Some Joys and Frustrations with Android

A quick update on my journey into Android! As some of you will know I have been experimenting with using a Samsung S7 Edge phone for Mojo. The good news is that it has opened up loads of new opportunities. I have been doing a lot of experimentation with 360 Video, using the Samsung VR goggles. This also opens up the Oculus platform, which has a lot of exciting potential.

However there have been some frustrations. The Samsung Camera App is excellent in normal light conditions, but in low light really applies too much noise reduction and sharpening. The resulting images just make skin tones look too ‘plastic’. The work around is to shoot Raw, which works fine, but requires post processing. An extra step that I was keen to avoid. The easy solution I thought would be to find an alternative photo app, that gave me more control over my .jpeg work flow. Whilst there are loads available, not all of them are compatible with my hardware and Android version. You soon get the feeling you are a beta tester. Some features work and others are just not available. I suppose it is part of the problem of being an open system with multiple manufactures. Something I never encountered with Apple.

I would be interested in hearing what camera (stills apps) people are using.

Camera FV-5 looked great. However some features including exposure compensation and Touch Exposure just didn’t work.

Open Camera was also interesting until I tried to store my images on an SD card. From then on it just crashed every time I tried to open it.

For video I am using Filmic Pro, which is as good as ever. My Audio recording needs are taken care of by Field Recorder, which has a very professional interface and is a joy to use.

So I suppose the inevitable question will be, do I miss my iPhone? I have to say for 95% of the time I would say no, but choosing apps isn’t as straight forward as on the iOS platform. More devices and more manufacturers means more choice but more potential issues. With Apple you are restricted by the hardware and the whims of one manufacturer, but everything just seems to work out of the box.

The experimenting goes on. I will report back soon!

The iPhone X – Fur Coat and No Knickers –Time to change!

Maybe I should start by explaining the title. In the UK we have a saying ‘Fur Coat no Knickers’, it is used to describe something that looks impressive, but in reality is nothing special. This term for me, pretty much sums up the new iPhone X. Many of the ‘ground breaking’ features, have been available on other phones for almost two years and for a much lower price. The entry model costs £999 in the UK. For many people, a substantial part of their salary!

I am disappointed in Apple, for years it has been the choice of creative people all over the world. The company under Steve Jobs was truly innovative. Their products and software changed the way people worked, in a revolutionary way. However the focus now seems to be on creating fashion/status items and to extract as much money from people as possible. My frustrations started, when they dropped the 3.5mm jack with the introduction of the iPhone 7. Half my sound accessories became redundant, and I had multiple sound sync issues. So I have decided to jump ship and try an Android phone.

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Review of the Inmacus 18mm Wide Angle Lens for the iPhone 6

The Inmacus 18mm, with close up lens +5 and circular polarising filter. Click on all of the images to enlarge.

The Inmacus 18mm, with close up lens +5 and circular polarising filter (Click on all of the images to enlarge).

When I studied documentary photography in the 1980’s, for the first six months we were not allowed to use any lens other than a 50mm. It was a really useful  experience, as it made you think carefully about framing. Eventually we started to experiment with other focal lengths, but to this day I can fairly accurately predict, which lens I need for any given situation. If I am put in the position of only carrying one lens, my preferred focal length for the type of work that I do, is a 28mm.

With the iPhone, I have tended to zoom with my feet, but would have liked to have had a slightly wider focal length than the standard. I did try some experiments with the Olloclip 4-in-1 lens, but to be honest, whilst it’s fun, it softens the edge sharpness too much for my tastes. It does have a distinctive look, similar to a Lomo but it’s not suitable for the type of work I do.

To a large extent, after this experience, I dismissed the idea of using supplementary lenses, until I read a review of the Inmacus 18mm lens. The results looked excellent so when the company recently offered a 50% discount, I ordered one.

The Inmacus 18mm Lens, with included cover.

The Inmacus 18mm Lens, with included cover.

