Toolbox Newsletter XX

Feb. 23, 2021

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a periodic series of guest posts about journalists’ favorite mobile apps.

Marc Settle (@marcsettle) works for the BBC Academy, the training arm of the BBC, where his role is to show journalists how to get the best out of their smartphones (almost exclusively iPhones) for reporting from the field or – increasingly – at home. 

A journalist using only the pre-installed apps on their smartphone is like someone driving a Ferrari in first gear. At the risk of stretching the metaphor to breaking point, you can get your phone purring along in fifth with the addition of just a few well-chosen apps.

But you’ll have to buy them – yes, by spending actual money. Some apps may only be a few bucks, some quite a few bucks more than that – and increasingly, apps now want to tie you into a subscription of several bucks a month. They promise new features and regular updates but your mileage may vary here. 

The apps I’m writing about here are established favorites within the growing global mojo community - that is, producers and reporters who cover news stories and create related content using just their smartphones plus a few gadgets and gizmos like a tripod, a lens, a microphone and a spare battery.

1. Filming

Most smartphones include pretty decent video cameras these days. And video is a rare area where some high-end Androids can give the user more control and options than iOS on an iPhone: a few Samsung and LG devices, for instance, offer access to settings such as ISO (light sensitivity) and white balance which can’t be independently controlled on iOS. For that, and a lot more besides, you should buy a third party filming app.

The leader of the pack here is FilmicPro. It's not cheap, certainly, but professional features such as zebra stripes, focus peaking, false colour and focus pulls don't come cheap. (If you're not familiar with any of those terms, then perhaps this isn't the app for you just yet).

Decent alternatives include MoviePro, MomentPro Cam and one app which, imaginatively, has eschewed any combination of "movie" "film" and "pro" with the name Mavis.

2. Editing

When it comes to editing footage, the right app for you will depend on how complex your edits will be, how powerful your phone is and how much experience you have with video editing.

If you're already comfortable with desktop programs such as FCPX or Premiere, then three apps stand out: Luma Fusion (iOS only), Adobe Premiere Rush and Kinemaster (both iOS and Android). These each offer professional features such as multiple video tracks, keyframing, and customizable text but they’re not for the faint-hearted. Search online for tutorial videos to see what you’re in for before taking the plunge and buying.

The next level down – slightly less powerful but often cheaper - look at apps such as Videoleap, InShot, VN, Splice, and Videoshow. Each of these is pretty good and you’ll certainly be able to make a video with it but they don’t quite have the full range of features in the three highlighted initially.

3. Generating Text

Many of the above editors allow you to add text to your video, but there are some standalone apps worth mentioning for this too.

If you need to import a special font, then Vont will do this for you. It also lets you choose the color of your text using RBG formatting and to determine how the text comes on to the screen. For text with more visual impact – think animations and more – then Mojo, Type Art and Hype Type are worth looking into.

The last 18 months or so has seen an explosion in the number of apps which can automatically add text to video, either live or once recorded. For the former, try Clips (Apple’s own social media video app) or Clipomatic; neither of these can use landscape video though. If you want to generate subtitles for 16:9 video (as well as many other aspect ratios) Mix Caption and Vrew have both proved successful in their own way depending on the feature set you’re after and the amount you’re willing to pay. 

4. Charts and Graphics

With a bit of time, effort and patience, you’ll probably be able to create charts and graphics within video editing apps such as Luma Fusion and Kinemaster. But to save the stress, there are a number of great apps that are dedicated to that task. Alight Motion is probably the most powerful in this category and can create some impressive motion graphics but the learning curve to master it is steep.

Chartistic can be used to create bar charts or pie charts with labels on the x-axis and y-axis while Icongraph has a huge range of templates where you only need to add the data relevant to your story. One bonus tip: both Chartistic and Icongraph produce static images but if you screen record while the image is generated, that will provide a video instead.

5. Audio

Given the dominance of video especially for social media, recording audio is often overlooked when it comes to mobile journalism. It's worth investing a few pounds to get a lot more functionality than the stock apps offer.

Voice Record Pro offers a simple feature that’s invaluable to many journalists: it can add a bookmark during a recording. A gentle tap on the screen (not so hard that it gets picked up by the microphone) produces a marker on the display so that when listening back, you can see exactly when a key moment happened during the recording.

VRP also lets you choose your own audio format (MP3 or WAV) rather than using whatever your smartphone uses. It can also transcribe the recording so you have a text version. Ferrite takes things even further with multi-channel recording and multi-track layering of audio - but be prepared to pay for this. 

Wizibel and Headliner can generate a video from audio, where the video consists of one or more images as well as a waveform that responds to the audio. 

Want More Apps?

We have a long playlist of video trainings on various apps, including a slideshow highlighting various tools and individual app demonstrations, including many of them Marc mentioned in this newsletter.

In Quotes …

"I would like to prove that on TV, everyday lives can be as compelling as the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Especially lives that we catch at extraordinary moments."

--Jane Pauley


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