The iPhone on Set
More and more of us have an Apple iPhone on our belts and in our purses. Call it a status symbol. Call it an obsession. Whatever it is, we sure love to dip our heads and poke at it. And it''s not just for checking a recipe, tracking our morning jog by satellite, or killing zombies. For camera professionals, the iPhone is ecoming a serious tool of the trade.
There are shooter-specific applications such as David Eubanks'' pCam and Tiffen''s Photo Fx, but the iPhone can do much more. That''s good news as we seek more efficient ways of working in this crazy file-based, web-centric world.
PCam ($39.99) is the shooter''s tour de force application for the iPhone, offering a range of functions for the professional craftsperson. PCam calculates a slew of imaging parameters such as depth of field, hyperfocal distance, field of view, filter and gel color correction, macro exposure compensation, and even differential distances for focusing underwater. It supports a range of film formats from Super 8 to 70mm IMAX and virtually every video configuration from 1/3in. CCD to full 35mm-frame CMOS.
PCam''s graphical interface is also very intuitive and consistent with iPhone''s swipe-and-tickle approach. For educators, pCam can serve fabulously as a teaching tool as students interact with the many concepts and calculations and access the built-in help pages for guidance and insight. I found the time-lapse assistant especially convenient. Sure, you can do the arithmetic yourself on the back of an Egg McMuffin sack when setting up before dawn in the cold, but pCam makes the process so much more elegant and professional-looking.
I''ve always been a big fan of Tiffen''s Dfx filter suite, which mimics the approximate effect of many popular camera filters in software. Now, that functionality has been extended in a limited way to the iPhone and iPod touch.
The ridiculously low-priced Photo Fx ($2.99) features 26 filter simulations of various optical lab processes, photographic effects, and Tiffen glass-filter types. Some of the more useful ersatz camera filters include the Black Pro-Mist, Color-Grad, Polarizer, Night Vision, Soft/FX, and Ultra Contrast.
While I generally use Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop to treat still shots from the set, my laptop isn''t always convenient or available when scouting locations. Thus is the benefit of Photo Fx, which can serve as a low-cost adjunct to my DSLR capability during these remote forays. Impromptu photos of locations or talent can be treated on the spot using any camera (including that of the iPhone) and relayed instantly to decision-makers with the approximate desired look in place. The tool doesn''t replace the more comprehensive Dfx plug-in suite you may have inside Apple Final Cut Pro or Adobe After Effects , but it does add valuable functionality while scouting. The shooter is now able to experiment with various looks early in the creative process.
On set there''s a growing impetus among shooters for the iPhone (and iPod touch) to play a more active role, especially for playback of video dailies from Panasonic P2- and Sony XDCAM-captured files. Certain P2 cameras, including the new AG-HPX300, can be fitted with a proxy encoder that simultaneously encodes MPEG-4 video/audio onto P2 and SD flash memory. The 320x240 proxy video is captured at bit rates up to 1.5Mbps. All XDCAM cameras produce MPEG-4 proxies by default and therefore do not require a supplemental encoder card.
P2 cameras have the advantage, however, of recording proxy video to an SDHC card, thus allowing the offloading of files to a laptop or desktop computer without tying up the camera, P2 drive, or P2 cards. A 4GB SDHC card can hold 5 hours and 12 minutes of MPEG-4 proxy video at 1.5 Mbps. Bear in mind the MPEG-4 compression in Sony and Panasonic cameras is applied intraframe, not via long-GOP.
The preparation procedure for iPhone dailies is similar regardless of the camera system or whether you''re working on a Mac or PC. In the case of P2, the proxy SDHC card is removed from the camera and mounted on a computer using an inexpensive reader. In Apple iTunes, a new playlist is created and named something appropriate such as “01_production_date.” The proxy files from the SD card are then dragged into the playlist, logically named, and transferred to the iPhone (or video-enabled iPod for that matter) using the normal method of syncing.
The same process applies to XDCAM. The proxies can be brought directly into iTunes from the disc, SxS card, or SDHC card. I sometimes snag the MPEG-4 files after capture into Final Cut Pro. The contents of the XDCAM Proxy folder (containing many scenes) are then available for transfer to a single iTunes playlist.
This brings up a limitation of the current system: Because of digital-rights-management restrictions, only one iPhone at a time can be synced to an iTunes Library. If multiple iPhones access the proxy dailies from a common computer''s iTunes library, their own movie lists will be replaced with the proxy videos. This may not sit well with the director or producer and other folks who rather like their own videos for schmoozing and job cultivation. Reiterating this point: If more than one iPhone will be reviewing dailies from a common computer, iTunes will overwrite the existing movies on the additional iPhones during the syncing process. The original movies on the other phones are easily restored, however, by resyncing to that person''s computer and iTunes library. Only movie files are affected by this proxy video scheme; the music library, applications, and address book are not touched.
Any way you poke, swipe, or tickle it, the iPhone is destined to play a pivotal role in the shooter''s future workflow. Whatever our fears and reservations may be, we shooters must learn to work smarter and with greater attention to new file- and web-based tools.
Calculating depth of field, applying post-camera filters to location stills, or reviewing video dailies, the iPhone can play a key role in all of it. Hell, many of us are checking our email and text messaging every 5 minutes anyway. We might as well get something useful out of all that screen time—beyond killing zombies.