smartfilming

Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#45 The Smartphone Camera Exposure Paradox — 11. May 2021

#45 The Smartphone Camera Exposure Paradox

Ask anyone about the weaknesses of smartphone cameras and you will surely find that people often point towards a phone’s low-light capabilities as the or at least one of its Achilles heel(s). When you are outside during the day it’s relatively easy to shoot some good-looking footage with your mobile device, even with budget phones. Once it’s darker or you’re indoors, things get more difficult. The reason for this is essentially that the image sensors in smartphones are still pretty small compared to those in DSLMs/DLSRs or professional video/cinema cameras. Bigger sensors can collect more photons (light) and produce better low light images. A so-called “Full Frame” sensor in a DSLM like Sony’s Alpha 7-series has a surface area of 864 mm2, a common 1/2.5” smartphone image sensor has only 25 mm2. So why not just put a huge sensor in a smartphone? While cameras in smartphones have undeniably become a very important factor, the phone is still very much a multi-purpose device and not a single-purpose one like a dedicated camera – for better or worse. That means there are many things to consider when building a phone. I doubt anyone would want a phone with a form factor that doesn’t allow you to put the phone in your pocket. And the flat form factor makes it difficult to build proper optics with larger sensors. Larger sensors also consume more power and produce more heat, not exactly something desirable. If we are talking about smartphone photography from a tripod, some of the missing sensor size can be compensated for with long exposure times. The advancements in computational imaging and AI have also led to dedicated and often quite impressive photography “Night Modes” on smartphones. But very long shutter speeds aren’t really an option for video as any movement appears extremely blurred – and while today’s chipsets can already handle supportive AI processing for photography, more resource-intensive videography is yet a bridge too far. So despite the fact that latest developments signal that we’re about to experience a considerable bump in smartphone image sensor sizes (Sony and Samsung are about to release a 1-inch/almost 1-inch image sensor for phones), one could say that most/all smartphone cameras (still) have a problem with low-light conditions. But you know what? They also have a problem with the exact opposite – very bright conditions!

If you know a little bit about how cameras work and how to set the exposure manually, you have probably come across something called the “exposure triangle”. The exposure triangle contains the three basic parameters that let you set and adjust the exposure of a photo or video on a regular camera: Shutter speed, aperture and ISO. In more general terms you could also say: Time, size and sensitivity. Shutter speed signifies the amount of time that the still image or a single frame of video is exposed to light, for instance 1/50 of a second. The longer the shutter speed, the more light hits the sensor and the brighter the image will be. Aperture refers to the size of the iris’ opening through which the light passes before it hits the sensor (or wayback when the film strip), it’s commonly measured in f-stops, for instance f/2.0. The bigger the aperture (= SMALLER the f-stop number), the more light reaches the sensor and the brighter the image will be. ISO (or “Gain” in some dedicated video cameras) finally refers to the sensitivity of the image sensor, for instance ISO 400. The higher the ISO, the brighter the image will be. Most of the time you want to keep the ISO as low as possible because higher sensitivity introduces more image noise. 

So what exactly is the problem with smartphone cameras in this respect? Well, unlike dedicated cameras, smartphones don’t have a variable aperture, it’s fixed and can’t be adjusted. Ok, there actually have been a few phones with variable aperture, most notably Samsung had one on the S4 Zoom (2013) and K Zoom (2014) and they introduced a dual aperture approach with the S9/Note9 (2018), held on to it for the S10/Note 10 (2019) but dropped it again for the S20/Note20 (2020). But as you can see from the very limited selection, this has been more of an experiment. The fixed aperture means that the exposure triangle for smartphone cameras only has two adjustable parameters: Shutter speed and ISO. Why is this problematic? When there’s movement in a video (either because something moves within the frame or the camera itself moves), we as an audience have become accustomed to a certain degree of motion blur which is related to the used shutter speed. The rule of thumb applied here says: Double the frame rate. So if you are shooting at 24fps, use a shutter speed of 1/48s, if you are shooting at 25fps, use a shutter speed of 1/50s, 1/60s for 30fps etc. This suggestion is not set in stone and in my humble opinion you can deviate from it to a certain degree without it becoming too obvious for casual, non-pixel-peeping viewers – but if the shutter speed is very slow, everything begins to look like a drug-induced stream of consciousness experience and if it’s very fast, things appear jerky and shutter speed becomes stutter speed. So with the aperture being fixed and the shutter speed set at a “recommended” value, you’re left with ISO as an adjustable exposure parameter. Reducing the sensitivity of the sensor is usually only technically possible down to an ISO between 50 and 100 which will still give you a (heavily) overexposed image on a sunny day outside. So here’s our “paradox”: Too much available light can be just as much of an issue as too little when shooting with a smartphone.

What can we do about the two problems? Until significantly bigger smartphone image sensors or computational image enhancement for video arrives, the best thing to tackle the low-light challenge is to provide your own additional lighting or look for more available light, be it natural or artificial. Depending on your situation, this might be relatively easy or downright impossible. If you are trying to capture an unlit building at night, you will most likely not have a sufficient amount of ultra-bright floodlights at your hand. If you are interviewing someone in a dimly lit room, a small LED might just provide enough light to keep the ISO at a level without too much image noise.

Clip-on variable ND filter

As for the too-much-light problem (which ironically gets even worse with bigger sensors setting out to remedy the low-light problems): Try to pick a less sun-drenched spot, shoot with a faster shutter-speed if there is no or little action in the shot or – and this might be the most flexible solution – get yourself an ND (neutral density) filter that reduces the amount of light that passes through the lens. While some regular cameras have inbuilt ND filters, this feature has yet to appear in any smartphone, although OnePlus showcased a prototype phone last year that had something close to a proper ND filter, using a technology called “electrochromic glass” to hide the lens while still letting (less) light pass through (check out this XDA Developers article). So until this actually makes it to the market and proves to be effective, the filter has to be an external one that is either clipped on or screwed on if you use a dedicated case with a corresponding filter thread. You also have the choice between a variable and a non-variable (fixed density) ND filter. A variable ND filter will let you adjust the strength of its filtering effect which is great for flexibility but also have some disadvantages like the possibility of cross-polarization. If you want to learn more about ND filters, I highly recommend checking out this superb in-depth article by Richard Lackey.

So what’s the bigger issue for you personally? Low-light or high-light? 

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 featuring a personal selection of interesting things that happened in the world of mobile video in the last four weeks.

For an overview of all my blog posts click here.

I am investing a lot of time and work in this blog and I’m even paying to keep it ad-free for an undistracted reading experience. If you find any of the content useful, please consider making a small donation via PayPal (click on the PayPal button below). It’s very much appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

#42 Camera2 API Update 2021 – Android Pro Videography & Filmmaking — 15. April 2021

#42 Camera2 API Update 2021 – Android Pro Videography & Filmmaking

I’ve already written about Camera2 API in two previous blog posts (#6 & #10) but a couple of years have passed since and I felt like taking another look at the topic now that we’re in 2021. 

Just in case you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about here: Camera2 API is a software component of Google’s mobile operating system Android (which basically runs on every smartphone today expect Apple’s iPhones) that enables 3rd party camera apps (camera apps other than the one that’s already on your phone) to access more advanced functionality/controls of the camera, for instance the setting of a precise shutter speed value for correct exposure. Android phone makers need to implement Camera2 API into their version of Android and not all do it fully. There are four different implementation levels: “Legacy”, “Limited”, “Full” and “Level 3”. “Legacy” basically means Camera2 API hasn’t been implemented at all and the phone uses the old, way more primitive Android Camera API, “Limited” signifies that some components of the Camera2 API have been implemented but not all, “Full” and “Level 3” indicate complete implementation in terms of video-related functionality. “Level 3” only has the additional benefit for photography that you can shoot in RAW format. Android 3rd party camera apps like Filmic Pro, Protake, mcpro24fps, ProShot, Footej Camera 2 or Open Camera can only unleash their full potential if the phone has adequate Camera2 API support, Filmic Pro doesn’t even let you install the app in the first place if the phone doesn’t have proper implementation. “adequate”/”proper” can already be “Limited” for certain phones but you can only be sure with “Full” and “Level 3” devices. With some other apps like Open Camera, Camera2 API is deactivated by default and you need to go into the settings to enable it to access things like shutter speed and ISO control.

How do you know what Camera2 API support level a phone has? If you already own the phone, you can use an app like Camera2 Probe to check but if you want to consider this before buying a new phone of course this isn’t possible. Luckily, the developer of Camera2 Probe has set up a crowd sourced list (users can provide the test results via the app which are automatically entered into the list) with Camera2 API support levels of a massive amount of different Android devices, currently over 3500! The list can be accessed here and it’s great that you even get to sort the list by different parameters like the phone brand or type a device name into a search bar.

It’s important to understand that there’s a Camera2 API support level for each camera on the phone. So there could be a different one for the rear camera than for the selfie camera. The support level also doesn’t say anything about how many of the phone’s camera have been made accessible to 3rd party apps. Auxiliary ultra wide-angle or telephoto lenses have become a common standard in many of today’s phones but not all phone makers allow 3rd party camera apps to access the auxiliary camera(s). So when we talk about the Camera2 API support level of a device, most of the time we are referring to its main rear camera. 

Camera2 API was introduced with Android version 5 aka “Lollipop” in 2014 and it took phone makers a bit of time to implement it into their devices so one could roughly say that only Android devices running at least Android 6 Marshmallow are actually in the position to have proper support. In the beginning, most phone makers only provided full Camera2 API support for their high-end flagship phones but over the last years, the feature has trickled down to the mid-range segment and now even to a considerable amount of entry-level devices (Nokia and Motorola are two companies that have been good with this if you’re on a tight budget).

I actually took the time to go through the Camera2 Probe list to provide some numbers on this development. Of course these are not 100% representative since not every single Android device on the planet has been included in the list but I think 3533 entries (as of 21 March 2021) make for a solid sample size.

