smartfilming

Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#28 Android 11 might be the most important update for mobile videography since Android 5 — 20. July 2020

#28 Android 11 might be the most important update for mobile videography since Android 5

One of the things more tech-savvy smartphone users often criticize about Google’s mobile operating system Android is the fact that new versions of the OS only roll out relatively slowly and to a somewhat limited number of (recent) devices, particularly when compared to new versions of Apple’s iOS for iPhones. There has been some progress (the current version Android 10 managed the fastest and widest roll-out of any Android version so far), but it’s still a long way to getting anywhere close to the swift and wide-spread roll-out of new iOS versions. 

While in general I would definitely prefer to have faster and more wide-reaching availability of new Android versions, I also think that the topic is often way too dramatized, particularly since Google separated regular security patches from the OS version with Android 8 Oreo in 2017. If we look at this particularly from a smartphone videography perspective, there have been hardly any major feature updates to the Android system over the last years that would make having “the latest and greatest” an absolute must. In my opinion, the last crucial milestone was Android 5 Lollipop back in 2014 when Google added the ability for screen recording via third party apps and – most importantly – introduced the Camera2 API which gave developers access to more advanced camera controls like shutter speed and ISO. The following versions surely continued to further polish a now pretty mature mobile operating system and occasionally included generally useful new tweaks and features for the common user but nothing really groundbreaking in terms of mobile videography. The upcoming Android 11 (scheduled for late summer / early fall 2020) could actually be a new milestone however. After checking out the official Android 11 developer information site from Google and various articles (many by the excellent XDA Developers news outlet!) plus getting a (used) Pixel 3 to hop on the beta version of Android 11 myself, I have found a bunch of quite interesting things, some will be immediately accessible in Android 11, others will offer new possibilities for app developers to dig into.

Native Screen Recording

As mentioned before, Android 5 had already introduced the general ability for screen recording back in 2014 but only for 3rd party apps, not as a native OS functionality. While some Android phone makers actually added native screen recording to their phones it wasn’t available right out of the box for most devices. It did finally pop up as a system immanent feature in the beta version for Android 10 but was unfortunately dropped for the final release. Now it’s back on the Android 11 beta and I’m pretty sure it will make it to the finish line this time around! You can simply access this feature via the quick settings when pulling down the notification shade from the top. It’s not there by default but you can easily add it to the quick settings by tapping on the pen icon in the bottom left corner of the notification shade and then dragging the screen record tile to the quick settings. On my Pixel 3, the resolution of the recorded video is 2160×1080 or 1080×2160 depending on the orientation with a somewhat curious frame rate hovering around 40 to 45 fps.

Capturing System Audio

Directly related to the native screen recording is the ability to capture system/internal audio from the device. It’s something that Google wouldn’t allow up until now so all the screen recording apps that came out in the wake of Android 5 were only able to capture sound through the phone’s mic / an external mic or no sound at all, not the ‘clean’ audio of an incoming call or a video that you are playing back. When you launch the native screen recorder on Android 11, it asks you to pick between three options in terms of audio capture: “Microphone”, “Device audio” or “Device audio and microphone”. Why is this important? If you want to record a (video) call for instance, you should now be able to capture both ends directly into a mix or just get your interviewee’s audio without having your own side mixed in. The pop-up when launching the screen recorder also gives you the option to show touches while capturing which is great if you are doing a tutorial on how to use an app as viewers can see what buttons you touch during the process.

Airplane Mode doesn’t turn off Bluetooth

When recording video on a smartphone it’s generally a good thing to turn on Airplane Mode to prevent any kind of interference with your recording. Sure, most of the time you might get away with not paying attention to this… until an important shot gets ruined by an incoming call etc. So far, going into Airplane Mode killed Bluetooth (it’s possible to manually turn it on again) which probably isn’t that big of a deal for shooting video – yet. Most external Bluetooth mics are still lacking in terms of more professional audio quality but this might change soon and it’s already a viable option to use Bluetooth headphones for audio monitoring. It’s a welcome tweak then that when having a Bluetooth device paired to the phone, going into Airplane Mode won’t turn off Bluetooth automatically.

