AMITIAE - Wednesday 22 February 2012
Cinemagram: Photos with Movies, or Movies with Still Backgrounds
By Graham K. Rogers
Cinemagram opens with a recent example of a user's work. This is quite useful as this and the online gallery are sources from which we may glean ideas of how the app is best used.
Five tools are displayed at the bottom of the panel: Popular; Latest; Album, Settings, with Capture -- a more prominent icon and the only one in color -- in the center.
PopularPopular displays a number of images that users of the app have voted on. A fairly frequent source is the cat and many images use felines as the center point, but little else is happening around to suggest this is nothing more than a movie with a static background. A couple do hit the mark and a picture of a bar with still customers at tables and a barman moving behind the counter shows the potential of the app.
LatestLatest, with its wifi icon, displays the most recent updates from the app wherever it is being used, so is constantly being renewed. Again, some clever shots, such as a face reflected in a mirror while the subject is motionless alongside, reveal the creativity that the app is capable of bringing out.
CaptureCapture is the main part of the app for most users. We may use either camera on the iPhone and flash may be used (or may be turned off). There are three buttons at the bottom of the panel which stay by the Home button when the device is in landscape or portrait mode: Cancel, Record, and Guide. The Guide is a series of instruction panels in 10 panels, with some examples first and then basic information on what to do.
After the record button is used, I found in almost every case that the video was too long. A clip display, like in QuickTime on the Mac, is shown at the top of the panel and it is easy to adjust beginning and end. It is at this time that we make sure the right portion of the video is to be used. When this is done, pressing Save reveals the next part of the process: Draw Mask.
The mask is critical to how the output will display. Each time I used this, there was a clear instruction screen superimposed over the video: Pinch to zoom; and draw the region to animate. Tapping the screen removed the instructions and I was able to pinch and draw. This needs a lot of practice and the results were not instant success as most people (including me) prefer. There is a useful feature, however, that allows us to go back with each part of the process before Done is pressed, so if the result is not to our liking, we can try again. I did. Several times.
When the mask is drawn, pressing Next brings up a useful feature with four filters: Xpro, Toaster, Redscale and B&W. We may also select "Raw" which uses original (unfiltered) output. When the filter is selected a Preview screen is available. At the bottom, beside Delete (which does check first at this stage) there is a Reverse button: the motion in the area selected will go back and forwards. In some cases I turned this off before pressing Done.
The Share screen is the last screen in the process and by default export to Cinemagram is ON. Especially when experimenting I would prefer this to be off (I would rather have it off all the time) as some of the output was way below par. Other sharing sites (OFF by default) were Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter. Pressing Done here shares output with any sites that are selected and then takes us back to the Popular panel.
AlbumThe Album feature displays any completed projects, for better or for worse although these may be deleted using a tiny delete icon. Beneath each of the saved items are two icons: email and export. Export (or Repost) reveals a panel with a 140-character text box with three site options below: Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Note here that the order of the list had changed from the panel used earlier: it is not just me writing them down at random.
Email is a straightforward mail panel in which the recipient's address is entered and the mail is sent. When a test mail arrived on the iPhone, the image displayed had the moving elements, but when saved in the Photo Album it appeared to be only a still photograph (this was the same when the image was imported into Aperture). On the Mac the image displayed in email was moving, and when saved it was as a GIF file (650KB) and so the content did move. Email appears to be the best way for saving these images.
CommentThe app itself has been made with some great care. The icon is a good indication of the way any developer takes the time with the details and this one is beautifully designed.
A problem is that it is so difficult to isolate the moving and the stationary. While some images have good moving sections, the other parts of the image would be still anyway, so there is little benefit here in some cases.
With the initial Capture panel I found it too easy to press Cancel and, despite having recorded a reasonable clip, it was gone. Usually we are asked Are you sure? and then Are you really sure? which some consider overkill, but the alternative lost some output while I was experimenting.
The app is not wholly instinctive although the idea behind it is fairly straightforward. Getting the mask applied correctly was a fiddly job even with the ability to pinch the screen larger. My biggest criticism concerns the length of clips that can be used and the lack of ability to save output directly to the computer.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.
For further information, e-mail to