smartfilming

Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#32 Google Recorder 2.0 – A fantastic update for an already brilliant app! — 18. October 2020

#32 Google Recorder 2.0 – A fantastic update for an already brilliant app!

Note: The Post-It in this image was added by me and is not part of the Google Recorder app icon.

Not too long ago, I wrote an article about my favorite audio recorder apps for Android. One of the apps I included was Google Recorder. Officially, the app is only available for Pixel phones but can be sideloaded to a range of other Android devices. Google Recorder has a unique place among audio recording apps because of one killer feature: it transcribes audio into text – offline and for free. This can be extremely useful for a lot of people, particularly journalists. With the launch of the new Pixel 5 / Pixel 4a 5G, Google has introduced version 2.0 of Recorder and it packs some really exciting new features and improvements!

Edit the transcript

As good as Google’s voice recognition and subsequent transcription works, it occasionally makes mistakes. Before version 2.0, you weren’t able to make any kind of edits to the transcription within the app (it was possible to export the text and then make corrections). With the update you can now edit your transcript, however only one word at a time.

Edit your recording

Another new feature of version 2.0 is that you can now edit the audio recording itself by cropping/trimming (cut off something at the beginning/end) or removing a part in the middle. You can actually also do this by removing words from the transcript and it will automatically cut the audio file accordingly! You can access this feature by tapping on the scissors icon in the top right corner when having a recording selected. This particular feature can also come in very handy to bypass a limitation of another new feature which I will talk about in a second.

Create a video with waveforms and captions

Quite possibly the coolest new feature of version 2.0 is the ability to create a video with waveforms and captions from your audio file. This is very useful for sharing audio snippets or teasers on social networks where everything is primarily focused on visual impressions. I was even more delighted to find that you can customize a couple of things for the video: You can choose whether you want the waveforms plus captions or only the waveform. You can also select the aspect ratio of the video (square, portrait, landscape) and the color theme (dark/light). This is great! One thing they could have added is an option to choose a photo as a background image for the video. You will also notice that there are two watermarks at the bottom (the Recorder app logo and a “Recorded on Pixel” branding), unfortunately there’s no way to hide them before exporting. You can however use a separate video editing app to crop the image or place a black/white layer over the bottom part to cover it up. One last thing to mention: You can only create videos from clips that have a maximum length of 60 seconds. So for longer recordings you need to cut out a chunk via the editing tool, save it as a copy and then create your video from this excerpt. The export resolution of the video is 1080×1080 for square, 720×1280 for portrait and 1280×720 for landscape, all at 30fps.

Perfect? Not quite!

Two shortcomings that I already pointed out in my other blog post and that unfortunately haven’t been improved with version 2.0: Google Recorder is still limited to English. I’m sure though that support for other languages will be coming soon because Google’s own Live Transcribe app which I think uses the very same engine for voice recognition and transcription is already polyglot. The second minor set-back concerns its potential use in a professional (broadcast) environment: The app only records with a sample rate of 32kHz. It’s not a problem for professional use per se because I think it’s fair to say that you can also call it a “professional” tool when you “just” use the transcription for your work. But if you want to use the audio recording as such (say for broadcast radio), the sample rate doesn’t match the usual standards of 44.1/48 kHz. If Google Recorder allowed importing audio files from outside the app, this limitation could be circumvented but you can only use files recorded within the app – and I don’t think this is going to change soon as Google probably wants the user experience to be as easy as possible and importing files from other apps might not fit the bill. Ease of use is probably also the reason for not being able to customize anything in terms of recording quality. The sample rate of 32kHz should however be just fine for less “official” formats like podcasts or social media / the web. I have also thought of a hack to record in higher quality but still take advantage of Google Recorder’s features: Record you audio with another app that gives you a higher sample rate (for instance ShurePlus Motiv) and then play it back on your phone while simultaneously recording with Google Recorder. Google Recorder picks up the playback from your phone’s speaker and treats it as if you were talking into the mic. This actually works quite well but of course you need to be in a quiet environment. If you want to use the app’s ability to create a video with waveforms and captions but incorporate the original audio and not the lower quality re-recording, export the re-recording as a video file, then import the video into a video editing app that lets you exchange the audio with the original higher quality recording.

For which devices is Google Recorder available?

Officially, Google Recorder is only available for Google’s own Pixel phones, excluding the very first Pixel (XL). These are: Pixel 2 (XL), Pixel 3 (XL), Pixel 3a, Pixel 4 (XL), Pixel 4a, Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5. If you have used version 1 but can’t find the new features, you need to update the app. So are you totally out of luck if you don’t own a Google Pixel? Not quite! It’s actually possible to sideload the app to a whole range of other Android phones running Android 9 or newer (version 1 of Google Recorder) or Android 10 or newer (version 2). However, while the app can be installed on other Android devices that – in theory – should be able to run it, not all do so without problems in reality. I have had excellent results with phones from LG (V30 running version 1 of Google Recorder and now the G8X running version 2) where the app seems to work flawlessly. It also works well on the Huawei P30. On the other hand, the OnePlus 3 only does the recording part, not the transcription. And the Xiaomi Pocophone F1 lets you install and open the app but the moment you try to start a recording, the app crashes. Bottom line: Your mileage will vary with non-Pixel devices and if you’re about to buy a new phone and want to make sure Google Recorder 2.0 runs with all relevant features, you should get one of the recent Pixel phones. If you have a non-Pixel phone that theoretically should be able to run the app by sideloading it, just give it a go, you might be lucky!

How can I sideload the app and is it safe?

Unlike with Apple’s iOS, Android lets you sideload apps to your device. Sideloading basically means you can install apps from other sources than the official app store, in the case of Android the official app store is Google’s Play Store. When you download an Android app from outside the Play Store, you will get an apk file that you can then open and install. For security reasons, installs from other sources than the Play Store are disabled by default on Android and the system will give you a warning when trying to install an apk file. You can override this protective layer though by allowing certain apps (in most cases it will be the browser which you used to download the apk file) to perform installs from so-called “unknown sources”. I highly recommend only downloading and installing apk files from sites you trust. Personally I have only downloaded apks from XDA Developers and APKMirror so far. Now if you want to rush over to APKMirror and get the Google Recorder 2.0 apk, there’s one more hoop you have to jump through, at last for the moment: The download is provided not as a single apk file but as an “apk bundle”, this is a different way of packaging an app to reduce the file size. But while Android can handle installing single-file apks out of the box, you need an extra app to install apk bundles. I used APKMirror’s own APK Mirror Installer which you can download as a regular app from the Google Play Store. After downloading both the APKMirror Installer and the Google Recorder 2.0 apk bundle onto your Android device, open APKMirror, tap “Browse files” and select the Google Recorder 2.0 apk bundle (it has an .apkm file extension). Choose “Install package” and you’re finally done!

To wrap it up: With the 2.0 update, Google has immensely improved its fascinating Recorder app and made it an even more powerful tool for recording, auto-transcribing and sharing audio, one that might be a decisive factor for choosing a Google Pixel over any other phone, be it Android or an iPhone. What’s your experience with Google Recorder? Have you used it? If you have sideloaded it onto a non-Pixel device, how does it work? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. If you like this article, do consider subscribing to my Telegram Newsletter to get notified about new blog posts.

