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Types of Camcorders (A quick roundup)

There are 4 kinds of camcorder on the market for consumers - these formats include: DV, DVD, hard drive and flash drive. DV simply stands for 'digital video' and your DV tape is the little tape you insert into your camcorder. A DVD camcorder means you record your shots direct to a DVD inside the camcorder. A hard drive is just like your computer - with the camcorder saving your footage to a hard drive inside the camcorder.

DV Camcorders - currently, this is the format that compresses your information the least. Therefore this will produce the highest quality recordings - depending on your camcorder and filming techniques! This is best transferred to your PC / Mac by firewire or USB2 (see below). The tapes are inexpensive and are inserted like a video tape into a video player.

DVD Camcorders - these record your footage direct to a DVD which you buy and insert, as you would a DV tape. The downside of these is that they compress more heavily than DV (and at varying qualities), via a format called 'MPEG2'. The other downside is that you can't easily get your recorded material on your DVD onto your computer to play around with. But if you want something very easy that you don't need to edit and can stick in your DVD player, this is the way to go. Ultimately, with the newer DVD formats coming in (called Blu-Ray and HD-DVD), the compression will be much less than currently, and will produce better recordings as the DVD formats hold more information than the current DVD format. (Current format only holds 4.7-9 gigabytes. Blue-Ray holds 25-50 gigabytes, HD-DVD holds 30-45GB, depending on how many 'layers' they have).

Hard Drive Camcorders (HDD) - getting more of a foothold. This also compresses to MPEG2. These have non-removable hard drives inside the camcorder (a bit like your home PC). You can delete existing footage to then be able to record new footage.

Solid state / Flash Media - where you use smart media cards to store your information (SD etc - the same kinds you use in your mobile phone). This means you can choose the size of your media card. The media card can also be 'read' by your computer by using a media card reader - a separate unit that you can buy for your PC / Mac, that will 'read' or 'import' the information from the card to your computer.

Getting your DV footage into your computer

Getting your DV video footage into your computer will usually require the use of firewire (IEEE1394), which your camcorder should have. If your computer or camcorder does not have firewire think about how you will get your footage into a computer. There are many gadgets available to do this, some will be via PCI Card (which you fit inside your computer and it gives you an input/output at the back of your computer (like a graphics card). Other camcorders use a similar method of transferring your video - called USB2. Either method is fine.

Other times, you may want to get other footage into your computer direct from a DVD player, or a VCR player (such as an old home video etc). Some camcorders have an 'AV-in' as well as an 'AV-out'. AV stands for 'audio visual' and so the abbreviations mean that your camcorder can record footage you send into it (from say a video), and replay that footage out from your camera. To do this, you will need a cable (usually included). This will act as a connection between your video player (for example), and your camera.

If your camcorder doesn't have an 'AV-in' and you still want to get footage into your compuetr from a DVD or video source, you can getboxes such as Miglia Director Take 2 or the Datavideo DAC-100 are one thing you can use. These will accept composite and S-Video signals in (to the box) which then outputs the information to your computer by firewire, just as if it was DV via a firewire cable. Easy and high quality (depending on the original footage of course!)

The final option for getting DVD information into your computer, is to insert your DVD and then use software that 'rips' (or 'extracts') the information / video / files off your DVD. On the Mac, the best product is HandBrake. PCs have other similar programmes. Remember that these programmes also provide different levels of quality / size.

If you have a solid state media camcorder, of course you can remove the solid state drive and connect it directly to your computer if you have an SD type socket, or you can use a memory card reader which usually connects via USB to your PC / Mac.

Editing The Actual Footage

You will need to edit the images you have filmed at some point to put them together to make a proper film. How are you going to do this? You can do it on your camcorder using the editing function but this allows little room for quality and fine tuning. Do you know someone who is good at this? Why not learn how to do it yourself? Some camcorders come with editing software - such as software by Pinnacle.

