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iPhone 4 video embodies new-tech aesthetic

Videos like "Apple of My Eye" will lead ordinary folks to buy premium tech gear--and some of those people will even create works of art.

It's easy to see how the iPhone 4's high-definition 1280x720 video would be a handy feature. It's an entirely different thing to see just how impressive it can be in the right hands.

In this case, those hands belong chiefly to Michael Koerbel and Anna Elizabeth James, students at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, who wrote a short video called "Apple of My Eye." Koerbel recorded it with an iPhone 4, and James edited it on the same hardware with Apple's new iMovie app--all in less than 48 hours.

As with Vincent Laforet's "Reverie," shot with Canon's first video-capable SLR, the EOS 5D Mark II, the appeal of "Apple of My Eye" isn't the acting or plot. Instead, it's the demonstration that a new generation of relatively mainstream equipment can achieve what only professional gear could earlier.

And as marketing executives know, such works also are a potentially powerful draw for all those budding artists who aspire to produce something beyond snapshots of the family. Many never will, of course, but that won't stop them from buying premium products.

Don't expect most iPhone 4 owners to craft comparably high-quality video vignettes. "Apple of My Eye" is pleasant to watch in part because its relatively professional production values--carefully arranged camera perspective, suitable lighting, a sweeping musical score--just aren't going to make it to most amateur video. There was more gear involved than just an iPhone, too--a tripod for still shots and a camera dolly for moving shots, for example. And James said it took 14 hours to edit.

Do expect cinema to be changed, though, as Moore's Law collides with Hollywood. The Red cameras at the high end, Canon's 5D Mark II, 7D, and Rebel T2i in the middle, and the iPhone 4 at the low end--these sorts of digital tools will fuel innovation among the experimental crowd and likely draw fresh talent to the industry.

The spread of high-end technology to the mainstream is a broader trend than with just video. The high-quality photos a person can produce with a digital SLR and Photoshop opened the doors for the microstock photography business, letting part-time amateurs elbow in on professionals' turf. Junior-high-school rock bands can mix and dub music with tools better than professional studios had a generation earlier. And the Brushes app can turn an iPad into an artist's sketch tablet in a way a $2,000 Wacom Cintiq tethered to a computer never could.

Again, such tools are most impressive in the skilled, capable hands that most of us lack. But the spread of technology means more people will be able to learn, and the Internet means there's a place for the rest of us to find what they've done.

So, while you shouldn't hold out Oscar hopes for that video of your child blowing out the birthday candles, you should expect for some engaging new art.

This still from 'Apple of My Eye' shows a little bit of what it takes to record a higher-end video with an iPhone 4.
This still from 'Apple of My Eye' shows a little bit of what it takes to record a higher-end video with an iPhone 4. Michael Koerbel