10 Must-Have iPhone 6 Tips for FCPX Editors
As some of you might know, our typical FCPWORKS workflow services involve building FCPX editorial solutions around high-end 4K acquisition gear from RED, AJA, Blackmagic, ARRI, etc. That being said, we’re also firm believers in the philosophy of Chase Jarvis, “The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You.”
Some of the FCPWORKS team put this philosophy into action during a recent trip to Tokyo to attend the InterBEE trade show (where we learned all about the coming 8K future, more on that in a later post). On more than one occasion, we went to a great bargain sushi place near our hotel called Sushi Zanmai.
We decided to commemorate the place by shooting an impromptu episode of fellow FCPX consultant and trainer Chris Phrommayon’s YouTube restaurant review show, “You Try Now.” The challenge: we only carried an iPhone 6 and 6 Plus for cameras. To our eyes, this all turned out pretty well, but decide for yourself with the embed below and then read more all about our observations. Be sure to click on the gear on this clip and change the playback resolution to 1080p for the best quality:
This experience gave us lots of insight into ways that Final Cut Pro X editors can optimize their workflow with iOS footage. The camera on the iPhone 6 isn’t going to replace the 4K gear above, but it’s actually quite good and compares very favorably with other purpose-built 1080 HD camcorders.
The following suggestions can make the most of the camera’s capabilities so that when you get into editing with Final Cut Pro X you can achieve the best possible results.
10 Must Have iPhone Tips for FCPX Editors
- Use Focus/Exposure Lock. The iPhone has a great automatic focus/exposure meter but if you leave it on automatic you may find it riding the exposure and focus up and down within a shot. This could ruin a take if it happens during a key moment. So, watch the shot as you capture and if you notice this happening simply tap and hold on the screen on the subject you want to be exposed and focused on and the exposure/focus will lock for the next shot.
- Shoot Steady. Nothing screams amateur like shaky, handheld footage. Shoot with a an iPhone tripod if you have one, or brace the phone against a table, chair, or doorway. You can also hold the phone closer to your body and take shorter steps to maximize steadiness. The iPhone 6 Plus has built-in optical image stabilization that is quite good. Combine this with some judicious application of stabilization in FCPX and you can achieve nice, smooth camera moves that may fool some eyes into believing it’s a dolly or jib shot.
- Shoot Long Takes. A common camera phone habit is to start action at the moment you begin recording and cut right as you stop recording. But this can really limit your editing choices in post-production. Instead, start rolling, then count off a few seconds to yourself and then start the action. When the action has completed, count off a few more seconds and then stop the recording. You’ll be very happy to have those extra handles of useful footage, especially when you’re trying to fit a long voiceover onto a montage of shots in FCPX.
- Get the 128 GB model. The iPhone 6 shoots 1080/30p H.264 at approximately 18Mbps. This results in file sizes of around 135 MB per minute or about 8 GB per hour. Considering you’ll likely want to carry your own music, movies and lots of other apps on the same iPhone, leaving plenty of extra storage space for video is a great idea. Get the 128GB model. (It has a better resale value too.)
- Do Slow-Mo in Post. The iPhone 6 offers slow-motion modes of up to 240 frames per second. Unfortunately, in order to achieve these higher frame rates, the camera samples less of the sensor area (this is common on high speed cameras). The result is lower resolution in slow motion shots. You won’t notice this as much on the relatively small screen of the phone itself but it’s painfully clear when you look at the footage on an HD monitor back in FCPX. The built-in optical flow based slow motion in FCPX is a very good alternative. So, shoot full 1080p 30 (or switch to 60p if you are certain the shot will be slowed down).
- Watch the Color Temperature We found that the iPhone shoots a bit cool in terms of color temperature and responds well to a bit of judicious Color Board application in Final Cut Pro X.
Be mindful of mixed lighting sources as you shoot. And don’t use the onboard light unless you are literally in pitch blackness without it, as it produces a flat/deer-in-the-headlights look.
- Add Voice Notes While Shooting We were shooting a lot of b-roll/montage footage where we knew we wouldn’t use the audio being recorded with the video. So, we’d just annotate the video vocally as we shot. For “You Try Now“, it was “this is the dish we’re about to eat, this is how it’s made, etc.” This was much faster and simpler than stopping recording to jot down written notes. And when you edit in FCPX you can replace that temp audio with cleanly recorded voice over.
