Note: Every Thursday at 5:00, Jan Ozer sits down
and writes for an hour on the events of the previous week. Part rumor mill,
part therapy and part video lessons learned, hopefully you'll find it 100%
interesting. If you notice that Jan missed a week, don't be bashful about
sending him a reminder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 5, 2005
Choosing a Camcorder (Part 1)
A frequent topic at some of
the seminars that I teach are the keys to buying a high quality camcorder.
Hereís what I tell them.
1. Buy the best
you can afford.
Video is classic garbage
in/garbage out, and if you donít capture good video up front, youíre playing
catch-up the entire way. Making this job tougher is the fact that you shoot
most of your video in less than ideal shooting conditions, like living rooms,
restaurants and ballrooms, which typically donít offer studio lighting. And
low light tends to bring the words out of inexpensive camcorders.
Hereís an example. I took
these shots at the same time with two different camcorders. On the left is the
3CCD VX-2000, on the right a camcorder with one CCD. Briefly, CCD stands for
charge coupled device, which is the sensor that actually converts the image
coming in from the lens to useful information.
As you can see, the image
on the left looks fine, while the image on the right is way too dark to use
with adjustment. While you can make the image brighter in your video editor,
typically this also produces graininess and other artifacts.
Let me show you a couple of other examples. Click on the thumbnail image below
to expand the picture to full screen. This is a resolution chart many
magazines and web sites use to compare cameras. You shoot the chart, capture
the frame, and capture how much detail the image retains. Focus your attention
on the third group of vertical lines on the right.
In the center is the trusty
VX2000. You can see that the lines are preserved well past the number 500. On
the test pattern on the left, theyíre blurry at 400, and though the image on
the right is slightly better, it still doesnít show the detail exhibited by
the VX2000. As you might have guessed, both other cameras are one CCD cameras.
Study the gray color
closely. The VX2000 is more true to the actual background color of the chart,
and shows less grainess. Even under relatively good lighting conditions, the
difference is obvious.
Letís look at facial colors
and start naming names. Again, the VX2000, on tope, shows good detail and very
accurate skin tones under these flourescent lights in my office. The Canon
ZR90 makes me look sickly gray, and while the Sony HC40 makes me look skinny,
which I appreciate, it also lightens my skin considerably, and the image isnít
quite as rich as the VX2000. Again, this is under pretty standard fluorescent
Next look at Barbie with my
daughters in the background. The ZR90 shot is positively dreary, while the
HC40 is grainy and mottled. Only in the VX2000 image does Barbie truly
If we take a quick walk
outside weíll see that the results get much closer. Here the HC40sís image is
almost indistinguishable from the VX2000 in color vibrancy, and even the ZR90
is relatively clear and crisp, though again the colors are clearly off.
Unfortunately, unless your job is shooting noon crossing guards in San Diego,
youíre probably not going to shoot in direct sunlight a majority of the time.
Thatís why camera reviewers
tend to focus on ďlow light performance.Ē Itís also why most camera demo
footage is shot under brilliant lights or the noon day sun, because it simply
makes the cameras look better.
So whatís the point? While you can produce
great video with a $100 video editor and a clunky, slow Pentium III computer,
you probably canít produce great video with a $500 camcorder.
I wonít bore you with the Knute Rockne
speech about how these are your kids, and they only grow up once, and you only
buy a camcorder every five years or so, so the per year extra cost of spending
an extra $1,000 is pretty small. But I would dig as deep as possible for this
purchase if I was in your shoes.
2. Specs Donít Matter Ė Find an
Objective Quality Review
Rule number two about buying camcorders is
to never buy without first seeing an objective, third party evaluation of
quality. You can't buy brand; I love Sony, but they've put out some stinkers,
and you can't buy specs; I've tested some 3CCD camcorders that output lower
quality than 1CCD cameras. You need an objective evaluation.
I think PC Mag and EventDV produce great
reviews, but we don't test all of them, so you probably will have to go
elsewhere. My three favorite sites for checking out camcorders are:
http://www.camcorderinfo.com/ratings.php - does a great job with
www.epinions.com - only users, but there are some great reviews.
www.cnet.com - good reviews and lots of reader feedback.