#27 No, you don’t need a second video track for storytelling! (… and why it really doesn’t matter that much anymore) — 25. June 2020

#27 No, you don’t need a second video track for storytelling! (… and why it really doesn’t matter that much anymore)

As I pointed out in one of my very first blog posts here (in German), smartphone videography still comes with a whole bunch of limitations (although some of them are slowly but surely going away or have at least been mitigated). Yet one central aspect of the fascinating philosophy behind phoneography (that’s the term I now prefer for referring to content creation with smartphones in general) has always been one of “can do” instead of “can’t do” despite the shortcomings. The spirit of overcoming obvious obstacles, going the extra mile to get something done, trailblazing new forms of storytelling despite not having all the bells and whistles of a whole multi-device or multi-person production environment seems to be a key factor. With this in mind I always found it a bit irritating and slightly “treacherous” to this philosophy when people proclaimed that video editing apps without the ability to have a second video track in the editing timeline are not suitable for storytelling. “YOU HAVE TO HAVE A VIDEO EDITOR WITH AT LEAST TWO VIDEO TRACKS!” Bam! If you are just starting out creating your first videos you might easily be discouraged if you hear such a statement from a seasoned video producer. Now let me just make one thing clear before digging a little deeper: I’m not saying having two (or multiple) video tracks in a video editing app as opposed to just one isn’t useful. It most definitely is. It enables you to do things you can’t or can’t easily do otherwise. However, and I can’t stress this enough, it is by no means a prerequisite for phoneography storytelling – in my very humble opinion, that is. 

I can see why someone would support the idea of having two video tracks as being a must for creating certain types of videography work. For instance it could be based on the traditional concept of a news report or documentary featuring one or more persons talking (most often as part of an interview) and you don’t want to have the person talking occupying the frame all the time but still keep the statement going. This can help in many ways: On a very basic level, it can work as a means for visual variety to reduce the amount of “talking heads” air time. It might also help to cover up some unwanted visual distraction like when another person stops to look at the interviewee or the camera. But it can also exemplify something that the person is talking about, creating a meaningful connection. If you are interviewing the director of a theater piece who talks about the upcoming premiere you could insert a short clip showing the theater building from the outside, a clip of a poster announcing the premiere or a clip of actors playing a scene during the rehearsal while the director is still talking. The way you do it is by adding the so-called “b-roll” clip as a layer to the primary clip in the timeline of the editing app (usually muting the audio of the b-roll or at least reducing the volume). Without a second video track it can be difficult or even impossible to pull off this mix of video from one clip with the audio from another. But let’s stop here for a moment: Is this really the ONLY legitimate way to tell a story? Sure, as I just pointed out, it does have merit and can be a helpful tool – but I strongly believe that it’s also possible to tell a good story without this “trick” – and therefore without the need for a second video track. Here are some ideas:

WYSIWYH Style

Most of us have probably come across the strange acronym WYSIWYG: “What you see is what you get” – it’s a concept from computational UI design where it means that the preview you are getting in a (text/website/CMS) editor will very much resemble the way things actually look after creating/publishing. If you want a word to appear bold in your text and it’s bold after marking it in the editor, this is WYSIWYG. If you have to punch in code like <b>bold</b>  into your text editing interface to make the published end result bold, that’s not WYSIWYG. So I dare to steal this bizarre acronym in a slightly altered version and context: WYSIWYH – “What you see is what you hear” – meaning that your video clips always have the original sound. So in the case of an interview like described before, using a video editing app with only one video track, you would either present the interview in one piece (if it’s not very long) or cut it into smaller chunks with “b-roll” footage in between rather than overlaid (if you don’t want the questions included). Sure, it will look or feel a bit different, not “traditional”, but is that bad? Can’t it still be a good video story? One fairly technical problem we might encounter here is getting smooth audio transitions between clips when the audio levels of the two clips are very different. Video editing apps usually don’t have audio-only cross-fades (WHY is that, I ask!) and a cross-fade involving both audio AND video might not be the preferred transition of choice as most of the time you want to use a plain cut. There are ways to work around this however or just accept it as a stylistic choice for this way of storytelling. 

One-Shot Method

Another very interesting way that results in a much easier edit without the need for a second video track (if any at all) but includes more pre-planning in advance for a shoot is the one-shot approach. In contrast to what many one-man-band video journalists do (using a tripod with a static camera), this means you need to be an active camera operator at the same time to catch different visual aspects of the scene. This probably also calls for some sort of stabilization solution like phone-internal OIS/EIS, a rig, a gimbal or at least a steady hand and some practice. Journalist Kai Rüsberg has been an advocate of this style and collected some good tips here (blog post is in German but Google Translate should help you getting the gist). As a matter of fact, there’s even a small selection of noticeable feature films created in such a (risky) manner, among them “Russian Ark” (2002) and “Viktoria” (2015). One other thing we need to take into consideration is that if there’s any kind of asking questions involved, the interviewer’s voice will be “on air” so the audio should be good enough for this as well. I personally think that this style can be (if done right!) quite fascinating and more visually immersive than an edited package with static separate shots but it poses some challenges and might not be suited for everybody and every job/situation. Still, doing something like that might just expand your storytelling capabilities by trying something different. A one-track video editing app will suffice to add some text, titles, narration, fade in/out etc.

Shediting

A unique almagam of a traditional multi-clip approach and the one-shot method is a technique I called “shediting” in an earlier blog post. This involves a certain feature that is present in many native and some 3rd party camera apps: By pausing the recording instead of stopping it in between shots, you can cram a whole bunch of different shots into a single clip. Just like with one-shot, this can save you lots of time in the edit (sometimes things need to go really fast!) but requires more elaborate planning and comes with a certain risk. It also usually means that everything needs to be filmed within a very compact time frame and one location/area because in most cases you can’t close the app or have the phone go to sleep without actually stopping the recording. Nonetheless, I find this to be an extremely underrated and widely unknown “hack” to piece together a package on the go! Do yourself a favor and try to tell a short video story that way!

Voice-Over

A way to tackle rough audio transitions (or bad/challenging sound in general) while also creating a sense of continuity between clips is to use a voice-over narration in post production, most mobile editors offer this option directly within the app and even if you happen to come across one that doesn’t (or like Videoshop, hides it behind a paywall) you can easily record a voice-over in a separate audio recording app and import the audio to your video editor although it’s a bit more of a hassle if you need to redo it when the timing isn’t quite right. One example could be splicing your interview into several clips in the timeline and add “b-roll” footage with a voice-over in between. Of course you should see to it that the voice-over is somewhat meaningful and not just redundant information or is giving away the gist / key argument of an upcoming statement of the interviewee. You could however build/rephrase an actual question into the voice-over. Instead of having the original question “What challenges did you experience during the rehearsal process?” in the footage, you record a voice-over saying “During the rehearsal process director XY faced several challenges both on and off the stage…” for the insert clip followed by the director’s answer to the question. It might also help in such a situation to let the voice-over already begin at the end of the previous clip and flow into the subsequent one to cover up an obvious change in the ambient sound of the different clips. Of course, depending on the footage, the story and situation, this might not always work perfectly.