Another way is to use excellent programs such as iMovie on the Mac (low-end software freely available for download). Windows XP also comes with a little video editing package - Windows Movie Maker. If you go to www.avid.com there is a free bit of video editing software available too. Another option is getting QuickTime Pro (see below under 'saving, displaying or producing your movie')

Otherwise learn how to use programs like Adobe Premiere (Video editing and output tools - around £520), Adobe After Effects (effects, transitions and more - around £550) or Final Cut Studio (video editing and effects, transitions for around £800, only for the Mac) - that's what I did! You can too! Pinnacle Systems also do various levels of editing software such as Commotion Pro, £800 or Edition DV at around £450. Various other software comes packaged with DV camcorders.

Have a look at web sites such as www.ulead.com and www.pinnaclesystems.com and www.avid.com for other software.

You can also use a widget, which enables camcorders with DV-out only, to enable a DV-in back to the camcorder - and means you can output your movies back to your camcorder.

Using the camcorder's AV output and cable - you can then play back or record onto a video, or display the footage on a TV - running directly from your camcorder.

Editing Techniques

There are many issues that surround well edited footage. A lot of this is to do with the original source material you have recorded with your camcorder. Remember that using different camcorders can lead to different levels of quality, so be careful to use similar quality camcorders if using more than one.

Good editing means that sound levels are consistent, that the viewer understands what is going on, it shows different kinds of shots (close ups, long shots), that the sound can be heard, that people can be seen. Keep effects to a minimum as far as possible - and use the same transitions (changes between scenes) to achieve a more professional look. I will post more on how to edit footage effectively another time.

Different 'producers' of video work in different ways. If you have a video shoot with more than one camera, you need to decide how and when you will move between those 2 cameras when you edit the final video. Are you going to 'cut' between 2 cameras, or are you going to crossfade between the cameras. Some producers will always cut between images, others will like to fade.

Some prodcuers don't like to edit between 2 cameras when one of the cameras is panning (left and right), tilting (up and down) or zooming (in and out). Other editors like this kind of effect.

When you do edit video between 2 (or more) cameras, it's important to edit during some kind of motion. So, if you are editing video of an event with a speaker on stage, edit between 2 cameras with these kinds of rules, which you can adapt for other situations:

a. Stay with the best camera / best cameraman first and foremost. We did some video shoots and as I'm not yet an epxerienced cameraman, we edited using 80% of the experienced cameraman's shots.
b. Edit when the person moves to face towards the camera. So, if you have 2 camera angles, left and right. When the person faces left, cut to the left camera. But not always, it's good to have some 'profile' (side on) shots of the person.
c. If the person isn't moving and you want to edit between 2 cameras, try to do the edit when the person is in the middle of a word.
d. If you want to edit between 2 camera shots, you may have a situation where the one camera has the subject in the centre of their shot, the other camera has the subject to the left of their shot. Try not to edit on this point. Instead, wait for a time when both cameras have the subject in about the same place in their shot (for example in the centre).
e. Don't do an edit to a bad camera shot. So if the camera has a bad angle, or there is too much 'space' behind the subject etc, or the camera is shaking.. Don't edit at this point.
f. Remember when shooting video to do lots and lots of 'cutaways' to people, screens, objects etc. Whatever is appropriate. The reason being that it creates interest for the viewer of your video edit, and it can cover over places where your camera shots aren't right.
g. Use close-ups when the person is speaking about something personal or powerful. The more intimate the remarks, the more intimate the camera shot.
h. If you are shooting an interview between 2 people, as an interviewee is speaking, cut to the interviewer if you know or sens that they may be nodding or empathising with the interviewee. This helps people when watching a DVD relate to what's being said.

Experienced editors and cameramen working together on an interview with someone, will use cutaways to edit in changes of camera angles, or to move between 'interviewer' and 'interviewee', or to show shots of what an interviewee is talking about.

Saving, Displaying or Producing your Video Footage

There are different ways and means to get your media or video 'out there' to the wide world, or at least to the young people, leaders or church!

