Covering the Boston Marathon with only an iPhone

My first experience covering the Boston Marathon for The Globe, and my challenge was to use only an iPhone. I shot, edited and posted videos from the field using only that device, while also tweeting pictures (when I could remember to). My synopsis: It brings multitasking to a new, almost debilitating, extreme.

Here are some of the videos that made it to

The athletes arrive

A windy start for 2011 Boston Marathon

(I edited and posted the above video within the hour it took for us to get from Hopkinton to Copley Square.)

Runners welcomed back in Boston

In general, it was a great learning experience. The iPhone is the perfect tool for event coverage because you can do so much with just one device while you’re in the field. Slow 3G mobile service was an issue, as well as battery life. I wasn’t able to publish from the athlete’s village because of poor service and then I almost missed the start of the women’s elite race because I needed to charge the battery.

The editing software could also be a bit less clunky. I really take pride in the polish of each video I produce and you just can’t polish with the available software for the iPhone. But really, making highly produced videos isn’t what the iPhone is for. It’s for getting decent content up fast, so it helped to remind myself of that when shooting. I used an app called ReelDirector, which I hear is better than iMovie, but it is very basic, requires several steps of processing and compression to select and trim clips (so, lots of waiting, relative to clip length, so keep your recording time short!). I really just wish it would allow for more precise trimming — it only lets you cut on each second, which in video can be an eternity. Adding titles and lower thirds couldn’t be easier, though, and they look pretty slick.

I found the best use for the iPhone was to shoot one thing, like the start of one of the race waves, put a Globe bumper on it, export, and have it posted to the website within 5 minutes. Attempting to edit interviews and build a story can feel as taxing as shooting with my 7D, transcoding, editing and publishing, but condensed into one little stress block. It’s good for one quote or one piece of action. Maybe 3 clips, simply strung together with iMovie or ReelDirector, and then move on.

Content gathering with the iPhone can also be very difficult because you can’t compartmentalize: I’m shooting video right now, I’m shooting pictures right now, then I’m going somewhere and will just edit everything. Instead it was: I’m shooting video, while editing video, while taking pictures, while tweeting pictures, while attempting to make a pano and decide if the quality is good enough to post, while answering emails and text messages (I was carrying 3 types of phones), while keeping track of failed uploads, etc. As much as I tried to shoot then edit then post, there was just too much and not enough going on at the same time. I think this is where keeping it simple really comes in. DON’T COLLECT. I think that was my downfall, because the content becomes just too hard to keep track of. Just create and post, create and post.

What helped enormously, in a technical way, was this:

An iPhone audio rig by OWLE. It is made of metal which adds weight and reduces shake while hand-holding the iPhone. It also creates a mount for a microphone or light, adds a wide-angle adapter for the camera lens and provides a place for a tripod cleat. Lots of people were interested in what I had going on there (including this guy, who came up to me to see the rig and I got all flustered. He was running the race.).

But honestly, because it was a sunny and cold morning, I just found it challenging to review and edit my clips, to use the touch screen with cold hands, and also to use other features like shooting panoramic pictures. It was just too hard to see the screen in bright daylight!

All in all, it was a decent experience. I learned a lot about how to best use the device, its strengths and weaknesses, and I look forward to the next opportunity to use the iPhone to its full potential.