Keep trying new software - the only way to find the gems
Do you try new software? Often, occasionally or never?
We try new software all the time, since we keep looking for great tools to improve what we are doing or to add them to our arsenal.
But often, it takes more than one glance to figure out the power of a software app. Or even one glance.
Case in point: Flexibits’ Fantastical.
Our initial take was predictable: Yet-another taskbar app that allows a user to schedule calendar appointments. We already have two free ones, we don’t use them, so why even bother evaluating a new app, especially if it is not free?
So we did not bother. Until I ran into Michael Simmons, one of Fantastical’s creators, at Macworld.
He gave me a demo. I threw my objections at him, one at a time, and he showed me how to address them. 15 minutes later, I was sold - at home at night, I downloaded the app, tried it for 15 more minutes and then bought a license. And the next day I went back to Macworld to thank Michael for selling me on it.
So what’s so special about Fantastical? It’s the only taskbar calendaring app I’ve used that allows me to do everything without taking my hands off the keyboard. Hit a hotkey to bring it up and start typing your appointment in natural language. It knows how to interpret location and date information, plus recurring appointments. There’s even a shortcut for assigning the appointment to a specific calendar. I’m done in seconds and can move on to my next task.
And that productivity boost is worth the cost of Fantastical, and then some. Thanks, Michael, for convincing me to give it a try!
Keynote a good tool for animation prototyping
Apple’s Keynote has long been known as an excellent presentation tool on the Mac. But did you know that it can be used for much more?
The ESPI At Work blog outlined how they use Keynote as a rapid prototyping tool to quickly develop and test designs of new websites and apps. They are not alone. We also use Keynote extensively to develop storyboards and even concept video animations for client approval before polishing these concepts into final motion animations.
Of course, we could (and also do) use Powerpoint for storyboarding, but not for creating concept video animations. The main reason for choosing Keynote is its advanced animation set, which allow not only for more different types of animations, but also for alpha-key’ed video exports, which you cannot do in Powerpoint.
You don’t have to always use high-end or professional tools to develop assets and concepts, although we typically revert to these during the later stages of the development process. But during the initial, creative phase, when speed is more important than refinement, we use prosumer or consumer applications rather than professional tools to get the job done quickly.
If you have a Mac and don’t use Keynote, maybe you should check it out to see how it can allow you to quickly prototype animations and designs? It is available from the Mac App Store.
iMovie on the iPad - good for casual videos only
Now that the New iPad has been out for a bit more than a week, how good is iMovie on the iPad with regards to producing videos? Can it replace iMovie on the Mac?
The folks at ArsTechnica posted a review of iMovie on the new iPad. Their answer is similar to what we saw - while it supports 1080p, it’s a good enough video editor for casual video to be posted to Facebook or YouTube, but not good enough for any serious work. Apart from the fact that it is tricky to import and edit footage not shot on the iPad, the editing tools are still a bit limited, lacking features such as basic color and contrast controls, plus more advanced titling.
For now, while it’s great fun to crank out some home videos quickly, we will not iMovie on the iPad for anything else.
Adobe Lightroom for Videographers
If you are a photographer, you know about Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. You might even use it on a daily basis - it’s one of the best tools out there for managing lots of photos.
As a Videographer, though, you might not have cared about Lightroom too much. But you should. With the newly released version 4 of Lightroom, Adobe not only cut the price by 50%, but it significantly beefed up support for video.
Most importantly, you can quickly apply changes to the look of your videos - change the white balance, adjust exposure, contrast, blacks and whites and make your videos more vibrant. While you might already have other tools to do any of these adjustments, if you asset-manage your videos via Lightroom, as we do, why not also use its capabilities to make derivatives with specific adjustments?
Overall, we already upgraded and integrated Lightroom into our video production process.
How to mirror your iPad / iPhone screen on your Mac
Have you ever wanted to use your Mac to record the action on your iPhone or iPad screen? It used to be that you used to have quite an elaborate setup to do so.
Not any longer. The new Reflection App allows you to do so via AirPlay. And at $14.99 for a single license ($39.99 for a 5 pack), it is much less expensive than any other means we’ve used or seen.
What you get for your money is full iPhone / iPad (running iOS 5) mirroring, including audio, with orientation updates and video optimization features, similar to what you would get with the Xcode iOS simulator. In our tests, our iPad screen looked crisp and snappy on our iMac and audio sounded fantastic. In test recordings via Screenflow, we saw no frame-slipping, but had some audio recording issues that we’re digging into right now.
If you have a need to display your iPad screen on your Mac, esp. for screen recording purposes, Reflection is an app you need to have in your arsenal.
vlc - Even Better in Version 2
Here at Digital Dazzle, the free vlc media player has long been our major work-horse for video playback. QuicktimeX is way too limited and Quicktime 7, while pretty good, is still no match for vlc.
With the release of version 2, vlc has even gotten better. Most importantly to us, we can now use Apple’s Magic Trackpad as a secondary input device for vlc (we’ve long used a wired mouse as the main pointing device to the right of the keyboard and the trackpad as a secondary device to the left of the keypad.) It requires a change deep down in vlc’s preference settings (Preferences -> Show All -> Interface -> Hotkey Settings -> Hotkeys, then set Mouse Wheel to “Position Control”), but once it is set, you can use the vertical two-finger swipe to scrub through a video. Even better, it is touch-sensitive - the faster you swipe, the faster you scrub through the video. Awesome!
The only downside so far - when starting a new video, it resizes the interface to the native video size without taking anamorphic settings into account. A quick press of cmd-1 fixes this, but it would be great, if that wouldn’t be required, like it wasn’t in version 1. I’m sure there’s some settings buried deep down in the preferences to turn off this behavior, so if you know what the setting is, we’d appreciate a quick note.
Overall, though - a great program has gotten better. We’re happy!