Making news with an iPhone – the Quality debate

I’ve been researching and developing mobile journalism training for nearly three years in RTE. Most recently I’ve trained over 100 staff to shoot and edit and a few exceptional staff members have taken the challenge and created an entire news story – for broadcast. I have to point out this is not the norm, or even an everyday occurrence. But it is part of a pilot programme to examine and investigate the potential of mobiles and content creation / news gathering devices.

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Last Friday, Philip Bromwell, one of RTEs Full time staff Video Journalists, decided to use the iPhone 5S to shoot a complete story for broadcast. As usual Philip used the Mojo Grab bag I put together for his shoot.

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He shot in 1080p HD on the iPhone and then imported the footage into a MacBookPro to edit it in Avid Media Composer. At the end of this process he transcoded (downsized) the edit from full HD 1920x1080p to 720×576 SD and also converted the progressive scan to interlaced for our broadcast system.

On Friday night we agreed we would publish the SD version of the story on YouTube:

Then on Monday we published the full HD 1080p version to Vimeo

I would like you to have a look at both versions to see the difference in resolution from the TV version and the online HD version. This is one of the reasons that shooting with the iPhone (or smartphones in general) is ideal for online but somewhat problematic for TV broadcast. If you add into the mix the fact that the iPhone natively shoots at 30fps but in Europe (PAL) we transmit in 25fps then you uncover the second technical challenge for smartphone usage in broadcast. Professional Apps like FilMicPro and Voddio allow you to shoot in 25fps or in the case of Voddio render out in 25fps but Apple Apps like iMovie render out in 30fps. In order to convert the 30fps to 25fps you have to drop 5 frames every second, this leads to non fluid motion artefacts. This may seem like technical jargon to you and to a certain extent I agree with that – what most viewers watch is the Story, not the frame rate etc etc, so Philips story above is proof that in the hands on a professional storyteller – the device is almost irrelevant. THE STORY IS EVERYTHING!

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About vjmentor
Innovation Lead, RTÉ | VJ & MoJo (Mobile Journalism) Trainer -Circom Regional | Photographer | HDSLR shooter| Views are strictly personal, not those of my employer.

5 Responses to Making news with an iPhone – the Quality debate

  1. viewmojo says:

    Agree, story is the thing. Especially for news. Phone video isn’t bad just not AS GOOD. TV stations the world over are compelled to show whatever footage (grainy, vertical, shaky et al) to place the viewer at the scene. Viewers don’t sit and ask “I wonder what that was shot with?” they mostly just want to see the vision. Mobile is also about being there. Obviously good timing, being there and the limited number of full TV crews available at any one time open up great opportunities for the mobile journo armed with a phone and the right technique.

  2. This looks very impressive when viewed on an iPhone. What ought to be highlighted is the fact that all this was shot using a tripod (apart from the in-envelope pov). This is something that would-be iPhone video-journalists should note. Had this video been shot hand-held, I’m sure the viewing experience would have been unbearable. Certainly unprofessional.

    The run & gun “shoot-it-as-quickly-as-possible” mentality that usually filters down from the Newsdesk would have to be overcome before the iPhone camera is used. This package took time to shoot.

    • vjmentor says:

      Hi Alistair, thanks for your comment. Yes it was shot using a tripod and yes it was a structured/planned story not at run&gun reaction piece. Philip used exactly the same principles to shoot the package with the iPhone as he does with his VJ gear.

      Shoot sequences, compose shots well and only use camera movement when necessary (eg. where it reveals something that a single shot cannot) there principles are the key to simple but effective storytelling in news- irrespective of device.

  3. Ivor Carroll says:

    The issue of quality will become less and less as technology and the quality of smart phone cameras and lens improves. Yes there are issues with frame rates and rendering but the app market will adapt and a solution will appear because of demand. I believe that the quality debate is more a part of the broader debate about using mobile phones for shooting news. There would be no debate if journalists who were willing to vj/mojo went into the field and shot and edited on a very small hand held camcorder. The fact it is a phone is a problem. Everyone has a phone and nearly all have a built in camera. This makes a lot of people unwilling possible camera operators.

  4. Roberto Aita says:

    Amazing article, very informative. All the best from a colleague in Italy

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