Make Good Videos with Your Windows Phone – Part 5

Lumia 620 on GorillaPod

You can make fantastic videos with your Windows smartphone, even with an entry-level phone like my old Lumia 620. The only limiting factor is not your phone, but would be a lack of knowledge and experience.

In a previous post I mentioned books and online courses as a way of gaining knowledge. But they can’t give you experience—you only gain experience by doing, or as author Anthony Artis put it “Shut up and shoot”!

In this post I will discuss a possible roadmap to getting experience.

The Learning Curve
Have you noticed at the end of a movie, the long list of credits? They list the producer, director, script writer, camera, lighting, sound, make up, and on and on. It takes a lot of different skills to make a movie, and you have to know it all! Don’t underestimate the learning curve.

There is a lot to learn, but if tackled right, it will be both fun and rewarding.

As with most of us, your first videos will not be the best, and that is OK because we learn by doing. Just don’t choose your daughter’s wedding as your first project.

The conundrum is that without some knowledge you can’t begin to shoot video, and without some experience you cannot really appreciate the guidance of the book or course you may be following. You need to do both in parallel. Read extensively while constantly shooting and editing videos.

This way you will have the pleasure of seeing your videos improve with time. Aim to complete at least one video per week.

Learning Projects
If you are totally new to videography, you need to start small. For starters you have to become familiar with:

  • Your phone’s camera app
  • Your editing program
  • General videography concepts.

Start by creating several simple projects, even if they are a little artificial/goofy (see PDF on getting started). Edit these on your laptop or desktop at first as that will be easier. Do show your videos to friends and family to get feedback.

Once you have a few of these starter projects under your belt, people will know you are “into video” and will come to you with project requests. You will be surprised at how many project ideas you can come up with now you have more knowledge and experience.

Final Tip
If you haven’t already, download the Kindle app to your phone—it’s free. Here is a list of eBooks about smartphone videography. So while you are waiting for a bus, or sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, whip out your phone and read about videography!

Don’t worry that they deal mostly with iPhone—there is nothing your Windows phone can’t do as well or better:

  • Making Short Films on your Smartphone – Michael Kaltenbrunner
  • Make iPhone Movies Everybody Loves – Allan Bronstein
  • The 2014 Smartphone Video Toolkit – Howard Hale
  • iPhone Millionaire, how to create and sell cutting edge videos – Michael Rosenblum

Making Good Videos with a Windows Phone

Make Good Videos with Your Windows Phone – Part 4

iRig Handheld Mic

Just as undesirable as shaky video, that we discussed in the previous post, is bad audio. Our tolerance for bad audio is quite much lower than for bad video!

By contrast, preventing bad audio is technically more complicated than shaky video.

In this post, I will discuss what bad audio is and what you can do to prevent, or at least minimize it when shooting video with your windows phone.

Bad Audio
There are many aspects to bad audio. The sound may:

  • be distorted
  • contain too much noise, like refrigerator hum and wind or street noise
  • have too much echo
  • have poor frequency response

The main approach is to use a quality microphone and to place it as close to the sound source as possible.

Types of Audio
When you shoot video with your phone, it will include audio, whether good or bad. When you bring the clip into your editing program, the visual portion is placed on a video track and the sound portion on an audio track.
In addition, you can add a narration (also called voice-over) which is recorded separately, usually after the fact and in a quiet environment. You can also include background music and sound effects. These different types of audio are ideally placed on separate audio tracks so that you can adjust their relative volume. Nice background music can help to sweeten poor audio a bit.

Smartphone Limitations
The main difficulty with the built-in microphones is the fact that they are built in. You may want to be some distance from your scene to get a wide shot, but then the mics are also far away. They then tend to pick up ambient sounds as much as the sound you are interested in. Just try and record an interview on a sidewalk next to a busy street—it’s a disaster!

The next problem is that smartphones use automatic gain control (AGC), which is ideal for phone and Skype calls. Lumia phones use special microphones that have high dynamic range which is good. But AGC increases the amplification when the audio is soft, and turns it down when the sound goes loud. This is not the effect one wants when recording music, for example—it is better to have manual control over the recording levels.