The lens comes in a specific iPhone 6 or 6 Plus mount. Included is the 18mm lens, a +5 close up lens and a circular polarising filter. First impressions are very positive. The lenses all have metal threads, are multicoated and come in a soft bag. It attaches using a unique design. You squeeze the sides of the mount which expand and grip your phone. The upside is that the fit is excellent and very secure, but it does mean that the mount is model specific.
In use, I have to say that the results are excellent. Lets have a look at some practical examples and compare it to the Olloclip I have.

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Using the iRig Pre to Power and Connect an XLR Mic to a DSLR Camera

iRig Pre

On the left an unmodified IK Multimedia iRig Pre. On the right the hacked version. Use a 3.5mm/3.5mm stereo jack in the headphone socket to connect it to your DSLR (click on all of the pictures to enlarge).

In todays post we look at a simple low cost hack, that will allow you to use XLR mics with your DSLR camera. Giving you great quality and control, without the need to buy an expensive preamp or sound recorder.

For my smartphone journalism work I really like using the Røde Lavalier mic, so I thought I would try it out with my DSLRs. Unfortunately the mic requires phantom power, which is a feature that my simple DS214 Juiced link preamp doesn’t offer. No problem I thought, I also have a the more sophisticated Tascam D70, but unfortunately this doesn’t work with my Panasonic GH2, because it only accepts mic level inputs! Not wanting to have to invest in another expensive preamp, I did some research on the net. Continue reading

Is Serif Affinity Photo a Credible Alternative to Photoshop?

Serif Affinity Photo in the Photo Persona (normal edit workspace).

Serif Affinity Photo in the Photo Persona (normal edit workspace).

I was intrigued recently to see the announcement from ‘Serif’ of the launch of their new product Affinity Photo. It is being marketed as direct competition to Adobe Photoshop, which is a pretty bold claim! I did look at one of the beta releases about six months ago, which looked interesting, but like all beta releases it was a bit buggy. I have used Adobe products for the last twelve years, but as a lecturer was dismayed when they adopted the subscription model. Whilst I can afford it, it is an extra cost for students, who face ever increasing financial burdens.

The introductory price for Affinity Photo is £29.99 – 20% off until 23rd July (normally £39.99). That is a one off flat fee, with free upgrades. This compares to the student deal on Photoshop and Lightroom, which is £8.99 a month. So over the course of their studies (3 years) an undergraduate student will pay £323.64. So if the program is any good, it will be a substantial saving! Continue reading

Going Hand Held

Last weekend I videoed a Scooter festival, in my local town of Leek. I used my tripod to capture all of the action. Whilst this gives me a great, steady shot, I do sometimes have worries about people tripping over it. My usual solution is to use a Monopod, or if I want to be very mobile, a monopod into a waist belt.

This works great, but there are occasions when I want something even more compact and a way of mounting other gear, such as a radio mic or an LED light. A discussion on the #mojocon Facebook page, got me thinking about other solutions. I have used a Nikon flat bracket in the past, but it wasn’t the best solution. Bernhard Lill posted a picture of a bracket that looked like it would do the job. I found one on Amazon for £12. Bernhard mentioned that his smelt horrible, but mine doesn’t at all. With a Shoulderpod S1 camera bracket, it works really well. I started off with the handle in my left hand, but this left the audio input on the phone exposed and was a stretch for the TRRS converter (SC4) that I use to connect my Røde VideoMic Pro to my iPhone 6+. By changing everything around and holding the handle in my right hand (the same as I would with a DSLR), the jack into the phone is protected and I can even fit an Røde SC6 if I want to monitor the sound, through headphones. I added the very short handle that comes with the Shoulderpod S1 for extra stability. Continue reading

#mojo Battery Power/Charger Options

From left to right: 3. EC Technology / 2. Maxell / 1. Ankar with a pound coin for scale.

From left to right: 3. EC Technology / 2. Maxell / 1. Ankar

It is often said that ‘the best camera you have, is the one that you have with you’. This has been one of the philosophies behind the #mojo Mobile Journalism movement and the growth of using Smartphones for news gathering. The problem is phones now have multiple uses; web surfing, photography, videography and even making phone calls 🙂 so they use a lot of power. All too often the camera you have with you, is sitting in your pocket with a flashing battery warning! With most phone makers electing not to have removable batteries, the answer is to carry a portable charging device. Here are three I use, there are many more options available.

