​Defending vertical videos: They're stupid, but it's not your fault

Long, stretched-out videos? Don't yell at the people who take them. Instead, let's wonder why phone cameras aren't smarter.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
2 min read

Sarah Tew/CNET

Vertical videos are ridiculous. They play badly on monitors. And they're not anyone's fault, except for the phone-makers.

I'm here to defend Vertical Video Syndrome, or at least what inspires it: the videos that get shot in portrait mode by your mom or dad, your friend, or even you. Everyone wants to yell at you, but I'm here to say it's not your fault. There's a logic to what you're doing. And there's a solution that really should exist, but doesn't. Yet.

Google's new camera app tries to nip vertical videos in the bud by encouraging users to rotate their camera, complete with a little steering-wheel animation. That's great. But here's my question: why can't phone cameras just let you shoot videos vertically, but record them horizontally?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Look, I take my iPhone videos horizontally, because I know that's the way they'll look normal. You have to. But it's a pain in the ass for me to orient the phone horizontally with one hand and find a way to press the top volume button/shutter, or tap the screen, especially when a quick kid video opp presents itself. It's off-balance, and it's not ideal.


Remember this? The Flip camera was awesome. I had one. Many people did. They were quick. They were convenient. Why were they so great? Because you could hold them in one hand.

Cell phones can be held in one hand, too. Vertically. The home buttons fit your thumb perfectly. And for taking a quick one-handed picture on the go, this is the way you'll end up grabbing your camera. This is why the Flip died: not just because phones made decent camcorders, but because they were just as easy to hold.

See that lens? It's round. The sensor inside isn't. But still, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to hold a camera vertically and shoot horizontal videos. Crop the sensor, rotate it, I don't care. If someone can find out a way to overcome this little problem, it would make videos so much easier to record. If you're incredibly desperate to shoot actual vertical portrait-oriented videos, there could always be an orientation-flip button to press. But I'm pretty positive no one wants to actually shoot vertical videos: they just find themselves in situations where it's more convenient to shoot video with an upright phone than holding the damn thing sideways.

So what if you can't see your videos filling the whole screen? At least the phone would be comfortable to hold.

Camera app makers, and phone makers: Listen to my logic. Make this happen.