Tag Archives: imovie comics beach demo test stabilization

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!!!!!!)