How about a point and shoot video camera with an external microphone that is also a phone? Like the sound of that? Maybe your mobile phone is the answer.

Thanks to a relatively stress free house move, Dickinson towers is now Dickinson house, and I am back to blogging. Broadband at home is a few days away so it’s a reduced service – thank god I hear some of you cry.

But ignoring the moans of protest I thought I would restart blogging by shareing a little technical tinkering I have been doing with a mobile phone and video.

Last week I spent some time discussing video with a group of editors from local newspapers . I commented on my surprise (recently blogged) that the cash strapped locals, hampered by templates, hadn’t gone to free or open source solutions to improve multimedia.

We got in to a conversation about video from stills cameras and mobile phones and what was possible. ‘Everything is possible’, says me, ‘There is always a way’. But is there? Can you get responsible video from a mobile phone and using free or online apps get it in to a usable format?

I gave it a try.

nokia-n73-front-thumb.jpgThe kit: A Nokia N73 mobile phone, my office computer and an internet connection

Straight out of the box, the Nokia can capture video. At its best setting with the standard memory card it offers around five or six minutes of MP4 video. It should be just point and shoot.

Note: The shooting here is decidedly dodgy – I was interested in the audio.

My colleague Debbie volunteered her time for a quick 30 seconds of interview. I was sat about 2 feet away.

[flv:/videos/12.flv 400 300]

So far, not so good. Apart from an issue with the sound and video sync, the biggest issue is noise on the recording – if you watch the video, it’s the constant whine all the way through.

This is, as far as I can work out, electronic interference from the camera. (not feedback) and makes the clip pretty unusable. The clip above is the original sound.  I did try and run it through Audacity’s noise reduction filter, which wasn’t straightforward with an MP4, and it produced pretty poor – even less usable- results.

It comes down to the issue of external microphones – in-built stuff is just cheap and nasty. I thought that was it. No way to get an external mic on a mobile phone. Or is there?

mic.jpgMost mobiles will come with some form of hands-free device. The Nokia one is a particularly horrible version but it does, as you would expect, have a mic – Yep, a mic. And it works when you use the camera. On reflection this makes sense. If you are doing video calling then the why not do it hands free. But was it any good?

Here is a second clip, shot in a similar office with another colleague, Francois Nel. Same situation but using the hands-free mic. I did a bit of elastic band retrofitting to keep the headphones under control.

[flv:/videos/16.flv 400 300]

Pretty good isn’t it (the sound I mean). I was sat a similar distance away, with the camera in one hand pointing the mic in the right general direction.

I tried at a bit more of distance with yet another colleague (they are very understanding) Charlie Lambert, and the results aren’t as good but at least there isn’t any of that nasty buzz. There is a still a fair bit of background noise but it is more likely to be removable by Audacity than the whine (I haven’t tried that yet) and the audio is pretty good anyway.
[flv:/videos/15.flv 400 300]

The videos where uploaded unedited to Heywatch to convert from Mp4 to FLV

The original discussion that prompted this experiment was about using a mobile to film footage at a football match, possibly fan reaction, and get it on a site as quickly as possible. Did it work – well kind of.

Things to improve:

  • Uploading to Google Video was pretty slow all told and I couldn’t get the email upload for YouTube to work so perhaps the process needs a bit more testing to speed it up.
  • The filming was ropey, but I got distracted by the audio testing, to the point where I made the schoolboy error or filming in front of a window.
  • I need to do a bit more playing around to see what the trade off of file quality and audio sync is

But on the whole I was pleasantly surprised that the hands-free worked so well. Pricing up a multifunction point and shoot with external microphone? Maybe you already have one in your pocket