Phone models running Android 6

Level 3: 0

Full: 30

Limited: 18

Legacy: 444

Full/Level 3 %: 6.1

———-

Phone models running Android 7

Level 3: 82

Full: 121

Limited: 113

Legacy: 559

Full/Level 3 %: 23.2

———-

Phone models running Android 8

Level 3: 147

Full: 131

Limited: 160

Legacy: 350

Full/Level 3 %: 35.3

———-

Phone models running Android 9

Level 3: 145

Full: 163

Limited: 139

Legacy: 69

Full/Level 3 %: 59.7

———-

Phone models running Android 10

Level 3: 319

Full: 199

Limited: 169

Legacy: 50

Full/Level 3 %: 70.3

———-

Phone models running Android 11

Level 3: 72

Full: 28

Limited: 8

Legacy: 2

Full/Level 3 %: 90.9

I think it’s pretty obvious that the implementation of proper Camera2 API support in Android devices has been taking massive steps forward with each iteration of the OS and a 100% coverage on new devices is just within reach – maybe the upcoming Android 12 can already accomplish this mission?

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 featuring a personal selection of interesting things that happened in the world of mobile video in the last four weeks.

For an overview of all my blog posts click here.

I am investing a lot of time and work in this blog and I’m even paying to keep it ad-free for an undistracted reading experience. If you find any of the content useful, please consider making a small donation via PayPal (click on the PayPal button below). It’s very much appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

#41 Sharing VN project files between iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android (& Windows PC) — 23. March 2021

#41 Sharing VN project files between iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android (& Windows PC)

As I have pointed out in two of my previous blog posts (What’s the best free cross-platform mobile video editing app?, Best video editors / video editing apps for Android in 2021) VN is a free and very capable mobile video editor for Android and iPhone/iPad and the makers recently also launched a desktop version for macOS. Project file sharing takes advantage of that and makes it possible to start your editing work on one device and finish it on another. So for instance after having shot some footage on your iPhone, you can start editing right away using VN for iPhone but transfer the whole project to your iMac or MacbookPro later to have a bigger screen and mouse control. It’s also a great way to free up storage space on your phone since you can archive projects in the cloud, on an external drive or computer and delete them from your mobile device afterwards. Project sharing isn’t a one-way trick, it also works the other way around: You start a project using VN on your iMac or MacbookPro and then transfer it to your iPhone or iPad because you have to go somewhere and want to continue your project while commuting. And it’s not all about Apple products either, you can also share from or to VN on Android smartphones and tablets (so basically every smartphone or tablet that’s not made by Apple). What about Windows? Yes, this is also possible but you will need to install an Android emulator on your PC and I will not go into the details about the procedure in this article as I don’t own a PC to test. But you can check out a good tutorial on the VN site here.

Before you start sharing your VN projects, here’s some general info: To actively share a project file, you need to create a free account with VN. Right off the bat, you can share projects that don’t exceed 3 GB in size. There’s also a maximum limit of 100 project files per day but I suppose nobody will actually bump into that. To get rid of these limitations, VN will manually clear your account for unlimited sharing within a few days after filling out this short survey. For passive sharing, that is when someone sends you a project file, there are no limitations even when you are not logged in. As the sharing process is slightly different depending on which platforms/devices are involved I have decided to walk you through all nine combinations, starting with the one that will probably be the most common. 

Let me quickly explain two general things ahead which apply to all combinations so I don’t have to go into the details every time:

1) When creating a VN project file to share, you can do it as “Full” or “Simple”. “Full” will share the project file with all of its media (complete footage, music/sound fx, text), “Simple” will let you choose which video clips you actually want to include. Not including every video clip will result in a smaller project file that can be transferred faster.

2) You can also choose whether or not you want the project file to be “Readonly”. If you choose “Readonly”, saving or exporting will be denied – this can be helpful if you send it to someone else but don’t want this person to save changes or export the project.

All of the sharing combinations I will mention now are focused on local device-to-device sharing. Of course you can also use any cloud service to store/share VN project files and have them downloaded and opened remotely on another device that runs the VN application.

iPhone/iPad to Mac

  • Open VN on your iPhone/iPad.
  • On the VN Studio page (house icon at the bottom), select the “Projects” tab.
  • Tap the three dots on the right side of the project that you want to share.
  • Select “Share VN Project”.
  • Choose either “Full” or “Simple”.
  • Choose whether or not you want the project file to be “Readonly”.
  • Now choose “AirDrop” and select your Mac. Make sure that AirDrop is activated on both devices.
  • Depending on your AirDrop settings you now have to accept the transfer on the receiving device or the transfer will start automatically. By default, the file will be saved in the “Downloads” folder of your Mac.
  • Open VN on your Mac and drag and drop the VN project file into the app.
  • Now select “Open project”.

iPhone/iPad to iPhone/iPad

  • Open VN on your iPhone/iPad.
  • On the VN Studio page (house icon in the bottom navigation bar), select the “Projects” tab.
  • Tap the three dots on the right side of the project that you want to share.
  • Select “Share VN Project”.
  • Choose either “Full” or “Simple”.
  • Choose whether or not you want the project file to be “Readonly”.
  • Tap on “Share”, the project file will be generated.
  • Now choose “AirDrop”. Make sure that AirDrop is activated on both devices.
  • Select the iPhone/iPad you want to send it to. Depending on your AirDrop settings you now need to accept the transfer on the receiving device or the transfer will start automatically.
  • The project file will be imported into VN automatically.
  • Now select “Open project”

iPhone/iPad to Android

  • Open VN on your iPhone/iPad.
  • On the VN Studio page (house icon in the bottom navigation bar), select the “Projects” tab.
  • Tap the three dots on the right side of the project that you want to share.
  • Select “Share VN Project”.
  • Choose either “Full” or “Simple”.
  • Choose whether or not you want the project file to be “Readonly”.
  • Tap on “Share”, the project file will be generated and the iOS/iPadOS share menu will pop up.
  • Now you need to transfer the project file from the iPhone/iPad to the Android device. I have found that SendAnywhere is a very good tool for this, it’s free and available for both iPhone/iPad and Android.
  • So choose SendAnywhere from the share menu. A 6-digit code is generated.
  • Open SendAnywhere on your Android device, select the “Receive” tab and enter the code
  • After the transfer is completed, tap on the transfer entry and then select the VN project file. 
  • The Android “Open with” menu will open, locate and select “VN/Import to VN”, the project file will be imported into your VN app.
  • Finally choose “Open Project”.

Mac to iPhone/iPad

  • Open VN on your Mac.
  • In the left side bar, click on “Projects”.
  • Click on the three dots below the thumbnail of the project you want to share.
  • Select “Share VN Project”.
  • Choose either “Full” or “Simple”.
  • Choose whether or not you want the project file to be “Readonly”.
  • Tap on “Share”, the project file will be generated.
  • Now you have to select a save location for the VN project file.
  • Locate the exported project file on your Mac and right-click the file, hover over “Share” and then select. “AirDrop”. Make sure that AirDrop is activated on both devices.
  • Now select your iPhone or iPad. Depending on your AirDrop settings you now need to accept the transfer on the receiving device or the transfer will start automatically.
  • The project file will be imported into VN automatically.
  • Now choose “Open Project”.

Mac to Mac

  • Open VN on your Mac.
  • In the left side bar, click on “Projects”.
  • Click on the three dots below the thumbnail of the project you want to share.
  • Select “Share VN Project”.
  • Choose either “Full” or “Simple”.
  • Choose whether or not you want the project file to be “Readonly”.
  • Tap on “Share”, the project file will be generated.
  • Now you have to select a save location for the VN project file.
  • Locate the exported project file on your Mac and right-click the file, hover over “Share” and then select “AirDrop”. Make sure that AirDrop is activated on both devices.
  • Now select the Mac you want to send it to. Depending on your AirDrop settings you now need to accept the transfer on the receiving device or the transfer will start automatically.
  • By default the VN project file will be saved in the “Downloads” folder of the receiving Mac.
  • Open VN on your Mac and drag and drop the VN project file into the app, then tap “Open Project”.
  • Now select “Open project”.

Mac to Android

  • Open VN on your Mac.
  • In the left side bar, click on “Projects”.
  • Click on the three dots below the thumbnail of the project you want to share.
  • Select “Share VN Project”.
  • Choose either “Full” or “Simple”.
  • Choose whether or not you want the project file to be “Readonly”.
  • Tap on “Share”, the project file will be generated.
  • Now you have to select a save location for the VN project file.
  • Locate the exported project file on your Mac and choose a way to send it to your Android device. I have found that SendAnywhere is a very good tool for this, it’s free and available for both macOS and Android.
  • So using SendAnywhere on your Mac, drag the VN project file into the app. You will see a 6-digit code. Open SendAnywhere on your Android, choose the “Receive” tab and enter the code.
  • After the transfer is completed, tap on the transfer entry and then on the project file.
  • The Android “Open with” menu will pop up, locate and select “VN/Import to VN”, the project file will be imported into your VN app.
  • Choose “Open Project”.

Android to Mac

  • Open VN on your Android device.
  • On the VN Studio page (house icon in the bottom navigation bar), select the “Projects” tab.
  • Tap the three dots on the right side of the project that you want to share.
  • Select “Share VN Project”.
  • Choose either “Full” or “Simple”.
  • Choose whether or not you want the project file to be “Readonly”.
  • Tap on “Share”, the project file will be generated and the Android share sheet will pop up.
  • Now you need to transfer the project file from your Android device to your Mac. I have found that SendAnywhere is a very good tool for this, it’s free and available for both Android and macOS.
  • So choose SendAnywhere from the share menu. A 6-digit code is generated.
  • Unless you have created a custom download folder for your preferred file transfer app, the VN project file will be saved to the “Downloads” folder on your Mac or is available in your cloud storage.
  • Open VN on your Mac and drag and drop the VN project file into the app, then tap “Open Project”.
  • Now select “Open project”.

