Tag Archives: imovie

First Flight: Final Cut (Part 3)

Lunch has been eaten, 32 minutes of the Ricky Gervais HBO standup special has been watched. Let’s see how the render went.

Cool. I’m really impressed. I thought “I want the ‘driving in the car’ me to miraculously start talking as soon as the ‘voice over’ me stops” and by golly, that’s exactly what happens in the video. Even though I recorded those two elements completely separately.

I do want to the v/o to add an additional comment as soon as Car Guy resumes his silence. I’ll try the voice-over tool this time.

Cool…that was simple. It counted me down and everything, and when I clicked Stop, I could do some fine-tuning to make sure it came in precisely where I wanted it.

It didn’t precisely match the audio levels of the v/o I recorded in Quicktime Pro, though. Made a half-hearted attempt to adjust the new v/o manually but then simply tabbed back into QT, recorded those few seconds, and then dragged it into the timeline. Couldn’t have been simpler.

(I can see myself using the voice-over tool a LOT. I know you can add voice to clips in iMovie but it seems a lot more organic in FCE.)

I did have to re-render before I could see how the new audio integrated into the clip. But there’s an option for just rendering anything that needs it, so it was quick and painless. Like my recent tooth extraction, except Final Cut didn’t hand me a prescription for Vicodin afterwards.

I realize that I’m sort of doing this the wrong way. You’re supposed to throw together a rough cut and then start adding audio and transitions and text and whatnot. That way, you don’t even need to do a render until you’re nearly done.

But now that the intro is over, I need to start the actual edits. I’m a little bit stuck, but it’s for a good reason: I’ve seen enough of these tools to know that I can now create damned-near anything I want and I don’t know which choices will make for the best video.

Like, how best to do the “comparison” shots? In iMovie, I simply replayed the same shots over and over again, one after the other. In Final Cut Express, it’s no trouble to do a split-screen.

I don’t know if that’s the best choice. I think I ought to start with just a rough assembly of the “single camera” sequence of shots. Then I can replicate it from the Zi6 clips. At that point, I’m free to proceed however I want.

Or maybe it’d be better to create a new project just to screw around with things. It seems like it’d be simple to do a split-screen effect. I create a new proj…

Hmm. Why is it creating a new tab in my project window? If I have a wedding video business but I’m short on cash so I agree to edit a porno, is THAT table going to be sitting alongside the other projects?

I’ll worry about that later.

I decide to use the car door slam as my slate, to sync up the video between the two cameras. Easy as pie to set the start points of both videos. Drag the first vid into the timeline, drag in the second and tell FC “please overlay this”…easy.

So what I want to do is crop out the center 50% of the frame from the Mino, shove it over to the left, and fill the right side with the center 50% of the video from the Kodak. There’s a crop tool. It doesn’t seem to work.

Oh. I need to be in “wireframe” mode. When I saw it in the View menu I imagined that it only came into play when you’re importing…well, 3D models or something. But by cracky, now the video frame has handles, good ‘n’ proper.

Much further twiddling happens before I have one of those “Oh, it’s actually quite simple; the problem is that I’m an idiot.”

You can crop the frame by dragging the corners, or you can click into the “Motion” tab, go to the “Crop” parameter, and type in the number manually. You can move a frame around the screen the same way: mouse it, or just type in a number.

I had a hard number in mind for the crop (please take 25% off of either side) but didn’t know how to translate “please move the center of the frame so that it’s at the exact left (or right) edge” into a number. I overthought it.

Simple: just type a number for the cropping, and then slide the centerpoint manually.

This is a good example of the sort of thing I confront each and every time I test a new piece of tech. I’m perfectly OK with the realization that I’m just a damned idiot. Okay, correction: the reminder that I’m an idiot. It’s frustrating when you can’t make something work but when you find the answer and realize that it really did make some sort of sense all along, your initial frustration shouldn’t be held against the app.

I really do give these things plenty of opportunities to prove that I’ve got some sort of a bent chromosome or something. When I finally say “This thing is a piece of crap,” or “Whoever designed this didn’t know what the hell he was doing,” my arrogance is very hard-won.

I still don’t know what the numbers mean for “center.” If I type in “0” is that an explicit or a relative number? Would “-25” mean “to a point 25% to the left, relative to center” or would that mean “25 pixels away from Cartesian zero”?

At any rate: I won’t see the results until I render. Though the preview looks promising.

Smoke if you got ’em. “About 7 minutes left…” for the render.

First Flight: Final Cut Express (Part 2)

Damn. In iMovie, I can just tap the spacebar and see what the final video will look like. In Final Cut, I have to “render” the edit first…though I can scrub through it in the final video window.

Okay, well, if I’m going to sit through a render, I might as well make it worth it. I want the intro voiceover to go over the first bit of the first clip. I drag the audio file into the viewer and release it into the “Insert” hopper that pops up…it’s one of the several options available.