Automatically block notifications when using the camera

Filmic Pro actually already has an option to block notifications while using the app in its settings but Google apparently introduced a new API that will allow developers of camera apps to automatically block disruptive notifications and sounds when people are using the app. The next step could be a feature that would allow the user to automatically activate the airplane mode when launching a camera app.

Support for concurrent use of more than one camera

This one could be a biggie! Here’s a quote from Google’s official Android 11 “Features and API Overview” knowledge base: “Support for concurrent use of more than one camera. Android 11 adds APIs to query support for using more than one camera at a time, including both a front-facing and rear-facing camera.” To me, this very much sounds like the groundwork for giving camera apps the power to capture content from multiple cameras simultaneously. This is not completely new on Android phones. Various phone makers including the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG and Nokia have featured camera modes on some of their devices that let you capture a video with both the front and the rear camera at the same time, creating a split-screen video in the process. I actually wrote a whole article about it and its particular usefulness for covering live events with some sort of presenter. Whether people didn’t like the feature or didn’t even know it existed in the first place will probably remain in the dark (I assume it was the latter) but the fact remains that this very intriguing feature never grew any kind of significant popularity or wide-spread availability. The universal rise of multi-camera arrays on smartphones in the last years however really does call for a revival of this feature! Pretty much every phone nowadays has two or even more rear cameras and one could indeed think of quite a few use cases where a combination of rear and front cameras or both rear cameras (regular and wide-angle/tele) recording simultaneously might come in handy. Apple introduced a dedicated API with iOS 13 just last year and 3rd party developers jumped at the opportunity with Filmic Inc.’s CTO Christopher Cohen even being invited on stage at the Apple Event to show off “DoubleTake”. Unlike with the dual camera feature on certain Android devices before, you can also record the video streams into separate files instead of having a pre-mixed split-screen. It’s easy to see that this resource-intensive functionality would most likely only be available on powerful Android devices in the beginning (it even seems to be relatively fragmented on iOS at this time) but I really hope I’m not misinterpreting this info and some camera app developer can make it happen soon!  

Control external devices

I’m not sure how much can actually come out of this but a new feature called “Quick Access Device Controls” specifically includes “cameras” in its explanatory text: “The Quick Access Device Controls feature, available starting in Android 11, allows the user to quickly view and control external devices such as lights, thermostats and cameras from the Android power menu”. From this, one might deduct that by “cameras” they probably refer to surveillance cameras (or some other internet-connected IoT smart device) but I suppose this could potentially be utilized for controlling other external devices in a media production environment as well so I’ll keep an eye on it and maybe a clever developer finds an ingenious application for this.

Removal of 4GB file size limit

Up until now, Android was only able to write maximum files sizes of around 4GB, a left-over from the very early days that remained unaddressed for too long. As a matter of fact, certain phone makers (Sony for instance) found a way to disable the file size limit in their version of the OS but it remained present on many devices. While this limitation was of little relevance to many (including certain mobile videographers!), it was a major nuisance for others (including me) who wanted to record longer interviews, workshops, events etc. Some camera apps would seemingly record continuously while splitting clips in the background when reaching the file size limit, some would automatically restart the recording, others just stop, forcing a manual restart by the user. With UHD/4K video slowly creeping into the mainstream, this matter got even more pressing in the last years and it’s really about time Android rids itself of this anachronistic relic. Well, it looks like this time is now!

