The Solution to Vertical Video

The introduction of video on the iPhone 3GS introduced an issue into society: vertical video. If you’re reading this online, then you’ve likely seen a vertical video. The iPhone 3GS only recorded SD (640×480) video. Now, iPhones record HD (1080p). Thus, people are sharing around huge vertical videos via social media, SMS, etc. If you’re unfamiliar with this, then watch the following video.

This has been prevalent since 2009, but has increased exponentially in the past 3-4 years. It seems educating people on the matter is a lost cause; (non-technical) people are complacent. (Snapchat also isn’t helping the situation.)

I have a solution which doesn’t require people to learn anything new. (Plus, it will make Instagram users squeal.) Device manufacturers just need to place a square imaging sensor inside phones, tablets, and any devices which people tend to primarily hold in a vertical orientation. Most imaging sensors in cameras (DSLRs, camcorders, REDs, etc.) are in a 4:3 or 16:9 (wider than they are tall) aspect ratio. Cameras were built to be held in a certain way. Phones were also built to be handled in a certain way. If manufacturers just place a square sensor in devices held in a portrait fashion, then the software can determine whether to record with a widescreen crop on the sensor, or not. Vine and Instagram have exploded the square (1:1) content market. I don’t like the limitation of a square (especially in video), but it’s far better than vertical videos.

iPhone 5 iOS 8 UI - Video Camera modeWith a square sensor, you would load the built-in camera app and it would function the same way it does now. However, when you switch to video mode and hold the device vertically, it will display a dark, translucent overlay on the live view from the sensor. That overlay will appear on more of the screen than the clear portion representing the content which will be captured (see image left). This may entice people to rotate the device horizontally — so they can see a larger image of what is being recorded. Even if they continue to hold it vertically, the video recorded will be horizontal. Huzzah!

So, Apple, Google, Motorola, LG, and all you folks. Get Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, and all those image sensor manufacturers to make you square sensors. Then spend a day tweaking the software to support it. Then give yourselves a big hug as you witness vertical videos being less and less viewed online.

From an art perspective, I have no issue with vertical video. I haven’t not seen it used in a creative, artistic way though. Enlighten me, if you have.

Oh, and Instagram users. You’ll be sharing photos created by capturing light to every single pixel on that sensor. Congratulations.

Graphic created by me using iOS 8 Illustrator Vector UI Kit, screenshots from my phone, and a frame from a vertical video Kali sent me. 

Photography tips for SXSW

I guarantee every single person attending South by Southwest 2012 will bring at least one camera with them. (If they don’t, then they’re consciously going technology-free at the event — I’m not sure why anyone would do that though.) Hence, these tips aren’t just for people that consider themselves photographers; everyone will benefit from these.

Batteries

As with all devices you take to SxSW, you’ll want to bring extra batteries and/or portable battery chargers. If you’re smartphone is your main camera, then I recommend any of these Duracell USB chargers (they can charge any USB device).

Date/Time

US Daylight Savings Time begins on Sunday, March 11th at 2:00 a.m. Austin, Texas, is in the CST (GMT -6) timezone. After Sunday, it will be CDT (GMT -5). – You want to make sure you have an accurate date/time on your camera(s). Many SxSW attendees will be traveling across multiple states and one, two, or more timezones. Most smartphones will automatically adjust their date/time as soon as you have a connection in the new timezone. Many of the latest standalone cameras will have some kind of timezone support. This will not automatically adjust unless the camera has GPS. I recommend changing the time (and date, if necessary) as soon as possible. If that’s now, then go for it. Personally, I change mine when the airline flight attendant says “prepare for landing”.

Memory

These days it’s rare that even the most snap-happy people will fill up their camera’s memory card in a single day. That is, unless you’re shooting RAW and/or HD video. Even if you only take 10 photos in one day, I recommend offloading those photos to your computer or external hard drive (if you brought either of those). Additionally, if you don’t have any backup devices (computer, hard drive) with you, then upload those photos to Flickr, Picasa, Smugmug, Picplz, Twitpic, and/or all of the above as soon as possible (at the latest, every evening in your hotel room).

Follow these tips above for a jolly relaxing and fun time at SxSW. If you enjoy photography, then join me and many others for Trey Ratcliff’s Schemer PhotoWalk at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 10th, 2012.

