How a CNN cameraman broke the most basic rule of smartphone video
Last week CNN cameraman, Harvey Hogan, shot a video designed to compare an iPhone 6 camera with his normal broadcast news camera. Well, I say “designed to compare”, but let’s face it, if you were a cameraman would you be too keen to make the iPhone look good? I train journalists and media professionals to get the best results from shooting on their smartphones and this video was a missed opportunity to do a real comparison. I do not think this CNN cameraman really wanted to show the iPhone’s camera at its best. In fact, Harvey chose pretty much the worst case scenario for a small sensor smartphone camera to do his “test”….in the dark at Piccadilly Circus in London.
Though not content with this advantage, Harvey broke the most basic rule of using a smartphone camera…..he appears to shoot in automatic mode! He takes full manual control of his camera which cost thousands of pounds, but apparently leaves the smartphone in automatic (unless he used manual really badly?). This pretty much makes the whole “comparison” a waste of time.
It’s like comparing two cars (maybe Mini and Maserati) , one controlled by a top driver, while in the other car you just lift the handbrake and push it down the hill without a driver. Not really a like-for-like comparison is it?
If you are shooting with a smartphone you ideally want to take control and lock these three functions:
1. FOCUS – Your picture may look slightly “soft” or completely out of focus if you do not tell the camera what to focus on. You can press the screen to lock the focus box on the native app. If you don’t, the camera may focus on the background instead of your subject.
2. EXPOSURE – In automatic mode your camera will guess how bright to make the shot. Any dark spots or bright lights will completely confuse it (such things are common in places like…umm…Piccadilly Circus). On IOS 8 you now have an additional exposure control in the native camera app.
3. WHITE BALANCE – If you have seen a flame change between orange and blue in colour, you will understand that light can be different temperatures, or colours. That is why some home videos look orange or blue. If you white balance, you tell your camera what white looks like in this light, and it will then figure out how all the colours should look. This is easily done in apps like ProCamera 8 or Filmic Pro which will soon update following IOS 8.
So in this “comparison” the iPhone seems to have been purposely put in its most difficult situation and left in auto while the big camera has its focus, exposure and white balance set deliberately. I am not saying a camera of many thousands of Pounds has no differences when compared to a smartphone, but this video seems designed to make the iPhone look bad.
With vaguely decent light and someone who is trained to use camera apps, the video footage you can get out of an iPhone or other smartphones is much better than Harvey would like you to believe. Also, you do not shoot in exactly the same way with a smartphone as you do with an big camera.
For instance, RTE in Ireland have been innovative in this space. Check out this video by Philip Bromwell. I wonder how many viewers realised it was shot entirely on an iPhone 5S? See if you can spot the shot the big camera cannot get.
Harvey could also have compared his news camera with one of the 4K Android smartphones(that’s about 4 times the quality of HD so not sure if it is what Harvey calls a Mini or a Maserati)….but perhaps his Final Cut Pro 7 edit software would have struggled with the 4k footage.
Every camera has its strengths and weaknesses. Smartphones are no different, but if you use them properly you can get excellent results…..just don’t shoot in automatic in the dark.
Mobile Journalism Trainer
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