smartfilming

Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#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.

#26 Checking detailed properties of video clips on Android and iOS — 16. June 2020

#26 Checking detailed properties of video clips on Android and iOS

Have you ever had sleepless nights wondering whether the video recording app you are using really shoots in the frame rate and bitrate that it says it does? What’s the codec of the video file that was just sent to me? And (how much) does my editing app of choice crunch the bitrate (“quality”) of the original clips when exporting the project? No? Good for you, you may skip this article! But since you are already here you might as well read it anyway! I’m going to look at three different apps, one Android-only, one iOS-only and one that is available for both Google’s and Apple’s mobile platform.

You might ask, “Do I really need an extra app to get some basic info about a video file? I can do that with a keyboard shortcut on my desktop computer!”. Well, yes and no. That depends on what you consider to be “basic info”. Generally speaking, it’s a lot easier to access some standard file properties on Android than on iOS. Not only does pretty much every device come with a file manager that actually deserves the name but you will also be able to get file size, file container format and the resolution from the device’s Gallery app. Usually, an option labeled “Details” or “Info” is available in a menu after selecting a video clip. One would think that such trivialities should also be accessible from iOS’s Camera Roll, but … no. In case you don’t know, “Gallery” (Android) and “Camera Roll” (iOS) refer to the “image bucket” where all photos and videos go unless they are stored directly within an app. The only info about a video you get in Apple’s Camera Roll is the length of the video. Yes, there’s a way to get a little bit more data without installing a 3rd party app: Select a clip in the Camera Roll and share-copy it to iOS’s “Files” app by choosing “Save to Files” from the share options. Tap on “On My iPhone/iPad” and select any folder (or create a new one!) where you want the copy to go, then tap on “Save” in the top-right corner. Next, open the Files app, locate the file and long press on it. From the pop-up menu, select “Info”. You will now at least know the file size and the resolution (“Dimensions”) of the video. A tad tedious? Seriously? Ok…

“Metapho” for iOS.

Head on over to the Apple AppStore and download an app called Metapho (shout-out to Mr Marc Blank-Settle who initially pointed me towards it). The app is free (never mind the App Store always telling you that it’s “processing payment” when downloading an app, even if it’s free!) and will give you the following info for video files: File container format (usually it’s a Quicktime Movie aka .mov), length, frame rate, resolution, file size and video codec (in most cases either H.264 or the newer HEVC/H.265). There’s an in-app purchase for 4.49€ but it doesn’t give you more in-depth specs, “only” other additional features like removing or altering the metadata. If you need to dig deeper and are curious about video and audio bitrates, audio codec, audio sample rate etc. you will need another app though.

“VidTrim” for Android.

But first, let’s move on to Android for a second. If you want more detailed information about a video file than you can pull from the system’s Gallery app or file manager, go have a look at an app called VidTrim. VidTrim is primarily meant to be a simple one clip video editor with which you can trim a clip, transcode it or extract the audio as an mp3 file. But I don’t think I have ever used it for such purposes. Instead, it’s my go-to app for moderately detailed info about a video’s properties: resolution (“Picture Size”), file size, rotation, frame rate, audio codec, video codec, video bitrate and audio bitrate. There’s a paid version for 3.29€ by the name of VidTrim Pro but unless you are bothered by the ads or want to export a video from the app without a watermark, you are totally fine with the free version.

“MediaInfo” for Android and iOS.

If the metadata available in VidTrim is still not good enough for you, you should check out the app MediaInfo which is also available for iOS (although with a little catch). MediaInfo is a well-known standard tool on desktop computers for many video production professionals. There was a time when I wished, MediaInfo would launch a mobile app. And well, they did in late 2018! The UI isn’t really pretty to look at when viewed in portrait orientation (scaling needs to be improved!) so unless you are using it on a tablet, you should always hold the device in landscape mode when working with MediaInfo. I will refrain from listing every single video file property that MediaInfo gives you because, taking the risk I might be wrong on that after all, it appears to me that it basically exposes every bit of metadata there is. So if you really want to go down the rabbit hole, have at it! MediaInfo is free without any ads and full core functionality. There’s the option to support the development of the app with a subscription of 5€ per year, the bonus features including the use of a dark mode are not really spectacular though. Before wrapping this up, I need to add a quick note about using the iOS version of MediaInfo, coming full circle so to speak. While the app’s functionality is no different from the Android version, accessing files can be really painful if the file you want to check out is located within the Camera Roll and not the Files app. For some reason, MediaInfo doesn’t access the Camera Roll, but only the Files app. It’s also not possible to share to MediaInfo from the Camera Roll. This basically means that you need to copy the file you want to inspect from the Camera Roll to the Files app to access it from MediaInfo. As you might remember I explained how to do just that earlier on. It ain’t pretty, but that’s the way it is at the moment. I have contacted the developer about this and they have acknowledged the problem so there might be a fix in the near future.

One last thing: If you only need certain file properties of a video, you might be able to see those in the media library of advanced camera apps already, but the info is usually limited and it’s also good to double check outside the app you shot your footage with.

As usual, comments and questions are welcome here or on Twitter @smartfilming. If you like my blog in general, consider signing up for my Telegram channel t.me/smartfilming.

Download Metapho for iOS

Download VidTrim for Android

Download MediaInfo for Android or iOS

#25 Transferring big (video) files wirelessly between Android and iOS with mobile apps — 12. June 2020

#25 Transferring big (video) files wirelessly between Android and iOS with mobile apps

One of the most fascinating and convenient things about a good modern smartphone is that it lets you do a whole video production workflow involving capturing, editing and publishing on a single device, thereby offering the opportunity to eliminate the tedious but usually mandatory process of having to transfer media files between several devices to get all this done. Depending on the situation however, there’s still a certain need for file transfer solutions. You might be shooting on a phone but want to edit on a tablet with a larger screen, someone else could be the one editing your captured footage or you want to receive footage from another person to incorporate into your phone edit. Of course, nowadays, we want everything to be wireless if possible.

Both major mobile platforms, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android include the option to wirelessly transfer files to another (nearby) device running the same operating system, using Bluetooth for the devices to find and connect to each other and a WiFi protocol for the actual transfer – no internet connection required! Apple provides the easier and more straight-forward way with its AirDrop feature baked right into the OS while Google requires you (and the receiver) to install its Files by Google app (they also seem to be working on an AirDrop equivalent called “Nearby Sharing” that could launch with the next official version of Android, Android 11). Things get a bit more complicated however if you want to transfer files between the two platforms. Don’t despair though, you do have options depending on what kind of transfer method you prefer.

There are basically four different ways: cloud, temp cloud, device-to-device with internet and device-to-device without internet. You will need an active internet connection for the first three options, you won’t need one for the fourth.

