The biggest advantage of making video on smartphones is portability. Shooting and editing video on the same device gives you a complete video studio in your pocket or bag. Create video anywhere: in the field, in a car, on the tube, in a plane. No cumbersome cameras, editing computers or expensive software. You can produce elegant, sophisticated video quickly and easily with free or low-cost apps.
Which is why it’s puzzling that some organisations seem to be only ‘getting’ half the smartphone video idea. They’re shooting on phones but then transferring clips to big expensive computers for processing on complex, expensive software. That’s deliberately rejecting one of the key strengths of mobile journalism.
This seems as crazy as, say, cycling to work to save the planet, then catching a gas-guzzling car home, or buying a nail gun and using it as a conventional hammer.
Why not shoot and edit on the same device? Makes sense, right?
Foot in the past
I recently went on a week’s video production workshop run by the inspirational Michael Rosenblum and Lisa Lambden of theVJ.com. It was great. There were around twelve of us on the course, most of the others from globally important organisations with acronyms for titles.
As a smartphone video evangelist, I was surprised and pleased to see that all but two of us were shooting on phones. How 21st century is that? Brilliant and very sensible. Phones capture great quality video and are very easy and portable to use.
I was less impressed to find that I was the only one cutting video on the phone. Everyone else opened capacious bags and hauled out heavy, cumbersome, expensive MacBooks armed with professional Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro editing software.
But you know what? I kept up fine. Because the editing app I used on my iPhone 6S Plus – Lumafusion – could do everything the conventional software could. And I finished my video project well before some of the others because editing on my pocketable device meant I could work easily and unobtrusively on the fly – in the taxi back to my hotel, on the train, in the snug of my local pub. And I got much the same degree of technical sophistication in the results.
It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this dual approach to phone video – shoot on the phone, edit on a PC/Mac. So, what’s going on here?
Turning the tanker
First is what I could call legacy momentum. While big organisations are slowly embracing the idea of smartphone video, 90 years of tradition are hard to ditch entirely. And if you’re a 20-something newbie in a global news organisation you’re not about to tell your boss to revamp their editing strategy. You toe the line, and if s/he says ‘edit on the Mac’ you edit on the Mac.
Secondly, superficial impressions matter. Never mind that conventional software is complex with a significant learning curve, it looks serious and business-like on the big screen. Editing apps for the phone, such as Kinemaster for Android and Apple and iMovie for IOS, are mostly dead easy to learn and use. Which means their interfaces are simple, which means they don’t look properly grown-up. Even though they do 90% of the same job as their conventional counterparts.
Thirdly, it’s that missing 10% alluded to in the paragraph above. Mostly, Kinemaster, iMovie, and the best video editing app out there, including the aforementioned and brilliant Lumafusion, will do everything you need. In fact, more than a few people are favourably comparing Lumafusion ($20) to Premiere Pro (lots of money). But there’s still the odd bug here and there. And in a very few respects, such as the crucial area of extended subtitle creation, the current crop of phone editing apps lag a little behind their mainstream cousins.
OK, you can create professional looking subtitles in Lumafusion. But Lumafusion is only available for iPhones and iPads, which brings me to the fourth factor. User loyalty is divided between Apple products (the iPhone), and Android-based devices. That’s a headache for app makers (and trainers), whose attention has to be similarly split. If you’re an Android bunny your choice of editing app is limited to pretty much one option: Kinemaster, which is good but not exceptional.
What’s the answer? How can we get people to take full advantage of smartphone video and produce the whole project on the same lightweight, portable device?
Don’t expect any help from the big players. Adobe isn’t about to lose its professional user base to a cheap phone app edition of Premiere Pro. Apple isn’t going to upgrade its free iMovie app while its making container loads of money out of selling Final Cut Pro and expensive hardware like their new edit station, the iMac Pro.
The answer is time. The whole phone video thing is just a few years old and is still evolving fast. The independent phone app makers, mostly a handful of dedicated and inspired people working in a shed somewhere, are doing an amazing job of growing their products. That growth will hopefully continue. And at some point soon their products will fully rival the old dinosaurs for functionality and stability. 100%.
It will happen.