Tech that’ll help you go viral
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Lend an ear
Video has become the lifeblood of the internet, but with every video comes an audio track the quality of which is often neglected by fame-hungry content producers. The result: sound that is imbalanced, tinny or distorted. For those creators who wish that their audio was more rich and immersive, a binaural microphone such as the 3Dio Free Space Pro II might provide a visually striking solution.
Sound engineers can spend hours carefully arranging multiple microphones in pursuit of sonic realism. The binaural approach, meanwhile, is laughably literal but makes total sense: by placing microphones inside replicas of human ears, it’s possible to mimic the way we hear. Obsessives can even spend huge sums on professionally made binaural mannequins, but 3Dio simply gives you two prosthetic ears, a head’s width apart, each of which contains a DPA 4060 omnidirectional microphone, a standard in the film industry. As soundwaves head toward these mics, they’re shaped by the silicone ears as they would be by human ears. When listening back, our brain interprets the recordings as if we’d been there, with 3D sound that can be pinpointed to the front, back and sides.
The Pro II is solidly built, but lighter than you might imagine and a cinch to operate. There are two ways of hooking it up to a recorder: either with a couple of XLR cables (the pro approach) or a stereo minijack cable that can be plugged into most portable set-ups. The effect while listening to recordings on headphones is extraordinary, not least because it’s so easily achieved. If you’re recording your voice at a desk, it will capture it in exquisite detail while accurately rendering every movement of your head (little wonder that ASMR video makers adore its intimate sound). Outside, attached to a camera, it brings 3D colour to 2D images, with the noise of footsteps and passing traffic moving realistically across the soundstage. Passers-by might demand to know why you’re carrying around a pair of prosthetic ears but, hey, the path to artistic perfection was never easy. 3Dio Free Space Pro II binaural microphone, $1,999
GoPro is considered to be the king of the action camera, but DJI, better known for its drones, has hit the back of the net with this competitively priced alternative. Where does it score highly? First off, a magnetic mounting system that lets you attach it to helmet or handlebar quickly and easily.
Two touch-enabled displays that give speedy access to settings, thus avoiding tedious button scrolling. Long battery life – 160 minutes’ shooting at 1080p – and fast charging, from empty to 80 per cent in around 20 minutes. Three microphones that cancel out wind noise. And crisp, colourful footage, stabilised with DJI’s Rocksteady 3.0 software. Exceptional value. DJI Osmo Action 3 Adventure Combo, £399
Anyone who has tried live-streaming on YouTube or Twitch will know how difficult it is to be the director, sound engineer and vision mixer as well as the unflappable host. Stream Deck is the preeminent piece of kit to help shoulder that burden: a neat console with buttons you can assign to various pieces of software, saving you stress and embarrassment.
This newest version comes with extra dials (doubling as buttons) and a touch-sensitive LCD strip for supercharged control. Getting the most out of the unit can require a little online searching, but you’ll find hundreds of third-party plugins that give it applications way beyond streaming, including controlling your living-room lighting. Elgato Stream Deck+, £199.99
The mirrorless Z 30 camera is pitched perfectly at content creators looking to step up from a smartphone. If you’re curious enough to delve into its menus, there’s a typically Nikon-esque abundance of features available, but Auto mode gets you started fast, whether you’re taking photos or shooting video (4K at 30 frames per second, no less).
There’s no electronic viewfinder, but the built-in touchscreen (which revolves through 180 degrees) feels natural for a smartphone shooter like myself. Two other features made me feel at home: the ability to charge via USB without removing the battery, and connecting wirelessly to my phone to transfer videos and upload them (clicks fingers) just like that. Nikon Z 30, from £649
Get a handle on it
Smartphones can capture photos and videos of exceptional quality, but the ergonomic experience is less than optimal thanks to their flat-as-a-pancake design. This kit solves the problem via the iPhone’s MagSafe feature. (Android users can also join the party, thanks to an included magnetic sticker.)
The SnapGrip – which doubles as a battery pack – adheres to the back of the phone, giving it a DSLR-like form, complete with shutter button and the ability to turn it 90 degrees for portrait mode. It can be bundled with a SnapPod (a tripod doubling as a handle) and a SnapLight (for a brightness boost), all using magnetism to produce an extremely handy creator’s camera. Shiftcam SnapGrip Creator Kit, £129.99