Cloud

I’m sure most of us are pretty familiar with some kind of cloud storage service: Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, Box etc. You can upload files to a cloud server and access/download them from anywhere, anywhere with an internet connection that is. The good thing is that no matter what mobile platform you are on, you already have some free cloud storage at your fingertips: Google gives you 15GB of free cloud storage on Google Drive and unless you are rocking a very recent Huawei phone, using an Android device basically means you already have a Google account and Google Drive pre-installed on your phone. Apple is a bit more stingy and gives you only 5GB of free iCloud storage. And even if we ignore the amount of free storage, Google Drive is the better cross-platform choice because it’s also available for iOS while there’s no iCloud app for Android. All other major cloud storage solutions including Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive or Box have apps for both Android and iOS, so no problem there. Another somewhat uncommon choice could be the messenger app Telegram. As I pointed out in my last blog post, Telegram gives you unlimited cloud storage for free. However, while the maximum file size of 1.5GB per file is huge compared to what you can send with other messenger apps, it can’t compete with dedicated cloud storage services in this regard, Google Drive and Dropbox for instance have no file size limit at all, OneDrive recently expanded from 15 to 100GB per file which should cover most common use cases. Generally, you should be aware of the fact that unlike with the device-to-device solutions mentioned later on, the file is not transferred directly to the other device’s storage. Once it’s been uploaded into the cloud from device A, device B needs to download it from there if you (or another person) want(s) to work with it. If you/someone else are/is not using the same cloud service account on both devices this involves the sharing of a download link. Things to consider here are also the available upload/download speed and the consumption of data if you are using mobile internet. Uploading/downloading big video files via mobile data can wreak havoc on your data plan – at least in certain countries… So better make sure you’re connected to a fast wifi network. All mentioned services send files in their original quality without compression as far as I could see.

Temp Cloud

I don’t think “temp cloud” is an actual term but I was looking for a word to describe file transfer services that allow you to temporarily store something in their cloud and create a shareable download link but where the file will be automatically deleted after a short period of time. The most popular service like that on the web is probably WeTransfer. They used to have mobile apps for Android and iOS as well but they discontinued them some time ago, replacing them with an app called Collect. The all-new UI and different structure have generated a lot of backlash from WeTransfer fans though. While it’s true that the whole “Boards” layout can be confusing, one can get the same transfer job done with Collect adding files to a “Board” within the app and then sharing the “Board” with a download link which expires automatically within 90 days. And that’s not all, unlike with the web service there’s no file size limit! In case Collect remains a mystery to you, WeTransfer is still available as a web service with the option to send files of up to 2GB in the free version (20GB in the paid pro version). If you want to send your files encrypted for security reasons, you should have a look at an offering from Mozilla’s popular Firefox brand: Firefox Send. You can send files with up to 1GB and an expiration time of one day without creating a free account, up to 2.5GB and an expiration time of seven days with a free account. It’s still in beta and only available as a mobile app on Android, you can however access the service on iOS as well via a web browser. A popular choice for all kinds of file transfers is Send Anywhere (which will pop up again in the coming paragraphs). While I mostly use Send Anywhere for device-to-device file transfer, they also have the option to send files via temp cloud / download link. You will however have to create a (free) account with them to use this feature. File size limit is 10GB for the free account, 50GB for the paid Plus account. Send Anywhere sports excellent mobile apps for both Android and iOS. Another service that I just recently discovered is the Norwegian company Filemail which also has mobile apps for both Android and iOS. Their file size allowance is huge, a whopping 50GB, but the free version only lets you do two transfers a day. Still a pretty cool option so you should give it a go! You can choose either one day or seven days for the link to expire. All mentioned services send files in their original quality without compression as far as I could see.

Device-to-Device with internet

If you don’t want to use a service that stores your files on an external cloud server but prefer a direct transfer between two devices, Send Anywhere is a good choice again. Do note that despite the fact that I’m talking about device-to-device transfer, you will need an internet connection and it will use up data if you’re on mobile internet. Transfer speeds depend on the upload/download speed available. Unlike the two cloud solutions with a download link, this way is particularly useful if the device you want to transfer to is right next to you and the file will be used right away. Both devices need to have Send Anywhere installed and open, unless you want to use their web service via a browser which has a file size limitation. After selecting the files you want to send, the sending device will generate a 6-digit key which needs to be entered on the receiving device within a time frame of 10 minutes to initiate the transfer. While there is no file size limit, do make sure that the receiving device has enough free storage available! With Feem there’s another good choice available for Android and iOS. It’s the same principle but works slightly differently from Send Anywhere: After opening the app on both devices, they should detect each other (in the free version the app automatically assigns silly nicknames like “Lonely Gecko” or “Reckless Chicken” to the devices). You then tap on the listed device you want to send files to, choose “Send File” and select the files you want to send, finally tapping the “send” button. Important note: Unlike Send Anywhere (which can also utilize mobile data), Feem only works if both devices are connected to the same WiFi network! Feem is free to use. It has a paid pro version (annual subscription of 4.99 Euro/US-Dollar) which gives you a whole bunch of customization options for the device name, avatar, download folder but nothing really essential. All mentioned services send files in their original quality without compression as far as I could see. 

Device-to-Device without internet

Unlike with all the aforementioned options, Feem also has the ability to work across platforms without an active internet connection which makes it pretty unique and a lifesaver for certain situations! While Send Anywhere has an option to share files device-to-device without the use of an active internet connection via the WiFi Direct protocol, this is only available between Android devices as iOS doesn’t support the standard, so I will have to exclude it here for the purpose of this article. The magic trick in Feem is done by the Android device creating a local WiFi network to which the iOS device can connect (it doesn’t work the other way round but that’s not really a problem). Feem gives you a pretty good step-by-step guide how to do this upon opening the app so I won’t get into the details here (it’s not that complicated, don’t worry!) but you basically switch on the “Turn on Wi-Fi Direct” button in the app and a pop-up with the hotspot name and password appears which you then use to connect your iPhone or iPad to this network and commence with your file transfer from within the app. This is a great feature which you can either use if there’s no internet available at all or you don’t want to use up data. The app is not 100% stable all the time so you might have to redo a transfer on occasion but in general I have found it to work quite well.

One final note: With many/most services you will also be able to send a file using their app without having to open the app first. You can locate a video file in the Gallery (Android) or Camera Roll (iOS) and then use the OS’s share sheet to send the selected file using the file transfer app of your choice.

I’m sure there are many other options out there so this article is by no means a complete overview but just a highly personal selection of available choices that I deem worth checking out. Feel free to drop comments and questions here or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. You can also sign up for my Telegram channel t.me/smartfilming

Download Google Drive for Android or iOS
Download Microsoft OneDrive for Android or iOS
Download Dropbox for Android or iOS
Download Telegram for Android or iOS
Download Collect for Android or iOS
Download Firefox Send for Android
Download Send Anywhere for Android or iOS
Download Filemail for Android or iOS
Download Feem for Android or iOS

#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 1.5GB (around 1500MB), 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 1.5GB, 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 1.5GB 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.

#21 What’s the best free cross-platform mobile video editing app? — 22. April 2020

#21 What’s the best free cross-platform mobile video editing app?