1. Anker 2nd Generation Astro mini 3350mAh Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank. At £9.99 this is cheap as chips and with its small size (87gm) it easily slips into the pocket. It is made of aluminium so feels solid and robust. When I was using an iPhone 5, it would give me one complete charge. It also, easily attaches to my tripod with a velcro strap, so I can use it whilst videoing.

2. Maxell 790404 5200mAh Power Bank Battery. This is a slightly larger unit, weighing 152 gm. It cost £25.16 and with my iPhone 5 gives me just over two full charges. With its aluminium housing, it feels very robust. Again it is small enough to velcro to a tripod so can be used whilst videoing.

3. EC Technology® 2nd Gen Deluxe 22400mAh Ultra High Capacity 3 USB Output External Battery (£28.99). This is a monster weighing in at 476 gm, you could build walls out of these! I bought this for prolonged trips where I do not have access to mains power. I charged my iPhone 5 with it and the battery indicator didn’t move. It will in theory charge an iPhone 4S 13 times!  It has three outputs and has a plastic case, presumably to keep the weight down. This is definitely one for the camera bag and not your pockets! It even has a built in torch!

I have recently bought an iPhone 6 Plus which has much better battery capacity than my iPhone 5, I will post charging figures for both phones when I have more data. Hope that helps! If you have any solutions you would recommend, please let me know.


Microphones Testing Testing 123

mics3Whilst for 9 out of 10 #mojo interviews I prefer to use a lavalier (clip on) mic, sometimes other microphones do come in handy. I have recently been looking for a USB microphone that I could use for podcasts and voice-overs. They have the advantage that they can be plugged directly into a computer/iPhone/iPad, without having to use an additional preamp. I was also interested to find a hand held, reporter style mic, that I could use with my iPhone for #mojo pieces. Here are some sound files to illustrate my findings. They are best reviewed with a good set of earphones.

First off is the Samson Meteor Mic (£56.65) which I know is a popular choice with podcasters. There are loads of reviews on YouTube, so I won’t go into too much detail about the build quality and looks. However, in a nut shell it’s a work of art. Well built and in the chrome finish I tested, it looks like something from the 1930’s, that Flash Gordon would be at home using. It uses a USB connector, but can be wired into an iPhone or iPad with the camera connector. In use, with its large diameter condenser diaphragm (25mm) it has a very full rich tone. Unfortunately with the sample I tried, there was a little background noise. Probably not too much to worry about, but it is there.

Next up, is the IK Multimedia IRIG MIC HDIN Microphone (£80). This comes with a selection of connection options; including USB and Lightening cables, so it can be plugged directly into an iPhone (a 30 pin connector can also be purchased for older iPhones). In use I found the mic to be exceptionally quiet, with a full sound. It also comes with a microphone clip, so can be connected to a stand. At a normal handheld distance, in a quiet environment it was fine. However in noisy environments, where I had to hold it closer to my mouth, I did find it was susceptible to breath noise and popping. To counter this I tried it with a Rycote foamy which cured the problem completely.

…and with a Rycote Foamy

I already have a Reporters mic, an Audio Technica AT804, which is a short handled model. So I also tried that into an iRig Pro (see my review). Again this was very quiet, but not quite such a rich sound as the IPIRIGMICHDIN Microphone.

So what conclusions can we draw? Well listen to the sound clips and decide for yourselves.  I know the iRig mic and the Samson Meteor were designed for different tasks, but there is quite a lot of cross over. For versatility and sound quality, I really like the IK Multimedia IPIRIGMICHDIN mic. It can be used directly into a computer or iPhone. I did find it a little prone to breath noise when it was used close to the mouth, but using a cheap foamy rectifies this.

I wanted to like the Samson Meteor Mic, the build quality, looks and full sound are exceptional, but it is a little noisy.

If you are already using an iRig Pro and have a Reporters Mic, try that. Depending on the mic it can be great and again is very quiet.