Android to Android

  • Open VN on your Android device.
  • On the VN Studio page (house icon in the bottom navigation bar), select the “Projects” tab.
  • Tap the three dots on the right side of the project that you want to share.
  • Select “Share VN Project”.
  • Choose either “Full” or “Simple”.
  • Choose whether or not you want the project file to be “Readonly”.
  • Tap on “Share”, the project file will be generated.
  • From the Android share sheet, choose Android’s integrated wifi sharing option Nearby Share (check this video on how to use Nearby Share if you are not familiar with it) and select the device you want to send it to. Make sure Nearby Share is activated on both devices.
  • After accepting the file on the second device, the transfer will start.
  • Once it is finished, choose “VN/Import to VN” from the pop up menu. Importing into VN will start. 
  • Finally choose “Open Project”.

Android to iPhone/iPad

  • Open VN on your Android device.
  • On the VN Studio page (house icon in the bottom navigation bar), select the “Projects” tab.
  • Tap the three dots on the right side of the project that you want to share.
  • Select “Share VN Project”.
  • Choose either “Full” or “Simple”.
  • Choose whether or not you want the project file to be “Readonly”.
  • Tap on “Share”, the project file will be generated. Afterwards, the Android share sheet menu will pop up.
  • Now you need to transfer the project file from the Android device to the iPhone/iPad. I have found that SendAnywhere is a very good tool for this, it’s free and available for both Android and iPhone/iPad.
  • So choose SendAnywhere from the Share Sheet. A 6-digit code is generated.
  • Open SendAnywhere on your iPhone/iPad, select the “Receive” tab and enter the code.
  • After the transfer is completed, tap on the transfer entry and then select the VN project file. Now tap on the share icon in the top right corner and choose VN from the list. The project file will be imported into VN.
  • Finally choose “Open Project”.

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 featuring a personal selection of interesting things that happened in the world of mobile video in the last four weeks.

For an overview of all my blog posts click here.

DISCLOSURE NOTE: This particular post was sponsored by VN. It was however researched and written all by myself.

#39 Should you buy a cheap Android phone? 10 things to consider! — 24. January 2021

#39 Should you buy a cheap Android phone? 10 things to consider!

One of the big reasons why Android has such an overwhelming dominance as a mobile operating system on a global scale (around 75% of smartphones world wide run Android) is that you basically have a seamless price range from the very bottom to the very top – no matter your budget, there’s an Android phone that will fit it. This is generally a very good thing since it allows everyone on this planet to participate in mobile communication, not just if you have deep pockets. But as many of us would agree, smartphones are not pure communication devices anymore, you can also use them to actively create content. In this respect, Android phones are bringing the power of storytelling to the people and could therefore be regarded as an invaluable asset in democratizing this mighty tool. But if you CAN get a (very) cheap Android phone, SHOULD you get one?

Of course the definition of what one considers “cheap” highly depends on an individual background so I won’t get into any concrete universal definitions here. In Germany, the cheapest Android phones start at around 50 Euro I’d say. So what in general is the difference between a 50 Euro phone and a 1000 Euro Android phone? Let’s single out some points from the perspective of a mobile video creator:

1) Build quality

This can actually be surprisingly controversial. Sure, flagship phones have more premium build materials but the move to shiny glass-covered backs has seen many an excited owner making a mess out of his or her new phone with a single drop. So better get a case if you consider yourself among those who occasionally drop their phone. The plasticy build of cheaper devices might look or at least feel less premium but they can often take more abuse in various circumstances. As for the screen itself, more expensive phones tend to have a more robust protective layer but that doesn’t always save you and you can also get a pretty affordable add-on screen protector if you are worried about damaging your phone’s screen.

2) Software updates

Usually, more expensive phones get more updates / updates for a longer period. But there are exceptions. Nokia for instance is known to be very good with updates even on their budget phones so it also depends on the phone maker. Are software updates important? Yes and no. Generally, new software versions (at least the big annual ones like Android 10, Android 11 etc.) introduce new features and optimizations. New features specifically relevant for videography are however pretty rare (the last major ones were introduced with Android 5 in 2014 and then Android 11 in 2020) so it depends on whether the new features are actually helpful for what you want to get done and whether you are a tech-savvy person who always wants the latest updates to play around with. Security updates are important though but ever since Google decided to make it possible to distribute them separately from feature updates, they have also become more common in cheaper phones – mid-rangers and flagships still tend to receive more software updates and for longer periods of time however.

3) Expandable storage

The ability to easily and cheaply add additional storage to your phone via a microSD card has long been a major plus of the Android system when compared to Apple’s iPhones. More and more Android OEMs however have started eliminating this valuable feature from their new releases, Samsung being the latest with its flagship S21 series. Sure, they have increased the internal storage over time, you can easily get phones with 128, 256 or 512 GB these days, but in my opinion it would still be good to have the option for expandable storage – UHD/4K video can fill up your phone pretty fast if you are shooting a lot. Interestingly, it’s now easier to find support for microSD cards in cheaper phones. Actually, many/most of the entry-level phones (still) have it so if that’s important to you, you might want to have a look at the budget or mid-range segment of the Android phone market.

4) Removable battery

An even more exotic but dare I say “pro” feature that has become nearly extinct but was generally very useful for “power users” is the ability to (easily) swap out batteries in a phone. LG was the last major phone maker to include this in a flagship device with the V20 in late 2016 but over time, the practice of a non-removable battery has trickled down even to the (ultra) budget market. The few phones with exchangable batteries that are left can however be found there, last survivors include the Samsung XCover Pro, the Motorola Moto E6 and the Nokia 1.3. The only recent mid-range device including this feature seems to be the Fairphone 3/3+. Sure, power banks are an abundant accessory now and an easy way to juice up your phone while on the go – but the re-supply is incremental and sometimes it’s quite annoying to be tethered to an external device via cable while using the phone.

5) SoC/Processor

While the last two points were very much in favor of budget phones, the tide is about to turn. If you want to use your phone for more than just browsing the web, checking your messages or following your social media feeds, then your phone needs some decent processing power to keep things running smoothly. One of the toughest nuts to crack for a SoC (System-on-a-Chip) is editing high resolution video – even more so when it involves multiple tracks. So if you are planning on editing a lot of UHD/4K video with multiple layers on your phone, a budget device probably won’t cut it because processing power often is a watershed between cheaper and more expensive phones. That doesn’t mean however that you can’t do video editing at all on a budget smartphone. About two years ago I was really surprised how well Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 430/435 SoC did in terms of video editing, allowing for multiple layers of 1080p video in KineMaster on phones like the Nokia 5, Motorola Moto G5 or the LG Q6. Generally, the amount of layers and their resolution in video editing apps are dependent on the device’s chipset. Some apps like Adobe Premiere Rush aren’t even available for any budget phones because they are too demanding in terms of processing power. The SoC can definitely also have an influence on the video RECORDING capabilities in terms of available frame rates and resolution. If 1080p at a maximum of 30fps is good enough for what you do though, basically every phone has that covered these days, even the cheapest ones.

6) Camera

And while the video recording resolution can be an indicator for technical image quality, it surely isn’t the only one – actually other things are (way) more important: Lens quality, aperture size, sensor quality, processing algorithm. That’s why 1080p footage shot on one phone might look better than 1080p footage shot on another. And generally, that’s also an area in which (ultra) budget phones get left behind. Again, this doesn’t mean that you should never use an entry-level phone to shoot video – some of them can capture surprisingly decent footage and if you are “just” doing something for Facebook etc., the difference in image quality might not really be noticeable for the casual, non-pixel-peeping viewer. Also never forget that the content/the story is way more important than the image quality! You will reach/move more people with a good story shot on a cheap phone than with a mediocre story shot on a flagship phone, never mind the superior image quality of the camera.

7) Native camera app

Another aspect that can distinguish a cheap from a more expensive Android phone is the native camera app. Not so much in terms of the general UI and basic functionality but in terms of special modes and features. LG for instance has an absolutely outstanding manual video mode in the native camera app of its flagship lines, one that can rival a dedicated 3rd party app like Filmic Pro, but you don’t get it in their budget phones. The same goes for Sony and – to a lesser degree – Samsung, which at least gives you support for external mics down to its entry-level offerings. Other Android phone makers however have the same native camera app in all of their models, budget or flagship (Motorola for instance, unless they have recently changed something).

8) Camera2 API

I just mentioned 3rd party video recording apps, so let’s look at an even “nerdier” aspect: Usually, more expensive phones have better Camera2 API support. What’s Camera2 API? I have written a whole blog post about it, but in short, it’s basically the phone’s ability to give 3rd party camera apps access to manual control for certain more advanced imaging parameters like shutter speed, ISO, white balance etc. So this is important if you are planning to use such an app (like for instance Filmic Pro, ProTake or mcpro24fps) instead of the phone’s native camera app. While nowadays basically all (or almost all) flagship phones and many/most mid-range Android phones have proper Camera2 API support, there are also entry-level phones that are equipped with it, for instance some from Nokia and Motorola – it’s not that common yet however.

9) Headphone jack

Before wrapping things up I want to look at another aspect that is of major relevance if you want to record audio with external mics on your smartphone – be it as part of capturing video or just audio-only. Like the removeable battery and expandable storage, the 3.5mm headphone jack is a feature that’s been fading away from smartphones over the last years. Some Android OEMs are still holding on to it (for the most part) but many have eliminated it, relying solely on a single physical port (USB-C) and wireless technology (Bluetooth/WiFi). As with those other features, it’s curious that the 3.5mm headphone jack has mostly survived in budget phones. This makes a case for a very particular use scenario: If you “only” want to record audio (be it for an audio-only production or use as an external audio recorder with a lavalier on a video shoot), a budget phone can be an interesting option because you don’t have to care about the quality of the camera and neither (for the most part) the chipset and its processing power since audio processing is much less resource hungry than video processing. The external-recorder-with-a-lavalier scenario is also a clever idea to make use of an old phone if you have one buried in a drawer somewhere that’s only collecting dust.

10) Bonus tip!

