There is a lot of chatter these days about the capabilities of mobile devices (phones and tablets) for media production. Journalists for newspapers and local TV stations are now trained to create, file and share their stories all from their mobile phone. Filmmakers as influential as Stephen Soderberg are even embracing mobile devices for big-screen Hollywood projects. What should ministries being encouraging their members to do with the media creation potential they hold in their hand?

I want to encourage people to launch out and start creating and sharing media with their mobiles and I think there is a best use for mobiles in media production. That is the creation of timely, “good enough” content, that places an emphasis on true engagement with an audience.

I’m not saying that a mobile, like a recent iPhone or Android phone can’t do almost everything a filmmaker could want to do. I’m saying that, for most media content creators, there are a few key areas where mobiles make the most sense.

Filming with Pixel 2 in Thailand

Going mobile in Thailand with a Pixel 2, Rode mic, Movo mount, and Manfrotto tripod.

Let me set up a context for what I’m saying. First, my ministry focus is the use of visual story media, shared mostly via social media channels, for the specific purpose of engaging audiences in spiritual conversations – not typically for entertainment or advertising.

Second, one of my roles is teaching ministries how to create compelling content using whatever resources they have at hand. That generally means mobile devices, inexpensive DSLR cameras or camcorders.

I recently spent a week in Asia with a group of students from about a dozen countries. Some were very experienced in media production, and some were novices. We were teaching a mobile-only approach to content creation. That is, the videos and other visual content we made were shot, edited, and distributed using only a mobile device. The following suggestions come from our experience and pushing to see if there are some practical “limits” on what we should be trying to achieve in a mobile-only approach.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t get bogged down with highly planned, complex content. Use a mobile-only approach for creative, immediate, relevant, authentic content. Look at many influencers on places like YouTube. They aren’t creating really deep and complex content, but often focus on generating lots of content quickly, with compelling creative ideas. Most don’t create really complicated mini film projects for every post.
  • Emphasize immediacy and authenticity. Shoot current and cultural events, very brief vlog-style testimonials and stories, then post your content quickly. Listen to conversations people are having, off and on-line, and join in the conversation with your own content, without delay. Authenticity is a real value held by most people – even if they follow pop stars. Pop stars will carefully curate a portion of their social media, but they also mix in more impromptu content as a way to make themselves seem more approachable, like you’re their new best friend out of 6 million followers!
  • If you have media professionals on your team, try to avoid paralysis by perfectionism! How can my God-given care for quality be a problem? When it effectively paralyzes me or delays the distribution of content because I want to “do it right.” In this case, doing it right may be exactly the wrong thing. Discipline yourselves to create quick-turnaround content that will encourage on-going engagement with your audience while you work on deeper, more complex content. Get it done and out into the conversation.
  • Overall, as you plan a content strategy, it’s wise to include a mix of immediate, less complex content, with some pieces that are more complex and deeper. We want to present competence and trustworthiness, but also approachability. As we think of our engagement strategies, let’s look ahead and develop some content that is well-planned and deeper, but also plan for the more frequent creation of spontaneous content that gives that balance.
Beastgrip Rig

Tricking out an iPhone with a Beastgrip mount, Rode shotgun mic, lens adaptor, and Tamron 24-70mm lens.

Ultimately, who am I to argue with Stephen Soderberg? Of course there is a place to take advantage of a small, inexpensive, good quality device for some larger projects, even narrative feature films. So go ahead and pull our your mobile device (with $2000 worth of accessories!) to serve as a camera on a larger project, especially if mobility and low-profile is a need. But for that complex project, it’s advisable to pass on the rest of the production and post-production work to other devices, like laptops and desktop computers. They just have the power and sophisticated tools to make it more effective.

HOWEVER, by all means we should be using our amazing cameras and apps to create immediate, creative, relevant, authentic content.

(Originally posted on my personal blog, mindsoulstory.wordpress.com.)

I’m happy to say that, after a long time of lagging behind the iOS world, Android devices and apps are finally available to enable professional production on this platform.

And, because most people in the world are using an Android device, it makes sense to think about recommendations to help them, especially non-professional media creators, to choose the best tools for their video content.