All of the microphones where tested, by plugging them into an Apple Macbook Pro and recording directly into Audacity (A free multi-track audio editor and recorder). As you can hear from the recordings, I have a voice that is probably better suited to being behind a camera and not in front, sorry!

Ethics Statement: All of the equipment above has been purchased by me. This site is not sponsored in any way. If products are reviewed for manufacturers it will be clearly stated, none of the above was.


#MOJO Demystifying Microphone/Headphone Interfaces

As soon as you start working on mobile journalism pieces, two things become apparent. Bad audio can completely wreck a video and to be confident you need to monitor the sound you are recording, using headphones (see my article here).

Whilst the on-board mics in your phone are fine for ambient sound, to isolate people you need to use some form of external microphone. A popular choice for #mojo reporters is the Lavaliere (lapel/tie clip) mic, which can be discreetly placed on your subject. For reporters working to camera, some may prefer a stick mic (some models are specifically designed with longer bodies, to facilitate a good working distance)

XLR Connectors Microphone/iRig/Rode Lav

XLR Connectors Microphone/iRig/Rode Lav

No matter what you choose, most professional microphones use XLR connectors (see note below) and some require a power source to work (referred to as Phantom Power). So your first consideration is to find a way to plug these into your phone, some kind of interface box.

There are a few options currently available and a few new models about to be released. The most popular options for #mojo reporters at the moment, are the iRig Pre and iRig Pro. These are made by IK Multimedia, a company that produce recording interfaces for musicians using tablets and phones. Both of these models are essentially high quality preamps. They boost the microphone output so that the gain in the phone can be kept low, to avoid introducing noise. Continue reading

Sandisk iXpand 32GB Flash Drive

Sandisk iXpand Flash Drive 32 MB for the iPhone!

Sandisk iXpand Flash Drive 32 MB for the iPhone! Click to enlarge.

During the recent Mobile Journalism Conference (#mojocon) in Dublin, the organiser Glenn Mulcahy announced that he had a surprise for everyone. We would all be getting a 32GB Sandisk iXpand Flash Drive, for the iPhone! It was like one of those American chat shows, where they talk about something and then give everybody in the audience one (without the silly whoops and screams)!

Apple for some strange reason, has never included the option to expand the internal memory of their phones, with removable storage. This could be related to the silly price they charge for models with expanded ram. Having just bought a 128GB iPhone 6+ I thought the gift was a nice gesture, but I wouldn’t have much need for it.

However just a few days after getting it, it has proved really useful. I was demonstrating the Filmic Pro app to a lecturer at another University, she was impressed and keen to have a copy of the files. I only had my iPhone with me and didn’t have access to her Wifi. To make matters worse, she is a Windows user (I know)….  Luckily I had the iXpand with me, so it was a simple task, to back up the video onto it and transfer it to her machine. Job done!

I have only just upgraded from a16GB iPhone 5 model, which was always full and giving me memory warnings. When I shot #mojo pieces on it, I had to clear off all my stored images and video to free up space, so it would have been great for that. It is also be ideal for journalists/students who want to quickly, get media off their phones and onto editing machines. Circumventing long uploads/downloads to cloud services.

It’s a very simple solution. It has built in Lightening and USB connectors. You download an app from the App Store. Plug the drive in and select what you want to backup. It has a built in battery, which Sandisk says ‘speeds up transfer times and doesn’t drain the iPhone battery’. Transfer speeds are really quick.

iPhone 5 plugged into the 32GB Sandisk iXpand Flash Drive.

iPhone 5 plugged into the 32GB Sandisk iXpand Flash Drive. Click to enlarge.

I am using the iPhone for more and more video and photographic work. With the big screen of the 6+, the only reason I take a laptop with me is to back everything up. Now I can just slip the iXpand in my pocket for that added piece of mind. When I get home, it is then just a simple job to plug it into my desktop computer, to permanently archive everything.

To sum up: My students know I am obsessed with backing everything up. This does a great job and makes sharing files easy. I am going to buy another one! At the moment it doesn’t seem to be available in the UK, the 32MB version costs $80 in the US. I will try to find out when it will be available here.

I am working on a review of the conference, which I will post soon.