smartfilming

Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#12 Recording video with multiple cameras simultaneously on a smartphone (Update 2020) — 17. April 2018

#12 Recording video with multiple cameras simultaneously on a smartphone (Update 2020)

2017 marked the return of one of THE big pioneers in the history of mobile phones to the smartphone market: Nokia. It’s not really the same company from the days of feature and Windows phones anymore (a company named HMD Global has licensed the brand name for their phones) but that doesn’t mean we should just ignore it. After launching a bunch of affordable entry-level and lower end mid-range devices (Nokia 3, 5 & 6), the Nokia 8 was the first quasi-flagship phone following the brand’s reboot.

One special feature of the Nokia 8 was something the company called the „Bothie“ for marketing purposes, obviously trying to convince people that a new flavour of the all-too-common „selfie“ is in town. A „Bothie“ is a split-screened snapshot that is taken with both front and rear cameras AT THE SAME TIME, giving you two different perspectives of the very same moment. For instance the image of a person looking at something AND the image of the scenery the person is looking at. What’s more: this mode not only works for photo but also for video, meaning you can record a split-screened video with both front and rear cameras simultaneously. It turns out however that Nokia actually wasn’t the first company to include such a feature in a smartphone. As early as 2013 (Samsung Galaxy S4 and LG Optimus G Pro) other phone makers equipped some of their phones with similar modes – of course they were/are all using different names for the same feature so we can get jolly confused when talking about it!

Before giving a brief overview on how these modes have been implemented by each manufacturer, you might ask how such a feature can be useful for a more professional video production context. I’d say there are two main use cases for which this mode could be a great asset: piece-to-camera reporting and vlogging – obviously those two areas can heavily intersect. Imagine a mobile journalist reporting from an event, let’s say a protest rally – it’s much more interesting for the audience to see both the reporter elaborating on what’s happening and the rally itself instead of just one or the other. Traditionally one would have to have two separate cameras (or take different shots successively) and edit in post-production to achieve the same but thanks to today’s smartphones having HD video capable cameras on the front and the back, this can be done a lot easier and faster.

 

Samsung’s “Dual Camera“ (discontinued)

Right along with its Korean rival LG, Samsung was the first phone maker to introduce a dual video recording feature with the Galaxy S4 in April of 2013. This mode has been on all following Samsung flagships of the S- and Note-Series so far but you might have to download it as a sort of „plug-in“ from within the native camera app (there’s a „+“ button to add more camera modes). Samsung’s take is a picture-in-picture approach, not a traditional split-screen where both parts have exactly the same size (there IS a split-screen option but it’s barely useful with two 16:9 images side-by-side, extreme letter-boxing). With Samsung’s „Dual Camera“, one image always is the main image while the secondary image from the other camera is embedded into it. You can resize the picture-in-picture though and move it around within the main image – you can also swap between cameras during the recording. The recorded video file can have a resolution of up to 1080p with a traditional aspect ratio of 16:9 or 9:16. One very cool thing about Samsung’s native camera app is that unlike most other Android phones’ native camera apps it supports the use of external mics via the 3.5mm headphone jack or USB port which is a tremendous advantage for having professional-grade audio. One catch: You can only record up to 5 minutes for a single clip. The feature made it to the S8 but was axed with the S9 and hasn’t returned since then as far as I know. What a pity!

 

HTC’s “Split Capture“ (discontinued)

HTC followed Samsung with a similar but slightly different feature (officially called “Split Capture”) on the HTC One M8, launched in March 2014. The recorded video was an equally sized left/right split-screen 1080p video with a 16:9/9:16 aspect ratio. HTC subsequently featured this mode in other phones like the Desire Eye and the One M9 but apparently ditched it after the M9 as the HTC 10 and more recent flagships like the U Ultra or U11 don’t seem to have it anymore.

 

LG’s “Snap Movie“ (discontinued) / “Match Shot“ (discontinued) / “Dual Recording”

