How to Plan for a Video Production?

on Monday, March 31, 2008

Camcorders are so simple to use these days that they encourage seat-of-the pants videography, which isn’t always the best idea. Just grabbing your camcorder and hastily shooting may be fine if you’re shooting the UFO that happens to be flying overhead, but for most other situations, some careful planning will improve your movie.
The first thing you’re probably going to do in any video project is shoot some video. Even if you are shooting a simple school play or family gathering, you can and should plan many aspects of the shoot:
  • Make a checklist of shots that you need for your project. While you’re at it, make an equipment checklist too. I’ve included a video-shoot checklist at the end of this chapter.
  • Survey the shooting location. Make sure passersby won’t trip over your cables or bump the camera. (It makes you unpopular, and can ruin your footage to boot.)
  • Talk to property owners or other responsible parties. Identify potential disruptions, and make sure you have permission to shoot. For example, your kids’ school probably doesn’t mind if you shoot video of Suzie’s band concert, but commercial concerts or sporting events usually have rules against recording performances.
  • Plan the time of the shoot. This is especially important if you are shooting outside. What part of the sky will sunlight be coming from? Do you want to take advantage of the special light available at sunrise or sunset?
  • Bring more blank tapes and charged batteries than you think you’ll need.
You never can tell what may go wrong, and preparing for the worst is always a good idea. When it comes to blank tapes and spare (charged) batteries, too many is always better than not quite enough. If you want to shoot high-quality video, you’ll be happy to learn that staging an elaborate video production with dozens of staff members, acres of expensive equipment, and professional catering is not necessary. But you can do some simple things to improve any shooting situation — whether you are casually recording a family gathering or producing your own low-budget sci-fi movie. The following sections help you shoot better video, no matter the situation.

Camera Stabilizer Shopping List

on Sunday, March 30, 2008

Although modern camcorders are small and easy to carry around, you’ll probably find that most of your shots benefit from a tripod or other method of stabilization. Even the cheap $20 tripod that you got for free with your camcorder purchase is better than nothing for stationary shots. If you’re looking for a higher-quality tripod, here are some features that can make it worth the extra cash:
  • Strong legs and bracing: Dual-stanchion legs and strong bracing greatly improve the stability of the camera.
  • Lightweight: The best tripod in the world doesn’t do you any good if it’s so heavy that you never take it with you. Better tripods use high-tech materials like aircraft aluminum, titanium, and carbon fiber to provide lightness without sacrificing strength.
  • Bubble levels: Some tripods have bubble levels (like those carpenters use) to help ensure that the camera is level. Few things are more disorienting in a video shot than an image that is slightly skewed from level.
  • Counterweights: Adjustable counterweights help you keep the tripod head and camera balanced even if you’re using a heavy telephoto lens or other camcorder accessory.
  • Fluid heads: This is probably the most important feature of a highquality tripod. A fluid head enables you to pan the camera smoothly, eliminating the jerky panning motion associated with cheaper tripods.

Lighting Equipment Shopping List


Most digital camcorders provide automatic aperture control (often called exposure). The aperture is the part of the camera that controls how much light is let in through the lens. It expands and contracts depending on light conditions, much like the iris in the human eye. But all the automatic controls in the world won’t make up for a poorly lit scene. Basically you are going to need several key bits of gear to better light your scene:
  • Lights: Right about now, you’re probably thinking, “No kidding.” You can buy professional lights if you wish, but you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to get good lights. Fluorescent shop lights are affordable and provide good-quality light, as are halogen work lights available at many hardware stores.
  • Backdrop material: For some shots, you may want a backdrop behind your subject. You can make a backdrop frame out of pipe or cheap 1x3 pine boards (also known as furring strips) from your local lumber yard, and then tie, clamp, or staple the backdrop material to the frame.
  • Clamps: While you’re at the hardware store buying lights and backdrop stuff, pick up some cheap spring clamps. Clamps can be used for holding backdrops together, holding lights in position, or playfully clipping unsuspecting crew members as they walk past.
  • Extension cords: You’ll need to plug in all your fancy lights somehow.
  • Duct tape: If you can’t do it with duct tape, it probably can’t be done! I like to use duct tape to secure extension cords to the ground so that they aren’t a trip hazard.
  • Translucent plastic sheets and cheesecloth: Get these at your local art supply store to help diffuse and soften intense lights.
  • Reflective surfaces: Use poster board, aluminum foil, or even plastic garbage bags to bounce light onto your subjects. Crumple foil to provide a more diffuse reflection, and tape the foil or plastic bags to boards so they’re easier to handle. Lights get hot, so use care when handling them after they’ve been in use for a while. Also, if you use plastic, cheesecloth, or other materials to diffuse light, position those materials so they aren’t too close to hot lights.