When set correctly, the electronics won’t overload thus preventing distortion.

The Headset Jack
Most smartphones have a headset jack. A headset consists of two earpieces (either cups or buds) allowing for stereo sound, as well as a microphone for speech recording. The mic is positioned close to the person’s mouth.

The smartphone checks for the presence of a headset and disables the internal mics when a headset is plugged in. The resistance of a headset mic is about 2000 ohm and that is what the phone checks for.

The headset jack is used for connecting external microphones.

Recording with Internal Mics
If you have no other option, you can use the internal mics when shooting video.

Try and get as close to the source of the sound as possible (less than three feet)—even if you have to get a bit in a person’s face. At least the phone is small and not so off-putting. And you will get, if not good, useable sound. The same applies for recording narration.

Audio-Technica ATR 3350 iS

Recording with External Mics
You can connect many different types of mics using the headset jack including lavalier, shotgun and handheld mics (there are some caveats that we discuss later in this post).

When used appropriately, these will allow you to record good sound.
Make sure you use a TRRS mic (e.g. Rode SmartLav +) or a TRS mic with a suitable adapter cable (e.g. Audio-Technica ATR 3350 iS).

When you have to shoot an interview, you can use the headset’s mic. Simply put the earbuds in your hand and hold the mic part close to the interviewee’s face, where the headset mic would normally go.

The headset mic is also good for recording narration.

The Caveats
The first caveat is that the default video app does not recognize mics or headsets plugged into the headset jack. Fortunately, the excellent ProShot app does and it costs only few dollars.

Note, if you don’t have an external mic or the ProShot app, you can still make excellent videos, you just need to be more careful.

The next caveat is the lack of control over the audio—you are at the mercy of the AGC. You have no idea what the sound is like or if it is even being recorded at all. This is particularly relevant if you are videoing and event like a wedding. If you discover afterwards no sound was recorded or it was bad, well, the event can’t be done over…

An advantage of the ProShot app is that it also displays the audio levels while recording your video.

Zoom H1

Preferred Solution
Rather than relying on your smartphone, I suggest using a separate digital sound recorder like the Zoom H1. It uses professional audio electronics and allows you to monitor and control the audio being recorded.
You can place the recorder close to the sound source, leaving you free to move with your smartphone as needed for the video. The Zoom H1 has its own stereo mics making it good for handheld recording of interviews.

The downside is it takes an extra step to import and synchronize the audio with the video. The extra control and quality sound it gives you makes the extra work worthwhile.

It is also amazingly affordable.

Summary
Capturing good audio is vital to your video success. Unlike with video, your options of fixing audio problems while editing, is limited.

It is better to get it right from the start.


Making Good Videos with a Windows Phone

Make Good Videos with Your Windows Phone – Part 3

Alcatel Idol 4S with Windows 10

Often videos shot with a smartphone are shaky—smartphones are designed in the first place for phoning and not for shooting video.

Fortunately, for this very reason, many smartphone cameras have optical stabilization and that helps a lot to reduce shaky videos. No one likes to watch shaky videos.

In this post, I will look at ways of avoiding shaky videos.

Shooting Handheld
The advantage of a smartphone is that if you are confronted with an interesting event, you can whip out your phone and capture the event on video. How to avoid shaky video? The idea is not to move your smartphone while shooting video.

Make your settings, frame the shot, and then start the video. Hold your smartphone with both hands and elbows tucked against your body.

There will be still be some shakiness at the start and end of the clip. That is OK as this will be cut out during editing.

Now walk/move to the next position where you want to shoot, get settled and start process again.

Shooting handheld does not work that well for me. As a senior, my hands are shaky—doctors politely refer to it as tremors. So, I prefer to use a tripod whenever possible.

Using Tripods
Using a tripod is the best way of getting steady video. The downside is that it is something extra to carry and it takes time to set up.

