Lights, camera, action! Welcome to Windows handheld camcorder and video editing guide. What you need to know before buying a camcorder and tips on how to shoot and edit your home videos to make them as professional looking as possible
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Choose your format
So, you're looking to get yourself a digital camcorder to take footage of you're summer holidays, or maybe you're just interested in dabbling in a bit of cinematography. Before you rush off and buy yourself just any camcorder, it's a good idea to take stock of what camcorder formats are out there and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Mini DV camcorders are often affordable, and the DV footage they record is of relatively high quality. Mini DV tapes are easy to find in stores and DV format video is particularly easy to edit with most digital editing software. The issue with Mini DV though is that to transfer video to a computer, you'll need an i.LINK or IEEE 1394 connection. They can't transfer DV video via USB the way other camcorders can and you'll also need to have loads of tapes.
DVD camcorders record to small DVD-Rs or DVD-RWs. These camcorders are good if you want to be able to watch your videos without a lot of extra effort, because once they're finalised, these DVDs can be played in most DVD players or computer DVD drives. Once again, you'll need to have lots of tapes on hand.
Flash memory is a non-volatile computer memory (it does not need power to maintain memory on the disk). The data on flash memory can be electrically erased and reprogrammed and the advantages of it are that it offers fast read times and good kinetic shock resistance - flash memory is quite durable. Camcorders currently offer memory varying from 8Gbyte, which gives you about two to five hours of standard footage, to 32Gbyte, which can hold about eight to 20 hours of standard footage.
Hard drive camcorders come with varying amounts of memory, from 30 Gbyte to 120 Gbyte (and even more). A camcorder with a built-in 30 Gbyte hard drive can generally store about seven hours of footage at the cam's top recording quality setting. Switching your camcorder to "Standard" will get you almost 14 hours. Of course, if you run out of space on your camcorder, you can get additional memory to boost your recording time and capacity with the most common types of memory cards being SD Cards or Memory Sticks.
SD and SDHC
These cameras are basically the removable flash storage camcorders. They usually have a backup such as tapes, DVD or Flash drive and instead of carrying DVs or DVDs on you, you'll have to ensure that you have a steady supply of SD cards.
Increasingly, you will find that a number of cameras can capture high definition video. This means the cameras shoot in a 1080i format, which is a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels or 1440 x 1080 pixels. However, shooting film in high definition means that your memory capacity is severely affected. A 30GB hard drive, which might have got you seven hours in standard format, would get you maybe four hours in high-def format. When uploading hi-def video to your hard drive, you also need to ensure that you have editing software that can read AVCHD.
Camcorders and Editing Software
The main disadvantage with Mini-DV and DVD camcorders is that you have to have the right connections and you have to carry your tapes around with you. Seeing as we're living in a world of increasing digital storage, it's a good idea to consider some of the latest hard drive and flash based camcorders out there as they also make your video editing much easier. Here's some of the latest camcorders available on the market.
If you're looking for an affordable camcorder (at US $240) then the Samsung MX20 is perhaps for you. It's a flash based camcorder that has a long zoom lens and SD card based recording. The MX20 is small enough to fit into your jacket pocket and this camcorder also allows you to easily record video for YouTube and upload it to YouTube. The disadvantage is that because of its price, this camera is par for the course and it doesn't have the greatest recording quality.
Canon Legria FS 200
This is also another entry level flash based memory camcorder priced in at US $350. The camera has a ‘Video Snapshot' function, which ensures that you can record short movie clips that you can playback on your camera. This feature is basically a self-editing mechanism. It has a 41x optical zoom, and the flagship model comes equipped with SDHC cards for memory as it doesn't have internal memory.
Sony Handycam HDR-CX100E
The thing that's great about this camera is its touch screen capability as it has what is called a Touch Panel. Where it isn't entirely strong is in the zoom department where it only has 10x optical zoom. The camera also films in full HD, but has 8Gbyte memory. Seeing as it is a HD camcorder, it will cost you more at US $650.
Video Editing software
Sony Vegas Movie Studio 9
This editing suite gives you the ability to add transitions, titles and special effects to your video. Vegas Movie Studio 9 helps you to upload and organise your videos and its easy to use functionality also allows you to drag and drop video into sequences. The software also allows you to easily add music. Apart from making your video easy to upload to YouTube, you can even export to DVD. Regardless of what changes you make to your video, the original files remain intact and there is a wizard and tutorials to guide you through. It's priced in at US $85.
Corel Video Studio Pro X2
This software covers all the major formats, including DVD, HDV and AVCHD. It also includes five filters with 81 presets that give videos the magic of an "old-film" appearance. You can select from attractive theme templates and let The Movie Wizard create a professional-looking movie or photo slide show, bringing your video and stills to life. This is particularly good for beginners. You can also paint, draw, or write freehand on video with the new Painting Creator. With this tool, you can, for example, trace your vacation routes on a map. It costs US $60.
Nero 9 is a total multimedia programme. Apart from ripping, burning and copying content, it also allows you to create high definition video. It also lets you watch high quality TV on your PC. It also allows you to create DVDs as well and it gives you the option to watch HD TV. Nero 9 is US $64.
Windows Movie Maker
If you're not so keen purchasing video editing software, you can always use the Windows Movie Maker software on your Windows compatible camera. It usually comes standard with Windows XP installations. With Windows Movie Maker, you can create narrations, transitions, special effects, music and narration.
Go easy on the zoom. Try to avoid ‘over-zooming' and continuously zooming in and out on a particular scene.
Using a Tripod ensures that you're camera remains still, but be sure to also add a bit of variety now and then by including panning scenes. Like the zoom, go easy on the panning as overly zealous panning results in what is referred to as 'firehosing'.
Be sure to shoot where there is plenty light and make sure that the sun is behind you when shooting film.
Rule of thirds
By adhering to the rule of thirds, it ensures that you adhere to good composition. Important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or at their intersections. Another reason why the rule of thirds is effective is because it ensures that you avoid what is referred to as head hunting - placing elements dead centre on the image. It also prevents horizons from cutting the image in half.
Bear in mind when shooting films that you want to focus on the main action while also ensuring that you spice things up a bit now and then by focusing on other issues. By doing this, you give your video sufficient variety while maintaining a level of focus. A good example would be filming a stage show. For much of the time you will focus on the main action on stage, but now and then, you will film shots of the audience and their reaction to what is happening on stage.
Often, by just relying on the in-built microphone of your camera, you don't get the greatest sound quality. Getting an external microphone can help a lot in this regard.
Varying your shot angles between high, low and straight angles will add much needed variety to your shots.
Wherever you shoot be sure to adjust the white balance for each shot.
This involves shooting for only two to three seconds per shot. You should try and keep the scenes at an average of between five to ten seconds.
It's suggested that you group footage that falls into a similar theme or action.
Add transitions and swipes
Your choice of video editing suite will allow you to implement different transitions and swipes. It's therefore suggested that you keep it simple with straight cuts, dissolves, fade-to-black, cross-dissolves and additive dissolves. You should try to avoid curls and fancy wipes as these are quite cheesy and hark back to the days of the eighties.
Your video editing software should give you the opportunity to add text to your video. This helps explain the scene better. Try and keep this to a minimal as well though.
Add music and narration
Adding your favourite music track to your home video will give it a strong sense of ambience. You can also add narration to your video instead of overdoing the text elements. To achieve this, all you need to do is record your narration using your camcorder device. If you're going to implement narration, it's suggested that you stagger the audio between scenes so that it doesn't just stop when a particular scene ends.