Text/Titles

Finally, with more and more media content being consumed muted on smartphones “on the go” in public, one can also think about having text and titles as an important narrative tool, particularly if there’s no interview involved (of course a subtitled interview would also be just fine!). This only works however if your editing app has an adequate title tool, nothing too fancy but at least covering the basics like control over fonts, size, position, color etc. (looking at you, iMovie for iOS!). Unlike adding a second video track, titles don’t tax the processor very much so even ultra-budget phones will be able to handle it.

Now, do you still remember the second part of this article’s title, the one in parentheses? I have just gone into lengths to explain why I think it’s not always necessary to use a video editing app with at least two video tracks to create a video story with your phone, so why would I now be saying that after all it doesn’t really matter that much anymore? Well, if you look back a whole bunch of years (say around 2013/2014) when the phoneography movement really started to gather momentum, the idea of having two video tracks in a video editing app was not only a theoretical question for app developers, thinking about how advanced they WANTED their app to be. It was also very much a plain technical consideration, particularly for Android where the processing power of devices ranged from quite weak to quite powerful. Processing multiple video streams in HD resolution simultaneously was no small feat at the time for a mobile processor, to a small degree this might even still be true today. This meant that not only was there a (very) limited selection of video editing apps with the ability to handle more than just one video track at the same time, but even when an app like KineMaster or PowerDirector generally supported the use of multiple video tracks, this feature was only available for certain devices, excluding phones and tablets with very basic processors that weren’t up to the task. Now this has very much changed over the last years with SoCs (System-on-a-chip) becoming more and more powerful, at least when it comes to handling video footage in FHD 1080p resolution as opposed to UHD/4K! Sure, I bet there’s still a handful of (old) budget Android devices out there that can’t handle two tracks of HD video in an editing app but mostly, having the ability to use at least two video tracks is not really tied to technical restraints anymore – if the app developers want their app to have multi-track editing then they should be able to integrate that. And you can definitely see that an increasing number of video editing apps have (added) this feature – one that’s really good, cross-platform and free without watermark is VN which I wrote about in an earlier article.

So, despite having argued that two video tracks in an editing app is not an absolute prerequisite for producing a good video story on your phone, the fact that nowadays many apps and basically all devices support this feature very much reduces the potential conflict that could arise from such an opinion. I do hope however that the mindset of the phoneography movement continues to be one of “can do” instead of “can’t do”, exploring new ways of storytelling, not just producing traditional formats with new “non-traditional” devices.

As usual, feel free to drop a comment or get in touch on the Twitter @smartfilming. If you like this blog, consider signing up for my Telegram channel t.me/smartfilming.

#24 Why Telegram is the best messenger app for mobile video production — 7. June 2020

#24 Why Telegram is the best messenger app for mobile video production

Ever since smartphones and mobile internet became a thing, messenger apps have grown immensely in popularity and significantly curbed other types of (digital) communication like SMS/texts, eMails and heck yes, phone calls, for most of us. There’s also little doubt about which messenger apps can usually be found on everyone’s phone: WhatsApp is by far the most popular app of its kind on a global scale with only Facebook Messenger being somewhat close in terms of users. Sure, if you look at certain regions/countries or age groups you will find other prominent messenger apps like WeChat in China, KakaoTalk in Korea, Viber in the Ukraine or Snapchat among the younger generation(s). We have also seen a noticeable rise in the popularity of security and data conscious alternatives like the Edward Snowden-recommended Signal or Switzerland-based Threema. One might say that right in between mass popularity and special focus groups sits Telegram.

Telegram started out in 2013, founded by Russian brothers Nikolai and Pawel Durow who had already created “Russia’s Facebook”, VK. While it was able to avoid being seen as “the Kremlin messenger”, its claims of providing an experience that is very strong in terms of security and data protection have received some flak from experts. It also came into questionable spotlight as the preferred modus communicandi of the so-called “Islamic State” and other extremist groups that want to avoid scrutiny from intelligence agencies. But this is just some general context and everyone can decide for herself/himself what to make of it.

The reason for this article has nothing to do with the aforementioned “historical” context but looks only at the app’s potentially useful functionality when it comes to media production, particularly video production. People are sending enormous amounts of video these days via their messenger apps. For reasons benefitting the sender/receiver as well as the app service provider itself, those videos are usually compressed, both in terms of resolution and bitrate. The compression results in smaller file sizes which lets you send/receive them faster, use up less storage space and avoid burning through too much mobile data. This works pretty well when all you do is watch the video in your messenger app, it’s far from ideal however if you want to work with the video somebody sent you.

While there is a way to prevent the app from automatically compressing your video by sending/attaching it not as a video (which is the usual way of doing it) but as a file (as you would normally add a doc or pdf), the file size limit of most messenger apps is so small that it’s not really suitable for sending video files that are longer than one minute. WhatsApp has a current file size limit of 100MB and so does Signal. Threema tops out at 50MB for sending files uncompressed while Facebook Messenger gives you a measly 25MB! Just for measure: a moderate bitrate of 16Mbit/s for a FHD 1920×1080 video will reach the 100MB limit at only 50 seconds. In this regard, Telegram is basically lightyears ahead of the competition as it lets you send uncompressed files up to 2 GB (around 2000 MB), yes you heard that right! 

Choose “File” and then “Gallery” (or another option if that’s where your media is located) to send a video in full quality without compression.

To send an uncompressed video file within Telegram, tap on the paper clip icon in a chat, select “File” (NOT “Gallery”) and then “Gallery. To send images without compression” (or choose one of the other options if your video file is located somewhere else on the device). It’s that easy! There’s also a cool way to use Telegram as your personal unlimited cloud storage: If you open the app’s menu (tapping on the three lines in the top left corner) you will find an option that says “Saved Messages”. This is basically your own personal space within the app where you can collect all kinds of material like notes, links or files. As long as the file doesn’t exceed 2 GB, you can upload it into this “self chat” like you would in a regular cloud storage service like Dropbox, GoogleDrive or OneDrive. And believe it or not, you currently get UNLIMITED storage for free! I think there’s a chance that Telegram might cap this at some point in the future if people start using it too excessively but up until then, this is a pretty amazing feature most users don’t know about (even I didn’t until a few days ago!).

Telegram gives you unlimited cloud storage, each file you upload can be up to 2 GB in size.

This benefit gets even more powerful when you consider that you can use Telegram across several devices (it’s not only available for Android, iOS and Windows 10 Mobile but also has desktop apps for Windows and MacOS!) with the same account, something you can’t do with other messengers like WhatsApp which ties you to a single mobile device for active use of one account. A side note though: If you have someone send you a big uncompressed video file over mobile data, you might want to tell the other person that it will cut into their mobile data significantly. So if possible, they should send it when logged into a WiFi network.

In-app video editor of Telegram.

And even if your goal is actually to compress a video when sending it, Telegram gives you the best choices to do so. When selecting a video via the Gallery button (instead of the File button) you can adjust the resolution of the clip by using the app’s recently updated in-app video editor. After marking your clip of choice by tapping on the empty circle in the top right corner of the video’s thumbnail, tap on the thumbnail itself to open the video editor. You will be able to trim the clip or add a drawing/text/sticker (brush icon). You can even do some basic color correction (sliders icon), I kid you not! And you can adjust the video resolution by tapping on the gear icon in the bottom left corner of the tool box. By moving the slider you can choose between FHD 1920×1080, HD 1280×720, SD 854×480 and what I will call “LD” (low definition) 480×270.