Traditionally camcorders are attached to the tripods quick release plate with a ¼ inch screw fitting. But smartphones don’t come with a ¼ inch hole so one needs some kind of adaptor. There are many on the market and vary in quality.

Smartphone tripod adaptors

Typically, one end screws onto the tripod’s quick release plate, and then you have some kind of spring-loaded clamp to clip your smartphone into. They come in different sizes depending on the size of your phone.

There are two things to watch out for. In many cases the spring mechanism is not very secure, and it is possible for your expensive smartphone to fall out!

The other problem is that the adaptor can interfere with the smartphone’s buttons. For example, many Lumia phones have three buttons with little space between them.

Lumia phones with three buttons

I have found the Glif adaptor to be narrow enough to fit between the buttons of my phones. It does not have a spring so it is more secure.

The Glif with allan adjustment tool

Mini Tripods
In many cases a mini tripod will do the job nicely—and they are easy to carry along. Because they are small you need to place them on table, a rock, a stack of books to get the height you need.

The Gorillapod is very popular because it is very adjustable.

My favorite is the Manfrotto Pixi. It is very sturdy and works well if you have to shoot handheld too.

The Manfrotto Pixi

The Travel Tripod
Professional tripods are deliberately sturdy so that they can accommodate heavy camcorder with huge lenses. This would be overkill when used with a little smartphone—there is nothing wrong with using it if you already have one, of course.

However, don’t waste your money by buying a cheap tripod! You will certainly be disappointed.

My recommendation is to buy a travel tripod like the Manfrotto Befree with a video head. This tripod folds up really small for easy carrying, yet will allow to get steady video.

Manfrotto Befree with Video Head

Making Good Videos with a Windows Phone

Continuum Projects

In a previous post discussing computers for seniors, I had suggested three options: 1) a desktop computer, 2) a laptop, and 3) a smartphone.

Then I stated that if I had limited funds and could only afford one of the three choices I would choose the smartphone. I backed that up by creating a series of courses on how to use your smartphone for leisure and work.

Enter Continuum
I have since upgraded my phone to Lumia 950 and with that got the Continuum feature as part of Windows 10. Continuum allows you to connect your phone to a large display (either a TV or computer monitor) as shown in Microsoft’s promotional video below:

The video shows the husband connecting his phone to a monitor to work, and then still being able to use his phone as a phone. In the mean time the wife, on business, walks into her hotel room, connects her phone to the hotel’s TV to work on an Excel spreadsheet. Once back home they enjoy a video on the living room TV.

It is clearly easier than working on the smaller phone screen. But it is a promo video – is it really practical?

Practical Continuum
There are many articles and videos on the internet discussing the merits of Continuum but very little on how to actually use it in real life.

With that in mind I have developed a series of online courses, Practical Continuum, to show what you can achieve with a Windows phone and Continuum. These cover formatting a Word document complete with images and table, managing local and online files with File Explorer, and many more.

A Challenge
I am very excited about these courses—they really show how much one can do with a Windows phone!

There is a technical challenge that I have yet to overcome. It turns out to be difficult to video the monitor screen so that the resolution is high enough to read the text, and not have the screen flicker in the video. If anyone has suggestions, please let me know.

Make Good Videos with Your Windows Phone – Part 2

VideoShop LogoIn the previous post, I stressed that one shoots video footage with your smartphone, but you make good video with your editing program.

In this post, I will discuss the editing process in more detail as it relates to smartphones.

Editing Basics

At its most basic, you would use your editing program to cut out unwanted portions of your video clips, then string them together in the proper sequence, add a title clip at the start, and an end clip (credits) at the end.

Finally, the editing program has to combine all these pieces into a single video in the desired format – this process is referred to as “rendering”.

Advanced Editing

The video clips that you shoot with your smartphone contain both video and audio. This may be enough for a simple project. More often than not you would like to add background music and narration, and even sound effects.

On the video side, you may want to superimpose text over the main video, or some extra video to illustrate what a person is talking about (called b-roll footage).

Clearly advanced editing requires a program that can manage many video and audio tracks.

