Editor’s note (4/8/11): There is an update to this post after some reader comments helped give me some new ideas. Click here to jump below to the update.
I wondered – could such a device be used to edit video from journalists in the field?
Think about it – instead of lugging around a 4.5-pound (at a minimum) Macbook Pro a journalist in the field need only carry this thin slate weighing in at a comparatively svelte 1.33 pounds. Pack it with a relatively light, feature-rich DSLR such as a Nikon D7000, a Canon Rebel T2i, or even a Panasonic G2 or Olympus PEN camera and you’d have a pretty formidable multimedia punch in field, no?
It’s no secret that it’s already a decently capable field device for photos. Apple‘s camera connection kit for the iPad allows for easy importing of photos that you can then plug into many apps or send in e-mail attachments. The WordPress app used for this site lets me add photos from the iPad that I import from DSLR cameras. I can even edit them in Photoshop Express or Photogene and then upload to Facebook, Flickr and Twitter, or even an FTP site.
But can it provide the same workflow for the video shooters in the crowd? Will it blend? No wait, wrong site for that.
Since this blog originally started life as SLRvideoshooter.com, I figured it would only be appropriate to give a crazy idea like this a shot.
I decided to try a variety of different cameras and systems in the hopes that one would work. I was armed with Apple‘s tech specs on iPad 2 video below (Thanks to our school’s Apple rep.), and did my best to get each camera to match this:
I wasn’t only trying to get the iPad to play the video or import it – both of those things were easy to do in most cases – I wanted to edit the files using iMovie to create a basic news video.
Video formats supported: H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps per channel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pixels, 30 frames per second, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file format
The players in this game were the Nikon D7000 and D300s; the Canon Rebel T2i and 5D Mark II; and the Panasonic GF1 (a Micro Four-Thirds system camera). This represents a wide range of manufacturers, video codecs, resolutions and file formats to try on the iPad 2.
This is obviously not everything that’s out there, but if you have a camera you’d like me to try out, send me one and I’ll be happy to oblige! Or if you’ve tried one of your own, post the results in the comments below and I’ll add you to the roundup with credit.
Did any of these work? Let’s take a look.
Round 1: Nikon D7000 and D300s
These two camera represent Nikon’s state-of-the-art in APS-C cameras. The D7000 is arguably the best spec-ed video SLR on the market right now.
Though on paper the D300s and D7000 are similar cameras, they represent two different eras in Nikon’s video technology. The D300s was one of Nikon’s first-generation video SLR cameras, shooting at one specification, and one specification alone – 1280×720 at 24 frames per second. The files outputted by the camera are Motion JPEG-encoded AVI files.
The D7000 shoots at many different sizes and frame rates, though some were immediately no-gos because of resolution (the full HD setting, 1920×1080, choked the iPad 2 even before I got to the editing process). For the sake of matching as closely possible the specs provided by Apple, I decided to try 1280×720 at 30 frames per second. The D7000 outputs h.264-encoded MOV files.In theory, the D7000 should have worked fine. In practice, neither camera worked on iMovie for the iPad 2.
Both cameras outputted files that I was able to import and play on the iPad 2 (the D7000 had to stay at the lower 1280×720 resolution, whereas for the D300s that’s the only option) but when it came time to the editing, iMovie appeared to grab the movie files from the photos app without a problem, but couldn’t actually view them or edit them. You are greeted with a black editing screen. The D7000 footage actually managed to crash the app several times, without any sort of warning or error message.
I didn’t test Nikon’s “standard” definition because it records at a non-standard 640×424 – a 3:2 ratio suited to pictures, but that’s it. It’s not a common video standard, so trying to test it wouldn’t be of much benefit to most video shooters.
No dice here with Nikon. How did the Canons fare?
Round 2: Canon Rebel T2i and 5D Mark II
The Canon 5D Mark II and Rebel T2i are at opposite ends of the pricing spectrum, but I decided to try both in the same spirit as the Nikons above. The T2i represents about a year and a half (eons in digital equipment years) of research and development over the 5D Mark II, the original Canon video DSLR from 2008. While the 5D Mark II is certainly the more capable camera of the two, it doesn’t feature all of the video options found in the Rebel T2i. Both of the cameras (and the entire Canon lineup) encode footage as h.264 MOV files, just like the Nikon D7000.On the 5D Mark II, I had three options for video: 1920×1080 at 24 and 30 frames per second (neither worked because the resolution was too high for the iPad 2) or standard definition 640×480 at 30 frames per second.
The standard definition setting seemed to match the lower end of Apple‘s specifications for iPad 2 video, But in my tests, I ended up with the same results I got for the Nikon D7000 and D300s – it looked and squawked like editable video, up until importing it into iMovie, where it gave me a blank canvas and then crashed.
The Rebel T2i was a lost cause from the start – at 1280×720 and 640×480, its frame rate is 60 frames per second, too fast for the iPad 2 to even import correctly (and it didn’t – all I got was a bunch of gray boxes).