What’s wrong with my camcorder’s mic?

on Tuesday, March 25, 2008

After spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars for a high-tech digital camcorder, you may be frustrated by the so-so quality of the audio recorded by the built-in microphone. The problem is that the camcorder’s mic is prone to pick up a lot of noise you don’t want, while not recording enough of the audio you actually want. Unwanted noise includes wind roar, people chatting next to or behind the camera, and even the camcorder’s own tape drive. In this clip, I shot a scene of my son watching sea lions at a local seaport. The camcorder’s mic picked up the sound of barking sea lions, which is fine, but it also picked up voices of people chatting outside the video frame and various other undesirable sounds. If all I want in this shot is the sound of sea lions barking, I’ll have to rely on another method of recording.

How to select an audio recorder?


Separate sound recorders give you more flexibility, especially if you just want to record audio in a certain location but not video. Many professionals use DAT (digital audio tape) recorders to record audio, but DAT recorders typically cost hundreds or (more likely) thousands of dollars. Digital voice recorders are also available, but the amount of audio they can record is often limited by whatever storage is built in to the unit. For a good balance of quality and affordability, some of the newer MiniDisc recorders are good choices.

If you do record audio with a separate recorder, one problem you’ll have later is precisely synchronizing the audio recording with the video image that you recorded. Professional video and filmmakers solve this problem using slates. A slate is that black-and-white board thingie with all the chalk writing on it that someone snaps closed just before the director yells, “Action!” The slate isn’t just a kitschy Hollywood gimmick. When the slate is snapped closed in front of the camera, it makes a loud snapping noise picked up by all audio recorders on the set. That sound and the video image of the slate can be used later to precisely synchronize the separate audio and video recordings. If you plan to record audio with a separate audio recorder, I recommend that you construct and use a simple slate of your own. You can make it using two boards and a hinge purchased at any hardware store. (Just watch your fingers, okay?)

How to choose a microphone?


If you want to connect a better microphone to your camcorder, the best place to start is with your camcorder’s manufacturer — you’ll need a really long cable. (Just kidding.) Usually accessory microphones are available from the manufacturer. These accessory units make use of connections, accessory shoes, and other features on your camcorder.

One type of special microphone you may want to use is a lavalier microphone — a tiny unit that usually clips to a subject’s clothing to pick up his or her voice. You often see lavalier mics clipped to the lapels of TV newscasters. Some lavalier units are designed to fit inside clothing or costumes, though some practice and special shielding may be required to eliminate rubbing noises.

You might also consider a hand-held mic. These can be either held by or close to your subject, mounted to a boom (make your own out of a broom handle and duct tape!), or suspended over your subject. Suspending a microphone overhead prevents unwanted noise caused by breathing, rustling clothes, or simply bumping the microphone stand. Just make sure that whoever holds the microphone boom doesn’t bump anyone in the head! Microphones are generally defined by the directional pattern in which they pick up sound.

The three basic categories are cardioid (which has a heartshaped pattern), omnidirectional (which picks up sound from all directions), and bidirectional (which picks up sound from the sides). A good place to look for high-quality microphones is at a musician’s supply store. Just make sure that the connectors and frequency range are compatible with your camcorder or other recording device (check the camcorder’s documentation). Finally, the Internet is always a good resource as well. One good resource is, the Web site of Shure Incorporated. Shure sells microphones and other audio products, and the Web site is an excellent resource for general information about choosing and using microphones.

