In the last installment of this three-part series on what to look for in an app, I'm going to share the top things I look for in any video camera app. For most people, the idea of shooting videos can be daunting. The right video camera app can make it significantly easier to get good video, and may even be smart enough to help you get it right along the way.
Four essential features of your video camera app:
1) Manual focus, exposure and white balance
As with your camera app, being able to independently set your own focus, exposure and white balance gives you a lot of control over the quality of your image. You can focus on your interview subject's eyes while setting your exposure on their shirt and dealing with whatever lighting color temperature possible. Just be sure that beyond being able to set your own focus, exposure and white balance, that you can also lock it in place for the duration of your video. Otherwise, your device will constantly be trying to re-correct your video as you film, which will make editing very hard.
The ideal aspect ratio for your video isn't 4:3, the standard of years past. Today's videos—even on YouTube—are widescreen. Join the trend!
3) Manual and automatic gain control
Put simply, gain control is the volume at which you're recording audio. In some situations, we have to work with what we're given, whether that's a soft-spoken source of the sheer volume of a stadium full of people. Our device needs to be able to handle all these situations. So, gain control comes in handy. Under most circumstances, automatic gain control will do just fine. But, having a manual option will give you control over a wider range of situations.
4) The ability to monitor audio
Many of the mics made for smartphones and tablets connect to the audio jack. Although more and more options that include a splitter jack for headphones are hitting the market, many options still don't allow you to listen to your audio with your headphones (a big no-no in traditional videography). Until headphone jacks come standard on our smartphone mics, we will have to continue to work around this. The best option is finding a video camera app that at least gives you a visual idea of the audio quality you're recording.
Three features your video camera app should probably have:
1) The ability to lock focus right before the shutter just in case you forget to lock it
Not all video camera apps come with this feature. If you can remember to set focus, exposure and white balance—and lock them—each time, you don't need it. But we aren't all perfect. Having this option makes it so, even if your video would be better quality if you'd done it yourself, the video will still be clean enough to use if you don't lock these features.
2) Record with the volume buttons
This is even more important for video than it is for photos to avoid unnecessary camera shake! You may be filming on a tripod, but even still, not having to touch your screen and potentially shake your device will mean you can shoot shorter shots that will still be stable and shake-free. What a pro!
3) Battery and storage icons
This probably isn't a surprise, but filming video sucks battery life. And videos take up a lot of space. Having a visual indicator in the app that you may be running out of either will be really helpful so you know when you need to stop to recharge or transfer your footage to, say, DropBox.
4) Composition grids
These can be very helpful to keep in mind that composition is just as important in video as it is in photos. They can also be a helpful reminder of how to properly frame a video interview.
You might also have other features you think should come standard, or apps you recommend. If so, consider posting a comment here and helping us all learn how to be better iPhoneographers! I hope you learned some useful features to keep an eye out as you try to find great apps to help you tell digital stories from your smartphone.