 

I’m a big fan of advanced mobile video editing apps like ‘KineMaster’ (Android & iOS) or ‘LumaFusion’ (iOS-only) and I’m very supportive of the idea that one should pay for such powerful media creation tools. However, there might be instances when it’s just not possible for one reason or another to do that. So I have always kept an eye on mobile video editing apps that tick all the following boxes: 1) they should be free to download and use 2) if there are different versions the free version should not include a watermark 3) they should be fairly advanced (for instance include the ability to have a second video track) and user-friendly 4) they should be cross-platform (Android and iOS) and 5) they should handle/export at least 1080p resolution with 25/30fps. I eventually ditched one other prerequisite: that you don’t have to create an account to use the app. To be honest, if you want an app that really ticks all the boxes, there isn’t much around. Actually up until recently I would have only been able to point to a single one: ‘VlogIt’. And even that could have been considered a cheat under strict circumstances because while VlogIt doesn’t have a watermark on the exported video, it has a branded bumper outro. I’m not too much a fan of the app’s UI though and its limited to a 16:9 project aspect ratio. Another theoretical contender was the relatively new ‘Adobe Premiere Rush’ but the availability for Android devices is still extremely limited and you only get three free exports before you have to commit to a paid subscription. So things were looking pretty sobering until last week-end.

While routinely browsing the Google Play Store for new video editing apps, I came across an app named ‘VN’. The provided screen grabs looked somewhat promising and I downloaded the app. After launching it, I was greeted with a splash screen that prompted me to log in or create an account. I seriously considered deleting the app again. I’m at a point where I really don’t want to sign up for the 3478th service, particularly not before even being able to try out the app. Curiosity however got the better of me and in hindsight, I’m glad it did.

First things first: VN isn’t really new. It apparently has been around for about two years according to the release date in the PlayStore but the relatively low number of downloads compared to other popular free video editing apps indicates that not too many people seem to have noticed it. VN is integrated into a video sharing community (where you can post videos to their platform and follow other users) which can seem a bit annoying if you only want to use the app to save the finished project to the device and share it to your platform of choice. You don’t have to share the video to VN’s community though, it’s possible to only export it to the Gallery (Android) or Camera Roll (iOS) and save it locally on the device.

With that out of the way, I have to say I was very impressed with VN’s feature set after taking it out for a spin. While it’s not quite as advanced as LumaFusion or KineMaster, it comes surprisingly close for a free app, covering a wide range of dedicated functions for serious video editing while at the same time sporting a visually pleasing and generally user-friendly UI.

Main timeline UI of ‘VN’

VN has a classic video editor timeline layout and is able to handle multiple tracks of video (important for b-roll editing for instance), audio and other visual elements like titles, photos and graphics. In terms of graphics it’s also important to note that it supports png files with alpha channel (for instance to include brand logos). You can also record voice-over into the timeline as an audio track and for this external microphones are supported as well. Another big win for VN is the variety of project aspect ratios available: 21:9, 16:9, 4:3, 1:1, 3:4, 9:16 and even ‘Round’ which is basically a masked square format.

One area where VN really needs to be improved (at least on Android) is handling audio transitions between video clips. There a multiple ways to achieve this but none is included at the moment: 1) it’s not possible to detach the audio of a video clip to make J&L cuts 2) while visual elements can be keyframed, audio can’t – so no audio ducking / automation is possible 3) while quick fade in/out buttons are conveniently available for audio-only clips (music, voice-overs etc), this is not available for the integrated audio of video clips in the Android version (it is on iOS) 4) no audio-only cross-fade is included in the transitions. With all these critical points in combination it’s very hard to avoid rough audio transitions between video clips in the Android version at the moment, the iOS version is slightly better. I suppose the fade in/out buttons for video audio will be added to the Android version eventually.

Talking about audio, at least in the Android version voice-overs recorded within the app itself don’t sound very good (I tested on two devices so far), like they are recorded at a low audio bitrate or sample rate but I’m sure this can be fixed with an update. Also, you can’t boost the audio in the Android version while on iOS you can. A slightly annoying thing in both versions is the fact that just like many other video editors featuring video overlays, the added b-roll footage doesn’t fill the whole frame but is added in a slightly scaled down version so if you want to have it cover up the frame of the video clip on the primary track seamlessly, you have to manually scale it which is not only an extra step but also includes the risk of accidentally moving the image away from the center. I get that this default setting is useful if you want to use the overlay video as a picture-in-picture but it’s not the best for editing b-roll style. It would also be nice to have a visual audio level meter when playing back the timeline.

Other than that, VN continues to provide you with lots of useful editing options like speed-ramping, nice title templates, filters, basic grading and various visual effects. One very clever UI function is that when long-pressing a video clip in the timeline to rearrange the order of the clips, it automatically squeezes the clip into a compact square storyboard thumbnail and only transitions back to the original timeline view after releasing the clip into its new place. This makes it much easier to rearrange clips quickly. VN also gives you a variety of professional options on export, not only resolution but frame rate (24/25/30/50/60) and bitrate. And it’s watermark-free! And available for both Android and iOS! On iOS it even seems that you can use it without having to create an account first. I have only tested it for about a week now and it’s quite possible that I will come across (more) bugs or shortcomings but so far I can conclude that this is a fantastic app, both easy to use and powerful. So is it the best free-without-watermark cross-platform mobile video editing app?

A couple of days after discovering VN, I took a second look at another app, one that I tested about a year ago when it was still in beta but somehow lost track of it over the months. It’s called ‘Feelmatic’ and is available for both Android and iOS and similar to VN (at least when looking at the Android version), you have to create an account for their video sharing platform/community.

Main timeline UI of ‘Feelmatic’.

Feelmatic also covers a lot of important features for advanced mobile video editing. It’s a bit more basic than VN, lacking some of its “bells & whistles”, but depending on the job you need to get done, it might not be that much of a deal. One might even see it positively as a more focused approach with a toolbar that lets you see all elements at a glance without having to swipe and scroll around, going down the option rabbit hole. It might be easier to grasp for users who are completely new to video editing. When I first tested the app last year it didn’t have the ability to add a video overlay but it does now. Better yet and unlike VN, the video overlay fully covers up the clip in the primary track by default. Feelmatic lets you record voice-over within the app and supports the use of external mics for that. Just like with VN however creating a smooth audio mix can be a problem, as there’s no audio keyframing, audio-only transitions or fade in/out buttons etc. I consider this to be one of two crucial points to improve in Feelmatic. The other is the extremely limited number of available aspect ratios: 16:9 is all there is (unless I’ve missed something), no option for vertical or square. You can bring in footage in other aspect ratios but it will be fit into a 16:9 frame and exported as such.

Feelmatic also has two slightly special toolbar elements, one is called ‘Logo’ which basically invites you to add an alpha channel png file as a brand/broadcaster logo and gives you a choice of four common default positions within the frame. The other one is ‘Subtitle’ which adds text including a half-transparent background for better legibility at the bottom of the frame. This is great for actual subtitles/captions but as far as I could tell, there are no other title options like say for an intro. This is a bit too bare bones for my taste.

The UI is generally good and focused with one minor shortcoming: the toolbar is located in the middle of the screen which makes reaching it in one-hand operation a bit more difficult, at least on bigger phones. If the toolbar were located at the bottom beneath the timeline, accessibility would be better.