How to pick the Right Accessories for Your Camcorder?

on Thursday, March 20, 2008

Few pieces of digital video gear are as underappreciated as camcorder accessories. Beyond the obvious things like a camcorder bag and spare tapes, there are a couple of extras which I feel are critical whenever you shoot video.
These include
  • Extra batteries: Your new camcorder should come with at least one battery, and I recommend buying at least one extra. Lithium Ion batteries are preferable to NiMH batteries because Lithium batteries last longer, and you don’t have to worry about completely discharging them before recharging. (NiMH batteries have always been a pain because you were supposed to completely discharge them before recharging, and then you had to recharge them as fully as possible because NiMH batteries had a “memory” that would often prevent it from accepting a full charge.) A Lithium Ion battery, on the other hand, is more like the gas tank in your car: You can top it off whenever you want!
  • Lens cleaner: Your camcorder’s lens will inevitably need to be cleaned. Purchase a cleaning kit specifically recommended by your camcorder’s manufacturer. This is important because the lens on your camcorder might have a special coating that can be damaged by the wrong kind of cleaner. Avoid touching the camcorder lens with anything (as much as humanly possible). I like to use canned air (available at computer supply stores) to blow dust or sand off the lens.
  • Lens hood: Some high-end camcorders have hoods that extend out in front of the lens. A hood shades the lens surface to prevent light flares or other problems that occur when the sun or some other bright light source reflects directly on the lens. If your camcorder didn’t come with a hood and your manufacturer doesn’t offer one as an accessory, you can make a hood using black photographic paper tape (available at photographic supply stores). Make sure you check the camcorder’s viewfinder, however, to ensure that your homemade hood doesn’t show up in the video image!
  • Lens filters: Filters fit onto the front of your lens and serve a variety of purposes. Some filters correct or modify the light that comes into the lens. Polarizing filters reduce reflections on glass or water that appear in a video shot. A neutral density filter improves color in bright sunlight. A clear or UV (ultraviolet) filter is often used simply to protect the camera’s lens from getting dirty or scratched. Filters usually screw into a threaded fitting just in front of the lens, and you can purchase them from consumer electronics or photographic supply stores. If your camcorder doesn’t accept a standard filter size (such as 37mm or 58mm), you will probably have to order filters specially designed for your camcorder by its manufacturer.
Some high-end cameras (such as the Canon GL2 or Sony DCR-VX2000) have built-in neutral density filters that you can turn on and off or adjust. This is a handy feature, but I still recommend that you always install at least a UV filter in front of your camcorder’s lens to protect it from damage. A $15 UV filter is a lot easier and cheaper to replace than the glass lens in your camcorder. Tiffen ( sells a variety of camcorder filters; their Web site includes some excellent photographs that illustrate the effects of various lens filters on your video image.

How to Choose a Camera with the Right Features?


