Using your mobile's multimedia capacities

Before you buy a mobile phone for your organisation, make sure it has the functions and capacity you need. For example, if you want to take pictures with your mobile phone and then print them, it should have a capacity of at least 2 or 3 megapixels. This makes a big difference to the image quality. There are many online databases which will allow you to compare the features of various mobile phones before choosing the one that suits your needs.

Video and sound recorded on a mobile phone is saved in a format which is specific to mobile phone files. You will be able to transfer such files to your computer and play them back, but if you want to edit them they will need to be converted into computer-specific files. More details on open source and freeware converters that do this are included below.

If you want to use your phone to update a website check out the guide to using mobiles to update blogs and websites included in this toolkit.

Stills camera

The more megapixels a mobile phone camera has, the better the image quality of the photos taken on it.
A 2 megapixel camera will allow you print out images of adequate quality (150 pixels per inch) at 8 inches by 10 inches. A 3 or 4 megapixel camera on your phone will significantly improve the image quality, allowing you to make much better prints.

Most mobile phone cameras will allow you to take pictures good enough to be used as small images in screen format on a blog or a website .

It's worth spending some time testing the camera on your phone and transferring your images to the format in which you want to use them before embarking on any significant projects.

A mobile phone camera can be a way of taking pictures in challenging environments without drawing attention to yourself, as you can take photos while you are pretending to make a call.

You can use tools such as Shozu to send photos directly from your phone to a blog or website.

Sound recording

Mobile phones typically record sounds using a file format called .AMR.

In order to use audio material recorded on your phone:

  • Transfer the recording to your computer (see Getting media off your phone for more information on how to do this)
  • Convert the files into a format such as .WAV or FLAC using a package such as the Mobile AMR converter
  • Edit the files using a sound editing tool such as free and open source software applications, Audacity or other sound editing application.

Video recording

Most mobile phones use a file format called 3GP for video.

In order to make short films using footage recorded on your phone:

  • Transfer the content to your computer (see Getting media off your phone for more information on how to do this)
  • Convert the files to a format called AVI using a video converter such as Mediacoder which runs on Windows, ffmpegx for Mac and Gtranscode for Linux.
  • Edit the footage using a proprietary video package like those which are bundled with your Windows or Mac operating system.

Some mobile phones come with their own proprietary editing systems installed which means you can edit videos directly on the phone.

To create a video which can be circulated on mobile phones either via Bluetooth or MMS (multimedia messaging) the clip should be no larger than 100K, which will give you around 25 seconds.

Mobile phone video quality is fine for creating short videos for broadcast on video-sharing websites or for circulating via Bluetooth or MMS. However only a few very high end phones are capable of producing anything approaching broadcast quality video which is 30 frames per second, 640 x 480 pixels resolution. These phones are very expensive.

How to distribute multimedia material from mobile phones

There are two ways to distribute multimedia material from mobile phones: over the internet and between mobile phones.

Users can add multimedia content to web sites, blogs and photo or video repositories either by uploading their data directly on to the site (see the section on 'Using mobiles to update blogs and websites' to find out how to do this), or by first transferring their content to a computer and then uploading it to the internet (see the section on Getting media off your phone for more information on how to do this) . Mobile phones can be a powerful way of feeding these other technologies, for example by uploading photos of an event or demonstration on to a website.

Multimedia content can also be transferred between phones via Bluetooth or MMS (multimedia messaging). MMS in some cases requires a high-end phone, and is more popular in some countries than others because of the cost and the sometimes restrictive packages that the different service providers offer. Bluetooth has the advantage of being free but requires the two phones to be close together. In countries where websites are heavily censored, video and audio content which challenges the authorities is more easily shared via Bluetooth.

Mobile phone ringtones can also be used creatively, to popularise an issue. In the Philippines, part of an alleged conversation between the Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has become a hugely popular ringtone on mobile phones - read more on Using ringtones to popularise an issue.