The process of getting your project out of the app is a bit more cumbersome than with VN (you have to select a category for your video even if you don’t want to publish it on the Feelmatic platform for instance) but it is possible. That being said, you do get a solid set of export settings including video and audio bitrate. The video bit rate however maxes out at 10 Mbit, the audio bit rate at 128 Kbit which isn’t exactly great. And there are even more limitations: resolution is limited to 1080p (no UHD/4K), fps to a maximum of 30fps. While on iOS this does at least include 25fps as well, the Android version only supports 24 and 30 which is disappointing because other editing apps on Android like KineMaster, VN or CuteCut don’t have a problem with exporting 25fps.

So while I think that Feelmatic is actually a pretty solid and interesting video editing app with great potential definitely worth checking out, VN is more powerful in terms of features and the export process is less cumbersome. You should definitely check out both apps if you are into mobile video editing unless you are worried about their business model. If you don’t mind a watermark on the exported video or paying for a subscription, KineMaster is still the best and most compatible option available for both major mobile platforms. Let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter @smartfilming.

Download ‘VN’ for Android or iOS.
Download ‘Feelmatic’ for Android or iOS.

#19 Stabilizing shaky video footage on your smartphone (Android/iOS/WindowsMobile) — 5. October 2019

#19 Stabilizing shaky video footage on your smartphone (Android/iOS/WindowsMobile)

The fact that nowadays pretty much everyone owns a smartphone and shoots video with it has brought a gigantic wave of shaky handheld footage along. While some folks are actually allergic to any kind of shakiness in video, I personally think that depending on the amount and context it can work just fine – but definitely not all the time and under any circumstances. So there is a need to stabilize shaky handheld footage. Now the best thing to get smooth n’ stable footage is to avoid shakiness in the first place while shooting. While there are techniques for shooting (more) stable video handheld, the most common thing would be putting the phone on a tripod (using any kind of rig or clamp for mounting it). But maybe you want to move around a bit? More and more smartphones do have internal stabilization, be it on the hardware side with OIS (optical image stabilization) or on the software side with EIS (electronic image stabilzation). Over the last years there has also been a considerable and increasingly affordable influx of (motorized) gimbals that allow smooth camera movements. But let’s be honest: Unless you’re going to a planned shoot, you probably won’t carry around a tripod or gimbal (if you have one) – as compact as they have become over time, they are still too big and clunky to just put in your pocket. So it’s likely that you will find yourself in situations where you shoot video handheld and want to smooth out some distracting jitter afterwards. While most desktop video editing software has a built-in stabilizer function these days, things don’t look quite as bright on mobile but there are still a few (good) options.

Android

Google Photos
The easiest way to stabilize a pre-recorded video clip on your mobile phone is probably to use a little known feature of an immensely popular (and completely free!) app: Google Photos. Select any video clip and open the edit panel (sliders icon in the middle), then choose „Stabilise“. When I first used it I was really surprised how well it worked! The stabilization process doesn’t alter the resolution and frame rate but you will have to live with a lower video bitrate (sample clip: 17 to 11 Mbit/s) while the audio bitrate remains the same. Google Photos is basically available for all Android devices which is great. I have however found that very ancient pre-Android 5 devices (I tested it with two devices running Android 4.4) do not have the stabilization feature baked into the app. “What about iOS?” you may ask as Google Photos is also available on the Apple Appstore. Unfortunately, just like with the ancient Androids, the stabilization feature is not available in the iOS version of the app. Maybe at some point in the future.

PowerDirector
If you are looking for a stabilization feature already built into an advanced mobile video editing app with which you can produce your final edit, then Cyberlink’s PowerDirector is currently your only choice across platforms. Select the clip in your timeline, open the editing panel by tapping the pen icon on the left side bar and choose „Stabilizer“. Unlike with Google Photos where the stabilization is basically a one-button operation, PD does give you a 0-100 slider to increase or decrease the level of correction (default value is 50). The higher the level of correction, the more the image will be cropped. PD can keep the footage’s fps as long as it is a frame rate that is supported for export within the app. That means 24, 30 and 60fps – no PAL frame rates unfortunately. Resolution on the other hand shouldn’t be a problem at all, PD supports export up to UHD/4K resolution. You also get to choose between three bitrate options (Smaller Size/Standard/Better Quality), the actual bitrate will be depending on your export resolution. In the case of the sample clip used here the bitrate of 17Mbit/s remained unaltered when using „Better Quality“ but that seems to be the maximum for projects with FHD resolution. If you use a clip recorded in a higher bitrate it will be compressed upon export. The audio bitrate is reduced (sample clip 320 to128 Kbit/s). PD is free to download with watermark and some restrictions regarding certain features – watermark-free export and the complete feature set are only available with a paid subscription. KineMaster, which I generally regard as the best video editing app on Android, is still missing this feature by the way.

Microsoft Hyperlapse Mobile
There’s a third option on Android. Microsoft Hyperlapse Mobile shouldn’t be confused with Instagram’s „Hyperlapse“ app (which is only available on iOS so far). They are actually somewhat similar in that their main purpose is to speed up and stabilize video but while Instagram’s app can only do this for footage shot „live“ within the app, Microsoft’s version allows importing pre-recorded clips. By default, the result you get will be a 4x sped up clip but if you want the original speed, you can move the speed slider to „1x“ instead. As for the resolution, Microsoft Hyperlapse only supports import of clips with up to FHD resolution and you have to activate FHD export in the settings as the default setting is HD (720p). The frame rate remains the same, the video bitrate is seriously crunched (sample clip: 17 to 8 Mbit/s), the audio bitrate is kept intact. The stabilization result isn’t as good as Google’s Photos and while the app is free, you do get a Microsoft Hyperlapse branded bumper screen. There are no in-app purchases to get rid of this so you will probably have to trim it off using another app.

iOS (iPhone/iPad)

Emulsio
As mentioned above, while Google Photos is available for iOS, the stabilization feature from the Android version is not. And neither is PowerDirector or Microsoft Hyperlapse Mobile. Also, none of iOS’s best video editing apps including the likes of Luma Fusion, KineMaster, Adobe Rush, Videoleap or Splice feature a stabilization tool at this point. The only (fairly good) option to stabilize pre-recorded video that I was able to find was an app called Emulsio. The interesting thing about Emulsio is that unlike all other apps for stabilizing mentioned here, there’s a whole bunch of controls over the stabilization process at your fingertips. Just like PD it gives you a 0-100% scale for the strength of the correction, cropping more of the frame the higher the % is. But on top of that, you get control over which axes (X,Y,XY) are corrected, you can switch rotation compensation and wobble removal on or off and even reduce rolling shutter. Emulsio does keep resolution and frame rate intact but reduces both video bitrate (sample clip 17 to 15Mbit/s) and audio bitrate (320 to 256Kbit/s). It’s free with watermark, you can get rid of the watermark by purchasing a 8.99€ pro upgrade.

Windows Mobile

Microsoft Hyperlapse Mobile
Before I wrap this up let me tell you that while Microsoft Hyperlapse Mobile isn’t available for iOS, it (still) is for their own (now quasi-dead) mobile platform Windows Mobile. So just for the highly unlikely case that you are a die-hard Windows Phone enthusiast still holding on to your Lumia: You can join the stabilization fun! It basically works like the Android version described above but only supports import/export of HD (720p) clips, higher resolution clips will be transcoded to 720p. So when the resolution is reduced it shouldn’t come as a surprise that video bitrate (17 to 7 Mbit/s) and audio bitrate (320 to 192 Kbit/s) are as well. The frame rate remains the same as the original source clip.