Epinions always has good links to online
sites for buying, as does CNET. I've personally had good luck at
http://www.bestpriceaudiovideo.com/ and at
3. Make sure your camcorder can
connect to external microphones
Almost by design, camcorder microphones
produce sub par quality in most shooting situations. One reason is that
camcorder microphones are all ďomni-directionalĒ or tuned to capture audio
from all sources around the camera. This works well if youíre shooting from
within the middle of a choir, but if youíre shooting an interview, concert,
play or other presentation, you probably wish the microphone was tuned to
capture what the camcorder was pointing at, not the ambient noise.
The second reason is that the microphone is
either within the camera body or located on the handle. While the second is
better, it still doesnít totally insulate the camera from picking up handling
noise when you work the zoom lens (or kick the tripod, my favorite).
What to do if camera microphones all produce
poor quality? Make sure you purchase a camcorder that can accept an external
microphone, either through a hot accessory shoe atop the camcorder or via a
separate microphone input. With these, you can purchase inexpensive (sub $100
external microphones that boost quality into acceptable levels. If your
camcorder doesnít have them, youíll have no options for improving the quality
of your captured audio.
(to be continued ...)
Index to Previous Editions:
April 21, 2005 Editing Multiple Camera Input
April 8, 2005:
Managing the Multiple Camcorder Shoot
March 24, 2005 -
Managing the Casual Shoot
March 17, 2005 - Fixing Backlit Video
April 21, 2005: Editing Multiple Camera Input
Last week I described how to shoot a concert with multiple cameras; now it's
time to edit the video from the two cameras. There are two ways to
accomplish this, manually, where you manually sync the two video clips and
switch between them, and using the multi-camera capabilities of a video editor
to sync the two feeds and let you easily switch between them.
The first is more time consuming but offers
greater flexibility. For example, if
you want to layer one video over the other (as I'll demonstrate below) as an
artistic event, or show both videos in a picture-in-picture effect, you'll
have to do sync the videos manually. On the other hand, if your goal is simple
switching from camera to camera, multi-cam software features are quick and easy,
though not offered by all programs.
I'll demonstrate both techniques in this review, starting with Pinnacle
Edition and its marvelous multi-cam feature, and then demonstrating how to do
it manually in Premiere Pro. (Note: for a summary of which editors offer
multi-cam features, see Stephen Nathan's excellent article in EventDV
Every time I've shot with multiple cameras, I've had to color correct one or
both clips to make the colors look similar. Otherwise, even the untrained eye
can easily notice the disparity, which can be distracting. For example, click on the image
below, and you'll see the two camera views of Larissa, the one on the left
slightly brownish in cast, while the other shows the true grayish background.
If you're working with Pinnacle Edition, it's fastest to color correct both
clips, render them as DV-AVI files in their entirety, and then sync them up.
Otherwise, if you color correct after syncing, you'll have to apply the
filter separately each time the clip is used in the production, which easily can be
a dozens of times in an hour or so program. Definitely no fun.
If you're synching manually, say in Premiere Pro, you
should color correct first, but you don't have to render the clips separately.
Multi-Cam Sync in Pinnacle Liquid Edition
To sync multiple clips in Edition, first you
select the clips in the bin, choosing the clip with the audio you want to keep
first. When syncing the clips, Edition will keep this audio track and discard
After selecting the clips (holding down the
Ctrl key to select multiple clips), choose Multicam Sync from the right mouse
click menu. Edition will open the Multicam sync window, where you'll select
how Edition should sync the clips (click thumbnail above). Though
theoretically you can use the First Marker, I've had the best luck using the
Mark In points. Of course, this means that you'll have to select the same Mark
In point for both clips before starting the sync process.
After selecting the syncing technique, click
Sync Selected clips, and Edition creates a new "sync" clip from the video and
audio clips, and places it in the sequence window.