What if you DO want higher processing power and camera quality, but are on a tight budget nonetheless? In that case, it can be helpful to look at older flagship models or mid-rangers. Once new Android phones are released, their price – not always but often – drops after a couple of months. If you compare the camera quality and processing power of a budget phone with an older flagship or potent mid-ranger you can often easily go back two or three years and still be on the better side with the “oldie”. Depending on what model/phone maker you choose and how far back you go, you might be stuck with an older version of Android but as indicated earlier on, this isn’t necessarily as bad as it sounds.

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.

For an overview of all my blog posts click here.

I am investing a lot of time and work in this blog and I’m even paying to keep it ad-free for an undistracted reading experience. If you find any of the content useful, please consider making a small donation via PayPal (click on the PayPal button below). It’s very much appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

#38 How to anonymize persons or objects in videos on a smartphone – new app makes things a lot easier! — 16. January 2021

#38 How to anonymize persons or objects in videos on a smartphone – new app makes things a lot easier!

There are times when – for reasons of privacy or even a person’s physical safety – you want to make certain parts of a frame in a video unrecognizable so not to give away someone’s identity or the place where you shot the video. While it’s fairly easy to achieve something like that for a photograph, it’s a lot more challenging for video because of two reasons: 1) You might have a person moving around within a shot or a moving camera which constantly alters the location of the subject within the frame. 2) If the person talks, he or she might also be identifiable just by his/her voice. So are there any apps that help you to anonymize persons or objects in videos when working on a smartphone?

KineMaster – the best so far

Up until recently the best app for anonymizing persons and/or certain parts of a video in general was KineMaster which I already praised in my last blog about the best video editing apps on Android (it’s also available for iPhone/iPad). While it’s possible to use just any video editor that allows for a resizable image layer (let’s say just a plain black square or rectangle) on top of the main track to cover a face, KineMaster is the only one with a dedicated blur/mosaic tool for this use case. Many other video editing apps have a blur effect in their repertoire, but the problem is that this effect always affects the whole image and can’t be applied to only a part of the frame. KineMaster on the other hand allows its Gaussian Blur effect to be adjusted in size and position within the frame. To access this feature, scroll to the part of the timeline where you want to apply the effect but don’t select any of the clips! Now tap on the “Layer” button, choose “Effect”, then “Basic Effects”, then either “Gaussian Blur” or “Mosaic”. An effect layer gets added to the timeline which you can resize and position within the preview window. Even better: KineMaster also lets you keyframe this layer which is incredibly important if the subject/object you want to anonymize is moving around the frame or if the camera is moving (thereby constantly altering the subject’s/object’s position within the frame). Keyframing means you can set “waypoints” for the effect’s area to automatically change its position/size over time. You can access the keyframing feature by tapping on the key icon in the left sidebar. Keyframes have to be set manually so it’s a bit of work, particularly if your subject/object is moving a lot. If you just have a static shot with the person not moving around a lot, you don’t have to bother with keyframing though. And as if the adjustable blur/mosaic effect and support for keyframing wasn’t good enough, KineMaster also gives you a tool to add an extra layer of privacy: you can alter voices. To access this feature, select a clip in the timeline and then scroll down the menu on the right to find “Voice Changer”, there’s a whole bunch of different effects. To be honest, most of them are rather cartoonish – I’m not sure you want your interviewee to sound like a chipmunk. But there are also a couple of voice changer effects that I think can be used in a professional context.

What happened to Censr?

As I indicated in the paragraph above, a moving subject (or a moving camera) makes anonymizing content within a video a lot harder. You can manually keyframe the blurred area to follow along in KineMaster but it would be much easier if that could be done via automatic tracking. Last summer, a closed beta version of an app called “Censr” was released on iOS, the app was able to automatically track and blur faces. It all looked quite promising (I saw some examples on Twitter) but the developer Sam Loeschen told me that “unfortunately, development on censr has for the most part stopped”.

PutMask – a new app with a killer feature!

But you know what? There actually is a smartphone app out there that can automatically track and pixelate faces in a video: it’s called PutMask and currently only available for Android (there are plans for an iOS version). The app (released in July 2020) offers three ways of pixelating faces in videos: automatically by face-tracking, manually by following the subject with your finger on the touch-screen and manually by keyframing. The keyframing option is the most cumbersome one but might be necessary when the other two ways won’t work well. The “swipe follow” option is the middle-ground, not as time-consuming as keyframing but manual action is still required. The most convenient approach is of course automatic face-tracking (you can even track multiple faces at the same time!) – and I have to say that in my tests, it worked surprisingly well! 

Does it always work? No, there are definitely situations in which the feature struggles. If you are walking around and your face gets covered by something else (for instance because you are passing another person or an object like a tree) even for only a short moment, the tracking often loses you. It even lost me when I was walking around indoors and the lens flare from the light bulb at the ceiling created a visual “barrier” which I passed at some point. And although I would say that the app is generally well-designed, some of the workflow steps and the nomenclature can be a bit confusing. Here’s an example: After choosing a video from your gallery, you can tap on “Detect Faces” to start a scanning process. The app will tell you how many faces it has found and will display a numbered square around the face. If you now tap on “Start Tracking”, the app tells you “At least select One filter”. But I couldn’t find a button or something indicating a “filter”. After some confusion I discovered that you need to tap once on the square that is placed over the face in the image, maybe by “filter” they actually mean you need to select at least one face? Now you can initiate the tracking. After the process is finished you can preview the tracking that the app has done (and also dig deeper into the options to alter the amount of pixelation etc.) but for checking the actual pixelated video you have to export your project first. While the navigation could/should be improved for certain actions to make it more clear and intuitive, I was quite happy with the results in general. The biggest catch until recently was the maximum export resolution of 720p but with the latest update released on 21 January 2021, 1080p is also supported. An additional feature that would be great to have in an app that has a dedicated focus on privacy and anonymization, is the ability to alter/distort the voice of a person, like you can do in KineMaster.

There’s one last thing I should address: The app is free to download with all its core functionality but you only get SD resolution and a watermark on export. For HD/FHD watermark-free export, you need to make an in-app purchase. The IAP procedure is without a doubt the weirdest I have ever encountered: The app tells you to purchase any one of a selection of different “characters” to receive the additional benefits. Initially, these “characters” are just names in boxes, “Simple Man”, “Happy Man”, “Metal-Head” etc. If you tap on a box, an animated character pops up. But only when scrolling down it becomes clear that these “characters” represent different amounts of payment with which you support the developer. And if that wasn’t strange enough by itself, the amount you can donate goes up to a staggering 349.99 USD (Character Dr. Plague) – no kidding! At first, I had actually selected Dr. Plague because I thought it was the coolest looking character of the bunch. Only when trying to go through with the IAP did I become aware of the fact that I was about to drop 350 bucks on the app! Seriously, this is nuts! I told the developer that I don’t think this is a good idea. Anyway, the amount of money you donate doesn’t affect your additional benefits, so you can just opt for the first character, the “Simple Man”, which costs you 4.69€. I’m not sure why they would want to make things so confusing for users willing to pay but other than that, PutMask is a great new app with a lot of potential, I will definitely keep an eye on it!

As always, if you have questions or comments, drop them below or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. If you like this article, also consider subscribing to my 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.

For an overview of all my blog posts click here.

I am investing a lot of time and work in this blog and I’m even paying to keep it ad-free for an undistracted reading experience. If you find any of the content useful, please consider making a small donation via PayPal (click on the PayPal button below). It’s very much appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

Download PutMask on GooglePlay.

#37 Best video editors / video editing apps for Android in 2021 — 10. January 2021

#37 Best video editors / video editing apps for Android in 2021


Ever since I started this blog, I wanted to write an article about my favorite video editing apps on Android but I could never decide on how to go about it, whether to write a separate in-depth article on each of them, a really long one on all of them or a more condensed one without too much detail or workflow explanations, more of an overview. So I recently figured there’s been enough pondering on this subject and I should just start writing something. The very basic common ground for all these mobile video editing apps mentioned here is that they allow you to combine multiple video clips into a timeline and arrange them in a desired order. Some might question the validity of editing video on such a relatively small screen as that of a smartphone (even though screen sizes have increased drastically over the last years). While it’s true that there definitely are limitations and I probably wouldn’t consider editing a feature-length movie that way, there’s also an undeniable fascination about the fact that it’s actually doable and can also be a lot of fun. I would even dare to say that it’s a charming throwback to the days before digital non-linear editing when the process of cutting and splicing actual film strips had a very tactile nature to it. But let’s get started…

KineMaster


When I got my first smartphone in 2013 and started looking for video editing apps in the Google PlayStore, I ran into a lot of frustration. There was a plethora of video editing apps but almost none of them could do more than manipulate a single clip. Then, in late December, an app called KineMaster was released and just by looking at the screenshots of the UI I could tell that this was the game changer I had been waiting for, a mobile video editing app that actually aspired to give you the proper feature set of a (basic) desktop video editing software. Unlike some other (failed) attempts in that respect, the devs behind KineMaster realized that giving the user more advanced editing tools could become an unpleasant boomerang flying in their face if the controls weren’t touch-friendly on a small screen. If you ever had the questionable pleasure of using a video editing app called “Clesh” on Android (it’s long gone), you know what I’m talking about. To this date, I still think that KineMaster has one of the most beautiful and intuitive UIs of any mobile app. It really speaks to its ingenuity that despite the fact that the app has grown into a respectable mobile video editing power house with many pro features, even total editing novices usually have no problem getting the hang of the basics within a couple of hours or even minutes.