And here’s a video presenting the deliberately shaky sample clip (shot on a Motorola Moto Z in 1080p 30fps handheld) in stabilized versions by each mentioned app (in the case of Power Director and Emulsio the default settings were used):

Have I missed something important? Did a new app or new feature for an established app just come out? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on the Twitter (@smartfilming).

#18 The Xiaomi Pocophone F1 – THE best value videography smartphone? — 19. June 2019

#18 The Xiaomi Pocophone F1 – THE best value videography smartphone?

Do you remember OnePlus marketing its phone(s) as the „flagship killer“? A device with all the bells and whistles of a top-of-the-line smartphone but only about half the price? A device that would kill the demand for the very popular but also very expensive flagship phones of Apple, Samsung & Co.? Well, while OnePlus is still a very common name when it comes to getting the best phone bang for the buck, 2018 brought about a new kid on the block that some dared to call the „flagship killer killer“: The Pocophone F1. Wait, the what-phone? Yeah right, Pocophone! It’s actually not another whole new company venturing into the smartphone business but a sub-brand of Xiaomi, the Chinese company already well established in its home market but also slowly expanding around the globe. It’s basically what the Honor phones are for Huawei. The fact that recent phones from OnePlus couldn’t quite withstand the general price bump in the high-end segment kickstarted by Apple’s iPhone X in 2017 introduced an opportunity for someone else to cater to the crowd that wants great specs but isn’t willing to spend a fortune. Enter: the Pocophone F1. When it launched in August 2018 you did get a device with the year’s latest flagship chipset from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 845, for a crazy low price of just over 300€, undercutting OnePlus (and everyone else’s flagships) by a significant margin. Does this mean the Pocophone F1 could be the new Holy Grail for great smartphone video production on a budget? After using it for a couple of months as a secondary device I would like to share some thoughts. Please note: I will look at this phone pretty much exclusively from the viewpoint of using it as a videography tool!

Hardware/Software

The Pocophone F1 is available with internal storage capacities of 64/128GB (6GB RAM) and 256GB (8GB RAM), all of them have the option to expand the storage via microSD card to up to another 256GB. So if you are recording a lot in UHD/4K, this is a pretty solid set-up although not quite as impressive in terms of internal storage as Samsung for instance which offers 512GB and even 1TB (!) internal storage on some of their latest flagships. The SoC (System-on-a-Chip), commonly known as chipset or processor, is – as mentioned before – a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, the company’s most powerful chipset of 2018 and at the heart of many a flagship phone of 2018/2019, including the Samsung S9/S9+ and Note 9 (at least in regions like the US, in other markets Samsung is using their own Exynos chip), the Google Pixel 3/3XL, the OnePlus 6T and the LG G7. Unfortunately it goes without saying these days that the Pocophone F1 does not have a (user) replaceable battery. This trend has been a big bummer for (professional) power users (and environmental sustainability!) but it’s become the harsh reality and everyone just seems to put up with it. The 4000 mAh battery is quite generous but it’s good to have a power bank at hand nevertheless if you are into heavy usage. While the replaceable battery is pretty much a thing of the past, the 3.5mm headphone jack is still holding on to a certain degree and even making a small comeback (hello Huawei P30 and Google Pixel 3a/3aXL!) It’s great the Pocophone has one on board so you can use it to connect external mics and don’t have to rely on the newer USB-C port for which there aren’t so many external microphone options (yet). As for the software side of things, the phone came with Android Oreo 8.1 out of the box but can be upgraded to Android Pie 9.0. It’s running Xiaomi’s MIUI on top of Android and while it’s not the prettiest skin in my opinion, it received the Pie update relatively early last year and has some useful stock apps like a screen recorder with surprisingly many options (resolution, bitrate, orientation, frame rate).

Cameras

The Pocophone F1 has a total of four cameras which sounds pretty exciting at first but for videography purposes, only two are actually useful because the secondary ones (both front and rear) are just meant to create the popular background blur effect in photos. With the LG V30 as my primary phone and its super-handy secondary rear wide-angle camera that can be used for shooting videos just like photos, it’s somewhat painful to realize Xiaomi doesn’t give you the same flexibility for videography. I recently damaged my V30’s wide-angle lens and it’s hard to overstate how much I miss it. That being said, a secondary camera for video isn’t really a must to produce good video content, we’ve been living for years without them and in general you’d rather have one very good camera than two that are mediocre. So what about the camera(s) on the Pocophone F1 that can be used for shooting video? Usually the camera is the most decisive factor when looking at the differences between cheap and more expensive phones. The main rear camera has an aperture of f/1.9, a sensor size of 1/2.55“, a pixel size of 1.4µm and features electronic image stabilization (EIS), so it’s software-based, not optical. You can shoot up to UHD/4K resolution with 30fps. One strange thing is that the 30fps limit doesn’t only apply to UHD/4K recording but to FHD/1080p and HD/720p as well. So you can’t shoot in 60fps at all (yet). Apparently there’s a firmware update on the way however that will add 60fps recording for all resolutions including UHD/4K but I haven’t received it myself so far. EDIT: I have received the update in the meantime and I can now record with 60fps in FHD and UHD/4K in the native camera app (no support for 3rd party apps unfortunately). The front (selfie) camera has an aperture of f/2.0, a pixel size of 0.9µm, a fixed focus and you can shoot at a maximum of FHD/1080p at 30fps, no stabilization. The quality is decent but I’m not much of a selfie-shooter. So here’s some test footage from the rear camera, the first video was shot with FilmicPro in UHD/4K at 25fps, the second video with the native camera app in same resolution but at 30fps:

While it can’t quite match the latest flagships from Samsung, Google, Huawei or Apple, the camera holds up pretty well in my opinion, it’s actually great on many levels if you consider the low price of the phone and definitely (more than) good enough for professional mobile content creation. Taking my personal taste into account I find the colors to be a bit too popping and saturated, at least when using the native camera app (the colors in the footage shot with Filmic Pro look more realistic and subdued which I prefer). But I’m pretty sure some users might actually like the extra-punch. There was one shot I captured with the native camera app that puzzled me: Despite having regular daylight on a sunny day and no overexposure in general there was some strange and noticeable noise in a the darker part of the image (you can see it here at 2:21 in the video on the right hand side). I’m used to similar noise in low light situations with high ISO levels but not on a sunny day outside. This appears to be a software-based image processing technique called „local tone mapping“ which amplifies part of the image to compensate for underexposure (thanks to Chris Cohen from Filmic Inc. for clarifying!) and is something that can be seen (to varying degrees) on other smartphones as well. You should watch out for it when you have a generally well-lit scene that also contains very dark/darker areas. From what I can see it’s not possible to eliminate this completely even with manual controls in 3rd party apps, but most of the time it’s not really noticeable unless you do some serious pixel peeping (the example highlighted here was by far the most drastic one I have encountered). Still, I thought it’s important not to sweep it under the rug.