When you go shopping for a new digital camcorder, you’ll be presented with a myriad of specifications and features. Your challenge is to sort through all the hoopla and figure out whether the camera will meet your specific needs. When reviewing the spec sheet for any new camcorder, pay special attention to these items:
  • CCDs: As mentioned earlier, 3-CCD (also called 3-chip) camcorders provide much better image quality, but they are also a lot more expensive. A 3-CCD camera is by no means mandatory, but it is nice to have.
  • Progressive scan: This is another feature that is nice but not absolutely mandatory. (To get a line on whether it’s indispensable to your project, you may want to review the section on interlaced video earlier in this chapter.)
  • Resolution: Some spec sheets list horizontal lines of resolution (for example: 525 lines); others list the number of pixels (for example: 690,000 pixels). Either way, more is better when it comes to resolution.
  • Optical zoom: Spec sheets usually list optical and digital zoom separately. Digital zoom numbers are usually high (200x, for example) and seem appealing. Ignore the big digital zoom number and focus (get it?) on the optical zoom factor — it describes how well the camera lens actually sees — and it should be in the 12x-25x range. Digital zoom just crops the picture captured by the CCD and then makes each remaining pixel bigger to fill the screen, resulting in greatly reduced image quality.
  • Tape format: MiniDV is the most common format, but (as mentioned earlier) for your equipment, using other formats might make more sense.
  • Batteries: How long does the included battery supposedly last, and how much do extra batteries cost? I recommend you buy a camcorder that uses Lithium Ion batteries — they last longer and are easier to maintain than NiMH (nickel-metal-hydride) batteries.
  • Microphone connector: For the sake of sound quality, the camcorder should have some provisions for connecting an external microphone. (You don’t want your audience to think, “Gee, it’d be a great movie if it didn’t have all that whirring and sneezing.”) Most camcorders have a standard mini-jack connector for an external mic, and some high-end camcorders have a 3-pin XLR connector. XLR connectors — also sometimes called balanced audio connectors — are used by many highquality microphones and PA (public address) systems.
  • Manual controls: Virtually all modern camcorders offer automatic focus and exposure control, but sometimes (see Chapter 4) manual control is preferable. Control rings around the lens are easier to use than tiny knobs or slider switches on the side of the camera — and they’ll be familiar if you already know how to use 35mm film cameras.
The spec sheet may try to draw your attention to various other camcorder features as well, but not all these features are as useful as the salesman might like you to believe. Features that seem exciting but are generally less important include
  • Night vision: Some camcorders have an infrared mode that enables you to record video even in total darkness. Sony’s NightShot is an example of this feature. If you want to shoot nature videos of nocturnal animals this may be appealing to you, but for day-to-day videography, it’s less useful than you might think.
  • Still photos: Many new digital camcorders can also take still photos. This is handy if you want to shoot both video and stills but don’t want to lug along two cameras — but even relatively cheap digital still cameras take better photos than camcorders (even the most expensive ones).
  • USB port: Some camcorders offer a USB connection in addition to FireWire. USB can be handy for transferring still photos into your computer, but I strongly recommend that you rely on FireWire for digital video capture. Many computer USB ports are not fast enough to handle full quality digital video.
  • Bluetooth: This is a new wireless networking technology that allows various types of electronic components — including camcorders and computers — to connect to each other using radio waves instead of cables. Unfortunately the maximum data rate of current Bluetooth technology is still comparatively low (less than one megabit per second). In practical terms, that means Bluetooth won’t be suitable for capturing digital video from your camcorder for the foreseeable future. A few camcorders incorporate Bluetooth technology anyway, and that may (or may not) come in handy if you still own the same camcorder a few years from now.
  • Built-in light: If a camcorder’s built-in light works as a flash for still photos, it at least serves a semi-useful purpose. But on-camera lights often have unfavorable lighting effects on your subjects; I recommend you rely on other light sources instead when you are shooting video.
And then there are some features which are essentially useless. Don’t pay extra for these:
  • In-camera special effects: Most digital camcorders boast some built-in effects. But why? Special effects can be added much more effectively (so to speak) in your computer, using your editing software.
  • Digital zoom: Digital zoom makes the image appear blocky and pixelated — again, why do it? I tend to ignore the big digital-zoom claims that camcorder manufacturers like to advertise. When you test the zoom feature on a camcorder, make sure you can disable digital zoom. Bottom line: You should be able to prevent the camera from automatically switching to digital zoom when you reach the optical zoom limit.

