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Phone-made movie has image problem
June 10, 2004
Toronto Star

Thanks to the miracles of modern science, you can now make a movie with a cellphone.

You can also make a picture of a sailboat out of macaroni.

Neither activity will yield high-calibre art.

The Sony Ericsson P900 video cellphone is impressive at first glance. The full-colour touch screen makes the phones many features - including a calendar, music player, Internet browser and notepad - easy to navigate. The sound quality is also remarkably good. But the main selling point for the P900 may be the tiny video camera embedded in the phone.

Fido, one of Canada's big name cellular service providers, advertises the phone as a tool for wanna-be moviemakers.

One ad features a full cast and crew in front of the Eiffel Tower, with the director calling the shots from behind the lens of his cellphone camera.

Unfortunately, the P900 doesn't come with some of the basic tools a fledgling film-maker needs.

There's no zoom lens, for one thing. So to get that tight close-up, you have to actually walk up to your subject, which is going to result in a very shaky picture unless you have the steadiest of hands. There's also no manual focus.

I couldn't find a way to adjust the white balance for video either. I spent a good half hour looking for some way to adjust the lighting, to no avail. As a result, my indoor scenes looked mighty yellow.

Fortunately, I'd cast Chicken - my yellow stuffed animal - as the leading man in the film. He always looks jaundiced.

Not everyone has a talented chicken on hand for such emergencies though.

And how many movies can I really make about a chicken crossing the road?

(Sony Ericsson's PR team later informed me that there is, indeed, a way to adjust the white balance. That setting is just well hidden, along with other clever functions such as a time delay.)

Aside from the yellow hues, the shots looked great when I viewed them back on the camera. The display seemed to be optimized for video playback.

It wasn't until I uploaded them to the computer that I realized just how blurry the picture was, even when recorded at the highest possible video quality the phone allows.

I reduced the overall size of the video window on my computer screen, but the picture was highly pixilated. In several scenes, it was hard to make out some parts of the picture. The more movement, the worse the results.

The picture quality is fine for shooting impromptu footage of the family at the beach.

That is, in fact, its strength: You'd always have a video camera with you if you saw something you just had to capture.

I can see teens, in particular, having a lot of fun using this phone. It's a great little toy, to be sure. But at $850 it's expensive for a toy and the images simply aren't good enough for budding filmmakers. Even if you're just starting out, you'll want something with better picture quality.

Uploading the images to a computer was also a problem.

After installing some software that came with the phone, I connected my cell to the computer using a USB cable. The software provided by Sony Ericsson is supposed to allow you to copy the audio and video files on the phone to your hard drive. It also allows you to sync. up the data on your phone (such as names, numbers and important dates) with the data on your computer.

But the software was buggy. It didn't always recognize that the camera was connected. Syncing the data on my phone with my computer was never a problem. But I couldn't always copy the video files to my hard drive.

Once I finally got the files onto my computer, I found it probably wasn't worth the hassle.

The phone didn't come with any video editing software. So I could not cut together different scenes. I was surprised that Sony Ericsson didn't - at minimum - provide a coupon for a discount off some kind of video editing software.

When you buy a digital camera it always comes with some kind of photo-editing application.

The P900 seems like a missed marketing opportunity for a software vendor somewhere.

The files can, of course, be edited by any popular video-editing application. But that involves spending more cash, on top of the $850 you already forked out for the phone.

For that much money, I'd recommend you buy a regular video camera and just get one of those cellphones that come free with your calling plan.

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