If your primary focus when using messenger apps is most comprehensive security / data protection or mass compatibility and you don’t need to use the app as a tool for direct (video) file transfer, then you might still prefer Signal, Threema or WhatsApp respectively. Otherwise Telegram is a powerful tool with best-in-class features for a professional video production workflow. 

So despite the fact that Telegram is still far from being as ubiquitous as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, it has significantly increased its user base in the last months and years (currently over half a billion installs from the Google Play Store!) and chances are getting better that the person sending video to you is using it or has at least installed it on her/his phone.

Questions and comments are welcome, either below in the comment section or on Twitter @smartfilming. I also just created my own Telegram channel which you can join here: https://t.me/smartfilming.

Download Telegram for Android on the Google Play Store.

Download Telegram for iOS on the Apple AppStore.

Download Telegram for Windows 10 Mobile / WindowsPhone on the Microsoft Store.

#23 A powerful new rival for Filmic Pro — 12. May 2020

#23 A powerful new rival for Filmic Pro

Filmic Pro might be called the “Gold Standard” for highly advanced mobile video recording apps on both Android and iOS, it surely is the most popular and widely known one. Even Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh has used it to shoot two of his feature films. The fact that a powerful rival has just recently launched is bigger news for Android users though than for those on iOS. There are a couple of very capable alternatives to Filmic Pro on iOS including Mavis, MoviePro and Moment Pro Camera. While options are available on Android as well they are not as numerous and/or complete and for quite a few development has either ceased completely (Cinema FV-5 and recently Moment Pro Camera) or for the most part been reduced to bug fixes or minor compatibility adjustments (Cinema 4K, Lumio Cam, ProShot). There’s also the solid free Open Camera (plus a whole range of variants based on its open source code) and the pretty good Footej Camera 2 but none of them can really match Filmic Pro when it comes to usability and advanced features. That is until now.

Only two weeks ago, an app called Protake – Mobile Cinema Camera popped up in the Google Play Store (and also the Apple App Store). The screenshots looked quite promising and after downloading it and taking it for a quick spin I can confirm that there’s now another immensely powerful mobile video recording app available for both Android and iOS. Protake gives you full manual control over exposure (shutter speed/angle and ISO), focus and white balance, you get support for external mics and a visual audio level meter plus the ability to adjust input gain, a whole set of exposure and focus assistants (zebra, false color, focus peaking, waveform monitor, RGB parade, histogram), different aspect ratios (including different widescreen formats and square but apparently skipping 9:16 vertical), frame rates (incl. 25fps, but not 50/60 on any of my devices – but that might be different for other phones), resolutions, bitrates (they don’t go as high as Filmic Pro’s though), codecs (H.264/H.265), color profiles/looks etc.. You even have an interesting option called “Frame Drop Notice” which I have never seen anywhere else before and some useful one-tap quick buttons for hiding the UI or switching between maximum screen brightness and current brightness. There’s also support for external accessories like Zhiyun gimbals, anamorphic lenses or a DOF adapter. All in all, it’s a feature range almost as complete as FilmicPro’s and the UI is slick and intuitive. 

There is however one catch: While you can download the app for free and also use the auto mode to record, you can only activate recording for the pro mode (including manual controls and most advanced features) by buying a subscription. The subscription model has become a common practice for many apps in the last years (particularly for video editing apps) but so far I hadn’t really encountered it in a camera app. The subscription price is 10.99 Euros (9.99 US-Dollars) per year which is somewhat moderate compared to other apps (if you break it down it’s less than 1 Euro per month) but as I said, it’s new for this kind of app (at least to me!) so it might need a bit getting used to. It should be noted that the current price is a 50% off offer so the regular price would actually be double, venturing into financial territory not too many of us might be willing to follow. There’s another thing to keep in mind which probably isn’t of any relevance to most users but definitely to someone like me with a whole zoo of different phones: The subscription will only let you use the pro mode on three different devices at the same time. So if you want to use it on more than three I suppose you will need to buy a second subscription. This should however be a very rare use case.

One last thing: If you are on Android, please note that most features of the pro mode (like setting specific values for shutter speed and ISO) are only available if your Android device fully supports Camera2 API, which lets apps of 3rd party developers access the more advanced functionality of the phone’s camera. If Camera2 API support hasn’t been implemented properly by the maker of the phone, 3rd party apps can’t access certain features no matter how capable their developers are. As a rule of thumb, relatively current flagship phones and midrangers usually have sufficient Camera2 API support, entry level phones only sometimes. If you want to learn more about the topic, check out this older blog post by me.

Let me know what you think of Protake! Either here in the comments or on Twitter @smartfilming.

Download “Protake” for Android on the Google Play Store
Download “Protake” for iOS (iPhone/iPad) on the Apple App Store

#22 Visualizing audio on Android – finally a very good app? — 9. May 2020

#22 Visualizing audio on Android – finally a very good app?

While I’m personally not that much involved in the production of pure audio / radio content, I have noticed that there has been increasing demand for a way to make audio stand out more in social networks that primarily address the eye. There are some web tools like Headliner, Audiogram or Auphonic and the relatively popular iOS-only app Wizibel that basically take an audio file, generate a visual waveform animation based on it and create an mp4 video file as the end product which is easily shareable on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. Usually you can also add a still image or text to spice it up. Some call this type of audio visualization an “audiogram” and I think it’s particularly useful for audio teasers (for a podcast for instance) or audio content that is only a couple of minutes long. There have been a few options on Android as well (ChkSnd, Audio Vision for Videomakers, Avee Music Player) but while they weren’t exactly bad, they all had some shortcomings. A couple of days ago however I stumbled upon a very promising app that’s relatively new (it was released November 2019): Visualization Video Maker.

After spending a couple of days with the app, I’m sure this one’s a keeper – it’s the best I have encountered on Android so far. It has a good, clean and easy to use UI but still a lot of options to customize the look of your audiogram. The basic workflow is very simple: You start with a given spectrum, then choose your audio file and optionally add a background photo/graphic/text. That’s about it. Of course you can dig a bit deeper and customize different aspects of your video, the app’s UI makes it very intuitive. You can choose from a set of animated spectrums/spectra (bar, circle, line, texture etc.) and define size, color, position and opacity among other things. There’s also a bunch of options to edit your text or photo. You are even able to change the layering of spectrum, text(s) and additional photos/graphics to decide which one is represented as the top layer. Everyone familiar with the layering of graphical elements like in Photoshop for instance should feel at home. You can also “mute” layers which basically disables them so they are hidden from the preview but still in your layer stack.

The app supports the import of different audio formats/codecs including wav/pcm, mp3 and m4a/aac. However I have found that there seems to be a bug affecting LG devices where you get an error message when trying to use wav files with pcm codec (mp3, m4a/aac on the other hand work just fine). I tested this on an LG V30 and LG Q6. I had no problems with wav files on a whole bunch of other Android devices.