I’ll tweet and add more tips to this post if I discover more during the event.

Geotagging Cameras

While cleaning out my ginormous pile of tabs in Firefox today I stumbled on this Gizmodo article about the new Leica V-LUX 20. It has a GPS chip inside and geotags where photos are taken.

My dream!

Derek's Flickr Map (Sydney)

I’ve been manually geotagging my photos on Flickr for quite a long time. (Not to mention titling, describing, and tagging my local images; it’s quite a process.) It’s something that the iPhone does to photos taken (if you have the setting turned on). Many other phone cameras and DSLR cameras also geotag photos and video.

Unless you’ve been living in a bunker (I.e., with no GPS signal), you’ll know that geolocation services have exploded over the past couple of years. Kaboom!

Services like Gowalla, Whrrl, and Foursquare have made it easier to connect with friends in real life. Or, ahem, stalk them. 😉 And all of the aforementioned services have partnerships with various businesses (such as Ben & Jerry’s, NJ Nets, and Murphy USA) to offer discounts/coupons on products to entice people to “check-in” to their business.

Back to cameras.

I bought my Panasonic Lumix TZ5 in September 2008. It’s a very good point-and-shoot camera. The wide-angle 10x zoom lens covers so much range that I don’t need any other camera. It is a bit on the bulky side, but that’s the price I pay for performance. Oh, and it records HD 720p video — which is very important to me.

Leica V-LUX 20The Leica V-LUX 20 is almost physically identical to my Panasonic camera, but it packs a higher zoom range, GPS, and hasn’t fallen into the trend of encoding the video in AVCHD; win!

Sony has had GPS in their flagship point-and-shoot cameras and camcorders for a while now. They have similar specs to the Leica and it’s hard to choose between these two brands as they both make very sharp glass.

When these cameras are used with applications like iPhoto (geotagged photos are automatically placed on a map) and Flickr, then combined with services like Gowalla and Whrrl, well, you’ll have a truly streamlined REAL life.

Oh, and the fact that the iPhone 4 geotags videos is huge. I guarantee your mind is going to be blown up (Exploded. Everywhere.) when you see the integration of video into real life locations. You’ll probably want to keep an eye on sites like Viddler.

Footnote: Stalking is bad. Don’t do it. So is lying. I guarantee it’s going to be near impossible to lie (about anything) in a few years due to technologies like GPS. You better get your honesty cap on!

Why Don’t Consumer Cameras Use Ring Flash?

With all the commotion around the next-generation iPhone (4th Gen — if you’re keeping track) today, I started to think about the flash mechanisms used in mobile phones and small point-and-shoot cameras.

As you may have seen, the next-gen iPhone has a small flash next to the camera’s lens (photo below).

This is the way most camera phones position their small LED flash. Point-and-shoot cameras also position their flash off to the side. I suppose this is an age-old method which works.

In the professional world of photography there’s a type of flash called a ring flash. It it literally a ring of light which is positioned around the lens for a very even lighting effect. Read: Very few harsh shadows — offset flashes (like those in mobile phones and point-and-shoot cameras) produce harsh shadows. Ring flashes are generally quite expensive, but that’s because they’re large and very versatile.

I think that devices with small lenses and built-in flashes should implement ring flashes because it would produce much brighter and even lighting compared to current offset technologies used. Also, there would be less chance for users of these devices to accidentally cover the flash when taking a photo because covering the flash would mean covering the lens; you’d be able to clearly see that you’re covering the lens on the camera’s display.

I believe a ring flash would even on be a great idea on prosumer point-and-shoot cameras like Panasonic’s Lumix range or Canon’s G9/G10/G11 cameras. Imagine the flash being on the end of the zoom lens. Yeah, epic!

Removing the flash from an offset location on the aforementioned devices would mean more room for features like stereo microphones, reverse displays, and larger lenses or more compact cameras/devices.

Lastly, if you’ve ever seen photographs created using a ring flash, then you’ll know that reflections of the ring flash look mighty radical. 😉

Should basic consumer cameras implement ring flashes into their design? Would the basic (non-geek) consumer even are about this feature before seeing the difference in photos?

Share your thoughts below.

Should I get a Panasonic HDC-HS300?

My family has had a Sony TRV-18E Mini DV Handycam for many years now. We’re sick of tapes!