The Native Camera App

UI of the Pocophone F1’s native camera app in video mode.

When we are talking about integrating the device into a more advanced / professional videography context it’s of course necessary to consider what features and controls you have at your disposal using the camera with both native and 3rd party camera apps. The native camera app is somewhat solid but not really great for shooting video. On the plus side, you get to lock focus (auto-focus works well btw) and exposure by tapping/holding (only for the rear camera though, not the front/selfie camera!) and you can also adjust the exposure, but only via general exposure values (EV), not with precise shutter speed and ISO parameters. While the ability to lock the exposure for video is a step forward from an earlier Xiaomi phone I tested (the Mi A1), it’s still another sorry example of a native camera app including a full-featured pro mode with manual controls (shutter speed, ISO, white balance, focus) for photography while at the same time ignoring videographers that want the same for video. For video there’s also no control at all over white balance. If you mostly do static shots from a tripod without much camera movement you can get away with an automatic white balance that works well but if you move the camera (walking shots with a gimbal, pans, tilts etc.) or shoot in environments with both natural and artificial light sources you might be in serious trouble dealing with shifting color temperatures. There’s also no support for external microphones in the native camera app.

Things look slightly better when we go into the video settings and ignore the peculiar omission of 60fps recording I already mentioned. It’s definitely useful that Xiaomi gives you an anti-banding option for 50/60Hz to avoid light flicker (given the fact that you don’t have control over shutter speed and frame rate), the ability to turn image stabilization on/off (it can interfere with the stabilization technique of a gimbal) and lets you choose between the H.264/AVC and the newer H.265/HEVC video codecs. The latter has superior compression which is more processor-intensive but also reduces the file size while keeping the quality, so if you are shooting a lot of UHD/4K video and struggle with your phone’s storage this might be the way to go. Keep in mind though that H.265 is not yet an accepted codec with all video editing software out there. On Android the video editing apps KineMaster and PowerDirector already allow importing and editing clips utilizing this newer codec. All video clips are saved as common mp4 files.

Some more specs: UHD/4K video is recorded with a bitrate of around 43 Mbps (1080p: around 20 Mbps) and uses the Rec. 2020 color space (1080p: Rec. 709). Audio is recorded in stereo at 192 Kbps and a sample rate of 48 kHz (all resolutions). Apart from the semi-automatic regular video mode (which also has a timelapse feature) there are two other video modes: „Short Video“ and „Slow Motion“. „Short Video“ lets you shoot a clip with a maximum length of 10 seconds (featuring a countdown clock) which is not particularly exciting. „Slow Motion“ on the other hand has some potential. When I first got the phone I was able to shoot slow-motion with a maximum frame rate of 240fps at 1080p which is cool but relatively standard these days for flagship phones. However, some weeks later Xiaomi distributed a firmware update that actually added a new feature to the camera app: slow-motion with a crazy 960fps (at a maximum resolution of 1080p), something that Sony first introduced with the Xperia XZ Premium in 2017. Considering that you can do something like that at all with a 300€ phone is just mind-boggling. But like with Sony’s feature on the XZ Premium, there’s a catch: You can only record at this frame rate for about a second. While it’s quite understandable that recording at 960fps for a longer time is a bridge too far for a phone in 2018 (what ‚big‘ camera can do that?), this limits the practical usefulness and requires luck and/or much practice to showcase all of its glory. The recorded clip actually comes out as a 10 second video ‚packaged‘ in 30fps and plays back in regular (or even slightly higher, I’m not quite sure) speed for about 2 seconds, then automatically switches to extreme slow-motion for the rest. Unlike with slow-motion modes on other phones you can’t change the moment the slow-motion kicks in. As you can imagine this makes it very difficult and occasionally frustrating to capture a particular moment unless you are recording something rather monotone and repetitive (like a waterfall or a fountain for instance). And there’s actually a second catch, one that a YouTube comment for my video brought up: Apparently, this 960fps feature isn’t really 960fps but an interpolated 240fps as the image sensor (Sony IMX 363) can only handle 240fps tops natively. Interpolated means that software fills in the gaps between existing frames with additional, generated frames. The results are not as good as real 960fps, lacking the same crispness and clarity. To tell the truth I had already been a bit skeptical from the beginning for one reason: The more frames you have per second, the less light is available for each frame meaning the higher the fps, the more light you need. When I switched from 120fps to 240fps in the Pocophone’s slow-motion mode I could clearly see that the image got darker. When I switched from 240 to the supposed 960fps nothing like that happened despite the fact that it’s a triple jump in terms of fps. If you want to read more about this check out these articles about another Xiaomi phone (Mi Mix 3) using the same technique here and here. Still, you can achieve some really impressive shots that can spruce up your edit with a bit of practice and patience, so it’s definitely nice to have.

One more thing I would like to mention here is the question of a file size limit. As you might know, certain Android devices still have some kind of file size limitation for a single file (usually around 4GB) which basically is of no concern to anyone except: the dedicated videographer shooting (long) videos! The case of the Pocophone F1 is ambivalent in this respect. I first thought there IS a file size limit because it only allows you to shoot 8 minutes sharp in UHD/4K producing a file of about 2.5GB. But when I tested it shooting in 1080p it went way beyond that and only stopped when the device’s storage was full (the file was about 7GB at this point). In a nutshell: You do have a recording limit but only when shooting UHD/4K, not for 1080p/720p.

3rd Party Camera Apps / Camera2 API Support

As I have shown in the previous paragraph, the F1’s native camera app isn’t the worst around but it’s also not really good enough for many pro use cases that involve the need for advanced manual controls and an external microphone. So you have to turn to 3rd party apps for those features. How many advanced controls a 3rd party camera app can offer doesn’t only depend on the app itself but also on the level of Camera2 API (what is Camera2 API?) implementation the phone maker provided for this particular device. Without proper Camera2 API support, 3rd party developers are limited in what they can offer feature-wise. The good news is that Xiaomi’s Pocophone F1 has „full“ Camera2 API support for both front and rear cameras. This means you can install apps that have this support level as a prerequisite (most notably Filmic Pro and Moment Pro Camera) and get additional manual controls in apps that can be installed even on devices with lower Camera2 API support (Open Camera, Footej Camera, Lumio Cam, Cinema FV-5, ProShot etc.).

“Filmic Pro” on the Pocophone F1.

As Filmic Pro is the most advanced and best pro videography app overall I took a closer look at how well it works on the Pocophone F1. In general it works really well I have to say, among the best I’ve seen so far on Android! I was particularly surprised by its ability to churn out a consistent 25fps frame rate virtually all of the time which is important if you are using the phone for PAL broadcast (Europe, Australia etc.) or in combination with other cameras that shoot in 25fps. The makers of Filmic Pro have heavily invested in making PAL frame rates work on Android (as it’s not supported natively) but not all Android devices are equally good at producing consistent results so it’s nice to see the Pocophone F1 making such a positive impression here. The only times I occasionally noticed a slight drop/deviation was the very first clip after changing from another frame rate (maybe the encoder needs a moment to adjust?) and in low light conditions (the test clips I shot inside the church came out at 24.93fps).