Let’s take a quick look at things that could be improved: 1) The video aspect ratios are limited to 16:9 landscape, I couldn’t find any square or portrait format options. When considering that the app is a great tool to present or tease audio in social networks, more format options would be great to have, particularly a square 1:1. 2) From what I can see the app is lacking proper share integration with other apps via the Android share sheet. Yes, you can pick your audio file through the media browser / audio file system but depending on the recording app you used for recording your audio file, finding these files can be a bit annoying, especially if you have lots of audio files on your device. So it would be great to be able to share the recorded audio file from your recording app of choice directly into VVM. I have tried this with a couple of common Android audio recording apps but never was VVM listed as a target when opening the share sheet so I think the problem is on VVM’s side.

In the export panel you can choose between the following video resolutions for your mp4 file: 1920×1080, 1280×720, 854×480 and 640×360. You can also define a custom video bitrate while the frame rate is automatically 30fps. The audio bitrate of the exported video is 128Kbps (no matter the input), which is pretty ok for sharing on social networks but could still be raised a bit to please the more audiophile crowd. 

VVM is basically free without any kind of watermark but to export your project you have to watch a 30 sec advertisement if the export resolution is 720p or above or the length over 3 minutes. I suppose this is a pretty fair deal. Unfortunately, there are no in-app purchases whatsoever to avoid watching the ad. So even if you are willing to pay, there’s currently no way. It would have been nice to have the option for a one-off purchase of the app which will then let you always go straight to the export.

And here’s a bonus tip: If you use Visualization Video Maker in combination with the app AutoCap you can even get automatic captions for your clip! Just take the exported clip from VVM into AutoCap and let this app do its magic. While AutoCap is free to use as well, you will have to pay to get rid of the watermark here.

Last thing: I just noticed that there’s actually now an Android app version of Headliner (iOS version as well) but so far I wasn’t able to import/upload any audio files. Despite meeting all the requirements (mp3/wav file, under 500MB and under 2 hours length) I always get an error message “File problem. Please make sure your file is a MP3 or WAV, under 500 MB & shorter than 2 hours”. You also need to create an account for the app so VVM definitely looks like the better mobile option to me at this point.

Is this a useful app in your opinion? Do you think ‘audiograms’ are a good thing? Drop me a line in the comments or on Twitter @smartfilming.

Download “Visualization Video Maker” for Android on Google Play.

#14 “Shediting” or: How to edit video already while shooting on a smartphone — 17. May 2018

#14 “Shediting” or: How to edit video already while shooting on a smartphone

UI of Motorola’s native camera app (“MotoCam”) while recording video. Bottom right is the “pause” button that will let you pause the recording and resume it later if you don’t leave the app.

When using a headline like the one above, camera people usually refer to the idea that you should already think about the editing when shooting. This basically means two things: a) make sure you get a variety of different shots (wide shot, close-up, medium, special angle etc) that will allow you to tell a visually interesting story but b) don’t overshoot – don’t take 20 different takes of a shot or record a gazillion hours of footage because it will cost you valuable time to sift through all that footage afterwards. That’s all good advice but in this article I’m actually talking about something different, I’m talking about a way to create a video story with different shots while only using the camera app – no editing software! In a way, this is rather trivial but I’m always surprised how many people don’t know about it as this can be extremely helpful when things need to go super-fast. And let’s be honest, from mobile journalists to social media content producers, there’s an increasing number of jobs and situations to which this applies…

The feature that makes it possible to already edit a video package within the camera app itself while shooting is the ability to pause and resume a recording. The most common way to record a video clip is to hit the record button and then stop the recording once you’re finished. After stopping the recording the app will quickly create/save the video clip to be available in the gallery / camera roll. Now you might not have noticed this but many native camera apps do not only have a „stop“ button while recording video but also one that will temporarily pause the recording without already creating/saving the clip. Instead, you can resume recording another shot into the very same clip you started before, basically creating an edit-on-the-go while shooting with no need to mess around with an editing app afterwards. So for instance, if you’re shooting the exterior of an interesting building, you can take a wide shot from the outside, then pause the recording, go closer, resume recording with a shot of the door, pause again and then go into the building to resume recording with a shot of the interior. When you finally decide to press the „stop“ button, the clip that is saved will already have three different shots in it. The term I would propose for this is „shediting“, obviously a portmanteau of „shooting“ and „editing“. But that’s just some spontaneous thought of mine – you can call this what you want of course.

What camera apps will let you do shediting? On Android, actually most of the native camera apps I have encountered so far. This includes phones from Samsung, LG, Sony, Motorola/Lenovo, Huawei/Honor, HTC, Xiaomi, BQ, Wileyfox and Wiko. The only two Android phone brands that didn’t have this feature in the phone’s native camera app were Nokia (as tested on the Nokia 5) and Nextbit with its Robin. As for 3rd party video recording apps on Android, things are not looking quite as positive. While Open Camera and Footej Camera do allow shediting, most others don’t have this feature. FilmicPro (Android & iOS) meanwhile doesn’t have a “pause” button but you can basically achieve the same thing by activating a feature called “Stitch Recorded Footage” in the settings under “Device”.  There’s also MoviePro on iOS which lets you do this trick. Apple however still doesn’t have this feature in the iOS native camera app at this point. And while almost extinct, Lumia phones with Windows 10 Mobile / Windows Phone on the other hand do have this feature in the native camera app just like most Android phones.

EDIT: After I had published this article I was asked on Twitter if the native camera app re-adjusts or lets you re-adjust focus and exposure after pausing the recording because that would indeed be crucial for its actual usefulness. I did test this with some native camera apps and they all re-adjusted / let you re-adjust focus and exposure in between takes. If you have a different experience, please let me know in the comments!

Sure, shediting is only useful for certain projects and situations because once you leave the camera app, the clip will be saved anyway without possibility to resume and you can’t edit shots within the clip without heading over to an editing app after all. Still, I think it’s an interesting tool in a smartphone videographer’s kit that one should know about because it can make things easier and faster.

#8 Bare bones or full featured: best stock camera apps for shooting video on smartphones – PART 1 — 20. December 2017

#8 Bare bones or full featured: best stock camera apps for shooting video on smartphones – PART 1

One of the first steps when getting more serious about producing video content with a smartphone is to look at the more advanced video recording apps from 3rd party developers. Popular favorites like „FilmicPro“ (available for both Android and iOS) usually offer way more image composition controls, recording options and helpful pro features that you find on dedicated video cameras than the native stock camera app provided by the maker of the smartphone. While quite a few stock camera apps now actually have fairly advanced manual controls when shooting photos (ability to set ISO and shutter speed might be the most prominent example), the video mode unfortunately and frustratingly is still almost always neglected, leaving the eager user with a bare minimum of controls and options. In 2015 however, LG introduced a game changer in this regard: the V10. For the first time in smartphone history, a phone maker (also) focused on a full featured video recording mode: it included among other things the ability to set ISO and shutter speed, lock exposure, pull focus seamlessly, check audio levels via an audio level meter, adjust audio gain, set microphone directionality, use external microphones, alter the bit rate etc. etc. Sure, for certain users there were still some things missing that you could find in 3rd party apps like the option to change the frame rate to 25fps if  you’re delivering for a PAL broadcast but that’s only for a very specific use case – in general, this move by LG was groundbreaking and a bold and important statement for video production on a smartphone. But what about other phone makers? How good are their native camera apps when it comes to advanced options and controls for recording video? Can they compete with dedicated 3rd party apps?