It’s time to upgrade, but the choices are quite vast these days! Obviously, HD 1080p is common across the majority of most cameras. The further I look in to them I discover that there’s CMOS, 3MOS, and the sensor size that make quite the difference.

My Dad and I (the video gurus) had a look at the latest cameras about a month ago and found that the Panasonic HDC-HS300
(review & specs) is probably the best choice for us.

Although, we discovered that Sony has recently released some camcorders with GPS in them; videos get geotagged. I love geotagging on my photos because Flickr understands the geotags. I don’t know any video sharing websites that understands geotagging on videos (the iPhone 3GS also geotags videos). More over, is geotagging very important right now? Will it be big in a year? I’m guessing: yes.

We’d like to spend less than AUD$2,000. I’ll probably be using the camera a lot for my videos and shows like Sweet Adventures. That said, it will also be used for my parents’ business; NSA Management.

Oh, and PAL/NTSC is dead now, right? We don’t have to worry about that, do we?

Your thoughts?

Flip Mino HD or Something Else?

Nov 21, 2008: UPDATE at the bottom with reviews of the Flip Video MinoHD from people who have used them. In short, the reviews are just as I expected; pretty horrible.

August 16, 2009: The Flip Ultra HD was announced a few months ago and it still doesn’t have an autofocus lens. Even the iPhone 3GS has autofocus/tap-to-focus. The Flip is DEAD!

April 12, 2011: As predicted: The Flip is DEAD!

I don’t own a Flip Video camera, but I know many people that do. The videos created with it (example) look fantastic! Especially on Viddler. I’ve held a couple and it’s quite different to a traditional camera; you hold it in a vertical fashion rather than horizontal. It’s great if you need to capture a quick video an upload it to the web. But that’s where its use ends.

You can’t take photos. There’s a very limited menu system. There’s no expandable memory slot. It doesn’t have an optical zoom. The lens isn’t wide angle, thus when creating self videos (by holding the camera in reverse at a distance) you’ll have to stretch your arm farther to get a medium closeup. As of November, 2008, it costs about US$230 [check current price].

I’m a video guru and professional. I’ve been creating videos since I was born. So I’d like to share my thoughts on why you probably shouldn’t get the new Flip Mino HD. Over the past couple of years I spent many hours trying to decide on what kind of high-definition video camera to buy. Every couple of months a new model would be released with features such as a new sensor, more memory, and a smaller body. I could never find a model that met all my needs.

When I came to America in June, I continued to look for a model that would suit me. I still couldn’t find something that was perfect for me though. Then, in August, Jan tweeted about her new Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 [Review / Buy on Amazon]. I researched this point-and-shoot camera and concluded that it was the right camera for me right now. Not perfect, but for the size and price it’s great! I bought one. Here’s the first video recorded with it:

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 records in HD 720p 30fps (same as the Flip Mino HD, but the Panasonic has a larger sensor and better lens), takes photos at 9MP, and records to SD/SDHC cards.

Note – The TZ5 also records in the following formats:

4:3 aspect ratio:
640 x 480, 320 x 240
30 fps, 10fps
16:9 aspect ratio:
848 x 480 – 30 fps, 10 fps
HD: 1280 x 720 (aka 720p) – 30fps, 15fps

I am always amazed at the quality of video that is recorded with my TZ5! It saves the files as .MOV. I compress them down using these settings and upload them to Viddler where they look stunning! I guess I’m a little biased because I own the TZ5. Though, from what I’ve researched, it’s honestly the best value. Did you know it’s currently the same price as the Flip Mino HD or less?! Check Amazon’s price. Let’s talk about some other similar options that are out there. The Flip Video’s direct competitor is the Kodak Zi6 [Review / Buy on Amazon]. Here’s some quick specs on it:

Storage 128 MB internal memory*, SD/SDHC card expansion slot
Focus modes normal, close-up
Video capture H.264 (MOV), AAC LC
Video quality HD60: 720p at 60 fps—16:9 HD: 720p at 30 fps—16:9 (default) VGA
Still format JPEG
Picture quality 3MP (stills, interpolated – the act of taking a smaller image and resampling it as a larger image; it is not actually taking 3MP images.)
Microphone mono
Speaker yes
I/O interface USB 2.0 (high-speed); component output; AV output
Tripod mount 1/4 in. standard
Power (2) AA batteries (Ni-MH recommended)

* 128 MB internal memory/approximately 30 MB available for image storage. BAM! Pretty neat, but not quite as jam-packed as the TZ5.

