smartfilming

Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#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.

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

#23 A powerful new rival for Filmic Pro

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

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

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

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

Let me know what you think of Protake! Either here in the comments or on Twitter @smartfilming. If you like this blog, please consider subscribing to my Telegram channel (t.me/smartfilming) to get notified about new blog posts and receive the monthly Ten Takeaways Telegram newsletter including a personal selection of 10 interesting things that happened 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! 🙂

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