If you open the thumbnail immediately above,
you'll see the two video tracks, one from the VX2K (VX2000), which was Camera
A, and one from the TRV9, which was camera B. You'll also see that the
two audio tracks (left and right) came from the VX2000, which was the camera
attached to the microphones used for the shoot.
Click on the sync clip in the sequences
window, and Edition opens up both clips in the source window (thumbnail
above). From there, you can play the video in real time, or scrub through the
clip using the timeline on the bottom. Either way, you switch between cameras
by clicking the camera window. If you expand the thumbnail, you'll see flags
for each camera on the timeline on the bottom.
You can't delete the camera changes, or even
move them on the timeline; both capabilities are sorely missed. That said,
it's a feature you can't live without if working with multiple cameras.
When you're finished, you add the clip to
the timeline, and Edition presents each camera segment as a separate clip. The
clips have handles, so you can slip and slide edit to your hearts content on
the timeline, as well as add transitions between clips.
This approach is fast and easy, which is
always good. It does, however, limit your creative potential a bit, as we'll
see when exploring with Premiere below.
Syncing Manually In Premiere Pro
When working with Premiere (or other editor
without multi-cam sync), you have to sync manually. Here, I loaded the VX2000
clip first, marked in at the sync frame, then added it to Video 1. Then I did
the same for the TRV9, and added it to Video 2. To get rid of the TRV9 audio
track, you can drag the video only down to the video track, or delete the
audio after dragging the clip to the timeline (unlinking the audio and video
From here, you have a couple of choices. In
the past, I simply cut away those portions of camera B that I didn't want, in
this case on Video 2. I used the razor tool to split the B-roll where
necessary, and deleted the unwanted chunks. However, there's using this
technique, there's no way to guarantee that you won't inadvertently move the
B-roll footage at some point, losing audio sync.
So now I use the opacity control with key
frames to make the B-roll footage appear and disappear as desired. Of course,
when you make your B-roll disappear, you can no longer easily see it, so it
helps to go through and mark the desired in and out points in your B-roll
footage. Or, you can create and drag key frames around on Video 2 so you can
see the footage, and make your adjustments on the fly. It's definitely not as
easy as Edition's automated approach.
The reward, however, is the ability to
create layering effects like that shown directly above and three images above.
The Marimba is a very visual instrument, and the ability to display Larissa
and a close up of her working the mallets was irresistible. In the past, I've
used picture-in-picture effects as well, but that didn't seem to suit this
Though you can add slow long dissolves to
Edition's combined clip, you can't really do any lengthy layering, unless you
sync manually in Edition, which is always an option.
Well that's it. Multi-camera productions are
fun and the videos you'll produce are head and shoulders better than single
camera shoots. With a bit of extra work and some planning, you can make it
Index to Previous Editions:
April 8, 2005:
Managing the Multiple Camcorder Shoot
March 24, 2005 -
Managing the Casual Shoot
March 17, 2005 - Fixing Backlit Video
April 8, 2005:
Managing the Multiple Camcorder Shoot
the opportunity to shoot many events with two or three camcorders. Done
correctly, you end up with a smorgasbord of available footage to edit into a
cohesive whole and the opportunity to produce a much more compelling and
professional looking video. Done incorrectly, of course, and you end with
multiple versions of bad video.
first of two articles, Iíll describe the how to setup and shoot with multiple
camcorders. In the next installation, Iíll tackle the editing side of the
the placement decision is equipment dependent, part event dependant. In most
cases, unless you have multiple camcorder operators in constant communication,
you should set up one camcorder to capture the entire scene and all action in
the scene. In a concert or play, this means the entire stage, or at least that
portion of the stage where performers will perform. In a wedding ceremony, it
might mean a wide shot of the pulpit.
your ďAĒ camcorder, which provides a good, if unexciting shot of the entire
scene. If you were shooting with one camcorder, this would probably be your
view and vantage point. If your second camcorder failed, this camcorder would
provide a passable video of the event. Typically, I use my best camcorder, a
Sony VX 2000, for this shot, since itís got a great lens that can capture good
quality at a distance.
