iPhone 3G S Video Recording: Better Than Expected

It’s no secret that the iPhone was late to the video recording party. But Apple finally has added video recording features to its popular gadget, with the new iPhone 3G S. I spent a weekend with my iPhone 3G S, capturing several video clips to see how well it works. So far, I am mostly impressed. The video capture and editing features are basic, but easy to use, and my video clips look decent.

To record videos on the iPhone 3G S, you open the camera (which has been bumped up to 3 megapixels on the new phone), and toggle the on-screen slider from the still camera icon to the video camera icon. Then, you just tap the red button to begin recording.

The 3.5-inch screen is spacious and clear, so seeing the video as you’re recording it is easy. The only problem I ran into was the position of the camera lens: When you’re looking at the back of the iPhone, the lens is in the upper-left corner. I found that I often accidentally draped my fingers in front of it when trying to capture videos.

Another bummer: The video controls on the iPhone 3G S are as basic as they come. You don’t get a zoom — or anything else for that matter. You can start and stop recording when you like, but that’s about it. After testing the Nokia N97 last week, which includes an on-screen zoom, as well as the ability to pause and resume recording, the iPhone 3G S’s video features felt extra skimpy.

My expectations about the iPhone’s video quality were low, since the device has never been known for having a great camera. But the video that the iPhone 3G S produced surprised me with its quality.

Clips were not as good as the videos I captured with the Nokia N97, but ranged from decent to good. The iPhone 3G S records VGA-resolution (640 by 480) at 30 frames per second, and my video clips looked clear and sharp, though a tad dark, when viewed on the iPhone screen. The audio captured was loud and clear, too. Video clips didn’t look quite as good when blown up on my computer screen, though.

The video editing tools available on the iPhone 3G S are so basic that it’s almost not fair to call them tools; all you can do is trim the length of the video. Still, this is probably the feature many iPhone users want most, and it’s very easy to use. When you play back your video on the iPhone 3G S, you’ll see a row of still images (frames from the video) above it. You can pick any of these images, which are points in the video, and mark one as the beginning of the video and another as the end by dragging the on-screen markets. Voila, your video is cropped. It really doesn’t get any easier than that.
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When you trim the video like this, though, you’re trimming the original file, and any frames you delete from the video are gone forever. So you should make sure you really want to make cuts before you do so, or at least, back up your videos to your computer first.

Transferring videos is easy, too. When you view a video on the phone, you have the option of sending it via e-mail or uploading it directly to YouTube. (If your videos are longer than one minute in length, though, you’ll have to trim them before sending them via e-mail.) If you have a MobileMe account, you can sync videos there. And once AT&T begins offering MMS on the iPhone, you should be able to share videos that way, too.

I’d love to see a zoom feature and a few more video-editing options on the iPhone. Until those kinds of features are added, the iPhone 3G S is not going to replace a dedicated video camera like the Flip. But, overall, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the video recording worked. I don’t think you should buy an iPhone 3G S just to record video clips, but if you were planning on buying one anyway, the video camera will just be an added bonus.

For more takes on the video capabilities, check out our sister blogs in the GigaOM network. Over at jkOnTheRun, Kevin took the new iPhone for a spin and generally liked what he saw (and recorded). But Dave at The Apple Blog ran into a whiny problem, well, he’s not whining, but the audio track on his recorded video is.

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