For serious video content production, you may want to consider a video-specific app. While almost every general camera app allows you to choose still image capture or video capture (maybe even animated GIF and other formats) there are a few dedicated apps that only shoot video. I highly recommend checking these out, even if they add an app to your collection (who can resist just one more app?!)

Why would you choose a video-only app?

One reason is because a good dedicated video app will have controls that are designed for video shooting and you won’t get settings mixed up when switching between modes on a normal camera app. For instance, this can happen when switching between 4:3 aspect ratio high-definition still images and shooting HD video, which is typically 16:9 aspect ratio on your screen. Some apps choke a bit when switching. And, some apps are set to automatically start video recording when you switch to video mode. I can’t figure out why that’s a default feature (sometimes non-defeatable) but it’s a pain when you’re trying to shoot dedicated video. Ultimately, dedicated apps are designed for video shooting, and make the most of their interface and features.

As with still image capture apps, the image quality from these is essentially the same, if you shoot with the same settings (resolution, data rate, picture profile, etc.) The device hardware is really the defining and limiting factor. [BIG NOTE for low-end phone users; some of these apps are not recommended for you. Filmic Pro won’t even install on my Samsung Galaxy J5 (Marshmallow OS). My best advice if you have a low-end device is to go with a standard camera app, like Open Camera, that lets you shoot stills and video. No need for a specialized app.]

Here are three dedicated video capture apps that are the top of charts for me. I’ll review them in my general order of preference, but they’re all very good. Any weaknesses are generally pretty minor.


Filmic Pro ($15 USD)(plus in-app purchases for some specialized features)

Among mobile filmmakers and mobile journalists, Filmic Pro has long been the go-to app. It started life as an iOS-only app but the Android version is fully developed and gives you a full feature set for truly professional video production on a mobile device.

Filmic Pro gives you:

  • Full range of manual controls with a very friendly on-screen interface for manual focus and exposure control. Manual controls on all apps will be device dependent. They should work on most higher-end phones. On a lower-end phone, you still have manual control, but some features, like the sliders you see in the above screen capture, won’t be there.
  • Shooting aspect ratios for every popular format, including square format video, and UI rotation for simple vertical video shooting.
  • High resolution (including 4K) and data rates, depending on your device capabilities. Excellent video quality, including smooth motion.
  • Accurate frame rate. Other apps’ frame rates can vary widely, even if set in the app.
  • Format presets if you want to switch quickly between settings. For instance, a 4K setting and a FullHD (1080) video setting without going through many menus.
  • Automatic exposure and focus “pulling” for more professional control.
  • A continuous auto-focus mode that uses most of the screen as a focus area. This is great for gimbal and other handheld shots where you have a lot of motion in the scene.
  • App upgrades available for even more professional features such as picture profiles and LUTs. (Not really needed by mere mortal visual storytellers.)
  • Picture profile settings – these are advanced settings that professional filmmakers use to give them more control in editing their picture. Typically not something non-professionals want to use, as the video captured may not actually look very good until it is “graded” in an editing program.
  • Live audio monitoring, with on-screen meter, is possible with the proper adapters.

Weaknesses:

  • Lots of options that may be confusing to non-professionals.
  • Display can be cluttered if you have lots of features activated, but they are instantly accessible.

Cinema FV-5 Pro (paid version $4.50 USD)

Cinema FV-5 is a companion to Camera FV-5, which I’ve reviewed elsewhere. But it can also be purchased and used separately as a dedicated video capture app. As with Camera FV-5, the Cinema version is full-featured and well-suited to professional mobile production. If you want a dedicated app, I feel it’s the best choice for lower-end devices, even if features are disabled.

Things I especially like include:

  • Simple controls when first opened
  • Nice implementation of manual controls including a slider for focus and exposure on devices that have the Camera2 API.
  • Paid version (Pro) has full resolution and high data rate capabilities, up to your device’s specs.
  • The most common manual control I like to tweak, exposure compensation, is on screen all the time. Nice.
  • On-screen display of current settings.
  • Continuous focus mode is very accurate and useful.
  • Audio monitoring and on-screen meters
  • Professional features like interface customization, a histogram for video levels, etc.
  • Quick switching between features such as a histogram, stabilization on/off, etc.