First off, let me tell you why in most cases, you DO want to have a 3rd party app for recording video (at least if you have an Android phone): external microphones. With the exception of LG, Samsung (and I’m told OnePlus) in their recent flagship lines (plus Apple in general), no stock camera app I have come across supports the use of external microphones when recording video. Having good audio in a video is really important in most cases and external microphones (connected via headphone jack, microUSB, USB-C or Lightning connector) can be a big help in achieving that goal.

So why would you use a stock camera app over a dedicated 3rd party app at all? Familiarity. I guess many of us use the native camera app of a smartphone when snapping casual, everyday photos and maybe also videos in non-professional situations. So why not build on that familiarity? Simplicity. The default UI of most native camera apps is pretty straight-forward and simple. Some might prefer this to a more complex UI featured in more advanced 3rd party apps. Affordability. You don’t have to spend a single extra penny for it. I’m generally an avid advocate of supporting excellent 3rd party app developers by paying for their apps but others might not want to invest. The most important reason in my opinion however is: Stability/Reliability. This might not be true for every stock camera app on every phone (I think especially owners of Sony phones and lately the Essential Phone could beg to differ) but because of the fact that the app was developed by the maker of the phone and is usually less complex than 3rd party apps, chances are good that it will run more stable and is less prone to (compatibility) bugs, especially when you consider the plethora of Android devices out there. The V10’s stock camera app, despite being rather complex,  is rock-solid and hasn’t crashed on me once in almost 2 years now.

Over the last months I have taken a closer look at a whole lot of stock camera apps on smartphones from LG, Samsung, Apple, Huawei, Sony, Motorola/Lenovo, Nokia (both their older Windows Phone / Windows Mobile offerings AND their new Android handsets), HTC, Nextbit, BQ, Wiko and Google/Nexus. It goes without saying that I wasn’t able to inspect stock camera apps on all  the different phone models of a manufacturer. This is important to say because some phone makers give their flagships models a more advanced camera app than their budget devices while others offer the same native camera app across all (or at least most) of their device portfolio. Also, features might be added on newer models. So keep in mind, all I want to do is to give a rough overview from my perspective and offer some thoughts on which phone makers are paying more attention to pro features in the video recording department.

The lowest common denominator for recording video in a stock camera app on a smartphone at the moment is that you will have a button to start recording in full-auto mode with a resolution of 1920×1080 (1080p)  (1280×720 on some entry level or older devices) at a frame rate of 30fps. „full-auto“ basically means that exposure, focus and white balance (color temperature) will be set and adjusted automatically by the app depending on the situation and the algorithm / image processing routine. While this might sound like a convenient and good idea in general to get things done without much hassle, the auto-mode will not always produce the desired results because it’s not „smart“ enough to judge what’s important for you in the shot and therefore doesn’t get exposure, focus and/or white balance right. It might also change these parameters while recording when you don’t want them to, like for instance when you are panning the camera. Therefore one of the crucial features to get more control over the image is the ability to adjust and lock exposure, focus and white balance because if these parameters shift (too wildly/abruptly/randomly) while recording, it makes the video look amateurish. So let’s have a look at a couple of stock camera apps.

To be continued soon with “Part 2″…

#3 Medienproduktion mit Smartphone & Tablet: CONTRA — 13. January 2017

#3 Medienproduktion mit Smartphone & Tablet: CONTRA

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CONTRA – Was für Nachteile und Probleme kann es geben?

1. Kein optischer Zoom
Smartphones und Tablets können vieles, aber nicht alles. Ein zentraler Schwachpunkt gegenüber regulären (Video-)Kameras ist z.B. der fehlende optische Zoom, mit dem sich weit entfernte Motive näher heranbringen und schnelle/bequeme Einstellungswechsel vornehmen lassen. Kamera-Apps bieten mitunter einen digitalen Zoom an, dieser sollte jedoch im Normalfall nicht verwendet werden, da das Bild nur elektronisch vergrößert wird und die Bildqualität abnimmt. Samsung hat mit dem Galaxy S4 Zoom und dem K Zoom zwar zwei sehr interessante (von der Android-Software jedoch mittlerweile recht veraltete) Smartphones mit 10-fachem optischen Zoom auf den Markt gebracht, auch Asus hat mit dem ZenFone Zoom (3x) ein Experiment gewagt. Der Rest des Marktes muss jedoch (noch) ohne auskommen. Der Grund dafür ist recht simpel: Beim momentanen Stand der Technik würde ein optischer Zoom das Smartphone wesentlich dicker machen als es gerade en vogue ist. Für bestimmte Tätigkeiten ist der Zoom allerdings unablässig. So ist es z.B. bei der Aufzeichnung von Theaterstücken, Sportereignissen und anderen Events oft nicht möglich/gewünscht, für eine Nahaufnahme auf die Bühne oder das Spielfeld zu gehen. Doch auch wenn man die Möglichkeit hat, sich für Nahaufnahmen problemlos näher an ein Motiv zu begeben, ist der Zoom grundsätzlich eine bequemere und schnellere Lösung, was gerade für Journalisten, bei denen es oft auf Schnelligkeit ankommt, sehr von Vorteil sein kann. Aufgrund des fehlenden optischen Zooms muss man Personen mitunter auch sehr nah “auf die Pelle” rücken, um eine Nahaufnahme zu bekommen, was für diese unangenehm sein kann. Nun ist es zwar möglich, speziell für Smartphones entwickelte kleine Teleobjektive mittels einer Halterung vor die Smartphone-Linse zu bauen, dieses Prozedere ist aber nicht immer sehr praktikabel und funktioniert auch nicht mit allen Smartphones (gleich gut). Interessant ist jedoch ein neuer Ansatz mit zwei Kamera-Linsen in der Rückseite des Smartphones, die jeweils eine unterschiedliche Brennweite haben und damit als eine Art optischer Zoom dienen, wenn auch nur in sehr begrenztem Rahmen: Apples neues iPhone 7+ geht diesen Weg, ebenso Asus’ kommendes ZenFone 3 Zoom. Damit kann der Formfaktor des Handys flach gehalten werden, allerdings gibt es wegen der zwei Festbrennweiten (beim iPhone 7+ sind es 28 bzw. 56mm, also ein 2x Zoom) keine Zwischenwerte (also kein kontinuierliches Zoomen) und ein Zoom-Faktor von 2 ist auch nicht gerade weltbewegend.

2. Lichtempfindlichkeit des Sensors
Eine weitere Schwachstelle von Smartphone-Kameras ist die Lichtempfindlichkeit des Kamerasensors unter schlechten Lichtbedingungen. Während Smartphone-Kameras bei gutem Licht in vielen Fällen auf Augenhöhe mit dezidierten Kameras agieren können, tritt aufgrund des meistens relativ kleinen Sensors bei ungünstigen Lichtverhältnissen recht schnell ein unschönes Bildrauschen auf (vor allem, wenn die Kameraapp im Automatik-Modus läuft). Selbstverständlich gibt es aber auch hier zunehmend Fortschritte und ein Vorteil des oben angesprochenen fehlenden optischen Zooms ist immerhin, dass man kein Licht durch das Zoomen verliert. Die Technik von Zoom-Optiken bringt es nämlich in der Regel mit sich, dass man im Telebereich zunehmend Blendenstufen und damit Licht verliert.