In April 2013, LG introduced dual video recording with the LG Optimus G Pro (thanks to the user “Lal muan” for the info, see comments section!) and was – along with Samsung and its Galaxy S4 – the first Android phone maker to do so. Two years later, they redefined what a native camera app on a smartphone can deliver in terms of pro video controls with the release of the LG V10. But not only did the V10 have a unique manual video mode, the app also boasted some more playful features. Among them was a mode called „Snap Movie“ which basically invites you to create a short movie (maximum of one minute) out of short, different shots without having to muck around with an editing app. „Snap Movie“ is not a dual camera mode per se but one way of recording within this mode is to use a split-screen for simultaneously recording with both front and rear cameras. The image is recorded in 1080p with 16:9 or 9:16 aspect ratio. Big catch: You can only do so for a maximum of one minute! Flash forward to 2017 and the V30: While the „Snap Movie“ mode is gone (there’s something called „Snap Shot“ but that’s a completely different thing), there’s now a „Match Shot“ mode. With „Match Shot“ you can record a split-screen image using both front and rear cameras at the same time. You also have the option to select between regular and wide-angle lenses before starting the recording although the front camera actually only has one lens so it’s most likely a software crop. Two good things about the new mode: You are not limited to only one minute anymore and there’s also support for external mics. The recording format is a bit strange though as it’s a 18:9 or 9:18 aspect ration with a resolution of 2880×1440 (you can’t change the resolution at all). The beyond-FHD resolution is great but the rather non-standard aspect ratio (probably thanks to the 18:9 display of the phone) is a bit annoying for watching it on anything other than the phone itself because the image will either get letter-boxed on certain platforms like YouTube (I guess it’s not that much of a problem for Twitter and Facebook as they are more flexible with aspect ratios) or you will have to perform a crop in a video editing app and re-export in a more common 16:9 ratio. Unfortunately LG decided to ditch this feature with the V40 and the subsequent V-series models. I had actually thought it would be gone for good but the release of the LG Wing in October 2020 introduced the feature’s revival with a new and very welcome twist: For the first time on an Android device, the now “Dual Recording” dubbed mode lets you save the two perspectives as separate video files and not one pre-composed split-screen image. This is a huge deal as it gives you much more flexibility in post production!

 

Nokia’s “Dual Sight“

As it has become quite clear, Nokia’s „Bothie“ feature introduced with the Nokia 8 last year is actually “old news” – HMD Global just made it an integral part of their marketing campaign for the device unlike their predecessors. The mode’s proper name is „Dual Sight“ and it’s pretty much like the one HTC had, meaning it’s an equally sized split-screen image in 16:9 or 9:16 aspect ratio with a resolution of 1080p. The Nokia 8 however DOES have one new trick up its sleeve: live streaming integration! You can use the „Dual Sight“ feature not only for recording but also for live streaming video on Facebook and YouTube (not sure about Periscope) which can come in really handy for journalists and live vloggers. One probable shortcoming of this mode on the Nokia 8: while I’m not able to test myself, I’m pretty sure that Nokia’s native camera app doesn’t have support for external mics (the Nokia 5 definitely doesn’t). If you do own a Nokia 8 please let me know if my assumption is correct. Nokia has kept the Dual Sight feature on their 7 and 8-series phones with the latest addition being the Nokia 8.3 as of October 2020.

 

Huawei’s “Dual View”

I recently also discovered that Huawei has a mode called “Dual View” in its native camera app of the P30/P30 Pro. This works slightly different from the modes mentioned above as you can only use two of the rear cameras for the split-screen recording, not the front camera! While it’s good for certain situations like say an interview to record both a close-up and a wide-angle image of the interviewee, the lack of support for the front camera makes it less useful for vlogging or reporting. I don’t think it should be a technical problem to add the ability to use the front camera as well so there might be a chance that Huawei will improve things here. Like with the dual recording mode on other phones, this one basically runs in full-auto so don’t have precise control over exposure. The resolution is a rather idiosyncratic 2336×1080 at 30fps. On the positive side: External mics via the headphone jack (yes, the P30 re-introduced this feature, the P30 Pro however doesn’t have it!) are supported!

 