of your ďBĒ camcorder depends on the occasion, the quality of your camcorder
and whether you have someone who can at least watch your ďAĒ camcorder and
make sure it doesnít get bounced out of the desired framing. For example, for
one concert, I set up the A camcorder in the back, next to the soundman, who
promised to guard the camcorder with his life. This freed me to wander close
to the stage with Camcorder B, getting close ups of the performers and their
instruments, as well as reaction shots of the crowd.
concerts, when Iím testing camcorders and have multiple good camcorders
around, Iíll set up both camcorders in the back, keep my A camcorder set to
the entire scene and shoot close ups with the B camcorder from the back. This
obviously works in smaller venues better than large, since Iím closer to the
stage, and makes it tough to get reaction shots of the audience.
The key is
to use Camcorder A to capture the entire scene, and Camcorder B for your
close-ups and alternative shots.
just a fancy term describing where your camera is pointed and how the subject
is placed in the frame. Learn and adhere to the rule of thirds, which I cover
in the Pinnacle Studio VQS, DV 101 and PC Mag Guide to Digital Video. Or, you
can get a quick and dirty version
camcorder is shooting the entire stage, of course, so framing is pretty clear.
With camcorder B youíre free to roam, and pick out interesting shots to weave
into your final video. When driving the B camcorder I keep three thoughts in
change and motion are good, but only if done well. I change zoom ratio and
framing frequently, holding each shot steady for no more than 10-20 seconds,
then moving on slowly and steadily. Though I know that Iíll be interspersing
this footage with that from camcorder A, I try to move the camera as if all
the video must be usable. I used to jerk quickly from shot to shot, but you
never know when youíll need to use the footage, so it makes sense to work more
slowly and maintain quality throughout.
try to think of ďclassic framingĒ which varies from event to event. Itís a
slippery concept, but I try to keep thinking to myself ďwhat are the classic
views of a singer/bride/piano player/etc. that would be on the front of the
shooting a singer, this means either very close up, like shoulders and head,
or full body, but hardly ever simply knees to head. When shooting a ballerina,
this means get the feet and/or arms in all shots. When shooting a pianist,
this means a full stage shot, a full shot of piano and pianist or a close up
of the pianist. Shots in between these will likely be awkward, so donít pause
until you reach a shot that has that classic look.
thought is to get interesting visuals. Sometimes this means close ups of
instruments playing, sometimes crowd scenes. Camera B is supposed to add spice
to the production, so go out and find the spice.
I like to
capture high quality audio with both cameras, but will connect microphones or
sound system to Camcorder A, which is more stable, and will position it
accordingly. Typically, Iíll use a shotgun microphone on Camcorder B to
improve the sound over that captured by the internal microphone, and minimize
always, always keep both tapes rolling through each set Ė do NOT start and
stop camera B with your shots. This will allow you to sync your two cameras
once for each set which is a huge time saver.
sync the two cameras, keep a small digital camera with you on Camera B and
shoot it just before each set or major scene. Then you can sync both cameras
to that flash.
editing next week.
March 24, 2005 -
Managing the Casual Shoot
News of the
news this week is that my prediction from last week came true; Avid
Technologies is acquiring Pinnacle Systems. What are the implications? Iím
pretty sure that Studio (aka the hen that laid the golden egg) is safe, but
Liquid Edition feels like itís on the bubble since it competes directly with
Avid Xpress DV.
Edition better, mind you, but the Avid interface is like the formula for Coke;
you canít change it without enraging a substantial percentage of your
installed base. So, weíll see. Charles White from DigitalMediaNews wrote a
good article summarizing the deal here:
risk in the short term is that the Studio team will worry about the
acquisition and take their eye off the ball for bug fixes and new releases,
whenever they may be. Itís best if Avid/Pinnacle act quickly to close the deal
and communicate the true significance head count wise.
the Casual Shoot
I had two casual shoots this past week,
a quick session with a lovely pottery maker who spent some time with my kids,
and a First Grade concert.
the problem with casual shoots is that theyíre well, casual. So, you take
your camera in, shoot, have a good time, then come home and look at your
footage and start slapping yourself on the forehead. Itís tough enough getting
a commercial shoot right, when youíre getting paid and have time to plan. But
when itís casual, it feels almost impossible to get it right.
hereís a list I swear Iím going to print and tape to my beloved VX2000. Itís
not complete but it should cover many of the big problems that can totally
kill your footage.
