Review: MoviePro 3K video camera app for iPhone 6 Plus

Monday, 27 October 2014

MoviePro has been available on the iTunes App Store for a long time, but it has been updated to take advantage of the faster processors and better camera processing in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

The headline news is that MoviePro can record at 3K at up to 30 frames per second on the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. 3K is 3072x1728 pixels per frame. 

This 4K video on YouTube shows how much bigger 3K is than HD and shows the quality of the recording. The quality isn't limited by the camera, but by YouTube:

When viewing this full-screen, make sure YouTube is playing the 4K version by choosing '2160p 4K' from the cog pop-up menu.

There is also the problem of not having a big enough screen to show the video on. Here is the same video with the centre HD area cut out. It shows the quality, and also shows how much you can zoom 3K video in an HD frame without losing any quality.

If you want to download the source 4,587,894,223 byte 3840x2160 ProResLT file, it will be available for a month here (or until HighTail turns off the unlimited downloads/bandwidth setting for the file).

Here is a partial list of resolutions MoviePro can record in: 320x240, 1024x768, 1600x900, 2560x1920 (4:3), 2560x1440, 1920x872 (2.20:1), 1920x698 (2.75:1)

As well as high spatial resolution, MoviePro can also record in a large range of framerates: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.. in single frame increments to 23, 24, 25, 30, 48, 50, 60, 96, 100, 120, 192, 200 and 240 frames per second. 1080p can be recorded at up to 60 fps. 240fps at 1280x720.

Pro features

As this app has been around for a while, there have been many improvements over the months to support professional use:

High data rates

For 3072x1728 25fps footage, the H.264 file has a data rate of 120-130 megabits per second. That's up to 681K per frame. If you encoded a QuickTime movie using Photo Jpeg with a quality set to 'Low' (25), its data rate would be around 640K per frame. If you record at 30 frames per second, the data rate isn't higher, so you get lower quality frames.

If you record 3072x1728 at 2 frames per second, the data rate goes down to around 25 Mbps. That results in very high quality frames.

The data rates fall quickly for lower resolution videos: 3000x1688 movies are recorded at around 115 Mbps, 2560x1440 at 85 Mbps, 1920x1080 at 45 Mbps.

The data rate cannot be set directly - 'Video Quality' is defined as a percentage of the quality the iPhone would normally record:

mp3.5 presets

Sound

As well as having a on-screen sound meter, there is also an on-screen control for input record level. Using a splitter cable you can monitor with headphones while a separate microphone records the scene. You can also use a bluetooth connect microphone.

You can also control how audio is recorded: choosing between none, low, medium, normal (?) and uncompressed:

mp3.5 audio

It seems the data rate for Low, Medium and Normal have the same result: 64 Kbps 44.1 kHz AAC. Uncompressed is 710 Kbps 44.1 kHz uncompressed. There are no sample size or frequency controls.

Interesting

You can group settings into five presets which you can swap between with a tap. Pressing the 'Star' control near the record button brings up the presets:

mp3.5 presetsoverlay

As you can see, some of the preset descriptions are shown in type that is too large to fully show in the overlay.

Other settings not built into presets include:

  • Orientation
  • Which built-in microphone to use (Bottom / Front Top / Back)
  • Zoom - choosing either a slider for direct zooming, or a +/- buttons and a zoom speed control
  • Whether the Volume + button can trigger recording or not (useful for external microphones and headsets)
  • Guides - One kind of guide: Dividing the screen into thirds
  • Recording time - As well as the usual unlimited recording, set recording time for values between 5 seconds and 2 hours
  • Spy Mode - The option to blank the screen when recording
  • On-screen Audio Metering
  • Video Stabilization

A nice touch for left-handed operators is that the UI reconfigures if you hold your device up the other way.

Right-handed UI:

mp3.5 UIRight

Left-handed UI:

mp3.5 UILeft

By default, MoviePro will auto focus, auto expose and auto white balance while recording. By tapping on the screen you can set the point that the software uses for focus and exposure. Dragging from the point you've tapped allows you to have separate focus and exposure points:

mp3.5 focus-exposure-point

You can also turn on the device flash and use it as a light, use a timer delay before recording and also pause recording while filming with creating a separate QuickTime file

Instead of sending footage to the camera roll, you can keep them in the app library, which has a browser that provides useful information - and gives access to a video editor:

mp3.5 library 

3K in Final Cut Pro X

When you create a new project in Final Cut and set it to set the resolution based on the first clip added to the timeline, you get the following message:

3k-not2k

If you switch the Format pop-up to 'Custom' Final Cut will set the project to the correct dimensions:

3k-3k

Bear in mind

There are a few areas where MoviePro could do with some improvement.

The first is frame rate control: Even though you might choose a specific frame rate, the frame rate recorded often isn't exactly correct: If set to record at 25 frames per second, the resulting movie is usually 25.035 fps, but sometimes 25.034 fps or 25.025 fps. The metadata in the file means that editing software like Final Cut Pro X reads the frame rate as 25 fps, but QuickTime Player 7 and Mpeg Streamclip determine that the frame rates I've listed. Here are the frame rates of other movies I've recorded: 24.024 fps (not 24), 23.029 fps (not 23), 20.025 (not 20), 120.2 fps, 200.557 fps, 239.634 fps (but sometimes exactly 240 fps).

There is a note from the developer stating that if you can do without higher resolutions and data rates, the recorded frames per second are more likely to match the setting, but that setting didn't improve the accuracy for me.

This is probably a side effect of the software framework MoviePro uses - the iPhone prioritises quality over consistency. MoviePro needs a mode that records at exactly the frame rates required. This is needed if you want your iPhone or iPad to synchronize with other devices recording at the same time - be they cameras recording other angles of moments that might only happen once. If the high frame rate section is only going to be recorded using MoviePro is less of a problem - editing software will treat the 239.634 fps footage as if it is 240 fps and when you play it at the frame rate of your project, you'll get the slow motion you want.

Frame rate accuracy is also important when performers are working to music playback for sync slow motion for music videos. 

Talking of frame rates, professional movie makers need more specific frame rates: 23.976, 29.97 and their x2 and x3 multiples. To get better results, they also need shutter speed control. Footage shot at 25 fps is usually made from stills shot with a 1/50th second shutter speed (known as a shutter angle of 180° as it results in a shutter speed of twice the frame rate). That means footage shot at 2 fps should have a shutter speed of 1/4 of of a second.

As the data rate of 3072x1728 footage can be as high as 130 Mbps, it would be be great to have that same data rate available to lower resolutions (perhaps at higher frame rates). Recording as a Photo Jpeg medium (instead of H.264) 2560x1440 QuickTime movie would result in high quality footage with enough extra resolution for reframing and stabilzation.

Being extra picky, it would be good for the UI graphics to be scaled for the iPhone 6 Plus display, as some of the graphics is a little blocky if you take a closer look.

Conclusion

The fact that I'm asking for precise frame rate control, shutter angle control and audio encoding settings shows how professional this application already is. This application is great value. Buy it now and it will help your iPhone become a secret weapon on your next professional shoot.

MoviePro costs £2.99 and is available from the iTunes Store.