Speaking of frame rates, we’re looking at the only significant limitation within Filmic Pro’s functionality on the Pocophone: Like with many other Android phones the Camera2 API implementation doesn’t support 50/60fps recording for 3rd party apps which is a shame in general. The F1 is still the odd one out here because it can’t even record at 60fps in the native app (yet) while many other phone makers do support a higher frame rate in the native camera but keep 3rd party apps from doing so. Interestingly, you CAN shoot at 240fps for super slow-motion in up to 1080p though! This is cool but at the same time kind of weird (I have also noticed this on other Android devices like my LG V30) and it will be interesting to see what happens when the higher frame rate update for the native camera app drops. As for the resolution, UHD/4K works just fine in Filmic Pro from what I have experienced (I shot all the test footage in UHD/4K), the selfie camera maxes out at 2K and has a fixed focus. One other thing that’s not supported in Filmic Pro on the Pocophone at the moment is image stabilization (EIS is available in the native camera app) so it might be a good idea to shoot from a tripod or use a rig/gimbal to avoid shaky footage. There’s one small bug in the UI that I came across: When you double-tap the exposure or focus reticle to change into the bracket mode (continuous auto-focus and wider exposure metering) the brackets are not centred but appear in the lower right corner. Only when you turn the phone into portrait mode and back into landscape does it appear in the right place. But I’m sure this glitch can be fixed soon.

Video Editing

Device Capability Information for the Pocophone F1 in “KineMaster”.

Once you have shot some gorgeous footage with the Pocophone F1 you might want to edit it directly on the device without having to transfer it to a desktop computer first. I will have a quick look at how well Xiaomi’s phone performs with the two best video editing apps on Android: KineMaster and PowerDirector (yes, I’m aware Adobe Rush has just been launched on Android but it’s only available for a handful of phones none of which I own currently). As mentioned early on, the Pocophone F1 sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC which should be more than capable of handling most video editing tasks. While this chipset surprisingly seems to have caused some video editing trouble by not supporting 4K editing/layers on certain devices like the US-variant of Samsung’s S9/S9+ (the European/Korean version has Samsung’s own Exynos chipset instead), everything’s looking good on the Pocophone F1: The KineMaster device capability test shows support for UHD/4K (2160p) including one layer in that resolution (4 layers of FHD/1080p) and I was able to work with and export UHD/4K with no problem. It also can handle higher frame rates (50/60fps) if you activate this under „Advanced and Experimental Settings“ but I guess we all remember that the Pocophone can’t even shoot these frame rates (yet) so there should be no need to bother with that at the moment.

If you are shooting/producing at 25fps, KineMaster is definitely the way to go as PowerDirector does not support PAL frame rate projects (you can import the footage but it will be converted to either 24, 30 or 60fps upon export). That being said you can import, edit and export UHD/4K in PowerDirector as well, even with a video layer although for editing purposes the app always transcodes layer clips in that resolution down to 1080p/FHD. It’s a general thing in PowerDirector though, not something Pocophone-specific. From the pop-up you get when adding a UHD/4K layer it sounds like it’s just creating FHD proxy files for smoother editing and that the original UHD/4K quality will eventually be used in the export but the makers of the app have yet to answer my request to clarify this. Both KineMaster and PowerDirector also support the use of clips shot with the H.265/HEVC codec on top of the traditional H.264/AVC. So yes, the Pocophone F1 is a great device for editing video on the go!

Conclusion

All in all I can conclude that the Xiaomi Pocophone F1 is a very capable video production tool with outstanding value! It has a (very) solid camera, great compatibility with Filmic Pro and lots of power for video editing. It also has a headphone jack, support for external storage and runs the latest version of Android (Android 9 Pie). An alternative device at this price point could be the one year older LG V30 which is my personal daily driver at the moment: Unlike the Pocophone it has a secondary and extremely useful wide-angle rear camera that can actually be utilized for videography (and not only photography), a native camera app that is light years ahead in terms of professional video controls and features (but also can’t shoot PAL frame rates) and a chipset that’s practically as powerful for video editing as the Pocophone’s newer one – it’s not quite as good with Filmic Pro though and it’s still on Android 8 Oreo. So while the Pocophone F1 is without a doubt an excellent option for the price, the question whether it’s THE best option depends on the priorities of the potential user. The Google Pixel 3a/3aXL just hit the market and could be a viable rival for Xiaomi’s budget powerhouse. If you have questions or comments, feel free to drop me a line in the comments below!

#17 Using external microphones with Android devices when shooting video — 28. March 2019

#17 Using external microphones with Android devices when shooting video

Before captioning videos for convenient social media consumption on the go became all the rage, everyone agreed that having good audio was an essential element of good video, possibly even more important than the image quality. Many will agree that it actually still is despite the captioning vogue of late. So how do you get good audio for video? Let’s make it simple: Get as close to the sound source as possible with your mic! In most cases you will get better audio with a cheap mic close to the sound source than with a super-expensive mic that’s (too) far away (notice: it won’t work at all however if you use a carrot). And how do you get as close as possible to the audio source? An external mic (as opposed to the internal mic of your phone) will be a big help to achieve that since you probably don’t want to shove your phone/camera into someone’s face. But can you work with external mics on Android devices? Yes, you can. And the good news is that it basically works with EVERY Android phone or tablet! Of course I have not tested it on every single Android device on the planet but so far I have not encountered a single one that didn’t support it and believe me I have had dozens so far! In most cases you will however have to use third party apps since most native camera apps don’t support the use of external mics. There are a few exceptions like many Samsung phones and the (recent) flagships of LG and Sony but with other Android phone makers your only chance to use an external mic for better audio while recording video are third party video recording apps like FilmicPro, Cinema FV-5, Open Camera, Cinema 4K or Footej Camera. If you are into video live streaming: Popular platforms like Facebook, Periscope, Instagram or YouTube also support the use of external mics on their mobile apps. Important: Some apps will automatically detect a connected external mic while with others you will have to go into the settings and choose the external mic as the audio input. In general, it’s recommended to connect the mic before launching the app as sometimes the app might not correctly detect the mic when you only plug it in after launching the app. But how can you connect an external mic to an Android device? There are four basic options that I will shortly elaborate on: 1) via the 3.5mm headphone jack 2) via the microUSB port 3) via the USB-C port 4) via a wireless connection / Bluetooth.

3.5mm headphone jack

Left: 3.5mm connector with 3 conductors (TRS) / Right: 3.5mm connector with 4 conductors (TRRS – smartphone compatible)
Standard 3.5mm headphone jack.

