Gig video capture, take two! (Unfiltered, plus iPhone 6, Windows 10 Mobile, Android M)

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In a previous feature, a week or two ago, I took a bunch of smartphones to a local gig and did some direct comparisons - very high volume, low and changeable lighting, challenging environments, all make for an ultimate cameraphone video capture test. The main Windows Phone I was testing - the Lumia 1020 - fared sub-optimally because of the default audio filtering in Lumia Camera. So I headed out again, with this feature turned firmly off... then threw in the latest iPhone 6, the Lumia 930 running Windows 10 Mobile and even Android M(!) for good measure.

But from the intro to my previous feature:

One of the trickiest bits about testing the video capture capabilities of smartphones under heavy audio load, i.e. at a live music event, is that you usually incur the wrath of the venue staff or security staff, afraid of copyright issues. Then there's the quirkiness of people seeing you pull up to half a dozen smartphones from your pockets one after the other. And the risk of getting mugged on the way out of the building! So you have to pick and choose your events carefully. 

In my case, a local covers band ('In Too Deep', gigs page here, if you're interested), guaranteed to be very loud, with space to film without being pestered and not so territorial about material that they forbid filming. And yes, I'd warned them that I was going to be experimenting with a 'couple' (ahem) of phones. 

I then shot 30 second segments throughout the set, alternating smartphones and keeping track of which clip was which, of course.

And here's the result, though as usual bear in mind that the quality here (do max the playback window out and also the quality, to 1080p) is after both iMovie's and YouTube's own transcoding, on top of the MP4 encoding used by the phones themselves. But it's enough that you'll get the gist. Oh, and USE HEADPHONES for best effect and evaluation!

For interest sake, I also throw in video from the Nokia 808, which won out last time, plus some from the Google Nexus 5, which I happened to have to hand (and was running the 'beta' preview of Android M!) and which stands in for 'lesser' flagships. I did try the Lumia 930 with Windows 10 Mobile, but had the same encoding issues with its MP4 as in the previous tests, so although I've included its video below, it stands separate from the main montage as I couldn't process its video on my desktop. Sigh.

iPhone 6, Nokia 808, Lumia 930, Lumia 1020, Nexus 5

As an aid, I've summarised my conclusions in text form below the video.

As in the first feature, lighting was an issue, the band hadn't set this up ideally (again) the singers' faces were permanently in deep shadow. As you'll see above. Tricky for the phone cameras to capture!

Oh, and here's the bonus 930 video, shot with the Microsoft-recommended Lumia Camera Beta (though I did wish later that I'd used the standard 'built in' Camera app instead....), but unable to be rendered in the main montage:

The phones used here, then:

Apple iPhone 6 (2014) - the audio capture is decent, a good quality microphone has been used, though it's strictly mono - listen on headphones and you can feel the difference between this and that from the two Nokias. Picture quality is pretty good too - a little lacking in saturated colours but the digital stabilisation used is effective and matches the OIS used in the 1020 below.

Nokia 808 PureView (2012) - mind blowingly good audio. Just stunning, you could film a band with this phone and almost offer the MP4 audio to them to put out as a live recording. The video's pretty good too, in terms of low noise (the hardware oversamples from the 41MP sensor in real time), though there's no OIS to keep the frame steady.

Nokia Lumia 1020 (2013) - with the 'bass filter' set to 'off', the audio was definitely better than in my first comparison, with better EQ and volume all round, though there's still not the same presence and fidelity as from the 808, which is odd as the microphone components are, I believe, identical. Maybe it's down to microphone positioning and baffling in the hardware? The video's not quite as good either, at least in terms of noise, with all the advantages of oversampling being lost on this Windows Phone version of the PureView sensor. On the other hand, there's the super OIS to keep the video frame steady and this does work well, though not noticeably better than the software version in the iPhone 6, at least when not 'zoomed'.

LG Google Nexus 5 (2013) - although this has OIS in its camera, it's not active for video capture, at least under Android M (still in early beta, roughly the same state of readiness as Windows 10 Mobile!), which is a shame. Mind you, as with the LG G4 in the last feature, though here in glorious mono(!), the microphone used just cannot handle high volumes. The distortion quite horrible - so much so that I only included one Nexus 5 clip in the montage above, to save both your ears and sanity!

Nokia Lumia 930 (2014) - although there's no 'bass filter' option in Lumia Camera Beta for Windows 10 Mobile, curiously, so there was nothing to turn off(!), audio was excellent, equalling the Lumia 1020 and even getting close to the Nokia 808 - maybe it really is about mike positioning! Video quality was decent, though the OIS didn't seem to be activated, surely something to do with the immature Windows 10 Mobile hosting - maybe this will get re-enabled in a previous build of the OS? Then there's the curious lack of compatibility for the MP4 files produced by the 'Beta' app.

At the risk of annoying table-haters here, I've put (admittedly subjective) scores for all the above into a grid, all initial scores out of 10:

Phone Audio capture
(fidelity, stereo) 
Video capture
(noise, stability,
focus, exposure) 
(out of 20)
Nokia 808 PureView 10  8 18
Nokia Lumia 1020 9 9 18
Nokia Lumia 930 9 7 16
Apple iPhone 6 15 
LG Google Nexus 5  6


The Nokia 808 PureView again tops the table, though jointly. With its default bass filtering disabled in Settings, the Lumia 1020's 'Lumia Camera' software now provides audio which is almost as good. Together with the slightly better video - thanks to the OIS, and especially noticeable when using the zoom facility - the 1020 now ends up on the same point score as the 808. So it's a PureView score draw all round, perhaps unsurprisingly - in many ways the 808 and 1020 are still joined at the hip as 'cousins', if not 'sisters'!

The Lumia 930, with four high amplitude microphones, should produce stunning video and the audio side of things is sorted, at least. Under Windows 10 Mobile in its current state though, not everything's hooked up in terms of video capture and encoding yet, so I had to knock a few points off!

The video capture from the iPhone 6 was surprisingly good - given the number of iPhones you see at gigs, it seems that Apple has a healthy market in music fans and it knows it. Thus a quality microphone is used - though it's odd not to see stereo mikes in a 2015 flagship. So no obvious distortion and the video quality was pretty good too. Not bad all round, but no match for the top Nokia pair.

We'll gloss over the Nexus 5, here standing in for all the other 2012/2013 flagships (think Galaxy S4/S5 too) with a microphone that simply can't cope with a band at close quarters.

PS. Anedotally, I also shot a couple of complete songs for the band - in which case I had to decide which device to use. I went for the 1020, so that I could zoom in without too much 'wobble' and was happy with the results. Of the four phones, the 808 would have done better still, but only if I'd remembered to bring along a tripod!!!