Contact The Author
Wayne

Review Related Links

Current Pricing

Video Creation The AMD Way
Author : Wayne Date : 23rd December 2002

 

The Cameras :

Before I start I want to say a huge thank you to Judd Hughes at Bennetts Electrical Warehouse, Bangor, North Wales and to JVC-UK for supplying the DV camcorders used as part of this article.

One of the easiest ways to get off on the wrong foot with your video adventure is to go out and lay down a heap of cash on a totally unsuitable camera, assuming you don't already own one that is. Even if your current video camera is based on the older VHS, SVHS, 8mm or Hi8 formats the benefits gained from using your PC for editing purposes are significant, but we're in the throws of the digital age and it therefor makes sense to record and edit digitally. To do this you'll need to equip yourself with a camera that supports one of the newer digital video formats such as DV, DVCAM, DVCPRO or Digital8. DV, DVCAM, and DVCPRO are for the purposes of this article just about identical in terms of video quality and DV (MiniDV) is the format you're most likely to find in the high street. Digital8 is pretty much a camcorder only based format with little support outside of the camera but it does have the benefits of handling older analogue 8mm and Hi8 video tapes.

With my mind made up that I wanted to keep the entire process in the digital domain until the last possible moment I realised that I'd have to get my hands on a DV camcorder. For the past 7 years or so my domestic needs have been catered for with a JVC SVHS camera and despite my fondness for it I was going to have to tuck it back in the wardrobe on this occasion in favour of something a little more......well, digital.

Mistake number one on my part was to assume that all DV camcorders are created equal. Sure I realised there were going to be some differences in general image and build quality but I wasn't prepared for the array of input and output options. After a phone call to my local Bennetts Electrical I was sorted and ready to go. They had a JVC GR-DVX400 in stock that they were prepared to loan me and I'd like to say a big thank you to Judd Hughes, manager at Bennetts Bangor for his generosity in helping me out. I'll cover the actual features and my experiences with the GR-DVX400 later in a moment but first a look at the specifications.

 

GR-DVX400   High-Band Digital Video Camera
OfficialTOP FEATURES
  • 1/4-inch 800,000-Pixel CCD
  • 520 Lines of resolution with Super High-Band Processor
  • Digital Colour NightScope
  • Digital Photo Capture (with Digital Photo Navigator)
  • DV Output (i.Link, IEEE1394 compliant)
  • Digital Still Output (Serial)
  • 2.5" Amorphous Silicon LCD Colour Monitor
  • Provided Software Package (Digital Photo Navigator/Presto Series)

OTHER FEATURES

High Quality Image & Sound

  • MiniDV Format with PCM Stereo Sound
  • Picture Stabiliser

Pro-Style Creativity

  • 200x Super Digital Zoom with Spline Interpolation
  • Digital Effects and Scene Transitions
  • Snapshot Mode
  • Playback Digital Zoom
  • "EasyEdit" with Random Assemble Editing

Overall Convenience

  • Multi-Brand Remote Control Provided
  • S-Video and A/V Output Terminals
  • LP Mode for 120 min. on single cassette

It was while lifting the components from the GR-DVX400's box that I realised I had a problem. There was no IEEE1394 (FireWire) cable supplied and the camera also used a non-standard DV output socket which immediately scuppered my plans. In fact even the supplied analogue cable wouldn't connect to the PC without the use of an adapter (not supplied) as it was terminated with phono connectors rather than a conventional stereo jack. Without a doubt this was a camcorder supplied with a view to transferring video to your conventional domestic VCR rather than your personal computer, a seemingly strange concept considering the camera's digital nature but a frustratingly sensible one from JVC's perspective based on the target market.

Anyway, wondering how to proceeded I contacted JVC who concluded I'd possible be better off using their sleek, black GR-DVP7. A few days later and a parcel arrived with the undoubtedly sexy looking GR-DVP7 nestled inside.