The most common wired solution for connecting an external mic to your Android device is (was?) the 3.5mm headphone jack, the port where you would usually plug in your headphones to listen to music. For a long time this was one of THE universal things about a smartphone, be it an Android, an iPhone or even a Windows Phone. In the past couple of years however, more and more phone makers have been following Apple’s lead to ditch the headphone jack (starting with the iPhone 7) in an attempt to further push for a slick enclosed unibody design, leaving the phone with only one physical port, the one that is primarily there to charge your phone. Of course this move has also to do with the rise of Bluetooth headphones. Anyway, if you’re lucky enough to still have a phone with a 3.5mm headphone jack you have a range of options to connect different types of external mics. There are two general options: Using a mic with a dedicated TRRS 3.5mm headphone jack connection or using another mic with an adapter. What’s TRRS you may ask? Well it has to do with the number of conductors on the 3.5mm pin. You might have encountered mics with a similar looking 3.5mm pin for ‚regular‘ cameras. But while they look similar, they only have THREE conductors on the pin (TRS), not FOUR (TRRS). Smartphones use the TRRS standard so a TRS 3.5mm pin won’t work unless you use an adapter like the Rode SC4. But you know what? There’s a good chance you already own an external mic without even knowing: the headphones that came with your phone. Yes, you heard that right! They usually have an inbuilt mic for making/receiving phone calls and if you have your headphones connected to the headphone jack while using a video recording app that supports external mics, then this is an easy and cheap way to improve your audio. You might be surprised how decent the sound quality can be! Of course the cable of the headphones is usually not too long so if you are doing a piece to camera or an interview with someone it will be hard to avoid having the cable in the frame and the sound quality of dedicated TRRS 3.5mm mics often trumps that of the headset but I think it’s still great to have this option at hand. Dedicated TRRS headphone jack mics include the original iRigMic (handheld) by IK Multimedia, several lavalier/lapel mics (like the Rode smartLav+, the Aputure a.Lav, the Tonor Dual Headed Lapel and the Boya BY-M1) or the Rode Videomic Me (directional shotgun-type). One might also count the Rode VideoMicro (directional shotgun-type) as a dedicated TRRS mic because you can exchange the TRS cable that it comes with (to work with ‚regular‘ cameras like DSLRs etc.) for a TRRS cable (Rode SC7, sold separately). Other than that you can connect basically any XLR mic by using IK Multimedia’s iRigPre adapter/converter box which has a female XLR input on one side and a male 3.5mm pin cable on the other. XLR is the most common professional audio connection standard. 

microUSB

Left: microUSB connector / Right: microUSB port.

Just as 3.5mm headphone jacks used to be a common standard on phones, so did microUSB ports on Android devices for charging your phone’s battery. The change from microUSB to USB-C as the preferred „power port“ in the last years very much but not exclusively coincided with the trend to drop the headphone jack. There are hardly any new phones coming out these days that still have a microUSB port (the most recent were all in the budget segment). And as 3.5mm headphone jacks were a universal standard at the time the lack of dedicated microUSB mics didn’t really come as too much of a surprise. Actually the only mic like this that I ever encountered and used was IK Multimedia’s iRig Mic HD-A, an improved digital version of the original iRigMic which featured a microUSB connector instead of a 3.5mm pin. One thing you also had to pay attention to when connecting accessories to a microUSB port was the question of USB-OTG support (OTG stands for „On-the-go“). In simplistic terms one could say that USB-OTG support basically means that you can use the USB port for other things than just charging. For instance as an audio input. Not all Android devices have support for USB-OTG.

USB-C

Left: USB-C connector / Right: USB-C port.

USB-OTG support is also of relevance when talking about USB-C, the new USB connection standard for Android devices (it has recently also been introduced on Apple’s iPad Pro series so one might speculate on whether the future will see Apple making the switch for all its devices). One of the very practical things that makes USB-C better than microUSB is that the connector is shaped in a way that fits into the port of the phone in two ways, not only one like microUSB which usually meant you tried to plug it in the wrong way first. The other good thing is that as time went by, USB-OTG has become a more common feature on Android devices so chances are relatively high that your device will support USB-OTG if you have purchased it in the last two years or so. It’s still not a definitive standard on Android devices though, so if you plan to use USB-C mics you should check the phone’s spec sheet first. The introduction of dedicated USB-C mics has been very slow, the first one to my knowledge was the Samson Go Mic Mobile wireless system launched in 2017 which included a USB-C connection cable for the receiver unit along with cables for 3.5mm, microUSB and Lightning port (the latter is the standard on most Apple devices). Boya has recently added two USB-C mics into their portfolio (a directional shotgun-type and a lavalier) and Saramonic has a USB-C-to-XLR adapter cable so there are finally at least some options. For a great overview regarding USB-C mics check out this blogpost by Neil Philip Sheppard on smartphonefilmpro.com. One more thing: While quite a few phone makers include a USB-C to 3.5mm-adapter with their phones if they have a USB-C port (which would let you use 3.5mm mics), these tend to be proprietary, meaning that you can’t use them with other phone brands and if you lose yours you will have to purchase from the same brand again and can’t use a third party adapter. Yes, very annoying, I know. In general, USB-C mics don’t seem to work as universally across Android devices and apps as their headphone jack buddies just yet so if you plan to use a USB-C mic than I would recommend doing thorough testing before using it on an important job.

Wireless / Bluetooth

All the aforementioned external mic solutions have in common that they involve some kind of wired connection to the phone, even in the case of the wireless Samson Go Mic Mobile system or Rode’s RodeLink wireless kit (which can be utilized when connecting a TRS-to-TRRS adapter to it) as the receiver unit has to be plugged into the phone. Of course it would be fantastic to have the audio go directly and wirelessly from a mic (transmitter) into the phone without a separate receiver unit attached to it. And in theory it should be very much possible because modern phones do have two protocols allowing for wireless data transfer: WiFi and Bluetooth. So far, only Bluetooth has been used for that, I’m sure there’s a technical reason why the WiFi way might not be feasible (yet) that I don’t know about. A bunch of potential Bluetooth mics have been around for some time but they usually still need a receiver unit and the audio quality and reliability hasn’t been quite up to the task so far. Bluetooth headphones/headsets with an internal mic is another possible option. Here’s a short test I did using the inbuilt headset mic of my (rather cheap) Bluetooth headphones.

It’s not too bad in my opinion and might suffice for certain tasks but you definitely notice the quality difference to a good wired external mic. Apparently Bluetooth audio that goes directly into the phone is limited to a sample rate of 8kHz by the Android system at the moment (according to one of FilmicPro’s engineers) which doesn’t provide the grounds for great quality audio. There’s also a mic called the Instamic that is basically a self-contained mini audio-recorder in the form of a somewhat bigger lavalier with internal storage that also allows a live audio-streaming mode directly to the phone (with noticeably diminished quality compared to the internally recorded audio) but depending on your job, the quality might still not be good enough and can’t match that of wired connections. You also often get a slight delay between video and audio that increases the farther you get away from the device. And unlike with wired external mics, only a few video recording apps on Android actually accept Bluetooth as an external audio input as of today, the ones I know about are FilmicPro and Cinema FV-5. So while the limitations of Bluetooth mics might still be too big for much/most professional work at this time, it should (soon) be a viable option in the near future. As a matter of fact, there recently was a Kickstarter campaign for a Bluetooth transmitter called BAM! that can be attached to any XLR mic and streams the audio directly to the phone in good quality – unfortunately the campaign didn’t reach its funding goal. Let’s hope it’s not the end of the story since smartphone development is probably headed towards a design with no physical ports (wireless charging is already here!) and then wireless is the only way to go for better or worse! If you have questions or comments, feel free to drop a line!