Friday, June 27, 2008

What to Buy? Part 1: Beginners

I have wrestled with the question of what to recommend to beginners all season, and i have an answer.

For people with a great deal of disposable income, the "right" thing to get today is an HD camcorder with an 8GB memory stick, and a 1TB hard disk dedicated to video. This represents perhaps a $1200 investment in your new hobby. Plus the purchase of very new equipment in a rapidly changing world. This is a lot of money on brand new technologies, and there is a reasonable chance that you won't use it much or well.

If you are just getting interested in digital video today, I would actually recommend not going for the full $1200+ investment; for as little as $250-$350 you can get a really decent SD camcorder that uses $4 MiniDV cassettes. This can get you started and teach you a lot about digital video. A camcorder like this is probably great:

If you are a little more convinced you're going to become a hobbiest, I think it's okay to get an SD camcorder that records to memory sticks too (or plugs right into the computer to dump off the video), but also get that 1TB drive. (The Flip camcorder comes to mind on the low end -- small memory stick cameras are actually quite expensive!) So this represents about a $600 kind of investment, and if you end up not being that into video, you won't be sorry having a big hard disk and that you didn't spend too much on a camcorder.

But I like MiniDV. It looks great, it's plenty of resolution for the money. It's self- archived (so if your hard disk melts down, you've got a pretty robust back up). And it necessitates a kind of organization that will be an asset when you move onto the hard disk. I think beginners should spend as little as possible when starting out, and MiniDV is really good.

NOTE: When I say "dump the video into the computer" I'm referring to a capture process where you play the video on the camcorder and record it in an editing program as a media file. What is important to know is that different applications (iMovie '08, iMovie HD, Final Cut Pro/Express, Premiere, etc.) have different native formats for video and sometimes create files that either (a) won't play in other applications, (b) won't play on other computers, (c) compress or process the original data in some way that is destructive and loses info. I'm still working out the details about what I think is best here, and it is one more reason to stick with MiniDV for the time-being.

This, btw, is the position I take in The Little Digital Video Book: it's for beginners and MiniDV offers the right price point for them. If you're more advanced, there is a lot of good info in the book, but the curriculum on MiniDV in the book would need to be slightly modified for you. We'll use this blog for those ammendments.

What to Buy? Part 2: Intermediate-Advanced

For myself, and for others who are already video hobbiests (particularly if you have dozens or hundreds of hours already on tape), i'd say move right into the 1TB hard disks and start dumping your DV into the drive dedicated to video. 1TB should hold around 75 hours of video. Here's just one of a number of large affordable drives:

You can start dumping immediately, but don't forget that it takes real time to dump the video in... so 75 hours of raw video (which i recommend you WATCH as you pour it in), commands maybe a full season of evenings and weekends to get onto your disk. This is not an inconsequential task. You also might want to log this material as you pour it in and watch it. There will never be a better time. (*Particularly as many video packages will disregard the datacode on the tapes that includes time/date stamps, so you had better notice that information as it goes into the computer and make a note.)

Once you have a big hard disk, if you have the money, i'd say go ahead and get an HD camcorder that recorded to memory sticks (8GB sticks are about right). A lot of new camcorders are coming out these months, and honestly, i'd wait as long as you can here... at least until these new models have been hammered on by folks, and perhaps wait until these come out in 2nd editions. I'm going to get the big hard disk now but move a little more slowly on the HD camcorder. I want it to be small & light, easy to use, and move video easily into my editing applications. Here's a new model from Sony I'm keeping my eye on:

(here's some news on the soon-to-be available camcorder)

and I'm constantly weighing the pros and cons of this one, perhaps more sweet than any others i've seen...

(here's a review of the TG1 with good information)

With big hard disk and HD camcorder, you're ready to move into your next phase of videography. Keep your old MiniDV tapes as an archive for your old material. And your next purchase might be a second TB disk to back up the first (perhaps a RAID of some sort), but take it one step at a time, and see how you use what you get. That's my advice today.

Why Avoid Archiving Video on DVD?

DVDs are great distribution media. They hold around 5GB of material, which is pretty good for most content, even compressed video. When I finish a video I might upload a lousy-resolution version to the web, but I'll probably burn a DVD or two for friends or family.

But know this about recordable DVD:

1) Video DVD's compress video using the MPEG-2 method, which throws out image data in order to make the files small. It is okay for a viewing copy of your videos, but since it's much less resolution than the video you shot, you probably don't want to store raw material this way. As a rule of thumb, you want to store/archive your videos in the highest, most unprocessed format you can. This means full resolution, uncompressed, unprocessed. DVDs are not this.

2) If you use the DVD simply as a data storage device, think of it as a CD that holds 5GB of data -- this represents about 25 minutes of Standard Definition video uncompressed DV, or 35 minutes of HD video, compressed to ACHD format. Like I said, this is good for finished cuts, but it isn't even a single tape's worth of raw video. If you have a lot of tapes, this isn't great.

3) Video DVDs must be prepared out of real-time, so getting the video into your computer then onto the DVD is a bit of a process and takes a little time.

4) Perhaps the most important drawback: Recordable DVDs have a relatively unstable recording substrate-- a layer on the disk that has a colored dye that works with the laser. These dyes fade over time, and consequently discs can become unreadable as the disc ages, usually far more quickly than either hard disks or MiniDV tapes lose reliability. Since DVDs have a shorter lifespan, they aren't ideal archive formats.

Put all these together, and I'd say that for everyone but the most casual hobbiest, skip recordable DVDs for long-term storage of your video.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Finished up the text!

Well, the book is almost through my part of the pipeline on it's way to you. Peachpit has done a nice job on the format and the photos look good in that presentation. With the links to examples from the book over in the top right side of pretty much all the pages of this blog, i thought i could also add posts with some thoughts on being a video hobbiest. I chose not to put these into the book as they evolve over time and a blog seemed a better way to explore them.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Trampoline (Example)

Here's a simple example that predominantly features the work of "cutting on action."
The rule is that your eye is more attentive to how things move than how things look, so when you make an edit, if you cut to maintain the smooth flow of a subject (in this case, usually up and down), the cuts will look good, even if the subject changes (facing forward or facing backward, or even a different person).

Trampoline (Example) from m.h. rubin on Vimeo.

- cutting on action
- no production sound, all music (which sets the length)
- generally the camera is steady, even when the subjects are in motion
- notice one cut between a moving subject and their POV (point of view) which is in fact bouncing, but it is a short shot.

(Music: "Jump in the Line", copyright Harry Belafonte)

Here it is again, on YouTube: