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iMovie on the iPhone 4: A Glimpse into the Future of Video Production?
Posted Jul 12, 2010 Print Version     Page 1of 1

iPhone4I just opened iMovie ($4.99) on an iPhone 4 for the very first time, and put together a little short piece. I was interested to see what it was like to use video shot on an iPhone, but also edited on the iPhone. There are other video editing apps out for the iPhone, and they're all very limited, some are difficult to use. What I found was the new iMovie on the iPhone was fun, easy, and great for short subjects. Let me preface the follow review with a statement from the iMovie page in the App Store, something I find a lot of folks don't pay attention to: "Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 4. Requires iOS 4.0 or later." Always read the requirements for any iTouch, iPhone, or iPad app before you download it. With so many versions of devices now, it's going to become more and more important to pay attention to. If you try to purchase iMovie via the iPhone "App Store" app, it won't let you unless you're directly on the required device/OS. iTunes on your Mac or PC has no idea what device you're downloading for, thus you can purchase any app you wish, compatible or not. Once I purchased and loaded iMovie onto my iPhone 4 (Figure 1, right), I opened it up and found things to be very simple. I can see room for enhancements and additional functions, but I'm sure as will all other Apple software that iMovie for iOS4 will evolved over time. At this version 1.0 stage, it's really nice, simple, and fun.

Creating a Project
The first thing you see is the Project library screen (Figure 2, below). Buy pressing the plus symbol button at the top right, you create a new Project.

iMovie project library screen

That takes you into a editing screen (Figure 3, below). Here you can go back to your Project library screen, play what you've edited, add media (movies, photos, music), or actually edit your material. At the beginning of the Timeline is a gear icon that lets me select which Theme you want to use for my Project. There are 5 themes to choose from, each with its own music track, transition, and title styles. The music track will simply repeat over and over to fill in your whole Timeline. Transitions can be set to none, a simple crossfade, or the theme's own transition, set for .5, 1, 1.5, and 2-second durations. Title styles for each theme give you options for None, Opening, Middle, and Ending, each slightly different and made to be appropriate for that placement in the Timeline.

iMovie editing screen

Importing Media and Choosing Properties
To import material you can tap the camera icon (lower right in Figure 3, above) to bring up the built-in camera to take a photo or film a video clip, using either the front or rear camera, to use in your Project. These are only stored inside this specific project, and are not stored in the traditional Camera Roll app on the iPhone. You can also tap the Import button and import a video clip or photo already existing in your Camera Roll, or select music from either iMovie's list of Theme music titles, or anything in your iPad app's music library (as long as it is not DRM-protected).

Once my media is imported you can tap and drag video clips and photos into different orders, or drag them off of the Timeline to delete them. You can also double-tap a clip to open its Properties window (Figure 4, below).

iMovie properties window

Here you can set a Title Style and a Location, turn on/off its Audio, or delete it altogether. I've already discussed Title Styles. Location (country, state, city) lets you use the item's own location set by the iPhone's GPS if acquired with the iPhone, or if imported, set inside iPhoto or Aperture before it was loaded into the iPhone's library. You are also able to manually set the location. The location data is used in some of the theme Title Styles to show a location on a background map. Audio is interesting too; if you turn it off, I hear only the music you set for your Timeline. If you turn it on, the music track in my Timeline automatically ducks (lowers in volume) quite nicely so you can hear the audio of your video clip.

Trimming Clips
To trim a clip, simply tap it, and it becomes outlined in yellow, and edit pins appear at the start and end. You can drag each pin to expand or contract the In/Out points of your clip. Really, it's that easy. iMovie does not allow you to do a simple cut in the middle of a clip to apply different Title Styles, or turn audio on/off for sections of it. You'd have to import it again, giving you a new copy of it, and trim the copies to match up. This could be difficult, because it's not designed for pinpoint accuracy, although I've been pretty accurate with some trimming. But like I said before, I'm sure more features such as this will be coming in the future.

Also, a clip can be trimmed while viewing it in the Camera Roll app, and it will import into iMovie with that trim applied already. Similarly, double tapping a transition opens it's properties window. Transitions are applied automatically between clips, but can't be placed at the start or end of the Timeline. Hopefully we'll be able to do this with a future update.