Weaknesses:

  • No vertical video mode (interface rotation) – see my comments on other apps for my thoughts on why this is useful.
  • Locking and unlocking some functions, like manual exposure, could be simpler – a few too many clicks to release and re-set.

On a low-end device like my Galaxy J5 I found:

  • Some functions don’t seem to work consistently, like manual exposure by touch/hold on the screen. No change anywhere you put the “box.”
  • Of course, the manual controls change to meet the device specs. The capabilities are still there, just some controls get more basic.
  • Other device-dependent features, like 4K video recording, may be missing on low-end devices.

Cinema 4K (paid version $4.50 USD)

Cinema 4K is designed with many professional features for high-end devices. As the name implies, it can shoot up to 4K if your device can handle it. It is set up for more experienced shooters, but I find the controls are very intuitive and responsive.

I’m reviewing this app with a caveat. On my Google Pixel 2 (still pretty state-of-the-art as I write this) I get great general image quality. However, I see a lot of motion artifacts anytime I pan, tilt, or have a lot of motion in the shot. I’ve tried to track it down, and have decided it’s the app. My A/B testing with Filmic Pro on the same device shows ‘jerky’ motion in footage from Cinema 4K versus Filmic Pro footage, with the exact same settings. I’m willing to consider that it could be unique to the Pixel 2, so until I can do more tests with other phones, I’ll just leave it at that.

Cinema 4K gives you:

  • A very nice on-screen interface with common controls and settings clearly accessible.
  • Extensive, but easy-to-use manual controls, device dependent.
  • Very friendly settings menu that covers almost everything on one screen rather than many menus
  • Full range of resolutions and data rates for video files, device dependent.
  • Full screen, clean display when recording, but manual controls appear when you tap the screen. Nice implementation.
  • Picture profile settings – these are advanced settings that professional filmmakers use to give them more control in editing their picture. Typically not something non-professionals want to use, as the video captured may not actually look very good until it is “graded” in an editing program.

Weaknesses:

  • My biggest concern is actually image quality. Images without a lot of motion are great. I see a lot of motion artifacts in Cinema 4K footage when the camera is panning across a scene. I’ve done a lot of A/B testing and can’t fix it. I believe it is related to variable frame/bit rates used by most apps in mobile devices.
  • No vertical video adaptation. This has been a “rule” in the professional filmmaking world, but it’s passé, to me. Let us shoot 4K vertical video!
  • No live audio monitoring, or on screen audio meters.
  • Cinema 4K will install on a lower-end phone, but many features are disabled. I don’t recommend it for low-end devices (see my note above.)

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We’re excited to announce that our award-winning feature-length film, “Yai Wanonabalewa: The Enemy God” is now available for streaming.

This is a beautiful HD version of the film, in English (with subtitles), for rental (72 hrs), or purchase and download.

Click on the image below to check it out. The “From $2.99” button will take you to the Vimeo On Demand page where you can rent or buy the film.


The Enemy God from Tom Khazoyan on Vimeo.

We’re excited to say there is new activity in the distribution of our feature film, The Enemy God. Our distribution partner in Spain, INTMED Films, arranged for the film to be released by Canal+, a huge multi-channel network in that country. It’s now available to rent through their YOMVI streaming service (think, Netflix) and will later be released through their satellite and cable movie networks.

Here’s the Spanish-language trailer we put together to support the release.

Of course, our DVD version also includes the Spanish language version. Get your copy today and enjoy the film plus many special features that expand the story of the Yanomamö.

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TK on April 28th, 2014

One of the major projects we’ve been working on is a new site to help teach basic film production. This version is in English but the real intention is to make our training available in other languages and countries.

GlobalFilmTraining.org is a place where emerging filmmakers can learn about visual storytelling and technical aspects of filmmaking. It is not intended to be a comprehensive film school, but available and translatable for underserved communities of learners. You can check out the English pilot version if you follow the link above.

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