3. Ergonomie
Wesentlich weniger gewichtig als die ersten beiden Punkte, aber in manchen Situation doch von Nachteil ist die Ergonomie eines Smartphones als Kamera. Während Videokameras oder (filmende) Fotoapparate prinzipiell so konzipiert sind, dass man sie gut und sicher in der Hand halten und bedienen kann, ist das bei Smartphones wegen des (durchaus verständlichen) Trends zu möglichst flachen und kompakten Designs sowie deren eigentlichen Zweck nicht wirklich der Fall. Zwar gibt es mittlerweile spezielle Smartphone-Rigs und Halterungen, die dem Smartphone im Handling wieder mehr Griffigkeit verleihen; auch macht sich diese Schwäche im Wesentlichen nur beim Filmen aus der Hand bemerkbar, weniger bei der Nutzung eines Stativs. Allerdings kann man noch über zwei weitere Punkte in Sachen Handling diskutieren: Der Touchscreen eines Smartphones ist zweifelsohne wegen seiner Vielseitigkeit bei der Darstellung eine geniale Sache, allerdings haben physikalische Knöpfe wie man sie an dezidierten Kameras vorfindet, durchaus ihre Vorteile, da man sie besser “blind” und mit kalten Fingern oder Handschuhen bedienen kann. Außerdem vertippt man sich auf einem Touchscreen oft leichter als bei echten Knöpfen – das kann im Eifer des Gefechts schon mal recht ärgerlich sein. Im Übrigen nutzen nur wenige Smartphone-Modelle und Apps die verbliebenen physikalischen Knöpfe bei der Aufnahme von Video. Zuletzt sei gesagt, dass es in bestimmten Situationen etwas hinderlich ist, dass der Bildschirm nicht von der Kamera entkoppelt ist, d.h. dass man den Bildschirm nicht unabhängig von der Kamera bewegen kann. Dies erweist sich dann als Mangel, wenn man Kameraeinstellungen nah am Boden oder über dem Kopf wählt.

4. Kein Sucher
Der interne Sucher (Englisch: Electronic View Finder oder EVF) einer Video- oder Fotokamera ist dann hilfreich, wenn man bei starker Sonneneinstrahlung filmt und die Helligkeit des äußeren Displays nicht dafür reicht, die Belichtung zuverlässig zu beurteilen. Smartphones verfügen (aus wohl verständlichen Gründen) nicht über einen Sucher, der vom Umgebungslicht abgeschirmt ist. Je nach Situation kann man sich damit behelfen, die Bildschirmhelligkeit auf das Maximum zu stellen (zehrt natürlich am Akku), einen Sonnenschutz als Zubehör zu kaufen/selbst zu basteln oder auf die automatische Belichtung des Smartphones/der App zu vertrauen.

5. Systemstabilität
Natürlich hängt die Systemstabilität bei der Medienproduktion mit Smartphones von zahlreichen, unterschiedlichen Faktoren ab: Smartphone-Modell, Betriebssystem, Betriebssystem-Version, App, App-Version etc. Generell kann man jedoch anmerken, dass die Vielseitigkeit des Smartphones als Telefon, Mini-Computer, Video- und Fotokamera, Musikplayer etc. auch dazu geführt hat, dass das Gerät und seine Funktionalität extrem komplex geworden ist, obwohl der Nutzer das meistens nicht wahrnimmt, da die Benutzeroberfläche fast immer sehr einfach und intuitiv gestaltet ist. Je komplexer ein System, desto größer ist die Gefahr von möglichen Komplikationen. Während eine Videokamera (die natürlich auf ihre Weise auch ein sehr komplexes Stück Technik ist) eben einen Hauptzweck hat und darauf ausgerichtet und getestet wurde, ist das bei einem Smartphone nicht der Fall. Beim Smartphone kann es eher sein, dass das Betriebssystem oder die App einen Fehler hat, der in der Fülle der Funktionen des Gerätes und der Komplexität des gesamten Systems einfach übersehen wurde. Ich würde also behaupten, dass eine Videokamera in aller Regel zuverlässiger ist, wenn es um das Aufzeichnen von Video geht. Natürlich kann es auch bei Videokameras zu Fehlfunktionen kommen und im Bereich der Smartphones haben sich bestimmte Geräte/Modelle als zuverlässiger erwiesen als andere. Trotzdem sollte dieser Punkt nicht ignoriert werden.

FAZIT
Die Vorstellung vom Smartphone als Schweizer Taschenmesser für AV-Medienproduktion trifft den Nagel recht gut auf den Kopf: Seine Vielseitigkeit, Kompaktheit und intuitive Nutzbarkeit eröffnen ungeahnte Möglichkeiten auch für weniger Technik-affine Menschen. Es ist schlichtweg fantastisch, was für qualitativ hochwertiger AV-Content heute mit einem einzigen Gerät, das zudem fast jeder jederzeit zur Hand hat, machbar ist. Man sollte sich jedoch bewusst sein, dass das Smartphone gerade in seiner Vielseitigkeit aber eben auch bestimmte Schwachstellen besitzt, weil es eben nicht für den EINEN bestimmten Zweck ausgerichtet und dahingehend nicht “perfektioniert” wurde. Dies sollte jedoch niemanden davon abhalten, sich auf diesem Gebiet auszuprobieren. Wer die Schwächen kennt, kann sie in vielen Fällen umschiffen und die zahlreichen Stärken gewinnbringend ausspielen. Die z.T. rasanten und hoch-kreativen Entwicklungen in diesem Bereich werden es in jedem Fall wert sein, dran zu bleiben.

#2 Medienproduktion mit Smartphone & Tablet: PRO — 29. July 2015

#2 Medienproduktion mit Smartphone & Tablet: PRO

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Technik bietet sich ja bekanntermaßen besonders dafür an, einer leicht irrationalen Faszination zu erliegen und die Dinge einfach nur wegen ihrer unglaublichen Möglichkeiten und Funktionen zu bestaunen – die Frage nach der tatsächlichen Nützlichkeit und Praktikabilität eines neuen Gadgets verschwimmt nicht selten in freudentränendurchnässten Funkelaugen. Im Bereich der Kunst kennt man die Redewendung des L’art pour l’art – der Kunst um der Kunst Willen, ohne eigentlichen praktischen Zweck. Nun ist aber das Smartphone, so wie wir es hier einordnen wollen, keine Kunst. Vielleicht ist das, was man damit kreiert Kunst, aber nicht das Gerät selber. Das Gerät ist vielmehr das Werkzeug, um etwas zu erschaffen (Kunst wäre eine Möglichkeit), und ein Werkzeug – darüber werden wir uns wohl leichter einig als beim Thema Kunstwerk – sollte dann doch irgendwie einen bestimmten Zweck erfüllen. Zudem darf die Frage angeschlossen werden, welchen Mehrwert ein neues Werkzeug gegenüber älteren, bereits existierenden hat. Und hier geht es dann auch schon konkret ans Eingemachte: Was für Vorteile bietet die Medienproduktion mit Smartphones und Tablets im Vergleich mit traditionelleren Gerätschaften wie dezidierten Aufnahme- und Bearbeitungsgeräten (Videokameras, Fotoapparate, Audiorekorder, Schnitt-PC etc.)? Und – das sollte ebenfalls Erwähnung finden – wo liegen die Schwachstellen? Eine hilfreiche Maxime in diesem Gebiet ist auf jeden Fall, dass man idealerweise immer das richtige Werkzeug für den entsprechenden Job hat – und das kann von Fall zu Fall variieren. Das Smartphone ist in vielerlei Hinsicht eine Art “digitales Schweizer Taschenmesser”, welches Unmengen an nützlichen Funktionen in sich vereint – aber ob ein Taschenmesser das beste Werkzeug dafür ist, die größte und gewaltigste Eiche im Wald zu fällen, mag eher bezweifelt werden. Monty Python würde es aber wohl sogar mit einem Hering schaffen. Ein Pro & Contra in zwei Teilen.