While spearheading the mobile video editing revolution on Android, KineMaster dared to become one of the first major apps to drop the one-off payment method and pioneer a subscription model. I had initially paid 2€ one-off for the pro version of the app to get rid of the watermark, now you had to pay 2 or 3€ a month (!). I know, “devs gotta eat”, and I’m all for paying a decent amount for good apps but this was quite a shock I have to admit. It needs to be pointed out that KineMaster is actually free to download with all its features (so you can test it fully and with no time limit before investing any money) – but you always get a KineMaster watermark in your exported video and the export resolution doesn’t include UHD/4K. If you are just doing home movies for your family, that might be fine but if you do stuff in a professional or even just more ambitious environment, you probably want to get rid of the watermark. Years later, with every other app having jumped on the subscription bandwagon, I do feel that KineMaster is still one of the apps that are really worth it. I already praised the UI/UX, so here are some of the important features: You get multiple video tracks (resolution and number are device-dependend) and other media layers (including support for png images with tranparency), options for multiple frame rates including PAL (25/50), the ability to select between a wide variety of popular aspect ratios for projects (16:9, 9:16, 1:1, 2.35:1 etc.) and even duplicate the project with a different aspect ratio later (very useful if you want to share a video on multiple platforms), you can use keyframes to animate content, have a very good title tool at hand, audio ducking, voice over recording, basic grading tools and last but not least: the Asset Store. That’s the place where you can download all kinds of helpful assets for your edit: music, fonts, transitions, effects and most of all (animated) graphics (‘stickers’) that you can easily integrate into your project and make it pop without having to spend much time on creating stuff from scratch. Depending on what you are doing, this can be a massive help! I also have to say that despite Android’s fragmentation with all its different phones and chipsets, KineMaster works astonishingly well across the board.

There are still things that could be improved (certain parts of the timeline editing process, media management, precise font sizes, audio waveforms for video clips, quick audio fades, project archives etc.) and development progress in the last one or two years seems to have slowed down but it remains a/the top contender for the Android video editing crown, although way more challenged than in the past. Last note: KineMaster has recently released beta versions of two “helper” apps: VideoStabilizer for KineMaster and SpeedRamp for KineMaster. I personally wish they would have integrated this functionality into the main app but it’s definitely better than not having it at all.

PowerDirector


The first proper rival for KineMaster emerged about half a year later in June 2014 with Cyberlink’s PowerDirector. Unlike KineMaster, PowerDirector was already an established name in the video editing world, at least on the consumer/prosumer level. In many ways, PowerDirector has a somewhat (yet not completely) equal feature set to that of KineMaster with one key missing option being that for exporting in PAL frame rates (if you don’t need to export in 25/50fps, you can ignore this shortcoming). The UI is also good and pretty easy to learn. After KineMaster switched to the subscription model, PowerDirector did have one big factor in its favor: You could still get the full, watermark-free version of the app by making a single, quite reasonable payment, I think it was about 5€. That, however, changed eventually and PowerDirector joined the ranks of apps that you couldn’t own anymore, but only rent via a subscription to have access to all features and watermark-free export. Despite the fact that it’s slightly more expensive than KineMaster now, it’s still a viable and potent mobile video editor with some tricks up its sleeve.

It was for instance – until recently – the only mobile video editor that has an integrated stabilization tool to tackle shaky footage. It’s also the only one with a dedicated de-noise feature for audio and unlike with KineMaster you can mix your audio levels by track in addition to just by individual clips. Furthermore, PowerDirector offers the ability to transfer projects from mobile to its desktop version via the Cyberlink Cloud which can come in handy if you want to assemble a rough cut on the phone but do more in-depth work on a bigger screen with mouse control. Something rather annoying is the way in which the app tries to nudge or dare I say shove you towards a subscription. As I had bought the app before the introduction of the subscription model, I can still use all of its features and export without a watermark but before getting to the edit workspace, the app bombards you with full-screen ads for its subscription service every single time – I really hate that. One last thing: There are a couple of special Android devices on which PowerDirector takes mobile video editing actually to another level but that’s for a future article so stay tuned.

Adobe Premiere Rush


Even more so than Cyberlink, Adobe is a well-known name in the video editing business thanks to Premiere Pro (Windows/macOS). More than once I had asked myself why such a big player had missed the opportunity to get into the mobile editing game. Sure, they dipped their toes into the waters with Premiere Clip but after a mildly promising launch, the app’s development stagnated all too soon and was abandoned eventually – not that much of a loss as it was pretty basic. In 2018 however, Adobe bounced back onto the scene with a completely new app, Premiere Rush. This time, it looked like the video editing giant was ready to take the mobile platform seriously.

The app has a very solid set of advanced editing features and even some specialties that are quite unique/rare in the mobile editing environment: You can for instance expand the audio of a video clip without actually detaching it and risking to go out of sync, very useful for J & L cuts. There’s also a dedicated button that activates multi-select for clips in the timeline, another great feature. What’s more, Rush has true timeline tracks for video. What do I mean by “true”? KineMaster and PowerDirector support video layers but you can’t just move a clip from the primary track to an upper/lower layer track and vice versa which isn’t that much of a problem most of the time but sometimes it can be a nuisance. In Rush you can move your video clips up and down the tracks effortlessly. The “true tracks” also means that you can easily disable/mute/lock a particular track and all the clips that are part of it. One of Rush’s marketed highlights is the auto-conform feature which is supposed to automatically adapt your edit to other aspect ratios using AI to frame the image in the (hopefully) best way. So for instance if you have a classic 16:9 edit, you can use this to get a 1:1 video for Instagram. This feature is reserved for premium subscribers but you can still manually alter the aspect ratio of your project in the free version. For a couple of months, the app was only available for iOS but premiered (pardon the pun!) on Android in May 2019. Like PowerDirector, you can use Adobe’s cloud to transfer project files to the desktop version of Rush (or even import into Premiere Pro) which is useful if the work is a bit more complex. It’s also possible to have projects automatically sync to the cloud (subscriber feature). Initially, the app had a very expensive subscription of around 10€ per month (and only three free exports to test) unless you were already an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber in which case you got it for free), but it has now become more affordable (4.89€ monthly or 33.99 per year) and the basic version with most features including 1080p export (UHD/4K is a premium feature) is free and doesn’t even force a watermark on your footage – you do need to create a (free) account with Adobe though.

The app does have its quirks – how much of it are still teething aches, I’m not sure. In my personal tests with a Google Pixel 3 and a Pocophone F1, export times were sometimes outrageously long, even for short 1080p projects. Both my test devices were powered by a Snapdragon 845 SoC which is a bit older but was a top flagship processor not too long ago and should easily handle 1080p video. Other editing apps didn’t have any problems rushing out (there goes another pun!) the same project on the same devices. This leads me to believe that the app’s export engine still needs some fine tuning and optimization. But maybe things are looking better on newer and even more powerful devices. Another head-scratcher was frame rate fidelity. While the export window gave me a “1080p Match Framerate” option as an alternative to “1080p 30fps”, surely indicating that it would keep the frame rate of the used clips, working with 25fps footage regularly resulted in a 30fps export. The biggest caveat with Rush though is that its availability on Android is VERY limited. If you have a recent flagship phone from Samsung, Google, Sony or OnePlus, you’re invited, otherwise you are out of luck – for the moment at least. For a complete list of currently supported Android devices check here.

VN


Ever since I started checking the Google PlayStore for interesting new apps on a regular basis, it rarely happens that I find a brilliant one that’s already been out for a very long time. It does happen on very rare occasions however and VN is the perfect case in point. VN had already been available for Android for almost two years (the PlayStore lists May 2018 as the release date) when it eventually popped up on my radar in March 2020 while doing a routine search for “video editors” on the PlayStore. VN is a very powerful video editor with a robust set of advanced tools and a UI that is both clean, intuitive and easy to grasp. You get a multi-layer timeline, support for different aspect ratios including 16:9, 9:16, 1:1, 21:9, voice over recording, transparency with png graphics, keyframing for graphical objects (not audio though, but there’s the option for a quick fade in/out), basic exposure/color correction, a solid title tool, export options for resolutions up to UHD/4K, frame rate (including PAL frame rates) and bitrate.

In other news, VN is currently the only of the advanced mobile video editing apps with a dedicated and very easy-to-use speed-ramping tool which can be helpful when manipulating a clip in terms of playback speed. It’s also great that you can move video clips up and down the tracks although it’s not as intuitive as Adobe Premiere Rush in that respect since you can’t just drag & drop but have to use the “Forward/Backward” button. But once you know how to do it, it’s very easy. While other apps might have a feature or two more, VN has a massive advantage: It’s completely free, no one-off payment, no subscription, no watermark. You do have to watch a 5 second full-screen ad when launching the app and delete a “Directed by” bumper clip from every project’s timeline, but it’s really not much of a bother in my opinion. In the past you had to create an account with VN but it’s not a requirement anymore. Will it stay free? When I talked to VN on Twitter some time ago, they told me that the app as such is supposed to remain free of charge but that they might at some point introduce certain premium features or content. VN recently launched a desktop version for macOS (no Windows yet) and the ability to transfer project files between iOS and macOS. While this is currently only possible within the Apple ecosystem (and does require that you register an account with VN), more cross-platform integration could be on the horizon. All in all, VN is an absolutely awesome and easily accessible mobile video editor widely available for most Android devices (Android 5.0 & up) – but do keep in mind that depending on the power of your phone’s chipset, the number of video layers and the supported editing/exporting resolution can vary.

CapCut

CapCut is somewhat similar to VN in terms of basic functionality (multiple video tracks, support for different frame rates including PAL, variety of aspect ratios etc.) and layout, but with a few additional nifty features that might come in handy depending on the use case. Like VN, it’s completely free without a watermark and you don’t have to create an account. CapCut was – following Cyberlink’s PowerDirector – the second advanced mobile video editing app to introduce a stabilization tool and it can even be adjusted to some degree.

Its unique standout double-feature however has to do with automatic speech-to-text/text-to-speech processing. As we all know, captions have become an integral part of video production for social media platforms as many or most of us browse their network feeds without having the sound turned on and so captions can be a way to motivate users to watch a video even when it’s muted. While it’s no problem to manually create captions with the title tool in basically any video editing app, this can be very time-consuming and fiddly on a mobile device. So how about auto-generated captions?  CapCut has you covered. It doesn’t work perfectly (you sometimes have to do some manual editing) and it’s currently only available in English, but it’s definitely a very cool feature that none of the other editors mentioned here can muster. Interestingly, it’s also possible to do it the other way around: You can let the app auto-generate a voice-over from a text layer. There are three different voices available: “American Male”, “American Female” and “British Female” (only English again). This can be useful if you quickly need to create a voice-over on the go and there’s no time or quiet place to do so or if you are not comfortable recording voice-overs with your own voice. Any cons? Generally, I would say that I prefer VN of the two because I like the design and UX of the timeline workspace better, it’s easier to navigate around, but that’s probably personal taste. What is an actual shortcoming however if you are after the highest possible quality is the fact that CapCut lacks support for UHD/4K export. Don’t get me wrong, you can import UHD/4K footage into the app and work with it but the export resolution is limited to 1080p and you also can’t adjust the bitrate. From a different angle, it should also be mentioned that CapCut is owned by Bytedance, the company behind the popular social video platform TikTok. While you don’t have to create an account for CapCut, you do have to agree to their T&Cs to use the app. So if you are very picky about who gets your data and kept your fingers off TikTok for that reason, you might want to take this into consideration.