Computer Resources

Even basic video editing requires considerable computing power. With an underpowered processor, editing actions can take forever to complete! Entry-level phones are simply not up to the task.

Memory (RAM)

While editing, your smartphone has to have the operating system, the editing program and the video you are working, in the memory. This can be quite a challenge for your phone!

For example, my Lumia 830 has only 1GB of memory – it is only possible to do very basic editing on this phone (there is a work around that I will discuss later). By contrast, my Lumia 950 has 3 GB of RAM and a much more powerful processor so it can do basic edits comfortably.

Screen Size

Video editing is a visual activity. The small screen of a smartphone makes it difficult to make edits accurately. This is particularly true if your project requires many video and audio tracks during editing.

The Bottom Line

It is best to bring any video clips shot with your phone, into a desktop computer with a large monitor for editing. If you need to edit on-the-go, use a powerful laptop.

That said, I do encourage you to become familiar with editing on your phone. Then if the need arises, you will be able to do it. On a Windows phone, you can use VideoShop or Movie Maker.

For the desktop, you have many more options. I recommend the Adobe Elements Suite as it is very powerful, yet affordable and easy to learn.

Now the work-around if you need to edit a complex project with a less powerful phone: use an online editor like YouTube Director or WeVideo.com.

You can shoot good video footage with your smartphone, and there are video editing tools to turn your smartphone footage into good videos.


Making Good Videos with a Windows Phone

Make Good Videos with Your Windows Phone

Whether you have a Windows, Android or iOS phone, it does not matter—you can make good videos with them. Smartphones can be used for making videos for both business and pleasure. In fact, full-length feature films have been shot entirely on smartphones.

Olive (shot on a Nokia phone)

In this post, I am going to discuss briefly what it takes to make good videos with your smartphone and how you can start.

Your smartphone is smart enough to make it easy to shoot high definition video footage, point your phone and press record. But that alone does not a good video make. Hence the title of this post, one makes good video—shooting the video footage is only a part of it.

The key

Good lighting and good sound are important, for sure. But the key to good video is having a story. You have to put your video footage together during editing in such a way that it tells an effective story. And you need to know what the story is going to be so that you will know what video footage to shoot.

The bottom line is, yes, your smartphone can cut it but there is a learning curve! The good news is that learning how to make good video with your smartphone is fun and free. Aim to shoot and edit a video each week. In the beginning most will be awful—remember the only way of getting experience is by going out and doing it.

Resources

There are excellent smartphone videography courses online:
• www.lynda.com
www.thevj.com
www.tutsplus.com

A must-read book is How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck by Steve Stockman – available from Amazon.

Whether you need to make promotional videos for your business or shoot your child’s birthday party, knowing how to make good video with your smartphone is a powerful skill to have.


Making Good Videos with a Windows Phone

What I’d Like in an Ideal Windows Phone

The Lumia 950
The Lumia 950

In a recent article by Jason Ward, he posed a rhetorical question: “what does the perfect Windows Phone look like?”

The many comments the article received, reflect the varying requirements and preferences of the readers. Clearly there is not a single ideal phone that would suit everyone.

In the final analysis, they all look pretty much the same, right? As long as they do the job.

It is hard to cover the subject adequately in a short post comment. In this rather long post, I will express my thoughts on the matter.

My History

I have owned three Lumia phones: a 620, 830 and now a 950. The first two I bought because that was all I could get in Canada. I really liked the size of the 620 – it was with it that I learned what a smartphone could do. I was excited to learn that I could actually browse the web, and send emails and texts.

After a while I bought the Lumia 830 and was pleasantly surprised how much faster and more fluid it was – the 1GB of memory and newer processor made a difference. While I was happy with the 620, I was now much happier. With the better phone, I discovered I could do Netflix and read Kindle books; I was now a very happy camper. And I really liked the design of the phone, although the relatively sharp edges can become painful when holding the phone for long periods.