Dual Recording on iPhones with Filmic DoubleTake and other 3rd party apps

Some of you who have read the original blog post will have noticed that I even changed the title of the article for the 2020 update. The biggest reason for this is that I decided to include the iPhone due to major changes that happened with the release of iOS 13 and the introduction of a bunch of new iPhones in fall 2019. Apple has provided an API for 3rd party app developers to use multiple cameras simultaneously when recording video (or taking photos). The feature is however NOT available in Apple’s own native camera app. This is very interesting because on Android it’s basically the other way around: Dual camera video recording has been a proprietary feature of native camera apps on certain phones, there’s no API for 3rd party developers to use this feature (there’s something on the horizon but more about that in a bit). The first iOS app that took advantage of multi-cam recording was Filmic Inc.’s DoubleTake, Filmic’s CTO Chris Cohen even got to present the app live on stage during the Apple Event! DoubleTake lets you choose between a pair of cameras on your iPhone or iPad (front+rear, main rear+tele etc.) and record either as a single split-screen/picture-in-picture video or as two separate files. Particularly the fact that you can have two separate files is a very useful one as it gives you more flexibility to do what you want in post production with the two camera angels. What’s less exciting is the fact that DoubleTake doesn’t give you any control over exposure, white balance etc., it’s very bare-bones. Some might appreciate this simplistic approach but as Filmic’s well-known and extremely advanced Filmic Pro app is very popular among ambitious videographers, I suppose others are craving at least a bit more manual control for DoubleTake despite the fact that dialing in/adjusting a whole bunch of parameters for two shots at the same time is definitely a challenge. Then again, for vlogging and on the go to-camera-reporting, many might want to rely on auto-controls anyway because they would constantly have to readjust and check settings which is not only inconvenient but could also fail to deliver the desired result. I suppose there are different subjective angles on this topic. So let’s cover some quick facts: Frame rates are limited to 24, 25 and 30fps, resolution to 1920×1080. External mics are supported. The other thing that we need to keep in mind when talking about DoubleTake (and basically all the other similar apps as well) is that it only works on relatively recent iOS devices running at least iOS 13. DoubleTake is currently compatible with: iPhone 11 Pro Max, 11 Pro, 11, Xs Max, Xs, Xr, SE 2020, iPad Pro 2018/2020. As indicated, DoubleTake is not the only iOS app that jumped at the chance to offer multi-camera video recording. In contrast to Filmic’s separate app, MoviePro (another well-established pro video recording app) opted to integrate the functionality into its main app. There’s also a whole bunch of completely new apps that popped up in the wake of the API’s introduction (shout-out to Marc Blank-Settle for the collection): MixCam, Multicam Pro, Vlogger, Dualgram, DuoCam, MeWe Camera, Multicam Recording Dual Camera, DUBL Pro, GEMI, Dizzi and many more to come I would reckon.

 

Are Android 3rd party devs not invited to the dual cam party?

While Android (or at least some Android OEMs like Samsung, LG and HTC) beat Apple with the dual camera recording feature by half a decade, there has never been an official Android API for 3rd party app developers to tap into and make this feature available for a wider audience. There’s hope however! When I consulted the official release notes for the latest Android version (Android 11), I noticed a very interesting paragraph headline: “Support for concurrent use of more than one camera”. There, you can read the following: “Android 11 adds APIs to query support for using more than one camera at a time, including both a front-facing and rear-facing camera.” While I’m no Android developer, this very much sounds like 3rd party app developers should soon be able to create dual camera video recording apps on Android. The fact that this feature brought with it some serious compatibility fragmentation even on such a streamlined platform like iOS will most likely result in the reality that only more powerful Android devices will be able to pull this off. It will be interesting to see who will be first on Android to release a dedicated dual video recording app. Will it be an Android version of Filmic’s DoubleTake or a new kid on the block? I can’t wait!

What do you think? Is it a useful feature? Do you know of any other phones that have a dual recording mode? Let me know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter @smartfilming!

#11 Why ‘Motion Stills’ is a cool tool for fast micro-storytelling on both Android & iOS — 1. April 2018

#11 Why ‘Motion Stills’ is a cool tool for fast micro-storytelling on both Android & iOS

Back in 2016 Google made an iOS-exlusive app (weird, ain’t it?!) called Motion Stills. It focused on working with Apple’s newly introduced ‘Live Photos’ for the iPhone 6s. When you shoot a ‘Live Photo’, 1.5 seconds of video (with a low frame rate mind you) and audio before and after pressing the shutter button is recorded. You can think of it as a GIF with sound. What Motion Stills does is that it lets you record, stabilize, loop, speed-up and/or combine ‘Live Photos’. In 2017, Google finally brought the app to Android. Now while some Android phone makers have introduced ‘Live Photo’-like equivalents, there’s no general Android equivalent as such yet and because of that the app works slightly different on Android. Instead of ‘Live Photos’ you can shoot video clips with a maximum duration of 3 seconds (this also goes for pre-6s iPhones on iOS). There are also other shooting modes (Fast Forward, AR Mode) that are not limited to the 3 seconds but for this post I want to concentrate on the main mode Motion Still.

