At OSNews we are committed on being geeky. However, “being a geek” does not always constitute a person who just loves technology. There are geeks about literature (who do you think wrote “Shrek”?), and of course, art geeks. This last kind enjoys a new booming lately with the commoditization of HD camcorders. The following editorial includes suggestions on camera choices, video editors and delivery formats, and has HD video samples of hobbyist cameramen that many professionals could be jealous of.Note: The embedded Flash videos below are not HD. To view them or download them in 720p HD mode you must click their respective video names to go to their Vimeo page.
Hobbyist “home video” videographers exist for a long time, going back to the ’60s for US, ’70s for most of Europe, and just 15 years ago for countries like my own, Greece. For years, “home video” footage was all about recording the kids growing up, birthday parties, weddings, and few and between some hand-held shaky travel videos.
But things change. A similar change happened a few years ago with the revolution of the digital photography which lead the way. Take a look at Flickr and you will see that the majority of people posting pictures there are not pictures of their dog and aunt Cynthia, but artistic pictures — imitating pro photographers. There was this shift that happened, that transformed many “family & friends” photographers to artists. And the technology reflected just that. Good DSLRs can now be obtained for just $500, while that was a pipe dream only a few years back.
The same shift is awaiting to happen for artistic video too. It already exists, but at a much smaller level than photography. I believe that the critical point will be the more affordable and more targeted AVCHD-based HD camcorders, following the death of the cumbersome HDV format. And when I say “targeted”, I am talking about cameras that are equivalent to the Canon 40D in practice: background blur, good dynamic range, enough manual controls. As a videographer myself I have expressed my wishes on what I need in terms of hardware here. This kind of hardware does not exist yet, but I do expect Canon to take notice.
Until this day comes though, we will have to live with the current popular cameras. I would dare say that the Canon HV20 is the best consumer HD camera today, and it sells for just $700. It has won many awards and recently the popular site CamcorderInfo voted it as the camcorder of the year. However, the HV20 goes further than that: it has inspired this new generation of videographers and brought new blood to that emerging “hobbyist artist market”.
The vast majority of people who shoot with the HV20 are exactly that: hobbyist artists. They can’t stop raving about the camera’s ability to shoot in 24p (manual pulldown removal required), and deep color, and fast autofocus. Taking aside the semi-pro indie cameras like the DVX-100 and the HVX200, the HV20 is the first consumer camera in the market that has created a very deep and well-connected community. Sometimes I search YouTube for the “HV20” tag, and I end up with some random footage, and only quickly after I realize that “ah, that’s Lucasberg” or “aha, so that’s what Tim was doing over the weekend”. Think of the Linux community a while back when it was smaller, and you would understand the kind of connection we have towards fellow videographers.
Many professionals have caved in and bought the HV20 too. Well known in the video world for his “DV Rebel” book, Stu Maschwitz, has got one and pro director Blake Calhoun (with two feature films on his shoulder) got one too and even used it to shoot parts of “PINK“, the first completely free professionally-made web TV series.
Regarding the rest of the gear required to help you with your art, a modern videographer needs a tripod with a fluid head (smooth pans trick), a camera bag, a few extra tapes, a polarizer, an ND filter and a second battery. And of course, the ability to wake up very early, as the best outdoors light is either very early, or just before the sunset.
There are several choices out there and it all depends what you need to do. For many people, iMovie HD ’06 does the job beautifully for example (I would suggest you avoid iMovie ’08 as it has fewer editing features). However, if you are more serious about your work and you need more control over your footage, then you need to choose either Adobe Premiere LE 4 ($99) or Sony Vegas Movie Studio 8 Platinum Edition ($130). Sure, there are a bunch of well known video editors out there, like Final Cut Express HD, Ulead, Pinnacle, Magix Movie Editor, but Premiere and Vegas are the only “cheap but powerful” NLEs that support 24p (which is important if you want to edit ripped movies, TV shows or simply your own HV20 24p footage).
My personal choice is Sony Vegas, for reasons like these: it requires less RAM than Premiere, it feels lighter and it has good exporting choices. Learning to use Vegas can be an exercise in patience but it has won over most of the “hobbyist” community that I am talking about, because these are people like me: they want enough flexibility for less money and Vegas offers just that. I’ve written here a quick tutorial if you have problem with the interface.
Unfortunately, under Linux, editing HD footage is a major exercise in patience. KDEnLive, Avidemux2 and Cinellera crash way too much for my taste and the experience, features and import/export options are just not ideal.
There are two kinds of exporting formats that a videographer must understand: the “Intermediate” and the “Delivery” video formats. Their difference is explained here. Most users would be interested in the “delivery” formats and these primarily include WMV, MP4 (h.264) and AVI (XViD). My personal favorite is the .mp4 container with h.264 and AAC in it. It’s the kind of format that the Sony PS3 and XBoX 360 can easily playback, while at lower exporting resolutions the format is compatible with the iPod, iPhone, Archos, Zune, PSP, Symbian S60 3.1 and Symbian UIQ 3.0+ devices. This format can be also burned into a plain DVD media but in the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray filesystems, and then playback on their respective players. The only device missing out with this format is the AppleTV 1.0 which caps its support on 720/25p (it is not able to playback 1080p or 720/30p) — although I expect the AppleTV 2.0 to not have these limitations.
Regarding video sharing sites, YouTube should be on your roster, regardless if you like it or not. It’s the most popular video site and it will ultimately attract most viewers than other video sites. Truth is, artists like their art being seen by people. My second choice in the past few months was Revver, but that was just up until last Monday. Vimeo.com has become the favorite place for hobbyist artist videographers — in just one month! They launched their 720/24p HD support, with support from Canon. Amazing quality, on your desktop, loading immediately! Vimeo is highly recommended if you have an HD camera.
Not everyone is into video, as it requires much more patience than a digital picture does. However, with the boom of the HDTVs and cheap HD cameras, you might want to give it a try. Unleash your creative self and shoot some cool stuff. Join the new generation of the “geek” videographers, if not now, when the AVCHD format has taken over completely.
And if an HD camera is way out of your reach, I would suggest the Canon ZR800 (known as MD101 in Europe) for $170 which is the best bang for the buck camera as it is the only very cheap camera that has a microphone input. Here is how footage from this affordable SD camera looks like:
…and again from the ZR800/MD101: