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Making Short Spark Videos Is No Fuss, No Muss

Making Short Spark Videos Is No Fuss, No Muss

Say you want to record a day at the beach. Start by shooting your pals setting up a beach volleyball net. Stop. Make a call. Whatever. Shoot a clip of your hand taking an ice-cold beer out of a cooler. Stop. Walk away. Shoot a clip of your beach volleyball game. Stop. Go swimming. Shoot a few seconds of a beach bonfire. End with a close up of your sweetheart's face in the firelight, smiling.

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
10/28/13 5:00 AM PT

Spark Camera by Ideo is available in the iTunes App Store for US$1.99.

Spark Camera iOS app

When I noticed that Apple had highlighted a new video app in the iTunes Store, Spark Camera, as one of its best new apps, my reaction was, yet another video camera app? What gives? Can it really be that cool?

So, to find out what Spark Camera brings to the world, I bought it -- and I was pleasantly surprised. First, the interface is super simple, clean and effective. To start recording, you just have to touch and hold the screen -- anywhere that's not a button.

If you've ever tried to frame a shot, look at the subject, and even walk at the same time, you know that touching a specific button in awkward situations easily leads to missed footage. To start recording in Spark Camera, you just put any finger or thumb on the screen and hello, you're recording.

Isn't that a little high-maintenance for a video recording app? Seriously, you have to hold your finger on the screen in order to keep recording? What happens if you take your finger off the screen?

You stop recording.

Touch and hold it again -- boom, you're recording again.

Easy Scene Stitching With Spark Camera

As you might guess, the consequence of this sort of interaction control comes back to the intended output of a Spark video: A series of scenes seamlessly connected to form the video.

There is no editing.

Instead of creating a bunch of clips that you then import into say, iMovie, and cut and splice into a single shorter clip, Spark Camera lets you create the clip on the go via its start-and-stop recording method. It's pretty cool, actually, and the effect was far better than I imagined.

Unfortunately, you get only 30 seconds to work with (but Ideo says it's looking into enabling longer videos).

When you touch the screen to record, there is a line of a thin circle that starts to change color and grow around the diameter as you record. When you start the first time, it might be blue. If you stop then start again, a new portion of the circle will start growing as a different color, say red, and if you repeat the process, you'll have a segment of video illustrated by a new colored circle line that is green -- and so on and so forth until you've filled the circle's line with colored segments that add up to 30 seconds of video.

Don't worry, it's far more intuitive in person than I'm able to describe.

If you start a clip but don't like it, you can delete it -- but you can only delete clips in a linear fashion, starting from the most recent clip. You can't, for example, realize, "Oh, hey, I'd like to re-record the start of this little Spark video and insert it in." Nope. Linear recording only.

Adding Filters to Spark Video

At any point, you can stop recording to play back what you've recorded. If you sideswipe your screen, you'll instantly throw a filter over the top of your video, giving it a new tone or hue. It works well, and there are about a dozen or so filters available to you, including a greenish one called "Area 51."

Meanwhile, if you want a song to play in the background, you can choose one from your music library. It's super fast and easy. If you've recorded audio, though, the song will remain playing in the background while you play the video, while the audio -- say, of a person talking -- remains in the playback, too.

You can choose to mute the audio if you want, which is handy. Unfortunately, there's no way to control the volume of the song, so it can seem as if the song plays loudly over the top of your recorded audio, rather than your audio being heard over the top of a quieter background song.

Save to Camera Roll

While you can upload videos to sparkcamera.com to share them via text messages and email, or post them to social media sites, you don't have to: You can save your videos to your Camera Roll. This lets you keep your videos 100 percent private, and if you want to share them, you share as .mov files. Nice.

Of course, if you want to post to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, just upload your video to sparkcamera.com, where it gets a funky-but-short (and presumably open) URL. While it would be hard to guess a particular URL or even stumble upon someone else's video, it seems quite possible -- so mediocre privacy if you, say, try to send the video to a friend via a text message from within the Spark Camera app. (You should be able to get around this by saving the video to your Camera Roll and then sending the clip file itself via Messages or Mail.)

The bottom line is, you have to pay attention. What if you upload a video and don't want it shared? You can delete the link and your friends who had the link won't be able to view the video from the link anymore.

After that, I'm assuming that Ideo deletes the video, but at the time of this writing, I couldn't find any clear terms of use or details about what's happening with your videos once you share them -- or after you try to remove them. The sparkcamera.com website shows off some nifty videos that give you a taste of what you can do, but it's a barebones site right now.

Spark Videos in Action

Say, for example, that you want to use Spark Camera to record a day at the beach. You can start by shooting a short clip of video of your pals setting up a beach volleyball net. Stop. Put your iPhone down. Make a call. Whatever.

You can open Spark Camera later and shoot a short clip of your hand taking an ice-cold beer out of a cooler. Stop. Walk away. Shoot a few little clips of your beach volleyball game. Stop. Go swimming. Shoot a short clip of someone walking up out of the water toward the beach. Stop. Shoot a few seconds of a beach bonfire. End with a close up of your sweetheart's face in the firelight, smiling.

You could do all of this the traditional way, and at the end, stitch your footage together in iMovie and create an awesome video. Or you could do it with Spark Camera. If you're like me, you've got tons of clips that have never been edited. Because you don't edit in Spark Camera, you're more likely to produce something you actually share -- and that's the genius of Spark Camera.


MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com.


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