Awesome. Final Cut Express is already saving me time and more importantly letting me make the video I want to make instead of knucking under to iMovie’s limitations. The existing clip scoots over to the right in the timeline so that it doesn’t begin until the audio ends. The spot where I start talking in the clip comes after several minutes of ambient car noise. So now, it should be easy to merely extend the video clip backwards so that the video starts with the voice-over, and I start talking inside the car almost as soon as the v/o ends.

Hooo-kay, I know in the video that the tool I want is one of the three or four in the tool pallete next to the timeline. It uses what I assume to be classic film-cutting terminology…each tool icon depicts a Moviola-style pair of film reels in various postures.

I guess wrong on my first try so I go back to the tutorial video series. Ah! Okay, I want the “Ripple” tool. In the video, it’s described and shown as the thing you use to extend a clip so that it starts or ends in a different place.

Mmmm…no. It seems like I’m on the right track, but no. As it is right now, the 90-second voice over plays, with no accompanying video. Then the video kicks over to me inside the car, and I immediately start talking. I want to grab the left side of that clip and stretch it all the way back to the start of the voice-over so that the video begins 90 seconds sooner, but I still don’t start talking until the v/o is done.

What happens instead is that I still have no video until the end of the voice over…but now the video starts 90 seconds later. Damn and blast.

What the heck is wrong? Is FC stamping its feet because the video I want to extend is the first video clip in the whole thing?

I give up on logic and just randomly try the other editing tools. Ah! Okay. The fact that there was absolutely no video to the left made me think “extend the clip to the left,” ie, use the Ripple tool. In fact, I needed to use the “Roll” tool, which extends a clip by stealing time from the clip next door.

I was thinking “There is no video there to the left.” Final cut was thinking “There is indeed video to the left. It is a video of no video.”

Very Zen.

But it makes some sort of sense. My bad.

Now let’s render this clip and see what I did. I hope the audio is synced. Push the button, Frank…

“Estimate time: About 15 minutes…”

(Sigh.) Okay, breakfast.

Showcase showdown! Flip Mino HD versus Kodak Zi6

I’m actually planning a rather ambitious comparison of cheap HD cameras in the next week or so. But there’s certainly been an enthusiastic — bordering on, well, “annoying” — amount of interest in a direct comparison between the Mino HD and its natural commercial enemy: the Kodak Zi6.

And no wonder. They’re both the same sort of beastie: pockatable 720p HD cameras in an iPod-ish form factor, selling for about the same money.

(Yes, the Zi6 is about fifty bucks cheaper, but remember: that’s without any memory. Toss in a 4 gig card and you’re more or less square a bit closer to the Mino in price.)

With the holidays coming up, and the chance that Todd from Process Control will make as big an ass of himself at the breakroom holiday party as he did last year, lots of people want to know which of these Discreet Little Cameras to buy. Well, my uniform is proud to serve.

I took both cameras out for a jaunt or two and shot a bunch of clips in a variety of environments. Watch. Draw your own conclusions. And then read on and see if you’re so absolutely brilliant that your conclusions are identical to mine.

Click on the “fullscreen” button to watch it at 1280×720 resolution…just keep in mind that this is nowhere near as good as the original video files.

Flip Mino HD vs. Kodak Zi6 from Andy Ihnatko on Vimeo.

Okay. Based solely on this footage…it’s a clear win for the Mino. I think it’s obvious even in the Vimeo (which has been processed twice already). But here in iMovie, where I can see the original footage straight from the camera…t’s absolutely no contest. The Mino video is more agile, the colors are more accurate, and the lighting is more balanced. The Zi6 routinely produces over-saturated colors and doesn’t appear to have enough bandwidth to record a full range of colors and tones. And low-light shooting is a bit of a mess.

Three full-sized frame grabs illustrate my point. These were taken straight from the original MP4 files. Click the thumbnail for the full 720p frame.

Pulling Out Into Traffic

Mino HD: Note the gray tones in the sky and the cream color of the sign. There's lots of shadow detail inside the car, too.

Mino HD: Note the gray tones in the sky and the cream color of the sign. There's plenty of shadow detail inside the car, too.

Kodak Zi6. The sky <i>and</i> the sign are white all of a sudden. And inside the car, shadows have turned to mud.

Kodak Zi6. The sky and the sign are white, all of a sudden. And inside the car, shadows have turned to mud.

Outdoors, On A Tripod

Mino HD. Nice shot. It's maybe a <i>bit</i> flat but the lighting is very natural and the colors are spot-on.

Mino HD. Nice shot. Maybe it should be a tad brighter. But the lighting is natural and the colors are spot-on.

My shirt is purple, my skin is <i>way</i> too rosy, given my lifestyle. And again: where are the subtle details in the shadows?

My shirt is purple, my skin is a little weird (even for me). I think the Zi6's designers told it "Humans like punchy contrast and saturated colors. Err accordingly."

Inside Panera Bread

Mino HD. Nice, bright image with (again) natural colors...not an easy trick, as we're inside a Panera Bread.

Mino HD. Nice, bright image with (again) natural colors...not an easy trick, as we're inside a Panera Bread with its muted soup-oriented lighting.

