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Video: News From The Gulf- Planned, Shot, Edited and Filed from the iPhone 4

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Planned, shot, edited and filed all from the iPhone 4- my report from the gulf coast early in the week most experts predict the oil from the BP spill will begin to come ashore.

I’m currently on a road trip on my way to become an intern at The New York Times somewhere between the tech reporting and social media desks. Predictably, I picked up a new iPhone 4 on release day, with the hopes that the new camera and editing tools would make it a formidable news gathering device.

We traveled from New Orleans to Mobile Bay to speak with people affected by the coming oil. What they said surprised me.

How they are adjusting surprised me even more.

How it went:

Shooting the video went as one might expect. I had my friend Trenton act as camera man for the pieces where I’m in front of the camera. He and I both noticed how much more visible camera shake is with the HD camera, than with the iPhone 3GS.

We shot the stand-up as one piece, with the intent of cutting t later and inserting the b-roll. This was a mistake for editing reasons that I’ll get into later. Suffice to say, my advice would be to shoot lots of shorter clips, rather than keep the camera rolling and cut later.

The other major issue was obviously noise. I was nearly yelling at that distance, and the wind was nearly overpowering my audio. In the future, I’ll likley use a lav or shotgun mic when shooting like this, but I was hoping to see how the iPhone did on its own. We eventually put a handkerchief over the mic to cut down on wind pops.

I then shot a bunch of b-roll, which I combined with drive-by b-roll I;d shot earlier in the day. This, and some still images (the oil booms and heron) capped the rest of the video.

The pictures were beautiful, at least from a technological standpoint, though I’d seriously recommend trying to move closer to your subject, rather than using the digital zoom. The heron didn’t seem to mind.

My Thoughts

Let me start by saying that this is not meant to be a technical review of the device. If you want that, I’d strongly reccomend the one over at Ars Technica. Jacqui did it right.

I’m focusing on the work-flow a mobile reporter might have, and where I thought things broke down.

The good: the screen is bright and viewable, even in sunlight. The device is easy to hold, and the lens is wide enough to take in a whole scene, or push in tight for a head-shot.

The bad: Shakiness, metal bands make for slippery holding and the light is pretty useless for fill light at any daytime distance. That last one is not a serious gripe, but it was something I wondered.

The good: iMovie was fast. Way faster than I imagined— the kind of fast that a program is when it is both well writtne and running on the right hardware. The interface was clean, and I was able to use it in a matter of minutes, even though I’m not a regular iMovie user (I DO use Final Cut extensively.) All the edits were non destructive and the program never crashed once, not even after dropping in 10 minutes of clips and trying to add overlays to many of them. Each time I returned to the app, everything was right where I left it.

The bad: its all linear. If my piece looks weird, its because there is no option to add a second video track, for cutaways and b-roll. For the map cutaway, I had to manually ad the main clip on either side of the map, then shoot the map and put it between. Finally, I had to cut the clips so that all thee matched. One more video track would make the whole process 100% easier. There is also no way to do a voice over. You cant even add a voice memo as part of the added audio track. You might be able to is you recorded the audio, synced the iPhone to iTunes and then linked your voice memos to your iTunes library. That would have defeated the purpose of my little experiment though. Finally, the whole process of editing this admittedly complex three minute piece was about an hour and a half sitting in the car. Also, single biggest issue… when trying to get to pictures to drop in, the gallery begins at the first image, not the last. Scrolling through images is the slowest part of the editing. Galleries viewed in iMovie should pick up at the last picture taken.

The bad: Uploading had to wait until I had wifi, as it took so long over 3G, and I would lose connection before the whole thing uploaded and it would reset. Admittedly, I was driving through rural Georgia while that was going on.

This was overall an amazing experience.. which that took me over 3 hours to complete. I’m looking forward to a few minor improvements that I hope to add to more practice to turn the iPhone 4 into a reasonable reporting tool.

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