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Create short-duration video with Briefly

Ilene Hoffman

Briefly from Eternal Storms Software is a Macintosh app that turns your still shots into a video. The end result is called a still-motion video. The Briefly demo on the site is impressive, but unlike most demos, I think anyone could create similar movies.

The iOS version of Briefly is under development and I think it will be a winner. As a Macintosh app, not so much, at least for my needs. Don't get me wrong, Briefly works wonders and does it well. It just has so few features that I couldn't do quite what I wanted. Your experience may be different.

Briefly is definitely one of the easiest and quickest video apps I've ever used. You open it, drop in a bunch of photographs, choose music (or not), press Create and you're done. If you don't waste too much time choosing photographs and music, you can create a fun video in under a minute! If, like me, you decide to edit 100 shots in Photoshop with actions, layers and crops, it takes a bit longer (try two to four hours).

When you first open Briefly, you get an annotated window with a dialog explaining its purpose and the only interface you use.

Short duration video with Briefly

Don't let the Support button fool you, because it only lets you send mail or tweet to the company.

There are very few steps:
1. Choose Size of the video output.
2. Import photos from Flickr or Instagram or drag-and-drop photos from your hard drive.
3. Choose Music (i.e. Soundtrack).
4. Create the slide show.

I wanted to choose the amount of time each photo stayed on screen, so that the video playback took the same amount of time as the music I chose, but that option didn't exist. The only option you have to customize your video is the final size of the output, from Tiny (240p) to Large (1080p).

My first successful attempt contains 32 unedited RAW photos of a turkey vulture I took at the local dump, including blurry ones. It took about 10 seconds to process.

Short duration video with Briefly

The resulting 8.1 MB MP4 was deposited in my Movies folder, inside a folder called Briefly. The file name includes Briefly and the date and time. The 3-second final video is not my best work, but interesting. The introductory video on the site must have included hundreds of shots to play so smoothly and be so long. The music in my Vulture video was provided by my professional musician son, who was practicing his saxophone. The music is supposed to fade out, but with only three seconds to work with, the fade isn't much.

In another test I used 48 unedited RAW shots, which took 15 seconds to process and yielded a 10.6 MB file that plays for four seconds. The shots jump around so much it's nauseating to watch.

I also tried to do a family portraits through the years movie with shots that were all different kinds of files types (TIF, PSD, JPG), and different orientations (portrait and landscape). The only file type that yielded errors and is not compatible with Briefly are PICT files, which are not really compatible with OS X.

I processed this set of 75 photos in different sizes, but the portrait shots often were missing the top and/or bottom of the photo, as can be seen below. Say hi to Mom and part of Dad.

Short duration video with Briefly

Now I don't mind losing my head, but I doubt anyone else in the family would be happy to see just their neck and body. The photos appear so quickly that it just looked like a jumble. You may like that affect, but I'm not a fan.

I tried a number of tests, but the type of photography I have on hand is not perfect for Briefly. I don't often shoot small variations of the same scene, which can walk you through a place. Briefly can excel with a series of shots like that. I did have one folder of hundreds of shots of a heron nest that was way too far away to capture well. The video I made of those shots are at the end of this review. I am impressed with how well Briefly processed 96 of those shots; in seconds.

Features I stumbled upon

When you revise a photo, the Briefly thumbnail in your project is automatically updated. If you double-click on a photo in the project, it opens in Preview, which is very helpful. You can search for or use photos from multiple folders and can choose music from anywhere on your hard drive too.

Things that need to be fixed

I found one minor bug. You can increase or decrease the size of the photo preview thumbnails in the main window. When I decreased one of my tests I lost the preview thumbnails of a few of the shots.

The program needs a way to start a new project. Either a New command should be added to the File menu or Clear button to clear away previously used photos. When I imported a second set of shots, they were just added to the ones already displayed. I thought the new set would replace the old set, but that didn't happen. I did a cmmd-A (Select all) and pressed Delete to clear out the previously used shots.

When I tried to drag in a set of photos that were in date order, Briefly plopped them in, in a random order. You can drag individual photos in and put them exactly where you want though. The View menu includes a Sort by Date command that seemed to work ok.

My Suggestions

I think Briefly would benefit from addressing the following issues, but these are my personal preferences, not necessarily bugs.

1. Briefly does not handle portrait photographs very well and tends to cut off the top of the shot. There should be an option for portrait orientation. If that's not possible, then a preview function so that you can reposition shots so that important pieces are not cut off would be nice.

2. For orgnaization's sake, it would be handy to have a tooltip display the photo's file name when you hover your mouse over a picture in the window.

3. I would like to see a slider that lets you choose how many miliseconds each photo is displayed on screen. In my heron baby video I worked around this problem by putting the same shot in multiple times, which effectively gave it a more screen time.

4. I did one video that I wanted to save so that I can add more photos to it later, but you cannot save a project in draft mode. I think the addition of a Save command would be very useful.

Final Thoughts

I can imagine that college students will have a heyday with this app. It's just too simple not to use for a variety of silliness. As a tool for video you might want to save for posterity though, it needs more features. Briefly is a lot of fun in which to create video. I tested Briefly version 1.0.1, which works in OS X 10.7.5 and up. You can download Briefly on the Mac App Store for a bargain at US$7.99, but even better, it's currently on sale for $4.99. You can even try it for free for 15 days.

The following video is a series of large Great Blue Heron chicks in a nest waiting for mom to come home. She finally arrives at the end. The first few frames are shot at 50mm focal length to show how far away is the nest. The balance of the photos are at 460mm focal length (focal length equivalent in 35mm film is 690mm). The music is "Here's Hope," by Owl City.

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