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November 19 2010


How To Capture High Quality Video on Your Mobile Phone

Prabhas Pokharel contributed research and writing to this article

Many of today's mobile phones can capture video footage. This has enabled both trained journalists and citizen reporters to more easily capture footage and images that would have otherwise rarely been seen. The Polk Journalism Award in 2009, for example, was awarded to a video from Iran that was captured on a mobile phone. Today, more and more journalists are using mobile phones to record video and quickly transfer content to their newsrooms via mobile data connections. 

The good news for all of us is that you don't need a high-quality video camera to do high-quality reporting, whether you're in the U.S. or elsewhere. Many journalists and citizen reporters today use smartphones to capture video footage. Examples abound. A group of journalism students in Canada use an iPhone with some additional hardware and software to do all their video editing on the phone. Voices of Africa uses a Nokia N-series smartphone. In his book Mobile Journalism in the Asian Region, Stephen Quinn uses both iPhones and Nokia smartphones. This post will provide some tips and tools to help you record quality video and audio from your mobile phone.

Make Sure Your Phone is Capable

Phone hardware is constantly improving and getting cheaper. If you have an older phone, you may consider video enhancement software, which can offer a cheaper way to get better quality video content. For high quality video recording on a mobile, the best phones available today feature 640 × 480 pixels at 30 "frames per second":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frame_rate, but 320 × 240 pixels at 15 frames per second produces acceptable web-quality video.
Lower resolutions will look grainy and pixelated without software enhancement, and video below 15 frames per second will look choppy. On the high quality end, these are some good mobile phones with excellent video cameras:

  • PC Magazine featured five video-phone models in varying price ranges. The article includes lengthy reviews and a matrix comparison of the phones.
  • For high end phones, take a look at these articles: CNet's top five video phones of 2009, Wirefly's top 10 2009 video phones, MSNBC's video phone review with five recommendations, and these links for the iPhone 3GS and the Motorola Droid.
  • The GSMArena.com database features 1800 phones with video capabilities, 70 of which are listed on this page. The site allows you to search for cameras based on various criteria and links directly to carriers around the world who are selling these phones.
  • The Nokia N series phones are generally highly recommended for video recording. The N82, N93, and N95 are mentioned often by independent reviewers.

Go Shoot (Good) Video

When it comes to shooting video, the major difference between mobiles and mainstream camcorders is that mobile phones have simpler (and smaller) cameras. It is important to understand what makes for good quality video given these limitations. Some suggested tools and tips are listed below.

  • This video from Howcast.com discusses how to capture breaking news. The BBC has a similar video guide.
  • The ABCs of Good Audio from the Mobile Journalism Collective offers tips on getting audio right.
  • Recording good audio often requires an external microphone, but some mobiles may not support standard microphones. Here are two videos that deal with this issue: 1, 2.
  • The Knight Digital Media Center's tutorials, Witness.org's manual for recording video, and Camcorder.info's quick guide are also good resources.
  • The YouTube Reporter's Center channel has tips for video reporters using online video tools like YouTube.

Top Five Tips for Video Recording

Using the above guides, we have summarized the top five tips for video recording on mobile phones.

  1. Camera stability is key. If you have a tripod, use it. If not, work on developing a steady grip and a stable sitting or kneeling position (here are some tips). Avoid jerky movements, and pan as slowly as possible. External hardware may help with this.
  2. Use an external microphone if at all possible. Mobile phone microphones are built for call-quality audio, which is not ideal --  especially when you are shooting from a distance. More tips on recording audio on mobiles are available here.
  3. Think carefully about lighting. It is best to film outside in sunlight, but make sure to keep the sun behind the back of the person filming. If you are filming inside, be sure to use many lights to fill the subject from all sides. Low resolution videos look the best when there is plentiful light.
  4. If you need to pan, pan slowly to avoid jerkiness in the video. Most mobile phone video cameras do not have a digital zoom, but if yours does, it's best not to use it. Try walking closer to the subject being filmed.
  5. Finally, if you are not going to upload the video directly from your handset, use the highest resolution and quality settings offered. You can compress the video on your computer later. If you are uploading video directly from your handset, you may want lower quality video so you get a smaller file size.

July 28 2010


Let us record what happens in our courts – comment call

Heather Brooke is calling for a campaign to allow recording in UK courts. I agree. In the comments below, let’s talk strategy.

Meanwhile, here’s some of the background from Brooke’s related blog post:


“The simple answer is to allow tape recorders for all: no party is disadvantaged and an ‘official’ recording is there for checking. This is how it works in other countries. But this is to ignore the root objection of the courts: that they are losing control of how court proceedings are presented to the public.”


“You might like to know whether the builder you’re going to give your keys to has any convictions for theft or if the company you’re about to do business with has a report for fraud. Tough. This information is not a click of a button away. Instead you’ll have to know the details of the case before you can call up any records – even though it’s the existence of cases that you’re trying to find in the first place. It’s Catch-22. If you do know the details of the case you’re then forced to undergo a tortuous and tedious process which involves battling a raft of petty officials across a number of court offices all for the simple purpose of accessing information that is supposedly public.”

And what:

“There are three main things that would make the courts useful to the general public:

  1. knowing by name who is using them (the court list);
  2. why (the particulars of claim);
  3. the result (the verdict, sentence or settlement).

“Yet trying to get any, let alone all, of these is fraught with difficulty.”

So: strategy. To kick things off, I’ll give you 3 starters:

Come up with some better ideas than that, and we’re somewhere.

Meanwhile, to spread awareness of this, why not tweet about this with the hashtag #opencourts?

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