It's been interesting seeing the various uses people have
put the Nokia N93 to over on WOM
World, though these have mainly been limited to shortish pieces and often
rendered down to something smaller than the full N93 resolution using YouTube
or similar. I thought it might be useful to recount my experiences with digital
video on a smartphone over the last 12 months.
The story so far
As a convergence freak, once I got hold of the
Nokia N70, with its 352 by 288 pixel (CIF) video capture,
I started trialling shooting all my family video on my phone - the ad-hoc
ability to whip the device out and start shooting was fabulous, especially when
children are involved - you never know when one of those magic moments will
happen. Once I started shooting this way, I never went back to my old
(inconvenient) standalone camcorder, despite the quality difference - the far
more interesting subject matter outweighed, in my mind, the rather blocky and
slightly jerky CIF video picture. I began editing all the best bits of my N70
(and later N90) footage using
Ulead VideoStudio 10
Plus and burning them, together with my best N70 and N90 still photos, to
DVD and copying these for ourselves and for the grandparents.
Enter the N93
Then the Nokia
N93 appeared in real life and, after a few problems with the initial
firmware that got sorted out a day before my main summer vacation, I switched
from the N90 with a few worries about what might go wrong. Leaving everything
else at home, I only took the N93, as my main email device, music player, PDA,
camera and (of course) video camcorder.
And you know what, I was largely bowled over. The larger
screen (2.4" diagonal) was supremely readable and worked well as a camera
viewfinder, there were no fragility problems with the swivelling and twisting
screen, the large keypad was great for texting and composing on, and best of
all the video recording facility proved to live up to its billing (VGA
resolution, 30 frames per second).
Over the course of my vacation, I filled up 1.3GB of a 2GB
miniSD card, with over almost an hour of video and over 15 still photos. I
actually shot about two hours of video, but I would review the footage at the
end of each day and discard or edit down any clips which didn't work. Reviewing
footage, with the stereo headphones on, was quite an experience - with the
stereo audio soundtrack, the video was surprisingly immersive.
Example frame grab from holiday footage - click to
enlarge to full size
Dealing with my footage
Back home, I had to process all my footage, and here's
where I hit a few hiccups. Although the MP4 videos from the N93 would open fine
in Quicktime Pro, trying to paste a few of them together and then re-save
resulted in all kinds of audio sync problems. Undeterred, I loaded the clips
into my favourite video editor, VideoStudio, which promptly crashed - it seemed
it just didn't like the N93's MP4 files at all. Sighing(!), I tried the huge,
bundled copy of Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 from the N93's CD. As with all
Adobe software, seemingly, this was extremely RAM hungry and bloated. My PC's
no slouch and has 512MB of RAM, yet I couldn't even preview the N93's videos in
the software, even after going through Premiere's rendering preview cycles. I
tried including the clips as-is, without editing, but it made a mess of the
resulting DVD, with (again) horrible audio sync and distortion problems. I
I was left with a vacation's worth of videos that I could
do nothing serious with and I despondently moved on to other devices (the E70,
which has a similar camera to the N70, plus a proper qwerty keyboard), leaving
the N93 lying around looking rather sad for itself.
Another example frame grab from holiday footage - click
to enlarge to full size
On a whim, a few days ago, I tried the Ulead site and
found news of a 'Service
Pack' for Video Studio 10. Although it didn't mention MP4 compatibility
problems, I thought it was worth a try. After upgrading, amazingly, all my N93
MP4s imported perfectly into Video Studio 10 Plus and could be previewed in
real time and edited to my heart's content. Importantly, the finished DVDs were
perfect too. Phew!
Watching the point on the DVD where the N90 video clips
stop and the N93's vacation ones come in is quite dramatic - the extra
resolution makes a big difference. The sound was great too. But - the big
question - what about comparing N93-produced video to that from my original
standalone camcorder, though? Is it as good?
Answering the 'big question'
In short, no, but that's not really important - read on.
Looking at the N93 video on DVD on a big-screen TV, it's apparent that there's
noticeable jerkiness when panning round a scene, probably partly to do with the
scaling down from 30 frames per second to 25 for European PAL video equipment.
In addition, there are often compression artefacts and shimmering, giving the
game away that this is smartphone video rather than something produced with
'professional' optics onto a standalone camcorder. And the N93's microphones
get horribly overloaded when subjected to anything remotely loud, leading to
drop-out in the final soundtrack.
But the important point is that the N93's video clips
aren't that much worse than that from standalone units, meaning
that for most purposes (family, friends, informal events) you can shoot away
happily on the N93 and no-one will complain about the quality afterwards -
they'll simply be happy that the moment was recorded. Just don't try shooting a
friend's wedding video on the N93!
Still photos weren't quite such a success story. Although
in good light, they were certainly acceptable, under most conditions, stills
from the N93 showed high levels of compression artefacts - curiously missing
from the later N73, with a similar camera, leading me to hope that a firmware
revision can fix the problem on the N93.
The next generation
As I write this, the N95 is being unveiled across the
world, to be available early in 2007, also with VGA video recording. I'm
guessing that the N93 will effectively be redundant then - but in the meantime
it's most definitely the king of smartphones when it comes to video recording
All text (C) Steve Litchfield, 2006