If you’re into shooting video with your iPhone and are looking for an easy way to turn those clips into full-length features look no further. The best video editing alternatives for your iPhone are Nexvio’s Reel Director (iTunes+ | $1.99 | v 3.2) for 3G, 3GS, iPhone 4, 4S and iPad, and Apple’s iMovie (iTunes | $4.99 | v 1.2.2) for iPhone 4, 4S, iPod 4th Gen, and iPad 2 only.
The former has been around since the early 3GS days and the latter arrived with the release of the iPhone 4. But, which is better?
Creating a Project
iMovie. Tap ‘+’ and select one of eight themes: Modern, Bright, Playful, Neon, Travel, Simple, News, and CNN iReport. Don’t want to choose a theme? Sorry, not an option so pick one already. Each theme has three title styles (opening, middle, and closing), a transition, and a 1-minute audio track (which you can turn on or off).
ReelDirector. Tap ‘+’ and enter the project details: title, opening/closing titles, auto-transitions, quality (if using iPhone 4 HD vid you must select “High 640×480” and your first clip must be HD), and re-encoding. Once you’ve filled in the blanks and enabled the features you want tap ‘Done’ and you’ll be taken to the timeline (you can modify the details at anytime by selecting ‘My Movie’).
iMovie. To insert media you have a few options. Anywhere from adding photos and videos from your library or photostream to recording your own video, taking, your own photos, or capturing your own voice right from the app.
- Add a video or photo from your camera’s library or photostream. One at a time only please.
- Add theme-specific music, sound effects, or songs from your iPod collection. BTW, you are limited to adding one song.
- Record video or take a photo by tapping the camera icon. New media is captured from your camera and can be saved to your camera roll if you take the extra step. Otherwise, the photos and videos captured in iMovie stay in iMovie.
- Record audio in the app by tapping the mic icon. FYI, you cannot record audio until you’ve added other media. I don’t know why, that’s just the way it is.
ReelDirector. Adding media to your timeline with ReelDirector is just as easy as iMovie, and you get a couple more options. To get started, tap ‘+’ and choose what you want to add from the menu:
- Video/Photo. Choose a video or still image from your photo albums. Videos can be trimmed prior to importing or after you’ve added them to your project.
- Photo. Choose a still image from your photo albums. Sorry, no batch importing. One at a time only.
- Record sound. Record sounds using your iPhone’s mic.
- iPod music. Choose tunes from your iPod music library. Songs cannot be edited once they’re imported.
Editing a Project
iMovie. When you import videos into your timeline you’ll see the entire clip. This is both good and bad. It’s good because it makes trimming the videos much much easier. It’s bad because scrolling through the timeline can be a nuisance if you have several long clips in a long video project. Whatever. Now that you’ve got videos and images imported into your timeline it’s time to start editing.
- Double-tap the video to access the clip settings (Title Style, Location, and Audio).
- Title Style: iMovie gives you 3 title styles (opening, middle, and closing, or none at all)
- Location: If you’ve allowed geo-tagging of your photos and videos, iMovie will bring those along for the ride—turning the latitude/longitude values into a city in close proximity. You can change this as well if you so desire. FYI, only the Travel, News, and CNN iReport themes utilize location.
- Audio. Turn it on or turn it off.
- Trimming videos is as easy as dragging the orange circle at the beginning or end of a clip to make it shorter or longer. You cannot split clips in iMovie. To do this, you need to import the clip twice and trim it appropriately.
- Transitions are auto added (if you select it in settings) or manually added by double-tapping the black square between clips and choosing from none, cross-dissolve, or theme, and selecting the duration in .5 second increments.
- Video rotation. If you managed to record your video upside down you can upright that video once its imported into iMovie.
- To delete a video clip, tap and hold, then drag it above the timeline, or double-tap it and tap the red “delete clip” button.
- Add transitions just as you would video clips.
- There’s an ‘add title’ feature for photos, but there isn’t a blank title card. The workaround is to record a few seconds of black (make sure your flash is off), insert the clip into your timeline, add text and/or location, and turn off the sound. FYI, you can replace the location with your name by tapping location and changing the auto-generated city to your name or whatever you want.
- To delete an image, tap and hold, then drag it above the timeline. Poof! Gone.
- Use royalty free audio (sound effects and theme songs) from one of the provided themes.
- Import from your iPod music library. If you have a bunch of songs it could take a while since there is no A-Z scroll or search function.
- Straight mic recording.
- You can have multiple sound effects (added as foreground music and < 1min in length), but you cannot use more than one audio track (added as background music and > 1 min in length).
- You cannot edit your chosen audio track (which means you either edit the visuals according to the audio, or edit the audio prior to adding it to your iTunes library).
ReelDirector. Video clips are thumbnailed regardless of length which makes dragging them left and right on the timeline quite easy. Unfortunately, and unlike iMovie, you cannot preview a timeline without rendering the entire video. This can take a minute to many minutes depending on your project. Not a dealbreaker, but it is a pain in the ace. Once you’ve added a video and image to your project you can tap it once for a handful of options available to the clip/image (play, mute, text overlay, trim/split, delete, in/out transition, or rotate/animate).