- Record Secondary Audio with Voice Memos We’re assuming only stock iPhone applications for this article, so this one is a freebie. Later in this article we’ll discuss additional apps but the Voice Memo app is a nice way to get audio-only clips. If you want to get the background ambience of a particular location to later lay over an entire montage, grab a quick minute or two of clean audio with the Voice Memos app and you’ll be all set when you get to the edit in X.
- Transfer Everything At Once The iPhone 6 Lightning connection is unfortunately limited to USB2. Even though the H.264 clips of the phone are smallish, they still take a long while to transfer into FCPX. Set aside enough time to transfer everything you shot for a particular project in one go- ideally during a long break or even overnight. You can always delete unused shots later but it’s better to get everything transferred first and then move onto the edit.
- Optimize on Ingest Do this for for better editing performance and quality. The H.264 long-GOP clips created by the iPhone can be played natively in FCPX but you’ll find performance suffers a lot as soon as you add filters/transitions/color grading due to the increased processing/encoding required. If you optimize to ProRes on ingest, this only has to be done once per clip and from then on the editorial performance will be much better. The lower spec’ed machines like Mac Minis and MacBooks will benefit from this the most. Make sure that the Create optimized media option is checked on import.
We said earlier we’d assume a ‘stock’ iPhone but maybe you want to extend your toolkit a bit. Here are some other useful iPhone applications for video production:
- MoviePro Recorder Enables 2K resolution and higher bitrates along with a host of manual controls and uncompressed audio. Filmic Pro also deserves a mention. You should test these apps carefully before committing to a workflow with one. The clips use up more space and might cause compatibility issues depending on the frame rates and resolutions you select.
- Hyperlapse from Instagram Admittedly these clips are already getting a little cliche/gimmicky but they can make a great intro/outro to a location and the built-in real time image stablization is quite impressive.
- Sun Seeker Technically this is a not a video/audio app per se but if you’re working on location stripped down with minimal gear, knowing the precise location of the sun throughout the day can be incredibly useful for planning out a shoot.
One key benefit of shooting video with an iPhone is staying lightweight and agile, but here are a couple of optional pieces of hardware that will add production value without too much extra weight.
- Olloclip is a relatively lightweight lens adapter that gives you fisheye, wide angle, and macro options with great build quality. The current model is one-size fits all for both iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. So you can share one between two cameras if needed. Adds immensely to the optical variety of shots you can achieve with the iPhone.
- Mikey Digital Let’s face it, the onboard mic on the iPhone is decent but like any onboard camcorder microphone it will never take the place of actual professional microphones for post-production usable sound. The Mikey will get you one step closer to that ideal while keeping your kit bag relatively light.
Fly X3 Gimbal Gyro-stabilized gimbals are all the rage now both with drones and handheld units costing into the thousands of dollars. The X3 is a very compact and relatively inexpensive ($330) unit for the iPhone 6 (but not the 6 Plus unfortunately). Looks very promising if you’re doing a lot of high motion/active sports work.
When the first iPhone came out in 2007, it didn’t even have the ability to shoot video clips. I’d have been hard to convince back then it would ever replace even the most modest consumer camcorder of the time. With the latest iPhone 6 and 6 Plus however, the game has changed. The video quality possible with the onboard sensor and in the case of the Plus, optical image stabilization is quite impressive.
The iPhone 6 tips we’ve shared in this article can help optimize this quality and prep for Final Cut Pro X. We’re not quite ready to stop shooting 4K with awesome lenses for good but when the image need not be of pristine quality and/or you want to travel light, this is a great option. And for easy b-roll for projects, the iPhone 6 is also a no-brainer. Please share additional tips you’ve found and productions you’ve made with your iPhone in the comments.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog post contains the personal musings of FCPWORKS’ Marketing Director, Noah Kadner. Prior to joining the company, Noah spent several years at Apple where he worked with internal Workflow and Editorial teams in support of Final Cut Pro X customers. Noah also directed a feature film available on iTunes called Social Guidance and wrote “RED: The Ultimate Guide to the Revolutionary Camera.” Noah’s ongoing career goal is communicating digital post-production workflows to experts and enthusiasts alike.You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter at @FCPWORKS.