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Talk Mobile Creativity

How smartphones killed the camcorder

While many of us owned standalone cameras, be they point-and-shoots or DSLRs (or even going back to ye olde days of film SLRs), far fewer ever owned a standalone video camera. The camcorder was always a far more bulky and balky beast, requiring massive batteries and recording onto magnetic film cassettes and then smaller cassettes and then removable hard drives and large flash disks before finally getting to the point where something like an SD card was a viable option.

Digitization and miniaturization solved the bulky problem, but no amount of SD cards or flip-out touch screens seemed to be able to fix the balky problem, or the price. When smartphones with integrated cameras started showing up in the hands of consumers around the globe, the traditional camcorder was put on just as much notice as the point-and-shoot photo camera.

But are smartphones good enough to replace the camcorder? And with everything that smartphones can do, is it feasible to edit video on one? Can you really use a smartphone to stream live video to the web? And how do we keep our videos safe in this ever-connected digital age?

Let's get the conversation started!

by Rene Ritchie, Daniel Rubino, Kevin Michaluk, and Phil Nickinson

  1. Rubino Daniel Rubino Why carry a camcorder when you have a smartphone?
  2. Nickinson Phil Nickinson Mobile video editing is good for the most basic
  3. Ritchie Rene Ritchie How bandwidth is holding back mobile live streaming
  4. Michaluk Kevin Michaluk Before you record that video…


Daniel Rubino
Daniel Rubino Windows Phone Central

Why carry a camcorder when you have a smartphone?

When it comes to the question of mobile replacing your video camera, the odds are certainly in favor of the smartphone. While an estimated 80% of US households own a digital camera of some sorts, it’s not clear how many own dedicated video cameras. It's a safe bet the ratio of dedicated camcorders to regular digital cameras is heavily in favor of the traditional camera. That said, most even basic digital cameras have rudimentary video recording capabilities.

Smartphones pose a significant threat to the traditional video camera market. Smartphones are practically ubiquitous and almost universally come with video recording capabilities. They make it easy to upload directly to YouTube or Vine or Instagram, and mobile is just more fun, accessible, and fast than a dedicated camcorder. The consumer camcorder is in the same basket as the point-and-shoot camera, which is being tossed over a cliff by modern smartphones.

The consumer camcorder is in the same basket as the point-and-shoot camera: tossed over a cliff by modern smartphones.

Want to upload that video you just shot on your dedicated video camera? Wait until you’re home, buddy. Or you could do it now with your smartphone and get instant satisfaction with virtual high fives from your friends and family.

Similarities to the DSLR arise here too. Professional or prosumer video cameras will always be better quality than a small smartphone, but that market will shrink as mobile devices become better and cheaper. Case in point, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Zoom’s real telephoto lens or Nokia’s Lumia 1020 with it's 41MP sensor for lossless digital video zoom. Samsung's soon-too-launch Galaxy Note 3 supports 4K video recording, something that few consumer-priced dedicated cameras can claim (adoption has even been slow at the professional and prosumer levels).

A few years ago, jamming such technology into a phone would have been unthinkable, but now it's a reality. When merged with expansive LTE networks and apps and services that make it easier than ever to upload and share the final result, there’s little surprise in seeing mobile phones take over the consumer video camera market.

Are they better than a dedicated video camera? Nope. But are they good enough? Yup.

What innovations will come in 2014? Better, larger sensors. Faster processors. More optical image stabilization for jitter-free recording, increased concentration on quality audio recording (high-amplitude audio capture), and more. While traditional video cameras will continue to have a market, that market will shrink in the coming years and it’s only because of the smartphone.

Smartphones have already taken over the video capture space.

- Michael Seibel / Founder and CEO of Socialcam at Autodesk

Phil
Phil Nickinson Android Central

Mobile video editing is good for the most basic

The question we have to ask ourselves these days isn’t “Can I do this on mobile?” but “Is it easier to do on mobile?” There’s no cut-and-dry answer when it comes to editing video. First you have to ask yourself how much editing you intend to do.

Anything more complicated than setting the start and end points — and perhaps chopping out a section — then I’m probably going to go the desktop route instead of mobile.

One reason for that is simply screen real estate. I need pixels. And I need large displays. (And, usually, I need more than one display.) I need the precision of a mouse and a keyboard. No matter how great the phone or tablet, it’s just not a replacement for a desktop editing suite. Ever. Not in power, not in features.

But in a pinch? Sure. It's not unlike photo editing - a smartphone and its apps will do just fine if you're on the go, but there's no replacement for some quality time with Photoshop on a computer.

I’ve seen traditional news organizations mandate that video be shot, edited and uploaded from an iPhone. Shooting I get. As we’ve already discussed, the best camera is the one you have with you. But editing is another story. If the news is urgent enough that it has to get up right this second, then I’d upload the raw and let someone else sort it out.

If I have an extra 5 or 10 minutes, I’d take the time to do proper editing on a laptop.