1. Put it onto the web. This will mean saving your file as something like a windows file (.avi), or Windows Media Player (.wmv), a real media file (.rm or .ram) or quicktime (.mov). These are all different ways of saving or 'streaming' your video file. For example, www.real.com do free RealMedia 'encoding' software which you can download from their website. Encoding means getting your video into a type of file that other people can view on the web. This is because without encoding your video file, it is very large. Encoding basically squashes the file size depending on how big you make the image and how good you want the image and sound quality.

With the free RealMedia software, there are few options in getting the video how you want it, without paying. A better option is getting QuickTime Pro from www.apple.com/quicktime which is around £30 but will allow you to semi-edit your movie and then output it for web, with plenty of options around image size, sound and image quality. If you have a programme like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, these programmes will do this for you so you don't necessarily need QuickTime Pro.

There are other pieces of excellent software which enable you to 'stream' your movie over the internet. Streaming basically means allowing other people to watch it in real-time. The best software package is Discreet Cleaner which is around £500 (or Sorenson's Squeeze). A lite version of Cleaner comes with Final Cut Pro 3. Final Cut Pro 4 has its own compression

If you don't want to 'stream' the media, you can save it, upload it to the internet in an html page (as you would a page on your web site for example) and then people can download the movie to their computer. Without uploading to a streaming server (such as via Real Networks), an excellent format that plays back as you view is Apple's QuickTime.

Title Safe

When post-editing / producing your video footage, you must make sure your words are title safe, to avoid them being 'cut off' on some TVs. So for example, you put your words right at the top of your screen, when someone views them on TV, they won't be able to see them on their screen, or not completely (as below)

no titles

In the picture below, we can seer that the words are title 'safe'. This means they are within the white lines. Here, there are 2 white lines to represent both the PAL and the NTSC title safe areas (as seen on many non linear editing programmes, such as Final Cut Pro for the Mac). The picture below shows how the titles should be done.

my movie

Special Effects / Themed Titles

Whether or not you have editing software, why not do your movie in the theme from a movie of TV series? For example, it may be 'The Matrix' or '24'. How would you do these? Well, if doing a Matrix-esque edit, you may have some parts of your movie where the speed suddenly cuts from fast to normal or from slow to normal. Watch how many TV ads have copied this. Or if spoofing '24' you may have a countdown (with the 'countdown' sound from '24') in between scenes. Also, have the main action move into separate windows on the one screen.

Tips for Streaming to web or putting footage to CD-ROM

- Interlacing is a problem on computers (camcorders usually capture footage in odd/even fields of info) that can display as jagged lines on computers (movies use a process called progressive scan - use the 'movie' mode on your camcorder for this). Use de-interlacing in Photoshop or other movie editing packages to remove these lines.

- Codecs. There are many codecs available to encode your video. I would recommend Sorenson Video 3 which is an excellent compression tool. To nudge down the file size, shrink the size of the movie (such as 360 x 288 pixels, 180 x 144 pixels) etc. Keep the size in proportion with the 720 x 576 pixel PAL frame size or 1280 x 1024 HDV etc. You can reduce the amount of 'keyframes' in a movie (reference points within the clip) to reduce size, and reduce the data rates on both video and audio tracks. Basically, you need to test the product to see how it looks and its size. Use Quicktime Pro to encode and compress. Or use the automatic features in programmes like Discreet Cleaner 6. Sorenson Squeeze is also a fantastic tool for compression.

2. Put it onto a CD-R or DVD. You can do this in various ways. Use programmes like the ones described above or simply use QuickTime Pro and make a little movie which you burn to CD-ROM and hand out to the young people. Make sure your CD/DVD burning software burns for both PCs and Macs. Good software is stuff like Toast for the Mac and the software that comes free with your burner or PC. Free software such as itunes (Mac) also do this.

Again, think about types and formats of compression and codecs (see above in yellow)

3. The last option is to get footage onto your computer and then let your young people watch the movie on your computer. I hope this is of some help to you!

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