Last time on the Follow Up we chatted about the technicals behind the production of the Cool Tools: Cell Phone video. This time around lets cover some of the challenges.
The nature of the phone makes it sort of a "point-and-shoot-and-hope" device. Yes, they do capture in 1080 or 720p, but both the Android and iOS devices used offer limited control in terms of color and exposure. Both devices were set to a "Fluorescent" white balance setting, but the resulting color balances varied wildly.
In a similar vein, the contrast of the images was a bit heavy handed. Typically in capture, we prefer to obtain a flat, or low contrast image and then add the appropriate level of aesthetic contrast in post. Though it does't look as good in camera, it gives the most range to work with after the fact, which is better to have rather than being stuck with irreversible contrast. Both phones left me with the latter, limiting how much adjustment (however simple) could be done in post-production.
Speaking of post... this was one of the most frustrating challenges. Unfortunately I had shot without doing a bit of research. As a result, when I went to drag the files into my editor, the image and sound would fall in and out of sync. A bit of googling noted that both the iOS and Android native apps capture in a variable frame rate (basically how many times the image appears in a single second), which changes in addition to the "gain" (light sensitivity of the sensor) and lens to adjust for how bright or dark the scene is. As a result, only a few editors and players are capable of interpreting the footage correctly (namely iMovie in my case, as well as conversion through Handbrake). As a result, I had to transcode (translate the frame rate and format) as an extra step.
A few other things, though not present in this instance might prove to be problems with phone or even small camera based production. Audio for one, a major part of the story, could have been problematic. Luckily, I was working in a relatively quiet space (save for the occasional blast of a blender from a milkshake machine next door), and my phone was able to isolate my voice with its built in microphone. However, in a crowded room or outdoors, I would see the need for an external mic closer to the source, which though workarounds exist, are not as convenient as plugging a mic into a camera.