Working With Music Tracks
As for the music track, it's either/or. By default, the theme's music is applied, and will repeat for the duration of your Timeline. You can manually change it via the gear icon at the start of the Timeline to the music of a different theme, or select your own music (Figure 5, below). You can only use one piece of music, period. You can't insert different songs back to back, nor can you trim them. The audio track starts at the beginning of the audio file, and play, repeating if necessary, until your Timeline ends. Yet you can make your own soundtrack with VO, music changes, sound FX, etc, import that into your iPhone, then use that as the soundtrack for your iMovie Project.

Choosing music in iMovie

If you make a mistake, you can use the iPhone's traditional undo method. Simply shake the phone, and an Undo dialog box appears letting me chose to Undo or Cancel. Also in iPhone traditional usage, you can pinch my fingers together or apart on the Timeline to zoom in or out, to a limited degree. Swiping your finger left or right over the Timeline scrolls it. Thus you can start/stop playback anywhere on the Timeline you need to.

Saving and Exporting Your Project
When you're done, your can save this project to my Camera Roll in one of three resolutions: Medium (360p), Large (540p), or HD (720p). Yes, the HD is true 1280x720p H.264 video, and looks much better than I ever expected it to look (Figure 6, below).

exported iMovie project

Even with the smaller than SD video I used, which was previously recorded at NAB 2010 on my old iPhone 3Gs, it's still good enough quality to have fun with. Using video shot in 720p with my new iPhone 4 it look pretty darn great (Figure 7, below)!

iMovie edited video shot with iPhone4

Exporting can take awhile if you're doing something more than a couple of minutes long, and exporting in full 720p. The good news is that iMovie will export in the background while you do other things, even if you put your iPhone back to sleep, and give you a message window when it's finished. Once it is exported to your Camera Roll, you can then send these exported movies via text message, email, YouTube, and MobileMe directly. When you do share it from the Camera Roll, the video is reduce to 568x320. You can use this to roughly figure out how long your Project can be to get it out. If you want the full resolution 720p final product, you can use iPhoto or Aperture to offload it in full resolution.

Why iPhone/iOS4/iMovie?
All in all, it's a ton of fun to use! My girlfriend and I are working in different states while I write this. Being able to record and edit a nice, fancy, pretty journal of my day, with meaningful music and all, and share that with her at night, keeps us a bit closer and makes our time apart easier. I will also be using this to blog from events, share findings with associates, help support my consulting clients, and simply share life's special moments with friends. And to come home and have it all in 720p, I can take vacation video full-rez and not have to lug my HVX170 or my 7D around with me, if I want to travel lighter and have my hands free. It's amazing, it's great fun, and the power to edit, as simplistic as it is, shows me where the future is going.

So, why did I review such a simple application that runs on such a tiny screen for a videography magazine read by professionals? First, because the video quality is good enough to use. Also, I honestly believe this is the future of media production. The iPhone 4 records pretty gosh-darn good quality 720p video, and its photos have been rated the best of any smart phone. It does fairly well in lower light, and doesn't blow out in brights as easily as previous iPhone models did.

All in all, the quality of the iPhone 4's 720p video is good enough to produce with. I'm actually going to be using mine for some serious productions to get some unique shots along with my 7D and HPX170. The release and popularity of the short film "Apple Of My Eye" (see below), shot and edited in 48 hours, shows the real power of the iPhone/iMovie combination.

"Apple of My Eye" - an iPhone 4 movie / film - UPDATE: Behind the scenes footage included from Michael Koerbel on Vimeo.

I'm going to give the industry 2 more years, and we'll see mobile products that, although maybe not broadcast quality, will do very close to broadcast-quality HD video, editing, and delivery with more complex, sophisticated tools, in much higher quality than the iPhone does now, or the iPad will soon. They may be odd shapes and sizes, but as with DSLRs, videographers and broadcasters will adapt and learn to use them. Shoot, edit, and deliver on one integrated device is the future, and I honestly believe it's much closer than we think.

Ben Balser

Ben Balser (benb at bbalser.com) is an Apple Certified Master Trainer and Support Professional based in Louisiana. He produces media, consults for studios, and teaches media production nationally.

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