Making Movies

January 15th, 2004  |  Published in Uncategorized

There’s a minidv camcorder in the house now. We picked up a fairly inexpensive one on sale at Sears for about what it would have gone for anywhere online (sure sign of a product on its way out the door to make way for the next generation, I suppose), along with the required firewire card and some video editing software.

Initial observations (and no conclusion):

It’s pretty amazing that consumers can do digital video for well under $500, including software. The low entry point involves the same story as every other bit of digital consumer gear. The real entry point is much closer to $600, but it seems the tech is well enough established and has enough generations under its belt that the older economy products are getting just plain cheap quickly. The image quality is not what I’d call tack-sharp, but it’s good. And it’s all about the editing, anyhow.

When I was in high school and college, media geeks dreamed of owning an Amiga tricked out with a Video Toaster and genlock, which would have set us back several grand, and we still would have had to get a video camera. Video Toasters, for what it’s worth, retailed for over $1,500 and the Amiga 3000 with monitor ran $4,100. Now, $75 consumer software does chroma-keying (not horribly well, I’m sure, but there’s always Adobe After Effects for around $300 to do it better), which means an ambitious family movie could conceivably take place on Mars.

There are also some fairly good books on the market that are paying attention to the real benefit of digital video over other forms of home motion picture, which is its editability. The same way Photoshop made the digitial camera revolution really work by providing a way to salvage fairly mediocre shots into much nicer images, editing software will make the digital video revolution work. As much as we get a nostalgic feeling from looking at Super8 home movies, there was never an easy way to edit them with any precision, and they’re pretty boring because there’s no way to create a story with an essentially static string of footage that’s hard to edit. With digital video, even the free software that Apple and Microsoft toss out offers a fairly complete editing toolkit. There are a lot of garish effects that are better suited to PowerPoint than a home video, but there are also tools to handle the basic vocabulary of film as it’s expressed in transition and tempo. Most people won’t bother, but for those who are inspired to try, there’s a lot of potential.

That home software market still seems to need some more maturity, though. The titan as far as reviewer love goes is pretty much Pinnacle Studio 8, but for as much as the reviewers are drooling over the features, the average customer says it’s a crashy, freezy mess. I got a demo copy with my firewire card, and as much as I admire the long list of transitions and special effects, it is pretty unstable, and the interface isn’t much fun. There are several other offerings, but an evening’s reading showed me that few of them have hit a real sweet spot in terms of feature list and overall quality. I settled on the consumer version of Video Vegas because it looks, feels, and mostly acts like ACID Music, which I’ve been using for a few years.

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