Other digital formats


Although MiniDV has become the predominant standard for consumer digital camcorders, many other formats exist. In addition to Digital8 (described in the previous section), the available alternative formats include these:
  • CD-R/W (Compact Disc-Recordable/reWritable): A few digital camcorders use recordable CDs as the recording medium. The main benefit of this format is that you can place a recorded video CD into any computer with a CD-ROM drive — no FireWire required. Alas, there are downsides: Recording mechanisms are large, the CDs can usually only hold 20 minutes of video, and built-in CD-R/W drives draw a heavy load from camcorder batteries. If you go this route, plan to use a lot of wall current (and a lot of discs). This format has all but disappeared from the marketplace.
  • DVCAM: Originally developed by Sony for video professionals, this format is based on MiniDV but offers a more robust tape design, higher image quality, and some high-end features designed to appeal mainly to professional video producers and editors. DVCAM camcorders tend to cost about as much as a new economy car, and get much lower gas mileage.
  • DVCPro: This is another expensive, MiniDV-based, professionalgrade format like Sony’s DVCAM. Panasonic is responsible for the DVCPro format.
  • Digital Betacam: Here’s yet another professional format that most of us probably can’t afford. Digital Betacam (another Sony creation) is based on the dear departed Betacam SP analog format, which for years was a beloved format among professional videographers.
  • MicroMV: Someone at Sony really likes to create new recording formats. (Remember Betamax?) Sony offers a few consumer-priced camcorders that use the MicroMV format. As the name suggests, MicroMV tapes are really small, allowing MicroMV camcorders to be small and light as well. (Canon somehow manages to make some tiny MiniDV camcorders, but if you must have a teensy-weensy Sony, then MicroMV is your format.) With any alternative recording format, the first two things you should consider are price and availability of recording media. If you’re considering a camcorder that uses the WhizbangDV format, ask yourself how many stores sell WhizbangDV tapes. Will you still be able to find WhizbangDV tapes five years from now?

What is Digital8?

on Sunday, March 16, 2008

Until recently, MiniDV tapes were expensive and only available at specialty electronics stores, so Sony developed the Digital8 format as an affordable alternative. Digital8 camcorders use Hi8 tapes instead of MiniDV tapes. A 120-minute Hi8 tape can hold 60 minutes of Digital8 video. Initially the cheaper, easily available Hi8 tapes gave Digital8 camcorders a significant cost advantage; however, MiniDV tapes have improved dramatically in price and availability, making the bulkier Digital8 camcorders and tapes less attractive.

Sony still offers a wide variety of affordably priced, high-quality Digital8 camcorders — Hitachi has offered Digital8s as well — and the format has modernized to stay competitive. Digital8 camcorders record digital video using the same DV codec as MiniDV cameras, and Digital8 camcorders also include i.Link (Sony’s trade name for FireWire) ports. Digital8 cameras generally offer equivalent video quality to MiniDV cameras of similar price. If you already have a lot of old Hi8 tapes and you are on a tight budget, a Digital8 camcorder may be worth considering. Digital8 camcorders have an analog mode, which means they can read the analog video recorded by your old Hi8 camcorder.

Keep in mind that Hi8/Digital 8 compatibility only goes one way: Hi8 camcorders cannot read Digital8 video.

What is MiniDV?

on Saturday, March 15, 2008

MiniDV has become the most common format for consumer digital videotape. Virtually all digital camcorders sold today use MiniDV; blank tapes are now easy to find and reasonably affordable. If you’re still shopping for a camcorder and are wondering which format is best for all-around use, MiniDV is it. MiniDV tapes are small — more compact than even audio cassette tapes. Small is good because smaller tape-drive mechanisms mean smaller, lighter camcorders. Tapes come in a variety of lengths, the most common length being 60 minutes.

All MiniDV devices use the IEEE-1394 FireWire interface to connect to computers, and the DV codec serves to compress and capture video. (A codec — short for compressor/decompressor — is a compression scheme.) The DV codec is supported by virtually all FireWire hardware and video-editing software.