Share Nearby / Nearby Sharing

The last feature I want to mention isn’t actually exclusive to the upcoming new Android version but I still decided to include it here. AirDrop has been a really useful feature on iOS for some time, it allows you to wirelessly transfer (big) files between iOS, iPadOS and MacOS devices without an internet connection. While Google launched its quite useful “Files” app some time ago which lets you among other things quickly send (big) files between Android devices without an active internet connection by using an ad-hoc wifi network and the WiFi direct protocol, it’s still a separate app and not baked into the OS itself. It also doesn’t span the bridge to the desktop if you want to send one or more video files from your phone to your computer for editing. A new feature called “Share Nearby” or “Nearby Sharing” which will be integrated into Android’s share sheet apparently aims to provide Android users with an AirDrop-like experience. And while I first thought that it will not reach beyond the Android OS, thereby seriously curtailing its usefulness, there is some information indicating it could actually link to desktop computers via the Google Chrome browser which would be really awesome! Share Nearby is supposed to roll out in August for all Android devices running Android 6 Marshmallow or newer.

As you can see, this time around there’s actually quite a list of (potentially) useful new features debuting with the new version of Android so it’s fair to say I’m really excited about the launch! What do you think? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. Also, feel free to sign up for my Telegram newsletter t.me/smartfilming to get notified about new blog posts and receive the monthly Ten Takeaways Telegram including a personal selection of 10 interesting things that happend in the world of mobile video during the last four weeks.

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#12 Recording video with multiple cameras simultaneously on a smartphone (incl. Update 2021) — 17. April 2018

#12 Recording video with multiple cameras simultaneously on a smartphone (incl. Update 2021)

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

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

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

Samsung’s “Dual Camera“ (discontinued) and “Vlogger Mode”

Right along with its Korean rival LG, Samsung was the first phone maker to introduce a dual video recording feature with the Galaxy S4 in April of 2013. This mode has been on all following Samsung flagships of the S- and Note-Series so far but you might have to download it as a sort of „plug-in“ from within the native camera app (there’s a „+“ button to add more camera modes). Samsung’s take is a picture-in-picture approach, not a traditional split-screen where both parts have exactly the same size (there IS a split-screen option but it’s barely useful with two 16:9 images side-by-side, extreme letter-boxing). With Samsung’s „Dual Camera“, one image always is the main image while the secondary image from the other camera is embedded into it. You can resize the picture-in-picture though and move it around within the main image – you can also swap between cameras during the recording. The recorded video file can have a resolution of up to 1080p with a traditional aspect ratio of 16:9 or 9:16. One very cool thing about Samsung’s native camera app is that unlike most other Android phones’ native camera apps it supports the use of external mics via the 3.5mm headphone jack or USB port which is a tremendous advantage for having professional-grade audio. One catch: You can only record up to 5 minutes for a single clip. The feature made it to the S8 but was axed for the S9 and neither included with the S10 or S20. However, in January 2021, Samsung announced the new Galaxy S21 series (S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra) and with it the return of the Dual Camera functionality albeit under a new name: Vlogger Mode (as part of the “Director’s View mode”). But who cares what they call it, it’s great that you can now again record video with both front and back cameras at the same time! It will be interesting to see if Samsung (like LG with the LG Wing) has also included the option to save the footage of both lenses as separate files or if it’s “only” a split-screen single file like in the past, I will definitely keep an eye on it!

HTC’s “Split Capture“ (discontinued)

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

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

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

Nokia’s “Dual Sight“

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

Huawei’s “Dual View”

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

Oppo’s “Dual View”

In March 2021, Oppo, a really big player in the Chinese/Asian smartphone market that is also slowly establishing itself in other regions, released a bunch of new smartphones including the Find X3 series (Find X3 Pro, Find X3 Neo, Find X3 Lite) and the Reno 5 series (Reno 5, Reno 5 Pro). For the first time, Oppo phones now have the ability to record video with both front and rear cameras simultaneously. This is done in split-screen / picture-in-picture mode.

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

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

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

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

As always, if you have questions or comments, drop them here or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. If you like this article, also consider subscribing to my free Telegram channel (t.me/smartfilming) to get notified about new blog posts and receive the monthly Ten Telegram Takeaways newsletter about important things that happened in the world of mobile video.

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