If I have an extra 5 or 10 minutes, I’d take the time to do proper editing on a laptop. A 13- or 15-inch laptop (or whatever floats your boat) beats a 4- or 5- or 6-inch display. Period. You get more processing power. Editing apps are more full-featured. That’s not to say you can’t get a good finished product off a mobile device. There are any number of examples out there. But for most folks, I’m willing to bet you can get something better (and edit it easier) with a real computer.

Is editing video feasible on mobile? Sure. The question I always ask myself is, “Should I be using my phone or tablet instead of a proper editing suite?”

Rene
Rene Ritchie iMore

How bandwidth is holding back mobile live streaming

Live streaming is the bleeding edge of video. It’s the single most fragile, failure-prone, magnificent thing we’ve ever done. Whether it’s one person on a laptop camera from a hotel, or multiple people on a 3-camera setup from a show floor, it’ll push the boundaries of whatever you have available to you.

The biggest challenge is bandwidth. It’s easy to record video locally, it’s another thing entirely to broadcast it live to the world. Mostly that’s because, as anyone who’s ever been to a hotel or tradeshow will tell you, bandwidth sucks. If you can’t even check email or Twitter, how the heck can you send your smiling face around the world?

It’s easy to record video locally, it’s another thing entirely to broadcast it live to the world.

Ethernet is the golden ring. Typically, if you can get on ethernet, you have a shot. The problem is that ethernet isn’t widely available at most places. Many hotels have gone Wi-Fi only, especially in public areas, and a tradeshows, ethernet is expensive, requiring a setup from whomever is running the show.

We managed to get a direct line at BlackBerry Live, and thanks to BlackBerry and John P. and the Geekbeat.TV team, we managed to broadcast hours and hours of CrackBerry Live TV - and an iMore show! That’s almost ideal circumstances. We’ve been at other shows where we couldn’t even get Wi-Fi enough to upload a video to YouTube, never mind stream live.

Others have tried 3G/LTE, but that can be even less reliable than Wi-Fi, and tremendously expensive. You can potentially overcome the reliability issue by hooking together one of every connection from every carrier - people have done it! - but then the expense soars.

That’s why I said bleeding edge of video. It’s absolutely the future, it’s just not quite here yet.

It's not the size of the pipe that's a problem anymore, it's how much you're allowed to put through it.

- Derek Kessler / Managing Editor, Mobile Nations

Kevin Michaluk
Kevin Michaluk CrackBerry

Before you record that video…

While this is all about mobile video, a few days ago we tackled mobile photography; Rene looked at backing up photographs and Phil how to ensure your *ahem* personal photos don't end up in the wrong hands. Much of what was said there applies here, and it's almost entirely a matter of common sense.

While photos can be damaging, video that can be damning. It's too easy to convincingly manipulate a photo, but video is harder to fake (though amateurs are getting exceedingly good - remember the eagle snatching the baby up in the park?). If a damning video ends up online it's probably the real McCoy and bite you in the ass.

If you don't want a video to end up where it doesn't belong, don't record it in the first place.

Common sense rules apply here. If you don't want a video to end up where it doesn't belong, don't record it in the first place. If you do record it, don't share it. If you do share it, once that video has left your phone, accept that it's beyond your control and there's nothing you can do to stop it from spreading. Just use common sense.

When it comes to photos, backup has been made stupid easy. Video, thankfully, has been made easy too. It's not as easy as photos, but it's damn close. If you're on iOS and loving how Photostream shuttles your photos through the cloud and to your computer, you won't get that for video.

Thankfully there are other options, such as Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Google Drive, all of which support backing up videos to their services. How automatic that's going to be varies by the service and, more importantly, by the operating system on which it's been installed, but by-and-large you'll be able to back up your captured-on-the-go videos to the cloud and then have them automatically downloaded to your computer for hardcore editing and permanent storage.

Just as with the photos - and anything on your computer, a local copy and a cloud backup aren't enough. You should have a local backup system in place too, even something as simple as an external USB hard drive. There's just one thing: videos can get really big, really fast (especially on that new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with its ridiculous 4K video recording), so if you're planning on uploading your videos to a cloud server, keeping them on your computer, or even keeping them on your phone, you're going to want to consider having a lot storage space available.

Conclusion

We're approaching the point where a smartphone can easily replace a point-and-shoot camera, and if you know what you're doing, can serve in the place of even a DSLR in a pinch. But replacing video cameras is a different matter - there's more specialized hardware at play, especially in the professional space. But, again, if you know what you're doing (and have a good tripod and/or track on which to mount), there are modern smartphones that can stand in. Nokia, for one, has been rather fond of publicly putting their cameras to test in places like dark high-contrast venues like crowded concert spaces, somewhere you'd normally find a cameraman with a massive video camera mounted on a beefy tripod.

But for the use of average people, the smartphone video camera has proven to be more than adequate. The whole new user experience created with the advent of touchscreen smartphones has changed how we record video, and social media sharing of videos on YouTube, Facebook, and Vine has changed why we record videos in the first place.

The change in the video recording space hasn't been as dramatic as it has been for photography. Most of us didn't have a dedicated video recorder before smartphones, or if we did it probably wasn't something we regularly used. Having a video recorder with us practically all the time has changed how we record video. No longer is it something we plan - it's something we can do at a moment's notice.

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