A quick note on batteries — In my experience, I find that most consumers prefer digital cameras that take AA batteries because if you run out of power, you can just go to the nearest shop and buy some. I prefer to have at least 2 Li-ion batteries made by the manufacturer of the camera. This way I have one in the camera and one in my bag (charged). They’re also rechargeable which means you won’t be spending a lot of money on batteries. Rechargeable batteries eventually loose their highest charge, but by the time they do you’ll have a new camera. The fact that the Kodak Zi6 uses AA batteries is one factor why I wouldn’t consider getting one.

My friend Brandice has a Kodak Zi6 and likes it because it’s like the Flip Video cameras, but has an SD card slot. She also said it has an issue with image stabalisation as the Flip does. This image stabalisation could be fixed in the Flip Mino HD’s new software (Pure Digital Video Engine 3.0), but I haven’t used one. (Please let me know in the comments if you use one and find it good.)

Check some test videos Brandice recorded with her Kodak Zi6:
Macro/Closeup

Driving/Movement
Ambient music

Next!

Most of Kodak’s current range of point-and-shoot cameras offer HD 720p video. I’ll list another and then tell you a little bit about video in DSLRs. The Kodak EasyShare Z1285. Afif just bought one and he has some an example video from it on his Viddler. It has captures 12MP photos, records HD 720p video (Kodak displays the words “True HD” on images of the camera, but that doesn’t mean it’s Full HD: 1080p), has 5x optical zoom, and can bake you a try of moist cookies in less than 4 minutes. [Auuhhhhh! Just making sure you’re still with me. ;)] It does all the other standard things you would expect from a point-and-shoot. It has a nice SCHNEIDER-KREUZNACH VARIOGON lens too!

Who cares about the lens? I want MEGApixels! — In short, it’s a mix of the lens and the sensor. You can have a millions of pixels (a megapixel), but there’s no point if it doesn’t have nice, crisp glass for the light to flow through. You know photography is painting with light, right? Generally, larger the surface area of the lens, the better quality image you’re going to obtain; especially in low-light. For the average camera enthusiest, 8MP is high enough to print large posters of your photographs!

Onward!

On August 27, 2008, Nikon released their D90 [Review / Buy on Amazon] model: the first Digital Single-Lens Reflex camera that records video. When I heard this announcement I was appalled; you can’t force the mirror on a DSLR to stay open and record video. I guess I’m traditional; I started SLR photography in a darkroom, with chemicals.

Then… I saw the video that Justine recorded with her Nikon D90 and I was amazed because of the ability the photographer has to zoom in and out so quickly (far quicker than I’ve seen any camera under $10,000 zoom). I’m still indifferent about video in a DSLR, but the DOF and zooming would definitely be a plus!

Canon retaliated less than a month later with the 5D Mark II [Review / Buy on Amazon]. It captures video at Full HD (1080p), takes 21MP photos, HDMI video output, and a microphone socket (for external mics). Those DSLRs are in excess of $1,500 right now, so that’s not an affordable option (for most) if you just want HD 720p video.

The following is what I would recommend you have a look at for affordable HD 720p video:
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 [Review / Buy on Amazon]
– Any point-and-shoot Kodak camera with HD 720p
Kodak Zi6 [Review / Buy on Amazon]
Sanyo Xacti E2 [Buy on Amazon] (Not HD, but waterproof and great 4:3 video!)
– Any of the cameras above plus the Flip Mino HD so you can use the good camera to record yourself melting down the Flip Mino HD into a gooey substance.

Articles I’ve read about the Flip Mino HD:
It’s Official: Pure Digital Launches the Flip Mino HD by NewTeeVee
A Camcorder Insurgent Goes HD by The New York Times [via Daynah]

Here’s an interesting site about the differences between CCD and CMOS image sensors.

Flip Video MinoHD reviews:
Obsessable Flip Mino HD Review
Andy Inhatko’s Flip Mino HD vs Kodak Zi6 Review
Flip Mino HD vx Kodak Zi6 vs Flip Ultra Video Cameras