The OWLE: Bringing Stability To iPhone Video Geeks
There's been a lot of buzz in recent months about a startup called OWLE - pronounced "owly" - which announced earlier this summer they were going to sell an iPhone camera mount that lets you attach lens, mics and lighting. The company started taking orders for their first iPhone mount today, but we've been testing one out for a few weeks now.
For those of you who've ever shot video on an iPhone, it's pretty straightforward, but it does pose some challenges. For one thing, it can be hard to maintain smoothness of your video when walking around due to the iPhone's small size and limited weight. Ideally, you'd need a better way of gripping it, and some heft as well, to stabilize your video. Meanwhile, there's no obvious way to attach accessories such as mics or lenses without kludging together your own rig. This is where OWLE comes in.
"We wanted to create the OWLE because we have been doing mobile video and broadcasting for a couple of years, and we have also created other more simple systems for older phones like the Nokia N95," explained OWLE co-founder Graham McBain. "When the iPhone came out we knew we had to make something so we could shoot better video. We prototyped the OWLE by taking another product made for the ipod touch and then modding it to allow for lenses, mics and tripods. We originally just made it for our own use, but after showing some friends and family we realized it might be worth actually making it."
The first thing you notice about the OWLE is its weight. It's heavier than any phone, more akin to a small camcorder. But that's part of the point, because the weight makes it easier to hold steadily, particularly with its two metal grips.
As part of our experimenting with the OWLE, we shot two test videos near NPR headquarters. Each test includes a version shot with a regular iPhone and a version shot with an iPhone plugged into the OWLE. Our first test took up some steps outside the DC Historical Society, while the second test has us walking very briskly to an outdoor statue, then walking around it. (Fortunately, there was no one there to video us doing this, because undoubtedly we looked ridiculous.)
Here are embedded versions of the test videos. Click the play button simultaneously for each test so they play at the same time. It's a bit disorienting but at least you can literally compare them side-by-side.
Test #1: Walking up steps with the OWLE vs. with the iPhone only
Test #2: Walking briskly and around a statue with the OWLE vs. with the iPhone only
When you watch the videos, you'll notice a few things. While the videos shot by the OWLE aren't perfectly smooth, they're definitely more stable than the videos shot with just the handheld iPhone. We were surprised, though, that the OWLE videos are actually crisper, with more contrast and better color balance. The iPhone-only videos, in contrast, appear washed out. Another thing working in the OWLE's favor is that it's using a wide-angle lens, allowing for better field-of-view. On the downside, at the end of the statue video test, you'll see that there's a halo effect on the OWLE video; this appears to be a reflection of sunlight bouncing off the iPhone camera lens onto the OWLE's wide angle lens.
Just one footnote to our OWLE experience. A couple weeks ago I brought it to San Francisco for a couple of days and realized as I was going through airport security that it might look rather suspicious, so I took it out of my bag and placed it with my laptop. It got a few confused looks from the security staff but that was it. OWLE's Graham McBain, though, had a different experience. "Last time we traveled we both had an OWLE in our bags," he said. "I guess two semi gun shaped aluminum objects in multiple bags alarmed someone because we were asked more than a few questions."
On the whole, the OWLE is an intriguing device. It certainly makes your iPhone feel more like a camcorder, except that it's a camcorder with Internet access and all sorts of potential imaging apps. It's likely that more than a few iPhone video enthusiasts will be quite eager to add the OWLE to their video toolkit. It's certainly a conversation starter, and can make your videos look better to boot. They're currently available for $99 at the OWLE Online Store.