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How to Use Your Video Gear: Tips from USA Today's Talking Tech Host

Jefferson Graham takes a quick look at how to use your gear for video—mobile phones and devices, point-and-shoot cameras, video cameras, or digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. There are a few good apps and some hardware he'll recommend along the way.
This chapter is from the book

NOW THAT YOU have an idea of your video gear options and what might work for you, you’re eager to get started, right? Let’s take a quick look at how to use your gear for video—mobile phones and devices, point-and-shoot cameras, video cameras, or digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. There are a few good apps and some hardware I’ll recommend along the way. If you already know the basics about your camera, feel free to skip over this chapter.

The iPhone

So you want to use your iPhone as a video camera? No problem, but you’ll need an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S—the two models with the improved camera—and a few dollars to spend for a handful of creative apps that will take your videomaking to the next level.

Here’s the iPhone 4S advantage: You get an excellent 8-megapixel camera that rivals any point-and-shoot—and it’s always with you. Be sure to shoot in decent light for best results. You’ll also want to stabilize the iPhone in some way (see Chapter 3). Whether it’s the Owle mCAMLITE or the Studio Neat Glif iPhone Tripod Mount, it doesn’t really matter. Just be sure to keep the camera as steady as possible.

Simple Steps for Shooting with the iPhone

Let’s go through the basic steps of shooting a video with the iPhone.

  1. On your iPhone’s home screen, select Settings then turn on Airplane mode (Figure 4.1). That way, no one will bother you with a call, text, or status update while you’re shooting.
    Fugure 4.1

    Figure 4.1 Set the iPhone to airplane mode so you won’t be interrupted during shooting.

  2. Open the Camera app on the iPhone. Slide the Camera icon to Movie mode.
  3. Hold the camera horizontally. This is crucial. Shooting vertically is one of the biggest mistakes I see. Because the video plays back in a horizontal orientation, you’ll lose the sides of your video and have annoying black bars and a teeny image in the middle (Figure 4.2).
    Fugure 4.2

    Figure 4.2 Make sure to shoot with your phone in a horizontal position. As you can see, when the iPhone is vertical, the sides of the image are cut off.

  4. Click the red Record button at the bottom of the screen to start recording video. Click the button again to stop recording.

    When shooting, try to keep your hands as steady as possible if you’re not using a tripod mount. Also, hold the camera as close as possible to your subject (if you bypassed the microphone option) to do your best to pick up sound.

When the take is finished, the clip will go directly to the Camera Roll area of the iPhone, where photos and videos are stored.

Simple Steps for Shooting with the iPad

Shooting video with the iPad is just as easy:

  1. Tap the camera icon on your iPad’s home screen.
  2. On the bottom-right corner you’ll find a toggle. Tap it to switch it to the right, on the video icon.

    You’ll also see the button that switches between the front, FaceTime camera, and the rear, iSight camera.

  3. In the middle of the right side of the screen (and next to the home button) you’ll see the record button. Tap this to start recording. Tap it again to end recording.
  4. To watch the video you just recorded, tap the thumbnail in the lower-left corner. You can also find the video in your Camera Roll area.

Apps for the iPhone and iPad

Numerous apps on the market let you tweak the image results from your still or video camera in the iPhone or iPad. There are just as many if not more apps that are available to assist you in your productions. I’ll cover just a few of these here.

Filmic Pro

One big drawback of shooting video on the iPhone is that you can’t adjust the exposure as you can with a “real” camera. There are no f-stop or shutter-speed settings. That’s where Filmic Pro comes in (Figure 4.3). With this $3 app, you can tweak exposure slightly, opt for variable frame rates, and get audio-monitoring levels and focus options that you wouldn’t have if you just zapped open the Camera app on the iPhone. For the exposure, it will never be as accurate as a camera with f-stops. Instead, you get a selective circle that you place over a section of the image to make it darker or lighter. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. Beyond saving the project to the Camera Roll, you also get presets to upload it directly to a variety of sites, including Vimeo, YouTube, Dropbox, and Facebook.

Fugure 4.3

Figure 4.3 The Filmic Pro app for the iPhone is essential for anyone shooting with an iPhone.

Almost DSLR

As with Filmic Pro, with this $2 app you can adjust and lock focus and exposure, plus tweak white balance, adjust frame rate, and click on a self-timer (Figure 4.4). I recommend this app for anyone who has an iPhone and wants to shoot short films.

Figure 4.4

Figure 4.4 Almost DSLR is a great app for locking focus and exposure, setting white balance, adding GPS data to pictures, and much more.


It’s hard to keep any camera steady without a tripod, and the iPhone is no exception. There’s no grip to grab onto the device, as you have with a camera, and every twitch and itch shows up loud and shakily clear when you’re shooting video. So we welcome the DollyCam app with open arms (Figure 4.5). It’s not an expensive mount, or a slider to drool over, like the $130 iPhone Mobislider, but for $3, DollyCam turns your iPhone into a steadicam by stabilizing your image, and it does an amazing job. You start off by shooting your video the normal way—trying to keep it as steady as possible—and then, when the take is finished, you process it, which can take a few minutes. Once it’s complete—voilà, the video actually looks as if it was shot on a tripod. It’s that steady. I love this app.

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5 Use the DollyCam app for extra stabilization.

8mm Vintage Camera

For just under $2, you can add many arty and really cool looks to your videos, from rickety 1920s (like an old silent movie) to faded-color 1960s, saturated 1980s, and moody black-and-white noir (Figure 4.6). If you use the 8mm Vintage Camera app, be sure to go to Settings in the app and save your processed video in the Camera Roll section, so you’ll be able to find it later.

Figure 4.6

Figure 4.6 The 8mm Vintage Camera app is one of many that gives you an old film look to your videos.

Silent Movie Director

Similar to 8mm Vintage Camera, this $2 app turns your preexisting videos into vintage productions, with scratchy 1920s and 1930s looks, sepia, and faded color (Figure 4.7). If you’re a fan of Hollywood’s Golden Age, as I am, you’ll love this app. A cute image of Charlie Chaplin pops up while you wait for your video to be transformed into something that resembles a relic of yesteryear. A cool speed control icon lets you make your footage really, really fast (think Keystone Kops) or slow. So if you’re into these kinds of special effects, Silent Movie is probably the better choice for you than 8mm Vintage Camera. Once you get into the app, you’re encouraged to buy more goodies, such as Silent Movie title cards and Silent Movie fonts.

Figure 4.7

Figure 4.7 Silent Movie Director is another fun app for videomaking.


Big-time movies usually begin their productions with a clapperboard, which gives the sound engineers the sound they need to sync up the audio with the visuals. Should you want to mix iPhone footage with footage from another video source, or shoot one angle and mix it with another, one of these apps—and there are several in the iTunes App Store—will get you that slate and clapper sound. A basic clapperboard can be as inexpensive as $.99. MoveSlate costs more at $24.99 but it has a great interface and is an all-in-one digital slate, clapperboard, shot log, and notepad (Figure 4.8).

Figure 4.8

Figure 4.8 Use a clapperboard on the iPhone to sync up your audio.


The iPhone app version of iMovie, Apple’s popular video-editing software for computers, has been slimmed down to let you do basic edits on your iPhone and iPad footage. You can also add graphics, titles, and preprogrammed music.

The iMovie app is a must for “run and gun” footage—video that has been shot really quickly—and for doing a zippy edit with titles at the beginning and end, and the app can be used with the iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. But be warned: Getting the hang of making precise edits with the app takes some getting used to—you have to pinch the clips with two fingers—and the cuts are nowhere near as smooth as with a mouse.

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