White balancing should be your first major thought. For that, you need
something white, which isnít always around. Bring a white towel or T-shirt in
your camera bag.
In daylight shoots, identify all windows, the biggest source of backlight.
Make sure to set up pointing away from any windows. In indoor shoots, identify
all the big floods or other light sources, and make sure they wonít be in your
picture. Find the backlight button on your camcorder and use it if necessary.
If you will be sitting down (concert, play, performance, speech), think field
of view, as in what you will want to shoot and how can you ensure your view
will be unobstructed. Typically, in these instances, your best shot is to set
up on the back wall across from the center aisle. Or, grab a seat on the
center aisle if you have to sit. This generally means getting there early.
Think audio before you leave your house and bring a shotgun microphone. At the
very least, it will help eliminate ambient noise from around the camera. If
there is no sound system, it could make or break your video.
Think storyline as you begin your shoot, and donít forget establishing shots
of the outside of the gym or theater, then the inside and so on. Itís
unlikely that youíll build many of these casual shoots into a finished video,
but these shots just take a minute or two and help give you that ability.
Monopods donít work well when youíre sitting (or so it seems to me). If you
think youíll be sitting, go ahead and embarrass your spouse and children and
bring the tripod Ė at least you wonít be embarrassed when you watch the video.
forgotten any, please let me know.
Ruminations: Three tiers of editing software
at all-in-one suites from companies like Cyberlink and Sonic (MyDVD not Roxio).
All include video editing capabilities, but they are very, very basic. What
are the key differences and why are they important?
most important to me is color correction, since pretty much every time I shoot
I find I need some help from my editor in this regard. Ditto with image
stabilization, for those handheld shots I always seem to shoot against my own
best advice. Audio controls are also lacking in the entry level programs, so
itís tough to precisely mix background music with foreground conversation, or
often even fade audio at the beginning or end of your movies.
most true first time editors probably wonít miss these features, or image
overlays (for logos and such) or chromakey, so their omission is not critical
at least right off. However, still image pan and zoom is a pretty important
feature that most digital camera owners will miss right away. Fortunately,
thereís a sub-class of slide show programs that you can read about
here that offer great functionality at a very good price.
Pinnacle Studio, Premiere Elements, iMovie
Premiere Pro, Vegas, Final Cut Express/Pro
(fades not always available)
rubber band controls
sophisticated (better quality)
image pan and zoom
in authoring, not in editing
dedicated tool (usually)
serious about editing, I would advise jumping in at the mainstream level,
because youíll quickly get frustrated by the limitations in these entry level
programs. Theyíre OK for very, very casual users, but if youíre reading this
column, Iím guessing that doesnít include you.
17, 2005 - Fixing Backlit Video
A busy week working with
several new products, most notably Magix Movie Edit Pro 10 for PC Magazine.
You'll have to wait for the review to learn what I really think of the
product, though these ruminations may give you a clue.
It strikes me that there
are three variables that largely determine a productís utility, functionality
(does the product work?), intuitiveness (is the product easy to use?) and
documentation (is it sufficient to help users figure out the program?).
These variables lead to
several different levels of utility.
1. Non-functional and
unintuitive Ė these products are a waste of time, irrespective of the quality
unintuitive and under documented Ė this is where most video related programs
got their start. Products in this category are good when theyíre the only ones
available, or when youíre a teenager who loves to dig around and make things
work, but typically donít become mass market products.
unintuitive and well documented Ė This is where many professional products,
like AVID Xpress Pro and Pinnacle Edition (900 page manual and all) are today.
