Wednesday, 14 October 2009

"Jake" - coming to a theatre near you...

Recently I spent a small fortune on a new pc. I thought, early last year, when I spent a small fortune on a laptop that this wouldn't have been necessary, at least not as soon as this. The laptop was £800 which is a lot of dough for me and had all the features I needed: 2Gb Ram, dual cores for improved multitasking, dvd burner, fast graphics etc, etc. What I hadn't realised was that when I bought my HD video camera it wouldn't be man enough to edit the footage.

I always do a lot of research when it comes to tech purchases and the Canon HF-10 was no exception. My basement is fully HD'd up, 40 inch flat screen, PS3, blu-ray, the whole charabanc. I have an OCD-like predisposition which forbids me from buying anything which is either functional-but-bottom-of-the-range or that has the potential to become out of date within the year I purchase it. This, unfortunately means that I end up buying items which are more expensive and often, prone to faults. See my posts on buggies for instance.

Part of my research was to look into video formats and what was the most user friendly for the novice editor, i.e. me. I wanted something which I could connect to my pc, let me download the footage and make something nice. I hate home movies with a passion; they're all the same. Endless panning of views, zooming in and out, the same unaccomplished commentary, the standard hands covering the face of embarrassed women and so on. I think that home movies are only interesting when spliced, cut together, overlaid with titles and put to music. Cue new hobby or so I thought.

Being a keen amateur photographer and a brand loyalist, I chose the Canon. Canon has adopted the AVCHD ('Advanced Video Codec High Definition' if you care) format for tapeless HD recording. As a piece of hardware it really is impressive and the quality of the footage is excellent when viewed on its monitor or via an HD cable into the telly. The problems only start when you transfer it to your pc.

I appreciate that Canon is not a programming company but it has chosen to ship what is a very advanced hardware product with woefully inadequate software. Given that you could easily shoot professional quality video, the editing tools which accompany the purchase allow you to do little more than view and cut chunks of the footage out. There is no timeline, video transitions, effects or sound options etc. I have a 20 minute rule when it comes to software which means that if I can't get my head around something in that time, it's clearly not been designed properly. This is normally more about me and my lack of skill than the developer's interface design shortcomings, however in this case the software lasted about half that time until I uninstalled it.

I'm sure everyone's had that moment where they buy something they thought they really wanted, for more than they could afford (£650 in this case) only to discover that it doesn't live up to expectations or that they needed something else to make it work. It's like when you're really out of your depth, like buying an expensive sailing boat before you've learned to sail. Or something.

Luckily we have people at work who know about these things so I install a copy of Adobe Premiere Pro which is similar to the industry leader, Final Cut Pro which you may have heard of. Turns out that CS3 doesn't support AVCHD natively so had to 'source' a plug in for this which could have cost a further £150 on top of the £500 + for Premiere. Also turns out that 2Gb or Ram and just the 2 processors wouldn't even get me close for editing. I could view a 5 second clip but still had to reboot every time.

Eventually I sold the video camera at a £200 loss but do have a year's worth of Jake sitting on my pc. I bought a Panasonic Lumix TZ7 digital camera which also shoots HD, albeit 720 as opposed to 1080. Much more useful as Clare takes it everywhere and we'll get a lot more of Jake that way.

Anyway the point is that up until I bought my new pc, the new hobby I was so excited about just over a year ago has been well and truly on hold. At long long last I have the new pc, installed newer versions of the software, learned how to use it and am finally putting together nicely edited video of Jake's first year. The software is quite intimidating at first but I'm slowly getting to grips with how to create subclips from larger clips (the ones where I do a lot of panning and zooming and Clare covers her face a lot), add mp3 files, add still images etc and cut the whole thing together. It's quite addictive but also time consuming. I'm up to around 40 mins of the final video and it's taken me 6 or 7 hours so far but I'm enjoying it immensely.

It's incredible looking back at videos of Jake, especially before his lip was fixed. It's still not shocking to me but I notice it more now than I did then. He's changed massively in a year and although the video thing was a hassle I'm so pleased I bothered to get the footage I did.

The finished video will be too big for You Tube but I'll try to break it up and put some up here when I'm done.

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