The T2i is a capable camera, for sure, but poorly suited for this challenge.
Round 3: Panasonic GF1
The “dark horse” entry into this challenge, the GF1 is here as a representative of the Micro Four-Thirds clan. This system has proven that it can hang in there with APS-C sensors quite easily – with the added bonus of exceptional video quality and fast video autofocus to boot.
In an ideal world, this type of camera would be the one to carry with an iPad 2 – DSLR quality in an exceptionally small package that is easy to use for even novice photographers. Reporters without photography experience that are easily intimidated by bulky SLR cameras can take to the mirrorless variety (championed, mostly, by Panasonic, Olympus and Sony) with a much smaller learning curve. The Olympus models can take an optional microphone mount, something I hope that Panasonic sees fit to introduce soon.
The GF1‘s run was at 1280×720 resolution at 30 frames per second. I used Motion JPEG for the codec as opposed to AVCHD for compatibility reasons …
Which didn’t really matter because the footage wasn’t compatible with iMovie anyway. See the entry about the Nikons, as the results were more or less the same here.
The growing pains of a new technology
So I failed in this attempt. But, to quote CNN‘s Victor Hernandez from a recent conference I attended, “(journalism) is about trying, it’s about failing, it’s about sharing.”
I don’t hold this out as a scientific comparison at all. Indeed, it’s possible that there’s a flaw in my methodology or technique here that’s causing it all to fail (if that’s the case, please tell me!). I just tried to get as many cameras as I could get my hands on to see if this was even possible.
I don’t think the cameras were at fault here.
In all likelihood, it’s that the technology isn’t mature enough yet to handle such high quality (read: large, high-bitrate) video. DSLR video can bring even the fastest desktops grinding to a halt, so it’s probably too much to ask of an A5-powered tablet computer to handle. (UPDATE 4/8/11: It can very easily edit the video but it’s still not a success – see why below!)
But make no mistake – this is the future of editing in the field. It may not be the iPad 3 or even the iPad 4, but the potential for small package, big multimedia punch here is amazing. The editing-with-your-fingers thing seems weird now, but then again, so did the tablet computer back in 2009.
The speed of the photo workflow is already mostly there (see above about Photogene on the iPad). It’s only a matter of time before video gets the same treatment.Jamie and Javier!) It turns out that the cameras record in PCM audio, where as the specs say that the iPad 2 can only take AAC audio. I’m not an audio expert, but my friend Jamie De Pould is and pointed this out.
So, armed with this new information, I decided to retry some of the cameras above with the audio disabled. 1920×1080 resolution is still out, but I was able to load on standard definition footage from the Canon 5D Mark II and 1280×720 HD footage from the Nikon D7000 and run it through the timeline smoothly. The Nikon D300s just wouldn’t load for some reason, and there was no option to disable audio on the Panasonic GF1.
This just blew my mind though – the A5 processor in the iPad 2 was more than smooth enough to edit the video. I was able to clip things together with relative ease. It even makes me wonder – if the iPad 2 is able to do this, why can’t most netbooks adequately handle HD video, especially on the Web? Is there something to Apple‘s claims of inefficiency on the part of Adobe Flash? Just maybe there is.
So why then, am I not eagerly posting video that I edited from the iPad 2? Because once I was done with the edits (I use the term loosely) on the video, I was unable to export the video. I tried four different options from the program – Camera Roll, Facebook, Vimeo and YouTube, all with the same result you see pictured here – that the video would error out. My guess? The export scripts are probably set to deal with iPad 2 footage and not some from external sources as crazy as DSLRs.I was able to export to my iTunes library, which meant it showed up in the file-sharing section of iTunes. I couldn’t do much with it though. Unfortunately it seems it’s more just for backup than anything else – only iOS iMovie versions can open these files, which are *.iMovieMobile files, according to MacWorld.
So the final verdict? Too early to call. Apple has real potential here – the processor seems fast enough for DSLR video. The software seems robust enough to edit it with a fair amount of precision. Any and all problems here seem solely because of the closed-nature of the device (which I’ve complained about before) – Apple is only letting video files shot on its devices fly on this iMovie thing, and yes, it brings a level of stability to the whole thing, but if I want to crash my iPad 2 editing DSLR video, that’s my business. Let me do it – open this piece of software up and remove these exporting and audio limitations. Make journalists drool over your device as they dream up new possibilities. Hell, think of the publicity potential of a feature film shot with a DSLR and edited on an iPad 2.
While I’d love to have an open file system on the iPad 2 (having a mass storage device I can use like a flash drive would be amazing) I’d look the other way for a while if I could just get this.
Loosen the reins on this, Apple, remove the limitations in the software. After running these tests and seeing the incredible performance, that’s all I believe is stopping me from accomplishing this goal.
Then I’ll really believe that this is a “magical” product.