Whether you keep a watchful eye for breaking news events as a citizen journalist or just enjoy making the occasional video with friends and family, you can use your smartphone as a handy substitute for a camcorder. Smartphone video capabilities can produce bright, watchable footage, but you can also optimize the quality of your video results if you work around your phone's limitations and take advantage of its strengths.
Unless you rotate your phone 90 degrees and shoot with it positioned horizontally, you capture a tall, skinny movie file that looks nothing like the HD footage you see on popular video websites. Even if your smartphone camera can't capture HD at 1080p, you can produce footage that features the wider-than-it-is-tall screen ratio of high resolution video. Unless your subject matter really lends itself to the height of footage shot with your phone in its upright position, you'll achieve better results if you reorient the device first.
When you handhold your phone to shoot video, any movement of your body translates into the footage you capture, either as twitches and twiddles that make the viewer squirm, or shakes and shudders that blur your subject. You can lock your arms against your torso or even catch a breath and hold it to help stabilize your phone, but for best results, you want a real device platform. You can put together a DIY camera mount using a disposable cup, binder clips or string, or invest in a real tripod or monopod if you shoot enough footage to justify the expenditure.
If you're accustomed to making liberal use of a camcorder zoom to frame closeups of part of a scene or to capture small details, remember that smartphone optics don't offer the flexibility and performance of a dedicated video camera. The zoom capability on most of these phones relies on the same forms of digital up-sampling you use to enlarge a photo in an image-editing application--the kinds of processes that result in a soft, pixelated shot with compromised details. Check the specifications for your smartphone and stay within its native capabilities as much as possible. If you must zoom in on a once-in-a-lifetime shot, aim for smooth movement that doesn't lurch or jerk.
The built-in microphone on your smartphone offers limited audio bandwidth that clips off the highs and lows of the audio spectrum. If you plan on shooting a lot of footage with your phone, invest in an external microphone or use a camcorder adapter to plug in a mic you already own. However you capture the soundtrack of your videos, avoid tapping or touching the microphone or placing it where cloth or other surfaces can rub across it. Any stray contact adds unwelcome noise to your video sound.
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