With the rise of the iPhone 6 Plus, video — enhanced HD video at a true 1080p — takes center stage as one of the most interesting, and infinitely valuable, features of the phone. Not only is the video great, but the microphone and audio are absolutely incredible.  What follows is a quick iPhone 6 Plus movie test Janna did for me in Washington Square Park on 9/23/14 at twilight.

Twilight is one of the hardest times of the day to shoot in a concrete canyon like Manhattan, New York.

You have dark shadows and bright skies and glittery reflections.  All that makes for an explicit test of the camera and the iPhone 6 Plus did really well, as you can see.  The sound you hear in the video is wild — nothing special was done to sweeten the sound or make it more pronounced.  I asked Janna to move naturally, and not carefully, so the shot is quick and slinky and jiggly — but the iPhone 6 Plus admirably accommodated our purposeful “amateur hour” HD video demonstration.

Here’s an interesting tidbit on the video — when Janna sent it to me in iMessage, the 175MB file looked great, I saved it, and then uploaded it to Vimeo PRO for HD streaming, but when I tried to convert the file from 720p to 1080p, the 1080p option was not available on Vimeo.  I was stumped.  Every iPhone 5S video we uploaded to Vimeo could be translated to 1080p.

As I was trying to figure out what happened, I received a new notification from Vimeo congratulating me on my new video now being available — and when I checked our files, I saw we had two copies of Janna’s NYU test video.


I looked at the newer copy of the video and saw that Vimeo could uptick the video to 1080p, and it was then I realized that Janna had uploaded her video directly to Vimeo from her iPhone 6 Plus and then also sent me a copy via iMessage!

Ah!  Mystery solved!

Raw movie direct to Vimeo Pro = defaults to 720p with an option for 1080p.  Raw movie sent via iMessage — the file was too large to email — arrives in 720p and stays in 720p on Vimeo PRO because, clearly, Apple is locking in 720p at the time of the iMessage video transmittal.

We also used the HD option on the iPhone 5S to create HD videos for our latest American Sign Language book, and here are some tricks and tips we used to try to win the day:

1. Black Velvet Background.  Black velvet absorbs light.  If you want a rich — but neutral and beautiful-looking background — get some black velvet and hang it on the wall.

2. Black Velvet dress.  We decided to have Janna match the wall so her body would blend in with the background and her face and arms and hands would only be visible.  The effect is effective.

3. One 600 watt light, not three.  We have a giant, 600 watt each, three light, lighting kit and we’ve needed every one of those 1800 watts to get any sort of remarkable image for our previous ASL videos.  Well, with the iPhone 5S, that much wattage was way too much light.  We ended up using only one light and bouncing it off the wall and ceiling behind the camera and Janna’s skin was still burning out in the HD videos, but we decided we sort of liked that hyper-realistic and super-stylized effect.

4. Edit in situ using Movie Pro for the iPhone.  If you can be Alfred Hitchcock and “edit your movie in your camera” — you will be better off in earning a faster end.  Know your shots.  Learn to start and stop recording with a light, and almost un-sensed, touch on your iPhone screen.

5. Upload to Vimeo using iOS system function and not the Vimeo App.  The new Vimeo App looks great but never performed well for uploading.  We used the iOS system Vimeo function for uploading our videos and it worked much faster and quicker than the standalone app.

6. Start in First Position.  If you’re making demonstration videos, have the subject start in position and then, as they begin moving, or speaking, start the recording.  It’s a clever way to have a clean edit and a precise start to the shot.

7. End in Last position by freezing.  You can stop things in the editing bay, or you can have your video subject freeze in position as you stop recording.  The effect is grand and the result is predictable.

8. 150 videos shot, edited, uploaded and coded in the website in 5 hours.  Using these methods, we were able to create and publish 150 HD ASL videos in five hours.  Historically, that many videos would have taken us five days to shoot, edit, upload and code into our webpages.

9. Stream in HD, but at 720p, not 1080p right now.  Always shoot video at the highest possible everything — frame rate, sound bit rate and so on — because technology is fast-changing and you quickly get left behind.  Right now, you’ll likely want to stream in 720p if you want HD movies, but 1080p will become more viable, and less persnickety, as time and tide catch up to narrow, and punishing, bandwidth limits.

10. Many mobile options.  If your video streaming service provides it, allow your videos to be streamed at the best detected rate of the viewer.  There are many mobile streaming options that you want to exploit, but shouldn’t have to directly deal with.  Let the server sense the best streaming method — even if it isn’t HD — and your video gets downgraded for better performance.

11. Shaky Hands.  Editing in the camera can be touchy, especially if you actually touch the screen with your finger.  That slight touch will reverberate exponentially in the shot and look jerky and amateurish. Here’s a humble example of a “shaky start” with a video we made — and I don’t mind it much because the slight “vibration” makes you pay attention, but if every video started that way, it would quickly age you:

Touch the screen without touching it — it’s an amazing feat when you start to get it right and comprehend that delicate, but inchoate, concept: Reverse Haptic Touch!