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Hong Kong in 4k on a Galaxy Note 3???

I recently visited Hong Kong on a business trip, and actually ended up with a rare free day to do something. Unfortunately, my DSLR is in for repair right now, and the only camera I had with me was the one on my phone – the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

The Note 3 impressed me on its spec sheet by being able to shoot full motion video at 3840×2160, or UHD resolution. (Sometimes also called 4K) However, I was pretty skeptical whether this tiny camera could really be useful at that resolution. The tiny form factor and the sensor size didn’t seem capable of such resolution. Still, since it was the only camera with me, I figured it was worth a test. I decided to shoot everything in UHD, and then deliver an edit in both UHD and 1920×1080, taking advantage of the higher resolution source material by panning/zooming around.

I shot in a wide variety of lighting conditions, both during the day and at night, taking full advantage of my free day, and a little bit of extra time the day afterwards.

Here’s the cut, posted on YouTube in full UHD resolution:

HK4K: The Galaxy Note 3 Edit

Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised what I could accomplish with this little camera. It’s probably too noisy and compressed to be of much use to anyone really needing to master in 4k, but I enjoyed the latitude in reframing shots for 1080p. There are a couple of quirks that would keep me from using this in real, paid production work, but it would definitely be a camera that I’d set up if I needed extra coverage of an event.


The camera DESPERATELY needs some kind of stabilization. Rolling shutter is bad on this sensor, and the H.264 recording codec doesn’t like a huge amount of motion. I used 2 tricks to help fix this – first, I found a small cell phone clamp at a local electronics store for less than $10.

Tripod mount and mini-tripod for mobile phones.

Tripod mount and mini-tripod for mobile phones.

This one even came with a small tripod. The second technique I used was to press the phone onto the glass of a window. It worked great on several shots on board the trams. You get whatever the glass is facing, and don’t have any other options, but the image is rock-solid stable.

Auto-iris cannot be turned off on the phone, so I had to fix this a few times in Premiere Pro with animated Brightness/Contrast filters.

There are also moments where horizontal lines will appear in the frame, almost like the codec just couldn’t handle the content. These were rare, but visible in a few shots.

The most annoying problem, which I couldn’t fix, and you’ll see in the final video, is what I call the “focus Pop” or autofocus “snapback.” About every 30 seconds, you’ll see a moment where the entire picture seems to go “pop”. Seems like the lens just gets tired of holding the same focus for too long, and, for lack of a better phrase, it “blinks.” This is a real pain – I’m hoping Samsung has a firmware fix, or some Android developer takes a look at it. The only solution I found for this was to edit around it as much as possible. I left it in a few shots to show people what I’m talking about, and it kind of added to the future feel of the video.

Trying to play the clips back in QuickTime was painful. The MP4 files this generated wouldn’t play back smoothly from the operating system. However, the Media Browser in Premiere Pro performed well with the shots. So did the hover scrub thumbnails in the project bin.

(As an aside – set yourself up a “junk” Premiere Pro project on the desktop, and use it ONLY for media browsing. Makes life so much easier.) 

The footage drops direct into Premiere Pro without any need for transcoding. I found that setting playback at half res was perfect for my 2011 MacBook Pro. Premiere Pro uses a pretty straightforward way of adjusting quality/performance. In the Source and Program monitors, there’s a menu for visible resolution – full, 1/2, 1/4, etc. Set it as high as it’ll go, without dropping frames, and you’ve balanced your performance for your hardware.

In Premiere Pro, one thing you’ll notice right away is that the frame rate of the clips doesn’t always conform to 29.97fps. The majority of clips actually came in at 30.02 fps, and some had other frame rates. I tried using the default setting at first, but ran into trouble with some of the speed changes later on. Don’t use the trick of dragging/dropping clips onto the New Sequence Button. The wonky frame rate will create a timeline with a time base of 10.00 frames per second. For best results, I selected all the clips, and used Modify Clip -> Interpret Footage to set all the clips at 29.97fps. This can be done once and forgotten about – it’s not a rendered function. This didn’t affect the visible playback rate of the clips, which makes me think there’s something odd about the default rate in the clips. Maybe Premiere Pro isn’t detecting it properly, or the metadata in the clip is written wrong.

Rather than deal with the nonstandard frame rate, I created a custom sequence preset at 29.97fps at 3840×2160 resolution, and dropped all the clips into that.

The Warp Stabilizer was used on multiple handheld shots, trying to get slow, smooth motion. Don’t even try it for really shaky stuff – the wobble and the blurring are too much even for the Warp Stabilizer. But holding a high shot, and trying to be steady, worked really well with warp stabilizer. You won’t be able to tell those weren’t tripod shots.

I had to get artistic with the sunset – I’m still not happy with it, but I only was able to shoot it once. No second chances. The camera shoots really wide angle, and the time-lapse I did lacked any focal point for the eye, so I gave up trying to deliver in 4k at that point. I added a cut and zoomed in 200% to get a decent framing. Even at 1080p, that shot is soft and artifacted. I added some noise to balance out the blockiness, but it’s still visible.

I did some minor color work by using the new “Direct Link to SpeedGrade” function. I will say that my 2011 17″ MBP kept up admirably up until this point. SpeedGrade was great, but then bringing the project back to Premiere forced me to render some sections of the timeline before it would play back. The Lumetri Effect that SpeedGrade adds is heavy, and my 3 yr old GPU wasn’t up to the task. (Would love to try this on a Retina MacBook. Hint Hint to my boss! 🙂 )

Oh, one important note on rendering previews – In Premiere Pro CC 7.2 and higher, you can now edit the Sequence Settings! I was able to change the Preview settings to QuickTime, ProRes, 3840×2160, and get full 4k previews for the rendered sections of my sequence.

All in all, this was a fun project to play around with. I hope that someone fixes the lines and the “focus pop” in the camera – here’s hoping that it’s just a firmware issue or a camera app issue. If those two problems are addressed, this will make an excellent pocket “2nd coverage camera” for 1080p shooters, with lots of room to reframe what you get.


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