Understanding color


Remember back in the old days when many personal computers used regular televisions for monitors? In the early 1980s I had a Commodore 64 hooked up 4:3 16:9 (widescreen)
to a TV — it made sense at the time — but these days it’s hard to believe, especially when you consider how dissimilar TVs and computer monitors have become. Differences include interlacing versus progressive scan, horizontal resolution lines, and unique pixel aspect ratios. On top of all that, TVs and computer monitors use different kinds of color. Computer monitors utilize what is called the RGB color space. RGB stands for red-green-blue, meaning that all the colors you see on a computer monitor are combined by blending those three colors. TVs, on the other hand, use the YUV color space. YUV stands for luminance-chrominance. This tells us two things:
  • Whoever’s in charge of making up video acronyms can’t spell.
  • Brightness in video displays is treated as a separate component from color. Luminance is basically just a fancy word for brightness, and chrominance means color in non-techie speak.
I could go on for pages describing the technicalities of the YUV color space, but there are really only two important things you need to know about color:
  • Some RGB colors won’t show up properly on a TV. This is an issue mainly when you try to use JPEGs or other computer-generated graphics in a video project, or when you adjust the colors of a video image using effects and color settings in your video-editing program. RGB colors that won’t appear properly in the YUV color space are often said to be illegal or out of gamut. You won’t get arrested for trying to use them, but they will stubbornly refuse to look right. Generally speaking, illegal colors are ones with RGB values below 20 or above 230. Graphics programs can usually tell you RGB values for the colors in your images. Some graphics programs (like Adobe Photoshop) even have special filters that help you filter out broadcast “illegal” colors from your images.
  • Video colors won’t look exactly right when you view them on a computer monitor. Because you’ll probably do most of your video editing while looking at a computer monitor, you won’t necessarily see the same colors that appear when the video is viewed on a TV. That’s one reason professional video editors connect broadcast-style video monitors to their computer workstations. An external video monitor allows an editor to preview colors as they actually appear on a TV.

Understanding pixel aspect ratios

on Thursday, March 13, 2008

You may already be familiar with image aspect ratios, but did you know that pixels can have various aspect ratios too? If you have ever worked with a drawing or graphics program on a computer, you’re probably familiar with pixels. A pixel is the smallest piece of a digital image. Thousands — or even millions — of uniquely colored pixels combine in a grid to form an image on a television or computer screen. On computer displays, pixels are square. But in standard video, pixels are rectangular. In NTSC video, pixels are taller than they are wide, and in PAL or SECAM, pixels are wider than they are tall. Pixel aspect ratios become an issue when you start using still images created as computer graphics — for example, a JPEG photo you took with a digital camera and imported into your computer — in projects that also contain standard video. If you don’t prepare the still graphic carefully, it could appear distorted when viewed on a TV.

Understanding image aspect ratios


The aspect ratio of a typical television screen is 4:3 (four to three) — for any given size, the display is four units wide and three units high. To put this in real numbers, measure the width and height of a TV or computer monitor that you have nearby. If the display is 32 cm wide, for example, you should notice that it’s also about 24 cm high. If a picture completely fills this display, the picture has a 4:3 aspect ratio.

Different numbers are sometimes used to describe the same aspect ratio. Basically, some people who make the packaging for movies and videos get carried away with their calculators, so rather than call an aspect ratio 4:3, they divide each number by three and call it 1.33:1 instead. Likewise, sometimes the aspect ratio 16:9 is divided by nine to give the more cryptic-looking number 1.78:1. Mathematically, these are just different numbers that mean the same thing.
A lot of movies are distributed on tape and DVD today in widescreen format.

The aspect ratio of a widescreen picture is often (but not always) 16:9. If you watch a widescreen movie on a 4:3 TV screen, you will see black bars (also called letterboxes) at the top and bottom of the screen. This format is popular because it more closely matches the aspect ratio of the movie-theater screens for which films are usually shot. Figure 3-3 illustrates the difference between the 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios.

A common misconception is that 16:9 is the aspect ratio of all big-screen movies. In fact, various aspect ratios for film have been used over the years. Many movies have an aspect ratio of over 2:1, meaning that the image is more than twice as wide as it is high! But for many films, 16:9 is considered close enough. More to the point, it’s just right for you — because if your camcorder has a widescreen mode, its aspect ratio is probably 16:9.

