerous awards for its stunning cinematic style, incredible videography talent and high production value. I wanted to see how close the team could get to that same standard using just the iPhone. 

Carfection accepted the challenge and on a cold, misty morning in the heart of the New Forest National Park in southern England, I met Carfection producers Charlie Rose, George Peck and Drew Stearne, who would be presenting on camera. Our subject was a Ford Mustang Bullitt; a forest-green V8-powered burly muscle car. You can see the video below:

After filming wrapped up, I caught up with Rose to discuss what he thought of the shooting process and how they achieved the finished result. Note that Rose's responses are edited for length and clarity.

Overall, how did you find the phone?
It was impressive. It's the first time I've had my hands on the iPhone 11 Pro and it's the first time I've tried to do something so in-depth on a phone of any kind. The three cameras gave a lot of versatility. 

It was tricky at times because I'm not used to shooting with something so small; I usually use something much bigger -- DSLRs like our Panasonic GH5 or even bigger cameras like our Sony FS7. We often use well over £20,000 of equipment [the equivalent of around $26,000 or AU$37,000] on a shoot. 

What other hardware did you use?
We used lenses by Moment, as well as some of Moment's filters that just screw onto the front with an adapter. We also used our same sliders, tripods and stabilizing gimbals we usually use, all of which allowed us to recreate the same cinematic maneuvers we'd perform with our normal gear. 

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The iPhone was paired with Moment's lens case and a variety of its add-on lenses and filters. A video tripod was also used to keep the footage smooth and shake-free.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I had to make a little rig to center the lens on the tripod -- it's always more difficult if you're shooting and your lens is off-center. But my little rig positioned the lens directly above the tripod. We weren't recording sound through the phone, so we had a separate microphone and audio recorder. 

What was the biggest problem you found with the hardware?
We had some usability issues with the camera app on the phone. I'm used to having buttons for everything or a big focus wheel to move the focus point. On the iPhone it's just a big touchscreen and it does get fiddly changing everything by tapping on a small icon on a screen. That's particularly difficult when we were shooting at a low angle and it's difficult to see the screen.

We tried using a second iPhone [an iPhone XS Max] as a second display for monitoring, using Filmic's companion app. It mirrors the feed from the app on the main phone. But there was a big delay between the two phones, which made it very difficult to use.

How did you find working with the Filmic Pro software on the iPhone?
Overall it's impressive. The fact that on an iPhone, you can change up all your shooting settings -- ISO, white balance, shutter speed, manual focussing -- is amazing. I never would have expected to be able to do that kind of stuff on a phone. But it is fiddly to use. 

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The small icons in the Filmic Pro app can be tricky to use at times.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

We also had a few stability problems, which were frustrating. We had to use the second screen app several times as we were shooting at angles where we simply couldn't reach in and change settings on the main phone. But every time we tried to change the ISO, the app would crash on the main iPhone. When we restarted the app, only some of the settings would stay the same, but others -- including white balance -- had changed. That happened about six times. 

If you forget to change those settings back to what you need, it'll really mess up your footage. On some shoots we have a really limited amount of time with the cars -- sometimes only a few hours -- so if we have errors like this that delay our filming, it's a real problem.

After seeing footage from the phone, how do you think it compares with what you'd normally get?
I'm a bit divided over the footage. In great lighting, like the daylight we had for much of the morning, it looked amazing. You wouldn't be able to tell that it was shot on an iPhone. 

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The car-to-car footage [where the Mustang is driving behind our crew car, being filmed], for example; the dynamic range is incredible, considering it's from a phone camera. But as soon as we started getting closer on some of the details, the noise in the shadows from the processing became more noticeable. 

You also don't get the same depth of field you'd be able to achieve with a big image sensor. That's a big giveaway that what you're looking at is shot on an iPhone. It's difficult to get that cinematic look. 

Would you ever expect to use the iPhone 11 Pro in your professional workflow?
At the moment I can't see us using it regularly on a shoot. I see it as a potential fallback if you had major equipment failures. It definitely can't replace our higher-end cameras with bigger sensors. But I'm not sure that'll ever be the case with a phone unless they introduced a huge sensor that gave that depth of field for video. 

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I see it as a camera that I would 100% use in those emergency situations where all the gear is packed away and there's just one last shot we need to get and time is against us. I'd totally use the iPhone to grab that final shot and I wouldn't have an issue about using that in the final film. 

It's been fun to try it out and I think a lot of people will watch it on a smaller screen anyway, so they won't see those fine details and won't notice that it was shot on a phone. Also, the fact I've been able to process the footage, reducing the noise and stabilizing some of the shots, also helps a lot. 

I think it is a success from my point of view, but we'll have to wait and see what the comments are like and whether people can tell -- or even care -- that it's been shot on a phone.