If a product has sufficient utility, professionals will learn to use them, but
most consumers who use the product part time probably wonít bother.
intuitive and under documented Ė This is where most successful consumer
editing and authoring products sit, whether by design or by economic
necessity. For example, Sonicís MyDVD, which is very widely bundled, is
typically shipped without a manual, as is Microsoftís free Movie Maker 2 and
Appleís iMovie. Since all three are relatively easy to use, the lack of
documentation isnít a deal breaker, but itís not a positive either.
intuitive and well documented Ė These are the products that users fall in love
with. Probably the best example is Final Cut Pro, which is intuitive compared
to many others in that category and also well documented. Pinnacle Studio has
one of the thickest manuals for products in its class, as well as several
excellent (ahem!) third party reference books.
Speaking of that, mass
market products from large companies like Adobe, Apple, Microsoft and Pinnacle
tend to have lots of third party books written about them, minimizing the
importance of the manual somewhat. However, when youíre a relatively small
company trying to break into the big time, you donít get that level of
support, and few if any third party books are written. For this reason, in
these instances, itís critical to make your product functional, intuitive
and well documented, or you simply canít compete
Came back from shooting my
best buddyís birthday party to discover that backlighting ruined significant
sections of the video. Ruh Roh, Scooby Doo, whatís a video expert to do?
Experimenting with various
programs on my computers, I found the Shadow/Highlight filter shared by both
Premiere Elements and Premiere Pro. If youíve got either program, it gives you
the ability to bump up brightness in the darker regions of the video,
alleviating the problem to a great degree.
Problem (mostly) solved,
reputation (largely) intact.
Big week in the video
world. It appears that Ulead may be acquired by InterVideo, which would be a
great deal for InterVideo, probably not so great for Ulead.
There are also new rumors
that Pinnacle Systems may be up for sale, with Avid and Thompson Multimedia
listed as possible suitors. Iíve heard about Thompsonís interest for over four
months now, but itís interesting that Avid is now in the picture.
My favorite new toy of the
week is a consumer editor test file I put together for upcoming tests of
consumer editors. I canít identify which programs produced which output quite
yet, but if you scan the results below, youíll see a huge difference in output
In addition to these tests,
the new suite tests slow motion, image stabilization and image rotation, and
Iíll post results for three programs (Magix, Pinnacle Studio, Adobe Premiere
Elements) after PC Magazine posts the Magix review.
I like these corrective
tests for two reasons. First, no matter how much I try, I still encounter
seemingly unavoidable backlight and low light conditions, and white balance
issues seem to plague most shoots. So I really, really rely on the
editor to bail me out, and Iím guessing most readers do to.
Second, these tests are
totally objective, like the compulsories in ice skating, which levels the
playing ground. Identifying the editor that unlocks the most creative
potential is much, much harder, and much more subjective.
Here are comparative
screens from the new tests. Look for identification of the respective editors
in a few weeks.
Color Correct - Pink
Tests automatic color
correction (yikes, pretty garish on the end, eh?)
Color Correct Ė Blue
The image on the right
looks like a colorized black and white movie, while the image on the left is
dull and faded.
Man, I should have moved
the camera. Didnít and you see what happened. Editor on the extreme left does
the best job, but itís a bit tough to tell in this image.
I always say, the good
thing about screwing up a shoot is that you have more video to test. Not sure
my buddy feels the same way, but at least I found a program (extreme left) to
minimize the problem.
Low Light Conditions
Shot in a bar in my old
hometown of Long Branch, New Jersey (Tuzzioís to be exact). Waaaaay too
little light, but the image on the left actually looks almost functional. Who
is that old guy (who I happened to graduate high school with)?
Here I am composited over a
golf course in Cyprus (missed a five foot putt for the outright win on the 18th
hole). Look at the jaggies on the left cheek in the middle image Ė definitely
a green screen faux pas. Also look at the slight highlight around the cheek on
the image on the left, another unwelcome sign that thereís some compositing
go, the hour is up. Must honor tradition, even if the tradition is just
getting started. See you next week.