Captain Video

I’ve been busy with iMovie ’09 over the past week, sloughing through all of the clips in my old iMovie library, shooting new footage, and all in all trying to come up with opinions on the new app and assemble some samples.

First up was a tour of my Friendly Neighborhood Comics Retailer, The Outer Limits in Waltham, MA:


Two lessons came from this one: Good God, am I a fan of the new interface. Bellies were ached and tempers were tantrumed last year when the old iMovie UI was tossed out and the app was freed of the legacy of professional editors. Fine. But I could never have thrown together this video so quickly and with so little drama in the old iMovie.

I didn’t even intend to do it. I was on my MacBook in the living room, and I Screen Shared into my office iMac simply to check on the status of an ongoing process. Along the way I checked to see what sort of footage I could work with when I really sat down to edit something. I found the Outer Limits “dailies,” started dragging things into the Project panel and (gorblimey!) fifteen or twenty minutes later, I’d completed my rough cut.

The fact that one of iMovie’s new animated themes is “comic book” sort of sealed my choice. I determined to let iMovie make all of the creative choices, even though it’s possible to flip a switch and override some of the theme’s decisions.

(Aside: I do sort of regret certain bits of the voice over. Yup, I use the word “nerds” a lot at the beginning, and I’m clearly having fun with the fact that I seemed to include a lot of footage of babes. But I’d hoped folks would appreciate that I myself am firmly and proudly in the Nerd group. I was making up the narration as I went and as always happens with such things, subsequent takes never go nearly as well as the first.)

Next, I wanted to aggressively check out one of iMovie’s signature features: image stabilization. So I headed off to the beach with my Flip Mino HD on the end of a stick, and shot myself and the environs:

I was particularly keen to see if there were circumstances where the stabilization would produce a shot other than the one I intended. For instance, if I panned the camera across the scene, would it struggle to keep the camera from “moving”? If someone walked in and out of the frame, would it try to keep everything centered on him?

What would happen if the scene contained constant movement…like a closeup of water rolling in and out, or a tracking shot of the ground as I walked?

iMovie came through like a pro. I’m really quite impressed. You can choose to apply any degree of stabilization, from weak to fairly aggressive. I had the slider all the way to 11. Even so, it didn’t look in any way unnatural. All of a sudden, it looked as though I had the camera on a tripod and hadn’t drunk four Cokes that morning.

To make the point, I burned two copies of the video, with and without stabilization, and did a side-by-side comparison in Final Cut:


An app like iMovie ’09 is a real equalizer. One of the major weaknesses of a cheap HD cam like the Flip is its lack of built-in stabilization. Doing a “walk and talk” video with it is practically impossible. But hell, now iMovie can largely compensate for hardware limitations.

It’s certainly no replacement for a “real” HD camera, mind you. Look at the Outer Limits video again. That one was shot with my Panasonic HDC-SD1. The video is better in every possible way, from color fidelity to exposure choices to focusing to zoom to…well, every possible way. And as you saw in the comparison video, the stabilization costs you in image quality; iMovie has to magnify a subsample of the video frame to work its magic.

But if you’re on a fixed budget, iMovie makes it easier to buy a $200 camera with confidence!

It also underscores a point I was making when I compared the Mino with the Kodak Zi6. Many (many many MANY) people greatly preferred the Kodak’s brighter images and punchier colors. I respected their intelligence…so much so that instead of calling them idiots wearing a moron costume, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and concluded that they must have been drunk at the time or something.

The point: yes, the Mino is way more conservative in the categories of exposure and color. But it makes safe choices. When I dumped the video into iMovie and noticed that the colors could have been a bit warmer, and the image could use a little more contrast, I nudged a couple of sliders and presto: I had the shots I wanted.

Whereas! If I had shot it with the Kodak and thought “Man! That’s way too bright. And the colors are freakishly weird!”…well, I wouldn’t have been able to do much about it. I could lower the brightness level, but the blown-out areas would still have lacked detail. I could decrease the saturation, but it would have flattened the color range.

The damage is done before you leave the beach, or EPCOT, or your cousin Moog’s President’s Day barbecue. You should always vote for quality video. Unless quality video doesn’t matter to you, in which case just gather people around a fire and describe what you saw, in classic storyteller tradition, instead of messing with technology.

(Summary: I am right right RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT!!!!! SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!!!!)

12 thoughts on “Captain Video”

  1. Thank you very much for doing this thorough comparison. My major hesitation with is carrying around a bulky, look-at-me-I’m-obviously-shooting-video camera everywhere I go, which is why I wanted a Flip. Then I watched sample videos and the bounciness looked terrible.

    And yet it seems like iMovie ’09 single handily makes the Flip an option. Nice!

  2. Andy,

    I just recently bought a Creative Vado HD, the stabilization feature could be a big help! iMovie 09 seems to have a couple really high-end features at a price point you’d not expect to get all of it at.

    -Chris

  3. Vado HD is fantastic, mainly because of the wide lens on it. Unfortunately you can’t edit the files it produces in iMovie ’09 without the slow, laborious process of transcoding them into an editable format first.

  4. Gee thanks Andy. First I watch your video comparing the Flip Mino HD to the Kodak. Then I buy the Flip. Now I watch the side by side video and I’m forced to order iLife 09. Please stop. I need groceries.

  5. The stabilization feature is pretty impressive. But, I disagree that it didn’t do some funky things to the video. I’m particularly thinking of the shot of the seashell in the sand. There was some image distortion going on there that was pretty disorienting in the stabalized shot. The stabilization can really only correct for linear camera motions, not angle changes. The shell may stay in one spot but the field of view and shadowing changes ever so slightly. To me it looked as thoughtt the sand was waving around a bit.

    Great tool, but probably not appropriate for every shot.

  6. At the one-minute mark in the beach movie there’s one half of an enormous sub sandwich floating in the water. Is this a unique feature of this particular lake or is it typical of New England? And who ate the rest of it?

  7. Interesting – just found this in the iMovie ’09 Help:
    help:anchor=’splsh24910’%20bookID=’iMovie%20’09%20Help’

    “Some video may not be suitable for use with video stabilization. Specifically, camcorders that use CMOS image sensors often use a technology called a “rolling shutter.” This exposes different parts of the frame at different times until the entire frame is fully exposed, and if the camcorder is moved before the entire frame is fully exposed, the resulting image may appear distorted. Applying video stabilization to this video may make this distortion more apparent.”

  8. . Heck . . even Polaroid® has a decent el cheepo 2 Gig SD-RAM handheld still / video camera . .i think they’re bankrupt now, though
    Q : You know what Esquimoux get when they sit in the ice too long ?
    A; Ayuh : Polaroids , nyuk , nyuk (=

  9. Just in case you’d like to know how to remove those super annoying, recently added star ratings from YouTube’s embedded videos, here ya go:

    Add this to the embed code: &showinfo=0 (in the value string, like so – right after the “http://www.youtube.com/blah…blah…blah” &showinfo=0 …)

    Voila…no more annoying video title or stars.

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