Interlacing versus progressive scan




A video picture is usually drawn as a series of horizontal lines. An electron gun at the back of the picture tube draws lines of the video picture back and forth, much like the printer head on your printer moves back and forth as it prints words on a page. All three broadcast video standards — NTSC, PAL, and SECAM — are interlaced; the horizontal lines are drawn in two passes rather than one. Every other line is drawn on each consecutive pass, and each of these passes is called a field. So on a PAL display, which shows 25 fps, there are actually 50 fields per second.
Noninterlaced displays are becoming more common. Modern computer monitors, for example, are all noninterlaced — all the lines are drawn in a single pass. Some HDTV (high-definition television) formats are noninterlaced; others are interlaced.

Most camcorders record interlaced video, but some high-end camcorders also offer a progressive-scan mode. Progressive scan — a fancy way of saying noninterlaced — is a worthwhile feature if you can afford it, especially if you shoot a lot of video of fast-moving subjects. With an interlaced camera, a problem I call interlacing jaggies can show up on video with a lot of movement. The stick seems to have some horizontal slices taken out of it, an unfortunate illusion created because the subject was moving so fast that the stick was in different places when each field of the video frame was captured. If the entire frame had been captured in one pass (as would have happened with a progressive-scan camcorder), the horizontal anomalies would not appear.

Understanding broadcast formats

on Saturday, March 8, 2008

A lot of new terms have entered the videophile’s lexicon in recent years: NTSC, PAL, SECAM. These terms identify broadcast television standards, which are vitally important to you if you plan to edit video — because your cameras, TVs, tape decks, and DVD players probably conform to only one broadcast standard. Which standard is for you? That depends mainly on where you live:
  • NTSC (National Television Standards Committee): Used primarily in North America, Japan, and the Philippines.
  • PAL (Phase Alternating Line) Used primarily in Western Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia, and South America.
  • SECAM (Sequential Couleur Avec Memoire) This category covers several similar standards used primarily in France, Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.

Understanding the mechanics of video recording


It is the springtime of love as John and Marsha bound towards each other across the blossoming meadow. The lovers’ adoring eyes meet as they race to each other, arms raised in anticipation of a passionate embrace. Suddenly, John is distracted by a ringing cell phone and he stumbles, sliding face-first into the grass and flowers at Marsha’s feet. A cloud of pollen flutters away on the gentle breeze, irritating Marsha’s allergies, which erupt in a massive sneezing attack.

As this scene unfolds, light photons bounce off John, Marsha, the blossoming meadow, the flying dust from John’s mishap, and everything else in the shot. Some of those photons pass through the lens of your camcorder. The lens focuses the photons on transistors in the CCD. The transistors are excited, and the CCD converts this excitement into data, which is then magnetically recorded on tape for later playback and editing. This process, is repeated approximately 30 times per second.

Most mass-market DV camcorders have a single CCD, but higher-quality cameras have three CCDs. In such cameras, individual CCDs capture red, green, and blue light, respectively. Multi-CCD cameras are expensive (typically over $1500), but the image produced is near-broadcast quality. Early video cameras used video pickup tubes instead of CCDs. Tubes were inferior to CCDs in many ways, particularly in the way they handled extremes of light. Points of bright light (such as a light bulb) bled and streaked light across the picture, and low-light situations were simply too dark to shoot.

How to choose a camcorder?


Digital camcorders — also called DV (digital video) camcorders — are among the hot consumer electronics products today. This means that you can choose from many different makes and models, with cameras to fit virtually any budget. But cost isn’t the only important factor as you try to figure out which camera is best for you. You need to read and understand the spec sheet for each camera and determine if it will fit your needs. The next few sections help you understand the basic mechanics of how a camera works, as well as compare the different types of cameras available.