Special mention (Motion Graphics): Alight Motion


Alight Motion is a pretty unique mobile app that doesn’t really have an equivalent at the moment. While you can also use it to stitch together a bunch of regular video clips filmed with your phone, this is not its main focus. The app is totally centered around creating advanced, multi-layered motion graphics projects, maybe think of it as a reduced mobile version of Adobe After Effects. Its power lies in the fact that you can manipulate and keyframe a wide range of parameters (for instance movement/position, size, color, shape etc.) on different types of layers to create complex and highly individual animations, spruced up with a variety of cool effects drawn from an extensive library. It takes some learning to unleash the enormous potential and power that lies within the app and fiddling around with a heavy load of parameters and keyframes on a small(ish) touch screen can occasionally be a bit challenging but the clever UI (designed by the same person that made KineMaster so much fun to use) makes the process basically as good and accessible as it can get on a mobile device. The developers also just added effect presets in a recent update which should make it easier for beginners who might be somewhat intimidated by manually keyframing parameters. Pre-designed templates for graphics and animations created by the dev team or other users will make things even more accessible in the future – some are already available but still too few to fully convince passionate users of apps such as the very popular but discontinued Legend. Alight Motion is definitely worth checking out as you can create amazing things with it (like explainer videos or animated info graphics), if you are willing to accept a small learning curve and invest some time. This is coming from someone who regularly throws in the towel trying to get the hang of Apple’s dedicated desktop motion graphics software Motion. Alight Motion has become the first application in this category in which I actually feel like I know what I’m doing – sort of at least. One very cool thing is that you can also use Alight Motion as a photo/still graphics editor since it lets you export the current timeline frame as a png, even with transparency! The app is free to download but to access certain features and export without a watermark you have to get a subscription which is currently around 28€ per year or 4.49 on a monthly basis.

Special mention (Automated Editing): Quik


Sometimes, things have to go quik-ly and you don’t have the time or ambition to assemble your clips manually. While I’m generally not a big fan of automated video editing processes, GoPro’s free Quik video editing app can come in handy at times. You just select a bunch of photos or videos, an animation style, your desired aspect ratio (16:9, 9:16, 1:1) and the app creates an automatic edit for you based on what it thinks are the best bits and pieces. In case you don’t like the results you have the option to change things around and select excerpts that you prefer – generally, manual control is rather limited though and it’s definitely not for more advanced edits. It’s also better suited for purely visual edits without important scenes relying on the original audio (like a person talking and saying something of interest). GoPro, who acquired the app in the past, is apparently working on a successor to Quik and will eventually pull this one from the Google PlayStore later in 2021 but here’s hope that the “new Quik” will be just as useful and accessible.

Special mention (360 Video Editing): V360

While 360 video hasn’t exactly become mainstream, I don’t want to ignore it completely for this post. Owners of a 360 camera (like the Insta360 One X2 I wrote about recently) usually get a companion mobile app along with the hardware which also allows basic editing. In the case of the Insta360 app you actually get quite a range of tools but it’s more geared towards reframing and exporting as a traditional flat video. You can only export a single clip in true 360 format. So if you want to create a story with multiple 360 video clips and also export as true, immersive 360 video with the appropriate metadata for 360 playback, you need to use a 3rd party app. I have already mentioned V360 in one of my very early blog posts but I want to come back to it as the landscape hasn’t really changed since then. V360 gives you a set of basic editing tools to create a 360 video story with multiple clips. You can arrange the clips in the desired order, trim and split them, add music and titles/text. It’s rather basic but good for what it is, with a clean interface and exports in original resolution (at least up to 5.7k which I was able to test). The free version doesn’t allow you to add transition effects between the clips and has a V360 branded bumper clip at the end that you can only delete in the paid version which is 4.99€. There are two other solid 360 video editors (Collect and VeeR Editor) which are comparable and even offer some additional/different features but I personally like V360 best although it has to be said that the app hasn’t seen an update in over two years.

What’s on the horizon?

There’s one big name in mobile editing town that’s missing from the Android platform so far – of course I’m talking about LumaFusion. According to LumaTouch, the company behind LumaFusion, they are currently probing an Android version and apparently have already hired some dedicated developers. I therefore suspect that despite the various challenges that such a demanding app like LumaFusion will encounter in creating a port for a different mobile operating system, we will see at least an early beta version in 2021. Furthermore, despite not having any concrete evidence, I assume that an Android version of Videoleap, another popular iOS-only video editor, might also be currently in the works. Not quite as advanced and feature-packed as LumaFusion, it’s pretty much on par in many respects with the current top dogs on Android. So while there definitely is competition, I also assume that the app’s demands are certainly within what can be achieved on Android and the fact that they have already brought other apps from their portfolio to Android indicates that they have some interest in the platform.

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.

For an overview of all my blog posts click here.

I am investing a lot of time and work in this blog and I’m even paying to keep it ad-free for an undistracted reading experience. If you find any of the content useful, please consider making a small donation via PayPal (click on the PayPal button below). It’s very much appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

Download KineMaster on GooglePlay
Downlaod PowerDirector on GooglePlay
Download Adobe Premiere Rush on GooglePlay
Download VN on GooglePlay
Download CapCut on GooglePlay
Download Alight Motion on GooglePlay
Download Quik on GooglePlay
Download V360 on GooglePlay

#33 Auto-transcribe all your audio for free with Live Transcribe! — 26. October 2020

#33 Auto-transcribe all your audio for free with Live Transcribe!

While writing my last blog post about Google Recorder 2.0, I stumbled upon a hack that can also be utilized for another app from Google, one that currently understands over 70 languages, not only English: It’s called “Live Transcribe & Sound Notifications” and is available for pretty much every Android device. Have you always been looking for a tool that transcribes your audio recordings but doesn’t require an expensive subscription? Here’s what I like to think is a very useful and simple trick for achieving this on an Android phone. You will need the following things:

  • Android device running at least Android 5.0 Lollipop (if your phone is less than 5 years old, you should be safe!)
  • the app Live Transcribe & Sound Notifications by Google (free download on the Google Play Store)
  • an internet connection (either mobile data or wifi)
  • a quiet environment

Let’s say you have recorded some audio like an interview, a meeting, a vox pop, a voice-over for video or even a podcast on your smartphone (look here for some good audio recorder apps) and would like to have a text transcription of it. If you read this before making such a recording, do include a few seconds of silence before having someone talk in the recording and it’s also important that the recording is of good quality in terms of speech clarity, the reasons will become obvious soon. 

Here’s how it works!

Live Transcribe can be used to transcribe speech/audio from over 70 languages.

Open Live Transcribe and check the input language displayed in the bottom toolbar (if the toolbar isn’t there, just tap on the screen somewhere). It needs to be the same as the recording you want to have transcribed. If it’s a different one, tap on the gear icon and then on “More settings”. Choose the correct language. Unlike Google Recorder which I wrote about in my last article, Live Transcribe works with a vast number of languages, not only English. Also unlike Recorder however, Live Transcribe needs an active internet connection to transcribe, you can’t use it offline! If you are planning on pasting the transcription into a context with a white background later on, you should make sure that “Dark Theme” is disabled in Live Transcribe. Otherwise you will be pasting white text onto a white background. Leave the settings menu and check that Live Transcribe’s main screen says “Ready to transcribe” in the center. Now double-check that you are in a quiet environment, leave Live Transcribe and open the audio recording app. Locate the recording you want to have transcribed and start the playback of the file (do make sure the speaker volume is sufficient!), then quickly switch over to Live Transcribe. One way to do this is to use Android’s “Recent Apps” feature which can be accessed by tapping on the square icon in the 3-button navigation bar – some Android phone makers use a different icon, Samsung for instance now has three vertical lines instead of a square. If you are using gesture navigation, swipe up from the bottom and hold. But you can also just leave the audio recording app and open Live Transcribe again without going into recent apps. The recording will keep playing with Live Transcribe picking up the audio from the phone’s speaker(s) and doing its transcription thing as if someone was talking into the phone’s mic directly. This actually works! Don’t worry if you notice mistakes in the transcription, you can fix them later. Once the recording and subsequently the transcription is finished, long-tap on any word, choose “Select transcription” and then “Copy”. You have now copied the whole transcription to the clipboard and can paste it anywhere you like: eMail, Google Docs etc. That’s also where you are now able to correct any mistakes that Live Transcribe has made (within Live Transcribe, there’s no option for editing the transcription yet). Two more things: You can have Live Transcribe save your transcripts for three days (activate it in the settings or activate auto-save under “More settings”) and if you want to clear out the app’s transcription cache, you can also do this under “More settings”, then choose “Delete history”.

Can you do the same with video recordings?

When in recent apps view, tap the app’s icon to show a pop-up menu. This menu looks slightly different on different Android devices. LG G8X (center), Pixel 3 (right).
Active app windows of Live Transcribe and Google Photos on one screen using “Pop-up window” feature on the LG G8X.

