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The TUAW how-to guide to iPhone 3GS video recording and editing


It seems like everyone who's purchased an iPhone 3GS at this point has had a different reason for buying one. For some people, it was all about getting a faster CPU; for others, it was their first 3G-and-beyond smartphone.

My personal reasons for spending my hard-earned bucks to buy a 3GS were to take advantage of the higher-resolution (3 megapixel) autofocus camera, since I love taking photos with my iPhone, and to shoot video with my phone. Phone video is nothing new; I had it three years ago on a Palm Treo 680. But the ability of the 3GS to not only record video, but also allow limited editing before sharing the video in a number of ways, really made me want to get a 3GS immediately.

In this TUAW First Look, I describe the recording and editing processes in detail, and then give you my impressions of how good or bad the 3GS video capabilities are. I also provide a comparison with video taken by a T-Mobile G1 Android smartphone.

Recording video with your iPhone 3GS
Shooting video with the 3GS is incredibly simple. To begin, fire up the Camera app, which performs both still and video camera functions. To switch into video mode from the default photo mode, you simply slide the toggle at the bottom right of the camera preview display to the right towards the video camera icon (see below):

The usual shutter button at the bottom of the camera preview display is replaced by a button with a red "LED" in the middle of it. This is your clue that you're now in video mode. To begin recording, you simply tap on the button, and the LED begins flashing. An elapsed time indicator also appears in the top of the screen.

At this point, you just record as long as you want to, or until you've completely filled up the storage of your iPhone 3GS. TUAW would love to know just how many hours of recording time you can stuff into a 16 or 32 GB model – any volunteers out there want to give it a try? When you're done, you tap the button one more time to stop the recording.

Editing your video
Editing is a bit of a misnomer. I'm sure somebody out there is working on the iMovie of the iPhone world, but at this point you are limited to trimming the video. If you want to add titles, join clips, or apply effects to your video, you'll need to export the video (see 'Sharing your video', below) and then use a Mac or PC editing application to perform your magic.

To trim your video, you tap on the video in the Photos camera roll. It fills the full screen, and a frame viewer appears above the video. Tapping and dragging either one of the end points allows you to select the video that you want to keep, and then tapping on the Trim button removes the rest.

Viewing your video
To view the video on your iPhone 3GS, tap on the Photos icon or tap the image icon of the most recent video / photo in the lower left corner of the camera preview display to move from the Camera app to the Photos app. When the Photos app appears, any video snapshots that you've taken show up with a video camera icon and clip duration on their camera roll icon.

Sharing your video
If you want to share your video with others, you have three built-in choices: you can email the video, send it to YouTube, or upload it to a MobileMe account. In typical Apple fashion, there are two ways to do this; either tap on the sharing icon below the video preview (see below left) or tap on the sharing icon in the camera roll (below right), then tap on the video(s) you wish to share.

In either case, a dialog with three buttons appears, once for emailing, the second for MobileMe, and the third for YouTube. To email a video, you'll need to have an email account up and working on the iPhone. The video is compressed and saved as a QuickTime .mov file in a blank email. Enter an address and subject, along with any important notes you want the recipient to read, and then tap on the Send button.

If you're a MobileMe user and have set up your account on the iPhone 3GS, when you choose to share the video you are asked for a title, a description, and what gallery you want the video to reside in. One tap later your video is uploaded to MobileMe. When it's completed, you'll be prompted to either close the publish dialog, tell a friend about your video (an email with a link is sent), or to view the video in your MobileMe gallery.

YouTube users will be prompted to set up their YouTube account information prior to trying to upload to the service. Once that info is entered, you're prompted for a title, description, tags, and a category. Tap on the Publish button, and the video is whisked off to YouTube for general consumption by the public.

Comparing the iPhone 3GS and T-Mobile G1 (Android) video capabilities
To compare the video capabilities of the iPhone 3GS, I picked another fairly recent mobile device -- the T-Mobile G1, which uses Google's Android OS. The G1 was recently updated to version 1.5 of the OS, so it's as up to date as it's going to get!

I made two test videos, taken in my back yard. Both are approximately the same length and taken from about the same distance. I did not use any third-party camcorder apps, nor did I harm any animals in the filming of these movies (OK, maybe I did step on a spider at one point...).

iPhone 3GS Sample Video:

T-Mobile G1 Sample Video:

# of taps to get from home screen to start recording:
iPhone - 3 (tap on camera, tap and slide to use video, tap to start recording)
G1 - 3 (tap home button to show applications, tap on camcorder, tap to start recording)

Color accuracy (based on eye, not calibration):
iPhone - The colors of the iPhone video were nicely saturated and seemed closer to what my eye actually sees.
G1 - Greens and reds were not as saturated and were somewhat washed out.

Closeup capability:
iPhone - Autofocus allowed closeup to about 4 inches.
G1 - At about 4 inches, the image was out of focus.

# of taps to send to an email address (from gallery):
iPhone - 2
G1 - 2

Editing capabilities:
iPhone - Trimming the length of the video.
G1 - Not available in the camcorder application.

Comparison of Get Info for both files:

One other video source that I was considering using for this comparison was an HD camcorder, but the video quality is so much better that it seemed worthless to show it. Let's face it, video from most smartphones at this point is fairly low resolution, and there's no way that you can send HD video over cellular systems without it taking too long, so for the most part we're going to see medium-resolution video snapshots for the foreseeable future.

Do I like the video from the iPhone 3GS? Yes! It is an amazing little camcorder that is always with me, so I find myself shooting short clips of the everyday things that I experience. For more information about the video capabilities of the iPhone 3GS as well as some additional information on how to shoot and edit video, be sure to visit the Apple web site.

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