Zi6. Boy, what a crummy at-bat. The wall should be avocado, not lime green. Any shadows have turned into grey mud. And it shows that dim lighting is the Zi6's Waterloo. Its only solution in a situation like this is to extend the shutter speed and cut the frame rate in half. This clip was recorded at 15 frames per second instead of the Mino's 30.

Zi6. Boy, what a crummy at-bat. The wall should be avocado, not lime green. Any shadows have turned into grey mud. My sunglasses are no longer transparent, nor did the Zi6 capture any reflections off the lenses. And it shows that dim lighting is the Zi6's Waterloo. Its only solution in a situation like this is to extend the shutter speed and cut the frame rate in half. This clip was recorded at 15 frames per second instead of the Mino's 30, creating choppy, blurry footage.

Rainy Street Corner

Mino HD. Hmm. The sky is a <i>bit</i> purple. But otherwise...a nice shot.

Mino HD. Hmm. The sky is a bit purple. But otherwise...a nice shot. Check out the brick building on the corner. You can see the bricks on the outside and the details of the warm shop inside.

Zi6. This still frame doesn't look too bad. It did a better job with the night sky. But again we see muddy shadow details...and the actual video is shot at 15 frames per second instead of 30...very noticeable as the cars drive by.

Zi6. This individual frame doesn't look too bad. The Zi6 certainly captured the sky more naturally than the Mino did. But as usual, shadow details have turned to mud...and the dim light has forced the Zi6 to shoot this at 15 frames per second. Quite noticeable when cars drive past.

Okay, so this is a total slam-dunk for the Mino HD, right? It’s time for the Zi6 to slink off to the corner bar to drink itself into a state of apoplexy alongside the Zune and the Sony eBook Reader and every other bit of technology that’s been roundly spanked and made irrelevant by a superior competitor?

Naw, not at all.

Based on two days’ worth of side-by-side shooting, I’m convinced that the Mino HD’s videos are far more natural and pleasant. But I wish that Mino HD videos sounded as good as the Kodak’s. I don’t know if the Zi6’s designers did something as simple as choosing a high gain level for the microphone. Whatever the reason, the “outside Panera” clip handily demonstrates the Kodak’s superiority in this category.

The Zi6 also has the intriguing advantage of being able to go on forever. Which is something that the Mino emphatically cannot do.

The Mino is sealed up as tightly as an iPhone. Its memory and battery are locked inside and can’t be swapped. You record one hour’s worth of video and then the Mino HD becomes nothing more than a conversation piece.

But the Zi6 takes standard SDHC memory cards. To hell with the Mino’s built-in 4 gigs! Buy yourself a 16 gig card and record hours and hours of footage. And because it runs on 2 AA’s, it’ll can run forever. The Zi6 comes with a pair of rechargeables and natcherly, if you ever get caught short, you can just run to the store for some Energizers.

That’s not an inconsiderable advantage.

The Zi6 and the Mino are both “lifestyle” cameras. So I suppose the choice comes down to the sort of lifestyle that you intend to lead.

If image quality is a big item on your wish list, it’s the Mino. If your style of shooting is casual and unplanned — you want to have something handy to shoot baby’s first steps, keep something in your back pocket or your desk drawer in case the opportunity to direct and produce the next “Don’t Taze Me, Bro!” should unexpectedly present itself — it’s the Mino. If you’ll be shooting lots of stuff in low-light situations…the Mino. Already own a “real” camcorder, and want a second one for more casual shooting and the ability to shoot an event from two angles? Mino.

(Oh, I didn’t mention that the Mino is exactly the same size as the original Mino. The Zi6 is small enough to fit inside any pocket, but the Mino is so small that you’ll have to pat yourself down to figure out what pocket it’s even in.)

But if you’re going to shoot “events,” then you’ll want the Zi6. Although you’ll yearn for the higher quality of the Mino, the fact remains that (God help us all) most family weddings go on for more than an hour. And you have better things to do on vacation than keep running back to your hotel room or cabin to free up space on your camcorder. You can shoot a whole week’s worth of travelly hijinx on the Zi6.

As for the ease of editing your footage…it’s a draw. Both of these cameras record plain MP4 movie files. They imported into iMovie as easily as any other MP4 file.

Weird thing about the Flip, though: iMovie recognizes it as a camera and it immediately loads up thumbnails of all of your clips, ready for import…but the import will fail. Huh. But if you import the clips via the “File” menu — treat the Mino as though it were just a USB storage device — iMovie will copy the files into your library without a hitch. No transcoding necessary…it’s just a straight file copy.

Of course, neither of these are “real” camcorders. Spending a couple of days shooting with them made me miss the zoom lens, image-stabilization, and manual features of even a cheap standard-def camera. I guess the “lifestyle” implied by the Zi6 and the Mino involves walking straight up to people instead of recording them from a safe distance, and maintaining a steady posture as you do so.

If this is the case, then clearly I lead an alternative lifestyle.