REC’s First Year

Pedro Cuenca

Programmer. DL and photography aficionado.

As we explained last time, when the COVID crisis set off we took a couple of big decisions: hire Rachel, and work on a new video app we had always wanted to do. That app is REC, and this is the story of its first year.

The best thing about starting a new app is that everything’s fresh and you have a lot of ideas. The worst thing is you have a lot of ideas and you can’t possibly do them all. If you try, soon enough you’ll find yourself inside a large codebase of half-baked features poorly integrated with each other, and shipping becomes a distant dream. All of us in the team had already experienced that in the past. Several times. As painful as it is, you need to focus on the bare essentials. We wanted REC to become a reference recording app, even for professionals, but we knew it was not wise to do it all in the first try.

So, for version 1.0 of REC we chose the features that best define our vision of the product. It had to be beautiful and easy to use for everyone. At the same time, it had to be compelling for amateurs and professionals. We spent a lot of time iterating on design with the main goal to make the app pleasant to see and use – all video settings are quickly accessible in a single place, and only the essential controls are visible during recording. We included advanced features like manual exposure control, and we went a step further by creating Cine Exposure. Cine Exposure automatically selects the best shutter speed to record moving subjects with a bit of motion blur, such that playback is smooth and natural. There are more details about it in our initial post, but the main takeaway is that it’s easy to get pleasant results even if you are just learning your ropes in video shooting.

That was REC 1.0, our first offering for video recording.

We spent the summer working on a couple of big features. We met the guys behind the Tentacle Sync devices, and we were delighted to find they are as awesome as the products they make. Jorge worked on adding professional timecode support to REC. It greatly simplifies your video editing workflow, specially if you are shooting with different cameras / angles. He worked hard to make sure the timecode precision was within a 1-frame tolerance, and when REC 2.0 was released it became the recommended video shooting app for Tentacle devices. In addition to supporting Tentacle Sync, time-of-day syncing is also available, allowing anyone to add timecode even without hardware devices to support it.

While Jorge was having all the fun with the tentacle gadgets, we also worked on stereo sound recording using the improvements in polar patterns introduced in iOS 14, which were announced during WWDC. Then the iPhone 12 family of phones was introduced in October, and as we had guessed [link], they included support for 10-bit HDR recording, using Dolby Vision. We spent a couple of weeks adding support for it (we had alread prepared our capture pipeline to be ready for such an improvement), despite not having access to the devices or the APIs. I received my iPhone 12 Pro the day it was released (just as everyone else), and we fixed all the bugs and wrong estimates in my implementation. We released REC 2.0 a couple of days later. As far as we know, it was the first video recording app to support native HDR in the iPhone 12 Pro, in addition to the timecode and stereo features we had already prepared.

By then it was time to prepare our final release of the year. The main features we added were zoom, professional fps options (like fractional settings), and the ability to save your recordings directly to your photo library. Zoom deserves a brief comment. It is one of the features that we knew we had to do at some point, but we didn’t want to add it unless we did it right. Video is not like photography: a zoom slider doesn’t work because when you are recording you don’t want abrupt transitions or corrections when you went too far. We designed a sensible way to support natural zoom acceleration, as well as setting the zoom level before recording starts. This is one example of a feature that may look like it’s a given, but it’s more complicated than it looks in the surface. If we had included several of these features for version 1.0, we would still be discussing about them and there would be no product.

We rounded up the release of REC 3.0 with grid guidelines and a festive winter icon, just as we did in Camera+ 2, and spent Christmas with our families.

Here’s to many years of REC!

Published by Pedro Cuenca

Programmer. DL and photography aficionado.