A Beginner’s Guide to Making Movies on Your iPhone

Typically, you want a really powerful computer for video editing. It’s a processor-intensive task requiring significant expenses in both the software and hardware arenas. However, the iPhone is changing this paradigm. A few years ago, who would’ve thought we’d soon be shooting, managing and even editing high quality video content all on one pocket-sized device?

Today we’ll take a beginner’s look at what the iPhone offers for movie makers. We’ll start off with a brief look at the specs of the hardware and then move on to some great apps that you’ll want to check out to help you become the Spielberg of iOS.

A Tale of Two Cameras

Before we jump into the apps, let’s take a look at the hardware specs that you’ll be working with on the line of Apple iOS devices that support video recording. The specs below are for the iPhone 4, but they’re listed as nearly identical for both the current iPod Touch and the iPad 2.

The iPhone 4 comes equipped with two separate cameras, one on each side of the device to make it easy to capture both yourself and others. Your initial instinct might be to assume that both cameras are technically similar, however, they’re pretty different in terms of quality.

Both cameras are capable of capturing video at 30 frames per second with embedded audio. However, the rear-facing camera can churn out 720p HD while the front-facing camera is limited to “VGA-quality” video.

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The front and rear-facing camera specs

Now, this description is pretty technical so let’s talk about what it means. First of all, though Apple is all about applying the “HD” distinction to the rear-facing camera, notice that it’s still not what is known as “Full HD”, which is 1080p at 30fps. However, considering that we are in fact talking about a cell phone, it seems almost laughable to complain about the lack of full 1080p video recording! Even my Canon 500D, a $700 camera, falls short in this area and only offers either 720p at 30fps or 1080p at 20fps.

The more confusing spec for me was the “VGA” distinction for the front-facing camera, since Apple doesn’t really explain their terms here. Some quick research reveals that VGA is a fairly generic term referring primarily to a resolution of 640 x 480 (source).

Obviously, the implication here is that if you care about quality, you should do your best to stick with the rear-facing camera for shooting video.

Shooting Video

Shooting video on the iPhone is so easy that it barely needs to be discussed. All you have to do is open the default camera app, slide the switch to video and fire away!

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Shooting Video

Just as with taking photos, any time you want to focus on something, you simply tap on it. This is a beautifully direct way to shoot video and you’ll get the hang of it in no time.

Editing Video: The Apps

Now comes the good stuff, how do you turn those boring video snippets into an amazing movie? There are quite a few options on the app store to choose from, each with its own personality and benefits. Rather than overwhelm you with the complete selection, here are three of the best apps to get started with.

iMovie

iMovie is of course the quintessential video editor on the iPhone because it comes from Apple. The benefits here are plentiful. First, being that it’s an official Apple app, you know it’s going to integrate perfectly with both your iPhone and Mac. You also probably have a feel for how iLife apps are designed on the desktop and will be pretty happy with how well this translates to a mobile device.

Editing movies is as simple as dragging and dropping, with a familiar clip rearranging system that mirrors the way you shuffle the icons on your iPhone’s home screen. You have access to all your photos, music and movies as resources and can easily add transitions and Ken Burns effects to your heart’s content.

The biggest complaint about iMovie is that it is perhaps too automated and simple. The app’s themes and titles for instance lock you into only a few choices with no ability to venture outside the presets and depend on your own creativity.

If you’re looking for a quick way to throw clips together to impress your family and friends, iMovie is a steal at $4.99, but if you’re familiar with video editing software and enjoy a certain degree of freedom, this app may not be for you.

Also, if you’re anxiously awaiting getting your hands on an iPad 2, you won’t be left out of the video editing loop, iMovie for iPad is looks gorgeous!

Price: $4.99
iTunes Rating: 3/5

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iMovie

Splice – Video Editor

Interestingly enough, Splice is both cheaper and rated higher than iMovie. It has many of the same powerful features in addition to a unique interface that really maximizes efficiency and allows you to make precise tweaks to both audio and video in seconds.

Splice also comes with a built-in store that lets you purchase sound effects, music tracks and borders to take your projects even further. I downloaded the free ad-supported version to try it out and was able to bust out a great looking movie from my clips and photos in under five minutes from the first time I ever launched the app!

Price: $1.99
iTunes Rating: 3.5/5

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Splice

Video Edit

Video edit is about one thing and one thing only: speed. It doesn’t have the most features of any video editing app out there but it does claim to be a whopping 10x faster than iMovie!

When you’re editing, splicing and rearranging video clips on a mobile device, the render times easily can become pretty lengthy. Video Edit attempts and succeeds at solving this problem. You may sacrifice a lot of bells and whistles but if you’re in a hurry it’s well worth it.

Price: $2.99
iTunes Rating: 3/5

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Video Edit

Conclusion

To sum up, remember that the iPhone’s two cameras were not created equal (the same goes for the iPod Touch and iPad). Be sure to use the rear-facing camera whenever possible to maximize your quality. When you’re exporting, keep in mind that while 720p will look great for most cases, it still isn’t quite full 1080p HD video and therefore might be a little disappointing if you’re a resolution-focused user with a high quality television.

For editing, there are plenty of apps to choose from on the App Store. If you’re a beginner and want a good place to start, iMovie is perfect. However, it’s definitely not appropriate for every user. Splice is cheaper, gives you a few unique features such as an integrated add-on store and doesn’t lock you in to a cliché theme quite as much. There’s also a free ad-supported version if you’re looking for a no-cost option. Finally, Video Edit is the way to go if you’re concerned with speed. They’ve managed to cut render times down to a fraction of what you’ll find on many competing apps, though it’s admittedly at the cost of some fairly standard effects and features.

Leave a comment below and let us know which video editing apps you’ve tried and how they stack up to the options above. Which is your favorite? Also, be sure to share any movie-making tips you’ve picked up along the way!


  • Mailia

    I do believe there’s an error in the camera spec picture.

  • http://www.metzener.com/ Dave M.

    Yep, definitely an error. Espcially since they state the correct specs in the text just above the graphic.

    Someone really frelled that graphic up. :)

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Strike that, reverse it. Thanks guys, all better :)

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  • Tony

    How does the iphone go transferring data to a pc computer? Is this possible or does it have to be a mac?
    Many thanks

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  • Robbie

    I found this to be very helpful and informative. Thank you!!

  • Clinton

    What about sound? Can you use a bluetooth or something to make sound and talking really clear on the video??? I am doing golf videos on iphone 4

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