When I first looked at the app, I didn’t really find it very useful. Recording 3-second-clips in a weird vertical format of 1080×1440 (720×960 on iOS)? A revamped Vine without the attached community? Some days later however I realized that Motion Stills actually could be an interesting and easy-to-use visual micro-storytelling tool, especially for teaching core elements of visual storytelling. The main reasons why I think it’s useful are:

a) it’s a single app for both shooting and editing (and it’s free!)
b) the process of adding clips to a storyboard is super-easy and intuitive and
c) being forced to shoot only a maximum of 3 seconds let’s you concentrate on the essentials of a shot

So here’s a quick run-through of a possible scenario of how one might use the app for a quick story or say story-teaser: When covering a certain topic / location / object etc. you take a bunch of different 3-second-shots with Motion Stills (wide shot, close-up, detail etc. – 5-shot-rule anyone?) by pressing the record button. It might be good to include some sort of motion into at least some shots, either by shooting something where you already have motion because people or objects are moving or by moving the smartphone camera itself (‚dolly‘ shot, pan, tilt) when there is no intrinsic motion. Otherwise it might look a little bit too much like a stills slide show. Don’t worry too much about stabilization because Motion Stills automatically applies a stabilization effect afterwards and even without that, you might just be able to pull off a fairly stable shot for three seconds. After you have taken a bunch of shots, head over to the app’s internal gallery (bottom left corner on Android, swipe up on iOS) where all your recordings are saved and browse through the clips (they auto-play). If you tap a clip you can edit it in a couple of ways: You can turn off stabilization, mute the clip, apply a back-and-forth loop effect or speed it up. On iOS, you can also apply a motion tracking title (hope the Android version will get this feature soon as well!) What you can’t do is trim the clip. But you actually don’t have to go into edit mode at all if you’re happy with your clips as they are, you can create your story right from the gallery. And here’s the cool thing about that: Evoking a shade of Tinder, you can quickly add a clip to your project storyboard (which will appear at the bottom) by swiping a clip to the right or delete a clip from the gallery by swiping it to the left. If you want to rearrange clips in the storyboard, just long-press them and move them to the left or the right. If you want to delete a clip from the storyboard, long-press and drag it towards the center of the screen, a remove option will appear. In a certain way Google’s Motion Stills could be compared to Apple’s really good and more feature-rich Apple Clips app when it comes to creating a micro-story on the go really fast with a single app – but Apple Clips is – of course – only available for iOS.  When you are finished putting together your micro-story in Motion Stills, you can play it back by tapping the play button and save/share it by tapping the share button. Once you get the hang of it, this is truly fast and intuitive – you can assemble a series of shots in no time.

That being said, there are a couple of limitations and shortcomings that shouldn’t be swept under the rug. Obviously, thanks to the 3-second-limit per clip, the app isn’t really useful for interviewing people or any other kind of monologue/dialogue scenario. You might fit in some one liners or exclamations but that’s about it. It’s also a bit unfortunate that the app doesn’t apply some kind of automatic audio-transition between the clips. If you listen to the end result with the sound on, you will often notice rather unpleasant jumps/cracks in the audio at the edit points. While you could argue that because of the format content will only be used for social media purposes where people often just watch stuff without sound and will not care much about the audio anyway, I still think this should be an added feature. But let’s get back to the format: While you have the option to export as a GIF if you are only exporting one clip, the end result of a series of clips (which is the use case I’m focusing on here) is an mp4 (mov on iOS) video file with the rather awkward resolution of 1080 by 1440 (Android) or 720 by 960 (iOS) – a 3:4 aspect ratio. This means that it will only be useful for social media platforms but hey, why ‚only‘, isn’t social media everything these days?! Another thing that might be regarded as a shortcoming or not is the fact that (at least on Android) you are pretty much boxed in with the app. You can’t import stuff and clips also don’t auto-save to the OS’s general Gallery (you will have to export clips manually for that). But is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so because a good part of the fun is doing everything with a single app: shooting, editing, exporting/publishing. So let’s finish this with an actual shortcoming: While the app is available for Android, it’s not compatible with certain devices – mostly low-end devices / mid-rangers with rather weak chipsets. And even if you can install it, some not-so-powerful devices like the Nokia 5 or Honor 6A (both rocking a Snapdragon 430) tend to struggle with the app when performing certain tasks. This doesn’t mean the app always runs a 100% stable on flagships – I also ran into the occasional glitch while using it on a Samsung S7 and an iPhone 6. Still, the app is free, so at least check it out, it can really be a lot of fun and useful to do/learn visual (micro) storytelling! Download it on GooglePlay (Android devices) or the Apple App Store (Apple devices).

P.S.: Note that you can only work on one project at a time and don’t clear the app from your app cache before finishing/exporting it – otherwise the project (not the recorded clips) will be lost!
P.P.S.: Turn off the watermark in the settings!