I did not need another phone, I was happy with the 830. But it did not have Continuum, which I did not really need anyway. Then Microsoft had a huge discount on the 950 and included the dock for free! So, I succumbed to the temptation and bought it. That was really a good move. Compared to the 830, this phone was even faster and smoother, a real joy to use! And Continuum turned out to be really useful – just ask my senior citizen eyes.

The Ideal Phone

So, what would the ideal windows phone look like? For me, the 950 is pretty close to it size and performance-wise. But I recognize that some people might prefer a smaller phone. Therefore, the phone has to come in several sizes. The 950 case design works for me as it is easy on the hands and allows for the battery to be replaced which is a huge advantage. I did like the looks of the 830 at first but the plastic 950 case is more practical and still looks professional.

While I think that the 950 is more than powerful enough for my needs now, experience tells me that more memory and a faster processor would be appreciated provided that the cost is still reasonable.

I believe that the camera is an important part of the ideal phone, both for business and pleasure use. A Zeiss lens and optical stabilization is essential. Being able to use an external microphone during video shoots is key (this is both a hardware and software issue). The front facing camera is used for more than just selfies so it should also be high quality.

Front-facing stereo speakers would be nice, though not essential, as long as the headphone drivers are good.

Software

Software is not really part of the phone but the operating system and core apps do determine the functionality of the phone.

Overall, I find Windows 10 mobile very nice. However, I would like to see the promised improvements in Continuum. In particular, it would be useful to have windowing and more features for the Office apps such as table of contents in Word for example.

In many ways, the native camera app is very good. I would like to see monitoring and manual adjustment of audio levels for video work added, as well as an option to select either internal or external microphones.

Part of the “ideal windows phone” would be for Microsoft to use its resources to 1) enhance marketing, 2) encourage third party app development, and 3) provide real technical support. This would be the subject of a separate post.

In Summary

While it would be presumptuous to tell Microsoft what to do. I believe they should still cater for the consumer on a budget though. I would like to see an affordable phone similar to the 830 but with more memory and a bit faster processor for around $200. This must be capable of running Continuum.

Next level up I would like to see a 2017 version of the 950 series (970?) with an 835 processor, and optionally capable of 4/6K ram and running Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update. This should still be “affordable” i.e. in the $400 – $600 range depending on options selected.

Like most people, I think incrementally and find it hard to imagine a new category of device like the rumored surface, phablet-sized, phone with foldable screen and what not. Maybe once I have one, I will again discover why it is useful as I had with each upgrade of my old phones. That said, I feel that a smaller but powerful 970 phone, with Continuum for when I need to work more productively, is the best of both worlds.

Rainy Days Are Here

It is autumn and the dreary rainy days are upon us. What can you do? Go for a walk, “just singing in the rain? That gets old quickly. Fortunately, your smartphone can come to the rescue!

In this post I will describe just three ways of how your smartphone can take the dreary out of rainy days.

Learn a Language

My first suggestion is to learn a new language. What, that is hard work you’d say! Not so. With the Duolingo service  – it is not only easy, it is fun and free.

So maybe your neighbours all speak Polish, or your company is starting a branch in Turkey. Or perhaps Greek or Hebrew tickle your fancy—whatever, Duolingo has a course for you.

So take your brolley and smartphone, and head off to Starbucks. Over a large latte you can forget about the rain while you immerse yourself in your new language.

When spring comes you’ll be chatting with your neighbours—in Polish.

Read a Book

My second suggestion is rather traditional—read a book, but with a difference. Amazon has millions of eBooks in their Kindle library. With a free Kindle reader app on your phone you can literally carry dozens of books with you, right on your phone.

Personally, I like to curl up on my couch with a murder mystery. But perhaps romance or a historical novel is more up your street—Amazon will have something for you, either free or for just a few dollars.

The beauty is that you can whip out your phone wherever and carry on reading where you left off. This can be at the doctor, while you wait at the bus stop, or at your favourite coffee shop. Rain, what rain?

Edit Your Photos

Summer is over, now is the time to edit those photos. Creating good graphics is a valuable skill to have, whether it is an illustration for a report or presentation, or just tweaking photos for your scrapbook. You will be surprised what you can create with the powerful PicsArt app!