I won’t make specific camera model recommendations — the market is constantly changing — but I can list some up-to-date resources to help you compare the latest and greatest digital camcorders. My favorites are
  • ( This is a great online resource for information on various computer and electronics products. The editorial reviews are helpful, and you can read comments from actual owners of the products being reviewed. The Web site also provides links to various online retailers. If you order a camcorder online, consider more than just the price. Find out how much shipping will cost, and pay close attention to the retailer’s rating on CNET. Retailers earn high star ratings by being honest with customers and fulfilling orders when promised.
  • The local magazine rack: Visit Barnes & Noble, Borders, Waldenbooks, or any other bookstore that has a good magazine selection. There you should find magazines and buyer’s guides tailored to you, the digital video enthusiast. Computer Videomaker is one of my favorites, although many of its articles are aimed at professional and semi-pro videographers.

Using a multimedia controller for video editing

on Monday, March 3, 2008

A lot of video editing involves finding exactly the right spot to make a cut or insert a clip. The ability to easily move back and forth through video precisely, frame-by-frame, is crucial, but it’s also not terribly easy when you are using the keyboard and mouse. For years, professional video-editing workstations have used knobs and dials to give editors more intuitive, precise control — and now you can get that same level of control on your computer. A multimedia controller such as the SpaceShuttle A/V from Contour Design ( connects to your computer’s USB port and makes manipulating video a lot easier.

I have used the ShuttlePRO (another controller from Contour Design) extensively with Adobe Premiere, Apple iMovie, Final Cut Pro, and Pinnacle Studio, and it truly makes common editing tasks a breeze. I don’t have to spend time trying to remember which keyboard key starts playback or moves to the next frame; instead, I just use the simple, intuitive controls on the multimedia controller to swiftly and effortlessly control my editing program.

Monitors usage in video editing


Computer monitors and TV screens may look similar, but the two have profound technological differences. The most important difference involves color. Computer monitors can display more colors than TV screens. Also, computer screens are non-interlaced; TVs are usually interlaced (interlaced displays draw every other line of the picture on separate passes, whereas a non-interlaced or progressive scan display draws the whole picture at once).

The important point is that the video you preview on your computer monitor may look a lot different when it’s viewed on a TV. To address this problem, many video editors connect a video monitor (that is, a TV) to their computers so they can preview how the video looks on a real TV. Fortunately, you don’t need expensive, specialized hardware to hook up a video monitor to your computer. All you need is an old color TV and one of the following devices that connect to your computer:
  • An analog capture device: If you have an analog capture card or video converter, you might be able to hook up a monitor to the video output connectors. Check the capture device’s documentation for instructions on connecting a video monitor.
  • A digital camcorder: Connect a TV to the analog outputs on your digital camcorder, and connect the camcorder to your FireWire port. You can even use the camcorder itself as a monitor — but keep in mind that the LCD display on your camcorder is probably non-interlaced, so you won’t be seeing a “real” TV picture. (Is “real TV” an oxymoron? Who knows? Just make sure your movie looks right on an interlaced screen.)
Some video-editing programs allow you to play video directly to an external monitor. In Pinnacle Studio, you must first export the movie as if you were going to export it to tape. After you have exported a file, simply connect your monitor and click Play in Studio’s preview window. If you have titles or other graphics in your movie that incorporate very thin lines, interlacing could cause the graphics or letters to flicker when they’re viewed on a TV. Pay special attention to anything with very thin lines when you preview your movie on a video monitor.

How to choose external video converters?


If you don’t feel like ripping into the innards of your computer, you may want to consider an external analog video converter, such as the Dazzle Hollywood DV Bridge. These devices usually connect to your computer’s FireWire or USB (Universal Serial Bus) port. You connect your VCR or analog camcorder to the converter, connect the converter to your computer, and the analog video is converted into digital video as it is captured into your computer.

If you buy a USB converter, make sure that both the device and your computer use USB 2.0 (a newer, faster version of USB). The original version of USB could only transfer data at 12Mbps (megabits per second), which is not quite enough for full-quality video capture. USB 2.0, however, can transfer 480Mbps, which is even faster than FireWire.