The secret of good video recording with a phone

What’s the secret of good video recording? Most phones have a limited video potential today and many people record and post their lives for us all to share on Facebook and I’m sure you have cringed as often as I have at the quality of not only the production but also the subject matter.

So why is professional video recording always so much better in quality than the stuff we can record on our phones?

There are of course many reasons, the first being what and where we point our cameras. Most people will use their phones in social situations to record an event or comment on a situation they were currently in. Normally the end result is a jumble of background noise and scratchy or grainy footage.

The reasons simple, phones have cheap mass produced chips that aren’t very good in low light and wide spread auto volume microphones that can’t distinguish one sound from another.

So why is the professional productions so much better? Obviously most often the equipment is much more expensive with better chips for recording in low light and separate microphone inputs to capture what sound they want rather than the mass of background noise.

In film production on set there is normally what is known as the sound stage where scenes are acted out. These areas are sound proofed to remove any outside or unwanted sounds. Then quite often each person speaking in a scene will be miced up individually so that the sound can be mixed later to the perfect balance.

The professional will also have at his fingertips the options of different sorts of microphones for video recording, much in the way that a lens will focus at different distances microphones can be bought with different focus widths. So it’s possible to get a microphone with a very narrow focus width which means it much better at concentrating it’s pick up on one thing a distance away rather than all the surrounding noise.

These narrow focus microphones can cost way more than the average domestic camera or video. So are out of reach of the amateur. But if you are trying to do video with one of the new breed of DSLR cameras it’s worth buying a separate microphone to improve the quality of your video recording.

The other way of getting the sound just right in a noisy environment is to have a lapel type microphone. These types of mic have a very short range of pick up so that a noise near by sounds loud but all background noise is relatively quiet.

If you are using a sports video camera like a Go Pro you will notice that these have very close focus microphones, you have to add in a lapel mic to use them for speech. These are designed like this because they more often than not don’t want to record the over whelming sound of wind noise like when they are used on a Motorbike or for downhill skiing.

So a lot of the problem of the low quality produced by amateurs is down to the equipment. But there are some things you can do to improve your chances of getting better quality video recording on your phone.

First if you are trying to record in a low light area look for the strongest lit area to go and stand in to give your phone it’s best chance. Secondly in the same vein look to move to an area where the sound behind your subject is low, place your subject against a wall for example rather than have a whole room full of noise behind.

If you are going to record your own voice commenting on the situation, hold the phone close to your mouth – after all that’s how a phone is designed to work!

Think carefully about what you want to record, if it’s the fact that you are at your favourite groups concert at the O2 and you are 200 rows back bear in mind that you will be picking up as much nose from the people around you as from the concert. Your brain filters it out but the video recording won’t.

Lastly video is always much better when it is edited. Most professionals work on the principle of shoot long and edit short. That is to say film as much as physically possible and then edit to the absolute minimum to tell the story. Even our phone footage videos could benefit from this basic principle so try and master some sort of editing program that will at least let you cut and paste just the best bits of your shoot.


Brian Russell

Copyright December 2014.