Doing all those fancy photo edits is difficult, right? It can be, but PicsArt have you covered. On their website they have many step-by-step video tutorials arranged from Easy to Advanced. You will be amazed how quickly the rainy day hours go by while you learn how to do fancy edits with your phone.

So spend a little time each day with PicsArt and, when spring comes, you’ll be quite an expert phone graphic artist!

In Summary

These three, quite different smartphone suggestions, will help you chase the rainy day blues away. In fact the graphic at the top of the post was inspired by a recent spell of rainy days, and was create on my phone with PicsArt.

You don’t have to do just one of these, you can do all three – I do.

The Future is Continuum

I just had an unexpected “ah ha” moment. It was particularly unexpected as I was not looking for it. It started with a post on computers for seniors.
In this post I will describe how I came to believe that continuum is the future of smartphones.

What is Continuum?
Continuum can mean different things at different levels. At one level it means your Windows experience is the same no matter which size of device you are working on as the code is the same. On another level it means if you connect your phone to a large monitor, the display adapts accordingly (see Microsoft’s explanation here…)

I think this video of Jamie Ramsay illustrates it well:

My Experience
No, I have not actually used continuum. My old Lumia 830, even though it runs Windows 10, its hardware is not continuum-capable, however…
A while back in a post on computers for seniors I stated that if I could only afford one device it would be my Lumia smartphone! I was already using my Lumia extensively but then set about creating a series of online courses to formalize what I knew. The result is a spectrum of courses covering both everyday fun stuff as well as work-related stuff.

For the sake of completeness, I added a Bluetooth keyboard to make entering lots of text in Word easier. I was surprised how well it worked. Then for the Excel course I added a Bluetooth mouse and again I was pleasantly surprised.

At the end of the PowerPoint course, I felt I needed to show how one would actually do the presentation. For that I got a wireless display adapter for a large monitor.

It was then that it hit me—even though my Lumia 830 is a very basic smartphone by today’s standards, I was actually using it in “continuum” mode, and I liked it!

The Future
As manufacturers become more acquainted with continuum, I can imagine a range of accessories and services becoming available for continuum-ready phones. At the same time the corresponding continuum-ready programs will become more prevalent.

I have seen that I can be entirely productive with just my Lumia 830 on its own. Adding the Bluetooth accessories, when needed, enhanced what I could do.

New Smartphone Courses

After my comment in a recent post, that if I had to limit myself to just one device, I would choose my smartphone – I decided to create  courses for my smartphone.

notaphone
It does not look like a phone because it isn’t

The starting point was that a smartphone was not really a phone but indeed a portable personal computer, that can also take photos.

The difficulty

When I started planning for these courses, I soon discovered just how difficult it was to videotape a smartphone screen successfully!

If the focus is not spot on, then the text on the Lumia screen becomes blurry. Add to that reflections on the Lumia screen and that my head accidentally getting in the way of the camcorder.

The Solution

Fortunately, I found a better way. Microsoft has created a marvelous desktop program: Project My Screen. This program allows one to mirror what is on the Lumia screen on the desktop screen.

100_0726w

100_0717wAs the photo shows, the Lumia is plugged into the desktop USB port and its screen is mirrored on the desktop monitor.

Not only that, I can operate the Lumia normally using my finger and the desktop monitor follows. Also, I can use the desktop mouse on the monitor and the Lumia follows!

Now I can use my regular screen capture program (Camtasia) on the desktop to record the course videos—the result is clear text, no reflections and my head never getting into the video.

It is still a lot of work but it does open all kinds of possibilities as I believe smartphones will play an increasingly important role in every day business and play.

New Courses

So far I have developed two courses:

The first is an introductory course intended to give a sense of what is possible, while the second course covers a rather specific application for smartphones.

The thing that amazed me most was what could be achieved with the Lumia 830. A few years back it was an “affordable flagship” but by current standards it is more an entry-level phone.