What about video recordings? Could you have them transcribed via Live Transcribe as well? Basically yes, but it’s not quite as easy. That’s if you want to do it using only one device (it’s very easy if you use a second device for playback). When you leave an app that’s playing back a video, the video (and with it its audio) will stop playing so there’s nothing for Live Transcribe to listen to. You can work around this by using Android’s split-screen or multi-window feature to actively run more than one app at the same time. On Android 7 and 8 you are able to access split-screen apps by long-pressing the square icon (recent apps) in the bottom navigation bar and select the app(s) you want to run in split-screen mode. Things have changed with Android 9 however. For one, gesture navigation was introduced as an alternative to the “old” 3-button-navigation bar. So if you are using gesture navigation, you access recent apps by swiping up from the bottom and then hold. If you use the 3-button-navigation, long pressing the square icon doesn’t do anything anymore. Instead, just tap it once to access the recent apps view, tap on the app’s icon at the top of the window and you will get a pop-up menu. Depending on what Android phone you are using the menu will have slightly different items, or at least they are named differently: On my LG G8X I get “App info”, “Multi window”, “Pop-up window” and “Pin app”, on my Pixel 3 I get “App info”, “Split screen”, “Freeform” and “Pause app”. The items you will want to choose to run two apps side by side are “Multi window” (G8X) / “Split screen” (Pixel 3) which will split the screen in half or “Pop-up window” (G8X) / “Freeform” (Pixel 3) which will display the app(s) in a small, desktop-like window that you can move around freely. By doing this, you can playback a video clip and have Live Transcribe running at the same time. Of course you can also use this feature to have both Live Transcribe and the playback of an audio recording app on the same screen simultaneously but for audio file transcriptions, you don’t have to go the extra mile.

Can I do this on an iPhone as well?

Google Translate main interface on Android (top) and iOS (bottom).

Google has a whole range of apps for iOS, but unfortunately, Live Transcribe isn’t among them – it’s currently Android-only. But hey, maybe you have an older Android phone in your drawer that you could put to good use again? That being said, there is the possibility that Google will eventually release an iOS version of Live Transcribe or Apple will come up with an app that does something similar. I also thought of another way, using a Google app that is already available for iOS: Google Translate. Yes, it’s meant for translation and not transcription but in the Android version, you can also find a “Transcribe” button. Initially, using this will only give you a transcription of the translated language but if you tap the cog wheel in the bottom left corner and choose “Show original text”, you will actually get a transcription of the original language which you can then copy and paste. When checking the iOS version of Translate though, I noticed that there is no “Transcribe” button. There is a “Voice” button (which in the Android version has been moved to the search bar) but this will only pick up a limited amount of input and is quite slow. There’s also no “Show original text” option. I suppose there might be a chance that Google will update its iOS version to match the Android version but there are no guarantees. The Android version of Google Photos has had a pretty impressive video stabilization feature for quite a while now, something that is still missing from the iOS version. It might be a purely strategic thing and Google wants to give certain features only to users of its own mobile operating system, but it might also be for technical reasons like that the core transcription engine is deeply rooted in the Android system and it’s just not possible to tap into this on iOS where Google is “just” a 3rd party app developer. Let’s see how things will turn out in the coming months.

If you have any questions or comments, leave them here or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. Do also consider to subscribe to my Telegram Newsletter to get notified about new blog posts and receive the new “Ten Takeaways Telegram” monthly bullet point recap of what happened in the world of mobile video creation during the last four weeks.

For an overview of all my blog posts click here.

I am investing a lot of time and work in this blog and I’m even paying to keep it ad-free for an undistracted reading experience. If you find any of the content useful, please consider making a small donation via PayPal (click on the PayPal button below). It’s very much appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

#30 “Android Airdrop” is here – and it’s called Nearby Share! — 6. October 2020

#30 “Android Airdrop” is here – and it’s called Nearby Share!

Nearby Share logo

One of the things I really like about Apple’s ecosystem is the cross-platform integration of a functionality called “AirDrop” which lets you fast, wirelessly and offline transfer (big) files between Apple devices that are close to each other, be it Mac, iPhone or iPad. This is extremely helpful when transferring video files which as we all know can get pretty heavy these days, particularly if one records in UHD/4K. Shooting on an iPhone and then transferring the footage to an iPad for editing with a bigger screen is a pretty popular workflow. Android on the other hand had something called “WiFi Direct” relatively early in its career but it never got picked up consistently by phone makers which preferred to introduce their own proprietary file transfer solutions which of course only worked with phones/devices of the same brand. So for quite a while I resorted to third party apps like Feem and Send Anywhere that also worked cross-platform between mobile and desktop – Android, iOS, macOS and Windows. As for Android-to-Android device wireless file transfers, Google introduced an app called “Files Go” (today Files by Google) in late 2017 which was primarily a file explorer but also had the ability to share files offline to another device by creating a WiFi Direct connection. While the app ventured somewhat close towards becoming a system resource in that it came pre-installed on many new phones as part of Google’s app portfolio, it was hard to deny that Apple’s AirDrop was more easily accessible.

Google is finally giving Android proper wireless file sharing

Enter Nearby Share: Recently, Google started rolling out a new Android feature called “Nearby Share” that should soon be available on all Android devices that sport at least Android 6 Marshmallow (Android 6 was released in 2015, we’re now at Android 11). Nearby Share allows for fast wireless sharing of files to other nearby Android devices, even offline (that is without using an internet connection). The feature is distributed automatically via the Google Play Services app (which comes pre-installed on basically all Android devices) so you don’t need to download anything. Nearby Share is integrated into the Android system, it’s not a separate app. As of now, roughly 90% of my own Android devices (and believe me I own quite a few!) have already received Nearby Share.

Does your Android device have it already?

And here’s how to check if you have it: On your Android device, go into “Settings”, then select “Google” and then “Device connections”. You should now find an option called “Nearby Share” (not be confused with something called “Nearby”!). To use it, you need to activate it by switching the slider to “On”. If you have not yet activated Location and Bluetooth it will ask you to do so because that’s how it will look for and find other devices. There are also a couple of options: You can customize the name of your device (under which name it will be visible for other devices). You can select between three different  “Device visibility” settings (All contacts, Some contacts, Hidden) and you can choose by which means the transfers are achieved (Data, Wi-Fi only or Without Internet). Regarding the last bit, I personally always switch to “Without Internet” so it uses the fast peer-to-peer WiFi Direct protocol and doesn’t consume any mobile data when not connected to regular WiFi. Before actually initiating the first file transfers I suggest one more thing (it’s not really necessary though): You can add Nearby Share to your Quick Settings. Quick Settings is the bunch of settings directly accessible when pulling down the notification shade from the top of the screen. Now it’s not exactly the same on all Android devices, but there’s usually a small pen icon in the Quick Settings which allows to add or remove certain items to/from the Quick Settings. Scroll down do find two horizontal lines that are intertwined (Nearby Share) and drag the icon to the main Quick Settings. The reason I recommend doing this is because you can easily make your device visible to others for Nearby Share or turn the feature on when it’s off. Long pressing the Nearby Share icon will also take you straight into the settings for Nearby Share without clicking and scrolling through the general settings.

How does it work?

So how does a file transfer via Nearby Share actually work? Keep in mind that Nearby Share is for sharing to physically nearby devices, not to someone on the other side of the globe! 

  1. Assuming you want to transfer one or multiple video files, locate the file(s) in your phone’s Gallery app (the native Gallery app or Google Photos). Select the one(s) you need and then tap the share button. 
  2. Now look for the Nearby Share icon on the share sheet and select it. If you are using Google Photos as your Gallery app it will give you three options, select “Actual size”. Your sharing device will immediately start looking for devices that are close by and have Nearby Share activated (it usually doesn’t have to be opened).
  3. On your receiving device you will get a prompt “Device nearby is sharing. Tap to become visible” (If it doesn’t, open Nearby Share from the Quick Settings on the receiving device). After doing so, your receiving device will pop up on the radar of the sharing device.
  4. Select your receiving device and tap “Accept” on the receiving device itself. The file transfer will start and you are done. Your transferred files will be available in the “Download” folder of your Gallery app. 

Is it any good?

So far, Nearby Share worked really well for me and it makes transferring big files to other Android devices so much easier. It’s a bit of shame that unlike with phones, there aren’t too many powerful Android tablets out there to make a phone-tablet workflow a tempting proposition. It’s basically only Samsung that offers a tablet with flagship specs for video editing these days. The biggest shortcoming for me though is that it’s currently only available between Android devices and doesn’t build a bridge to desktop/laptop computers or iOS. This isn’t exactly a surprise. While Apple produces both mobile and desktop/laptop hardware with their own software, Google doesn’t really. “Laptops” is debatable because Google has Chromebook devices like the Pixelbook / Pixelbook Go and Nearby Share is supposed to roll out for their ChromeOS as well but I would assume most of us still associate “laptop” with devices running Windows, Linux or macOS. There’s actual hope though: Google is apparently planning to make Nearby Share part of its Chrome Browser and thereby opening up a whole new sharing world with the option to share to iOS, macOS, Windows and Linux. And even in its current state, Nearby Share can be very helpful in many situations, for instance when having multiple phoneographers in the field and you want to collect the footage on one device afterwards for editing or if as a journalist you talk to a person that filmed something interesting on his/her phone and wants to share it with you.

Does your Android device have Nearby Share? Have you used it already? How does it work for you? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. You might also want to have a look at Google’s own blog post about Nearby Share.  If you like this blog, please consider subscribing to my Telegram Newsletter. You will be notified about new blog posts and receive the monthly Ten Takeaways Telegram newsletter including 10 interesting things that happened in the world of mobile video in the last four weeks.

For an overview of all my blog posts click here.