- Play. Plays the video clip.
- Mute. Toggles sound on or off.
- Text Overlay. Add text using one of 37 font styles, adjust font sizes, choose the duration to hold the text, and select from one of 8 location and 9 styles.
- Trim/Split. Trim a video clip or split it in to two or three clips.
- Transitions. Choose from 28 transitions to add between clips.
- Add text overlays and transitions just as you would with video.
- Animate your photos using the Ken Burns effect. Choose a start and stop location, select the duration, and preview the effect to see how it looks.
- ReelDirector doesn’t provide a blank title card. To create one, just take a picture with your iPhone’s camera lens face down. Presto! Instant black title card.
- Record sound using your iPhone’s mic.
- Import audio from your iPod library or through your desktop iTunes app (click on the app tab for your iPhone, scroll to the bottom, select the files, and sync your device).
- You can use more than one track, but you cannot edit any of your tracks.
Sharing a Project
iMovie. When you’re done with the project tap the back button (paper with left arrow and star) to go to the project browser. There, you can preview your project in full-screen (which you’ll want to do before exporting) or export the project to your camera roll. The :22 vid I created for this post (consisting of 4 video clips, three transitions, two text overlays, a Ken Burns image, and a sound file) took about 15 seconds to render and export to my camera roll. NICE!
To export, select the project and tap the export button (bottom left). You’ll be given three resolutions to choose from: HD-720p (which is the native iPhone 4 1280×720 size and 10Mbps bitrate), Large 540p (not as good as HD, but better than the last alternative), or Medium 360p (basically VHS quality). Voila! Your video is now in your camera roll. Now you have to get it out.
To get your HD movie off of your iPhone copy it over through USB, or share it directly to YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and CNN iReport. Keep in mind, HD videos are enormous. This 22.8 second movie is 29MB (while a 3:15 clip is 235MB). If you don’t care about HD, then use the Photos app to share the video over e-mail, up to iCloud (formerly MobileMe), or via MMS (after iOS compresses it down to ugly).
ReelDirector. To finalize your project (or preview it) tap the back button at the top left which will take you to the project’s landing page. From there, you can make any last minute changes to the project’s properties and select render when you’re done.
Tapping render brings up a dialog box that asks you if you want to render or cancel and flat out states, “This may take a while.” This is an understatement. It took 5:13 seconds to render the :22 clip (7.9MB) which included two video clips, a Ken Burns image, a sound file, and two black images with text overlays. Once it’s rendered you can play it through, compress it as high, medium, or low quality, and/or export it.
When you’re finally ready to export the video out of the app you can e-mail it directly from the app, up to YouTube in HD, or send it to your camera roll where you can send it to YouTube, e-mail, MobileMe, or MMS (after iOS compresses it down to ugly).
Creating a Project. Both have easy interfaces. iMovie is way easier because you can do less with the project’s properties. ReelDirector allows you to name your projects making it much easier to sort through multiple projects at a time. Winner – ReelDirector.
Importing Media. Both iMovie and ReelDirector give you the option to import HD video, photos, and music. Both iMovie and ReelDirector let you utilize your iPhone’s iTunes library. Both apps let you record sound with the iPhone’s mic. ReelDirector lets you add more than one sound file. iMovie’s solution to multiple audio tracks is quirky at best. Neither allow batch video/image importing. Winner – ReelDirector.
Editing. iMovie is super easy to use, but has few features with the exception of previewing your project without rendering (which is awesome). ReelDirector has loads of features (transitions, font styles, positions) and has the ability to split video clips within the app. Crazy useful. Winner – ReelDirector.
Exporting. iMovie rendered the :22 HD video in less time than the actual video. ReelDirector rendering took forever. Additionally, iMovie does a much better job exporting videos and handles landscape vs. portrait better as well. Winner – iMovie.
Sharing. ReelDirector lets you save your videos to your camera roll in HD, to YouTube in HD (v 3.2), or via e-mail in compressed form. iMovie lets you upload HD video to a handful of video sites and can save videos to the camera roll in medium, large, and HD sizes. (My advice, consider using an app like PhotoSync or tethering your iPhone via USB to retain the HD quality of your iPhone 4 /4S vids). Winner – Tie.
Overall. If you’re looking for a robust video editing app and you don’t mind the lack of project preview and slow render times go with Nexvio’s ReelDirector. If features aren’t your thing and you have to have fast rendering and preview capabilities go with iMovie. For me, ReelDirector has tons of features and supports the iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S and the iPad 1 & 2 whereas iMovie is lacking features and only supports the iPhone 4, 4S, and the iPad 2. Yep, I’m sticking with ReelDirector.
Had a chance to play with either of these apps? Who wins the Reel Director vs iMovie battle? Let me know what you think by leaving your comments below or send me an e-mail at email@example.com.