What do you really want in an app if you’re shooting video on a mobile platform?

There are four or five different ways to answer that question.  If you’re an outlet that’s just using phones to gather footage, you want high-image quality and minimal storage problems. If you’re a sports reporter who has to knock together quick interviews, you want something that shoots and edits in the same app, and you probably don’t need too many bells and whistles. If you’re doing full field production, you’re going to want a full feature set that involves being able to do some post-production fixes and advanced work (for a mobile device) like splitting the audio track from the video track.

Over the past several months, I’ve been leading a team of students doing market research on what an ideal mobile journalism app should be. The group was working on developing a mobile journalism feature set for the Clips iOS app, which is made by Edit on the Fly, a New York City-based app development firm that makes interesting, lightweight video apps (note: a decision was made to not go forward with a separate mobile journalism app, but some research suggestions are being integrated into the existing app). Part of the market research was talking to scores of mobile journalists and editors about what they wanted in an app.

Here are the top “wants,” with where you can find apps that let you do that (the list isn’t exhaustive, but it reflects a wide spectrum of apps. If I’ve left some out, or if you’re mad, send me an email.)

One all-encompassing app

Specialization, in this case, wasn’t high on people’s lists. Much of the mobile journalism being done today values speed and quick-to-social publishing. A single interface that allows the user to move from shooting to editing to publishing is preferable, even at the cost of features. Voddio and Clips both allow you to do this, as does Videolicious Enterprise. The native iOS Camera app allows you to do this in kind of a primitive way, too.

Ability to manipulate clip size and use

Users want to be able to create subclips from larger clips. They also want to be able to cover those clips with b-roll so that, say, we see four seconds of a talking head and then listen to the audio track but see cover video so it feels like a TV package. This is mostly the province of editing apps, but both Voddio and Videolicious Enterprise do it, too. This functionality is being developed in Clips, as well, but it isn’t in the app store version yet. The native Camera app allows you to create subclips, but not put visuals over sound.

Advanced film controls

The native iOS Camera app took a big step forward when Apple moved operating systems, but its biggest flaw is that it still meters light at the focus point, though brightness is adjustable. The mobile journalists we talked to want advanced, fine-tuned controls for brightness, white balance and contrast.  They also wanted the ability to pull focus in and out without using the phone’s zoom function. FiLMiC Pro, iPhocus, Kinomatic Video Camera, MoviePro and Ultrakam do all the color controls. FiLMiC and iPhocus both allow you to do rack focus. All of the above allow you to adjust light independent of the focus point, as does Clips.

Variable frame rates

A lot of mobile journalism is being done in Europe, which uses 25 frames per second. So our European interview subjects all mentioned the ability to choose frame rate.  FiLMiC Pro, Kinomatic Video Camera, iPhocus, MoviePro and Ultrakam all do this.  A big deal in the United States? Not as much, but it’s nice to be able to switch between 24 and 30 frames per second (FPS).


People want apps that don’t crash. They want apps that record what they’re seeing, and that reliably store footage. They want apps that do their job in the background. Sadly, it’s hard to say that any of these apps are 100 percent reliable. Too much is dependent on the specs of the platform they’re being used on. And iOS 8 added issues with the media library that have made previously stable apps undependable.  The closest to a bulletproof video app you’re going to find is Apple’s native Camera app.

The ability to add supers/lower thirds

This is a big one for media types, because you have to be able to identify who’s talking. It’s also something that’s not found in any of the videography-first apps, likely because it’s considered a post-production function. Videolicious Enterprise has this feature, but even the videography apps that have post-production suites — FiLMiC Pro, Videon, Ultrakam — don’t give you the ability to build a nameplate.

Live audio monitoring

Another big one for media types. The ability to monitor audio levels through headphones is critical to high-quality video production.  It’s not a feature found in a lot of apps. FiLMiC Pro has it (and also allows you to adjust audio gain from within the app). MoviePro has it, too, as well as Voddio. Some of the apps provide visual bars so you can see if the sound is approximately overmodulated, but they’re not as accurate as your own ears.

But you don’t buy an app for a single feature. Or you really shouldn’t have to. So here are some specific uses cases if you want to do the following:

  • Create something that looks and feels like a full broadcast package with lower thirds and video covering over. Use Videolicious Enterprise or Voddio. Or shoot in FiLMiC Pro or MoviePro to control both image and audio quality, then move it into a mobile editing suite like iMovie or Pinnacle Studio.
  • Get a segment of an interview to social media quickly. Videolicious Enterprise does this. Clips does it for a lot less money.  So does Voddio.  Videolicious and Voddio will let you put lower thirds on, Clips won’t.  Both allow you to record a voiceover. Frankly, any of the video editing programs will let you quickly trim a single clip, commit it to the photo gallery and send it to social. If you want to put together several pieces of a single interview, use Videolicious or Voddio, or wait for Clips to develop its new feature set.
  • Gather footage and upload it to a desktop or laptop non-linear editor program like Avid Console or Final Cut Pro X. Use FiLMiC Pro or MoviePro.

Judd Slivka  
Director — Aerial Journalism


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