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PRO – Was spricht für die Medienproduktion mit Smartphones und Tablets?

1. Mobilität
Der naheliegenste Vorteil eines Smartphones dürfte mit Sicherheit seine geringe Größe und allgegenwärtige Verfügbarkeit sein. Es ist klein und die meisten tragen es ständig bei sich. Man muss also keine Kameratasche mit sich herumschleppen. Besonders bei spontanen Ideen oder unvorhergesehenen Ereignissen und Situationen kann man schnell reagieren ohne sich erst woanders Equipment besorgen zu müssen. In diesem Sinne bietet sich das Smartphone natürlich gerade für Journalisten/Reporter an.

2. Vereinfachter & schnellerer Workflow
Während der Mobilitätsfaktor sicher von großer Bedeutung ist, halte ich einen anderen Punkt für noch faszinierender: Zum ersten Mal in der Geschichte gibt es ein Multimedia-Gerät, welches die verschiedenen Stationen eines kompletten Produktionsprozesses alle in sich vereint: Planung – Dreh/Aufnahme – Materialtransfer – Bearbeitung – Bereitstellung. Wenn man will, könnte man die Liste auch noch um den Bereich “Rezeption” erweitern, denn zunehmend werden Medieninhalte ja auf Smartphones konsumiert. “Planung” ist mit Sicherheit der weitläufigste Begriff in diesem Feld, weshalb ich nicht näher darauf eingehen werde, aber diverse Organisations-Apps (z.B. Evernote) oder einfach die Möglichkeit zur Recherche und Information via Internet (Wetter, Örtlichkeiten, Personen, Ereignisse etc.) können hier hilfreich sein. Dank integrierter Kamera und Mikrofon lassen sich mit dem Smartphone problemlos Video-/Foto-/Audioaufnahmen machen (die Qualität hängt natürlich vom jeweiligen Gerät ab). Im Gegensatz zum klassischen Workflow mit Kamera und Computer entfällt nun der Dateitransfer (wer noch mit Bändern gearbeitet hat, der weiß wie nerven- und zeitaufreibend das sein kann) und man hat mittels zahlreicher Apps die Möglichkeit, die Dateien (sei es Video, Foto, Audio) zu bearbeiten und einen Beitrag zusammenzustellen. Da das Smartphone an das (mobile) Internet angeschlossen ist (also ein(e) connected device/connected camera darstellt), können fertige Beiträge auch gleich versendet oder auf der entsprechenden Publikationsplattform bereitgestellt werden. Mit der Einführung des 3G-Netzwerkes, bzw. dem jetzigen Übergang zu 4G/LTE steht auch eine ausreichend schnelle Mobilfunk-Infrastruktur zu Verfügung, um das unproblematische Versenden von AV-Mediendateien zu gewährleisten. Der gestraffte Workflow spart Zeit und Ressourcen, inbesondere im Nachrichtenbereich kann das von unschätzbarem Wert sein.

3. Multifunktionalität
Verschiedene Apps und Funktionen machen das Smartphone zu einer Art “digitalem Schweizer Taschenmesser”. Neben dem typischen Workflow eines AV-Beitrages wie unter Punkt 2 beschrieben, lässt sich das Gerät oftmals noch zu ganz anderen Zwecken verwenden: Als zusätzliche Lichtquelle mit der Taschenlampenfunktion, als Teleprompter mit einer Prompter-App, als separater Audiorekorder mit einem Ansteckmikro in der Hosentasche einer Person für besseren Ton, als Monitor für eine Action-Kamera, für Livestreaming etc. etc.

4. connected device – ein mit dem Netz verbundenes Gerät
Ein zentraler Vorteil gegenüber ‘normalen’ Kameras und anderen Aufnahmegeräten ist, wie weiter oben unter Punkt 2 schon erwähnt, die Verbindung mit dem Internet. Deshalb lassen sich nicht nur Dateien schnell von unterwegs verschicken, sondern man hat eben auch direkten Zugang zu den sozialen Netzwerken (in der Regel über speziell für die mobile Nutzung entwickelte Apps), die ja zunehmend als Veröffentlichungsplattform für Medieninhalte dienen.

5. Ausreichende Qualität
Mittlerweile kann so gut wie jede Smartphone-Kamera Video in HD (720p) oder FullHD (1080p) aufnehmen, selbst 4K ist schon bei einigen Modellen möglich. Auch Fotos und Audioaufnahmen können prinzipiell in einer Qualität gemacht werden, die “good enough” für viele Zwecke ist. “good enough” bedeutet, dass die Qualität ausreichend ist, obwohl man mit anderen Geräten (technisch gesehen) noch bessere Ergebnisse erzielen könnte, deren Qualitätszugewinn jedoch kaum wahrgenommen oder zumindest nicht als zwingend notwendig erachtet wird.

6. Diskretion
Nicht nur für einen selbst kann die kleine, unscheinbare Form und die allgemeine Vertrautheit mit dem Gerätetyp angenehm sein, auch ein Gesprächspartner fühlt sich unter Umständen wohler, wenn ihm keine große Kamera gegenübersteht. Möglicherweise bekommt man also auf diese Weise bessere und interessantere Aufnahmen zustande.

7. Erweiterungsmöglichkeiten durch Zubehör
Wie unter CONTRA noch zu lesen sein wird, geht mit einer Multifunktionalität im Allgemeinen auch eine eingeschränkte Funktionalität im Speziellen einher. In vielen Bereichen haben jedoch die Hersteller von Zubehör einige Lücken geschlossen oder zumindest verkleinert. Das vielleicht naheliegenste und meistgekaufteste Helferlein ist dabei eine Halterung, mit der sich das Smartphone auf einem handelsüblichen Stativ anbringen lässt, um unverwackelte Aufnahmen zu meistern oder sich selbst als Akteur vor die Kamera zu bringen, wenn kein separater Kameramann zu Hand ist. Daneben gibt es u.a. spezielle externe Mikrofone, bzw. Adapter, Objektive/Linsen, Stative, Halterungen und vieles mehr.

8. Spezielle Perspektiven
Nicht zu verachten ist schließlich noch die Aussicht auf ganz spezielle Kameraperspektiven, die sich aus der kompakten Form des Gerätes ergeben. Ein Smartphone lässt sich oftmals an Orten unter- oder anbringen, die anderen Kameras wegen ihrer Größe oder wegen ihres Gewichtes unzugänglich bleiben.

Demnächst: #3 Medienproduktion mit Smartphone & Tablet: CONTRA