I am investing a lot of time and work in this blog and I’m even paying to keep it ad-free for an undistracted reading experience. If you find any of the content useful, please consider making a small donation via PayPal (click on the PayPal button below). It’s very much appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

#29 Favorite field recorder apps on Android — 27. July 2020

#29 Favorite field recorder apps on Android

After starting to write a blog post about multi-track audio editing apps on Android, I figured it might be useful to do one on field recorder apps first as a precursor so to speak. I chose to use the term “field recorder” as opposed to “audio recorder” since there’s a whole bunch of multi-track audio editing apps that also record audio. And while I’m mostly concerned with mobile videography on this blog, I think it can’t hurt to take a look at audio for once, particularly since field recorder apps can also be used as independent audio recorders with a lavalier mic in a video production environment. I’ll have a look at six different apps of which each single one includes something interesting/useful. It will depend on your use case and personal taste which one qualifies as the best for you. Do note that most Android phones actually come with a native audio recording / voice memo app, some of which are quite good, but for the purpose of this article I will look at 3rd party apps only that are available for (almost) all Android devices. Well, with one exception…

RecForge II (Pro)

UI of “RecForge II” while recording.
One of the first more advanced 3rd party audio recording apps I stumbled upon after getting a smartphone was RecForge (Pro). The UI was visually pleasant (somewhat futuristic) but not the most intuitive, I found navigating around slightly confusing in the beginning. Its successor RecForge II (Pro) got a new look which is less fancy, more focused, but the developer failed to iron out some of the UX issues I had with the app. Two examples: When you press the “Record” button on the main screen, the app takes you to an all-new recording screen with lots of different buttons, timeline, big waveforms and is already recording. I think it would be less confusing if the same button that started the recording remained present and pushing it again would stop the recording. Well, as a matter of fact I just found out that you can change this in the settings but then you don’t get any kind of waveform or audio level meter which is always good to have. When you stop the recording, you need to push a button that looks like an “eject” symbol to get back to the main screen which I consider a bit odd. That being said, RecForge II might have the most complete feature set of all the recording apps listed here. It records in a wide variety of formats including wav, mp3, m4a etc., has options for sample rates and bit rate, basic clip editing (missing a fade tool though!), live audio monitoring, gain control (positive and negative) and live audio level meters (to check/adjust before recording, preview mode needs to be activated in the settings), support for external mics, mic source selection, scheduled recordings, homescreen widgets, a conversion tool and much more. The free version gives you unlimited wav recording but automatically pauses every three minutes when recording in any other format (like mp3). Pro version without limitations and ads is 3.89€.

Easy Voice Recorder (Pro)

One of the many useful homescreen widgets of “Easy Voice Recorder”.
EVR is far and away the best audio recording app on Android when it comes to homescreen widgets, it has a whole variety of them, some minimal, some more elaborate. Just in case you don’t know: Widgets are a special feature of Android (iOS is currently playing catch-up) that lets you add certain app functionality directly to your home screen without having to open the app first. So for instance you can add a button that starts a recording directly to the homescreen. EVR is also the only audio recorder among my list that has a WearOS companion app which means you can launch and control a recording from a smartwatch. It has a range of useful features and options but it’s also missing some more advanced stuff: There’s currently no way to check audio levels or control gain before starting a recording and it’s also lacking the ability to do live monitoring via headphones. I have reached out to the developers and they acknowledged my request, saying that they will look into it but that significant changes to the app’s core would have to be made to provide this. If you like EVR but miss these features I strongly encourage you to contact the devs and make your voice heard! EVR lets you record in wav, m4a and 3gp formats in the free version, plus mp3 and aac in the paid upgrade. The paid upgrade also has more useful goodies in the form of a basic editing tool for trimming/cropping, the option to convert to other formats and automatic upload to the cloud. The paid pro version is 3.99€.

Voice Record Pro

“Voice Record Pro” lets you create an mp4 video file from your audio-only recording. You can add a photo and some text.
This one’s a favorite of many on iOS and I’m glad that the developer decided to bring the app to Android as well. That being said, after launching it in 2018 and providing a few initial bug fixes, the developer hasn’t delivered a single update (be it bug fixes, let alone a feature drop) in over two years. It works reasonably well on most devices but certain (device-specific) glitches have not been addressed with the developer not being available for any kind of communication (I have tried on multiple occasions to no avail). It also lacks the transcription feature and the ability to adjust input gain of the iOS version if that’s important to you. VRP is unique among the apps mentioned here in that it allows you to create an mp4 video from a recorded audio file by adding an image and text to it. Useful for a quick share/teaser on social media platforms. The app has a great set of options for adjusting the quality of the recording, supports external mics and lets you check the input levels before and during a recording – no live monitoring via headphones though. A basic editing tool for trimming/cropping is included. VRP is free with ads. According to the GooglePlay store information, there’s supposed to be an in-app purchase but I have honestly not been able to locate it. I would be happy to pay a few bucks for this app and get rid of the ads but apparently it doesn’t seem possible (do let me know if you have found the IAP!). It’s a potentially great app but I wish the developer would make an effort to keep the Android version up to date.

ShurePlus Motiv

It’s super-easy to quickly apply a fade in/out with the handles in “ShurePlus Motiv”.
I have to admit this one has possibly become my personal favorite for its clean and focused design/functionality, great basic editing tools and solid feature set, notwithstanding its integration with a range of Shure microphones (naturally, this means that it supports external mics and not only Shure mics if you’re worried about that). It’s also completely free without any ads or feature cut backs. Something I absolutely love about the app is the way you can easily apply fades at the beginning and end of a clip, just drag the handles, you can even mirror the fades automatically! The app records in wav format with the option to convert to aac afterwards. You can adjust positive gain before/during a recording, reducing the input level is only possible if you are using some kind of external interface however. The biggest shortcoming at the moment is the lack of an option for live audio monitoring via headphones (which is available in the iOS version of the app). I have been in touch with Shure and they are looking into it. It would also be nice to have one or two homescreen widgets for people who often use it and want to launch a recording as fast as possible, but that’s a minor complaint. All in all, this is a beautiful and excellent audio recording app from a renowned microphone manufacturer – do check it out!

Field Recorder

“Field Recorder” lets you flip the UI so you can point the main internal mic of a phone (usually located at the bottom) towards a subject and still see the controls the right way.
If you are used to dedicated portable field recorders, you might find Field Recorder’s UI and functionality particularly appealing since it sort of mimics the appearance of such devices. Others however could be a bit intimidated by the somewhat busy upper half of the UI and the load of options in the settings menu. One very cool thing about FR is that it lets you rotate the UI which in the case of reverse portrait mode helps if you are using the (main) internal mic of the phone (instead of an external mic) which will usually be located at the bottom of the phone. If you are interviewing someone pointing this part towards the subject, the UI would be topsy-turvy for yourself unless you are able to rotate the UI independently from the device’s orientation. FR has you covered here. The app has an extensive range of options to customize the interface/recording process, includes live audio monitoring via headphones, supports the use of external mics and features an optional limiter. It’s missing the ability to edit/trim a recording though. FR records uncompressed wav files with the option to convert to mp3 after installing another app (‘Media Converter’) from the PlayStore to handle the conversion. There’s a homescreen widget but it’s a bit complicated to use. Field Recorder costs 4.99€, there’s no free version but I’d say it’s most definitely worth the price if you like its UI and feature set.

Google Recorder

“Google Recorder” automatically transcribes your recordings.
This one is probably the odd ball among the pack with very little to no control/settings options – but sporting a killer feature that by itself will let many folks crave it badly: It can auto-transcribe any recording offline (only English so far!) and search text within a recording completely for free! When sharing you have the option to only share the audio, only the text as a text file or both. You also have the ability to directly upload recordings to the cloud (GoogleDrive). Recordings are saved in m4a format with a sample rate of 32 kHz and a bitrate of 48Kbit/s. There’s currently no option for higher sample or bitrates or other recording formats like wav. But depending on what you are doing, this might not be a problem. There’s one relatively big catch to this: So far, it’s officially only available for Google’s Pixel devices (excluding the very first Pixel phone apparently). You can however sideload it (meaning installing it outside of the Google PlayStore via an apk file) to many other Android devices, XDA Developers has a great article on how to do that and which devices are currently supported. I sideloaded it to my LG V30 and it works really well. Note: You will need to allow app installs from external sources though first in the settings of your phone (it’s disabled by default for security reasons). Will it be officially available for non-Google Android devices in the future? There are arguments for both sides: Technically it shouldn’t be a problem since Google’s Live Transcribe app which basically taps into the same core functionality of transcribing audio is already available for many Android devices. Google might however want to keep this a special feature on Pixel devices, an incentive to pick a Pixel over other Android phones. We’ll see how that plays out over the next months. Some things Google Recorder is missing: While there’s a live waveform when recording (which is good), you don’t get an audio level meter, gain control, homescreen widgets or the ability to edit/trim a recording. As all the other apps listed here, it generally supports the use of external mics.  So which one is the best field recorder app for Android? Well, as indicated in the introduction to this article, there’s no clear answer. There are many very good ones and which one specifically suits you best will depend on your use case, what features you absolutely need and which features you can live without, if you love a complex interface with loads of options or like to keep it simple. The good thing is: With the exception of Field Recorder (which doesn’t have a free version) and Google Recorder (which has only limited availability) you will be able to test most of the apps for free to decide which one’s your top pick. And also remember: These are just a couple of candidates that I happen to like, there are many many more in the Google PlayStore and it’s entirely possible that there’s a great one I haven’t discovered yet. If you have questions or comments, let me know in the comments or on Twitter @smartfilming. And stay tuned for an upcoming article about multi-track audio editing apps for Android. If you like this blog, consider signing up for my Telegram newsletter via t.me/smartfilming to get notified about new posts and receive the monthly Ten Takeaways Telegram newsletter which includes 10 interesting things that happened in the world of mobile video in the last four weeks. For an overview of all my blog posts click here. I am investing a lot of time and work in this blog and I’m even paying to keep it ad-free for an undistracted reading experience. If you find any of the content useful, please consider making a small donation via PayPal (click on the PayPal button below). It’s very much appreciated. Thank you! 🙂
Download RecForge II Lite / RecForge II Pro on Google Play Download Easy Voice Recorder / Easy Voice Recorder Pro on Google Play Download Voice Record Pro on Google Play Download ShurePlus Motiv on Google Play Download Field Recorder on Google Play Download Google Recorder on Google Play
#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.

For an overview of all my blog posts click here.

I am investing a lot of time and work in this blog and I’m even paying to keep it ad-free for an undistracted reading experience. If you find any of the content useful, please consider making a small donation via PayPal (click on the PayPal button below). It’s very much appreciated. Thank you! 🙂