GR-DVP7   High-Band Digital Video Camera
OfficialTOP FEATURES
  • 1/3.8-inch 1.02 Megapixel Wide CCD
  • 530 Lines of Resolution with Super High-Band Processor
  • HG Digital Stills (1280x960/1024x768/640x480-pixel)
  • Web Camera Function
  • MPEG-4 Email Video Clips
  • MP3 Digital Sound Effects
  • Digital Colour NightScope
  • DV Navigation
  • DV Input/Output (i.Link, IEEE1394 compliant)
  • USB High-Speed Interface
  • Digital Super Wide Mode
  • 8MB SD Card Provided
  • 2" Amorphous Silicon LCD Colour Monitor
  • Provided Software Package (Digital Photo Navigator/ImageMixer)

OTHER FEATURES

High Quality Image & Sound

  • MiniDV Format with PCM Stereo Sound
  • Picture Stabiliser

Pro-Style Creativity

  • 200x Super Digital Zoom with Spline Interpolation
  • Digital Effects and Scene Transitions
  • Playback Digital Zoom
  • "EasyEdit" with Random Assemble Editing

Overall Convenience

  • Colour Viewfinder
  • Multi-Brand Remote Control Provided
  • S-Video Output, A/V Output, Edit Control on Multi-Terminal
  • S/AV/Editing Cable
  • LP Mode for 120 min. on single cassette

If I'd thought the JVC GR-DVX400 was small this thing was minuscule with dimensions not much larger than a packet of cigarettes. Unfortunately though, despite the fact that this one featured a vastly more flexible DV in and DV-out capability there was still no IEEE1394 cable in the box. There was a USB cable but being USB 1.0 this is only really suitable for transferring still images (using the camera's snapshot mode) or for use in "webcam" mode where you can basically turn your new toy in to what is essentially an £800 webcam. Thanks but no thanks! Reading through the manual it seems the whole concept of connecting your new video camera to your PC is only covered in the latter pages of the manual and then it's with a view to transferring stills or using it in webcam mode. Maybe we need to lay some of the blame for the slow adoption of PC video editing at the doors of the camera manufacturers too, they're certainly doing nothing to help. At this price I can't help but feel that a standard DV to IEEE1394 cable should be right there in the box alongside the strap and the lens cap and although not everybody will be using it straight away a damn site more people might be tempted to give it a go if the necessary cable is supplied. To make it worse I've seen the prices being charged for some of these big name branded DV to IEEE1394 cables and it smacks of profiteering if I'm honest.

So back to square one, two high tech miniature marvels later and still no way to actually get the video out of the camera while preserving the format in which it was created, namely the digital format. Be warned, it doesn't stop at the camera, make sure the product you have your eye on comes with DV out and a DV to IEEE1394 cable if you want to transfer the video digitally to your hard drive. If it doesn't check the price of the cable and take this in to consideration when you buy

In the end I was rescued courtesy of Steve Wise at Pinnacle who sent me a boxed copy of Edition DV which actually comes with the required cable. Good to see somebody is on the ball!

Using The Cameras :

Even coming from having used both SVHS and Hi8 video cameras the quality from both of these JVC units was fairly amazing. My biggest criticism would be that colours still seem a little washed out for my liking but this seems common to all the domestic cameras on the market at the moment. Quite why they can't give them a little more punch I don't know.

What I didn't particularly like about either camera was the size. I understand that for most users portability is a big issue but I had real problems finding a comfortable, and above all a steady way to grip them while at the same time operating all the controls comfortably and I was regularly plagued by the appearance of a stray finger in the viewfinder. I suppose my still photography heritage has accustomed my to using cameras that fit the hand very comfortably and I have to say the sheer unwieldy nature of both of these cameras and their equivalents from other manufacturers would be enough for me to keep my cash in my pocket. Even operating the record start/stop button and zoom control ring was just about impossible without the whole camera tilting slightly and spoiling the shot. Without a doubt anyone who's serious about the quality of their video footage should either invest in something a little bigger and more ergonomic to hold or place the camera on a tripod and use the supplied remote control to operate it.
I was impressed with the digital image stabilizer too but only in limited situations. Don't let the feature stop you from using your tripod, it works reasonably well for moderately zoomed shots but at longer focal lengths it really doesn't do enough to keep things steady. In some situations it can actually exaggerate hand tremor, particularly if you're prone to trembling hands or if it's windy. The reason for this is that the image stabilizer has to intelligently decide whether camera movement is due to hand shake or is the start of a pan or tilt motion. For very small movements the camera has no problem identifying this as hand shake and will compensate for it but as the movements get larger the camera goes through phases of stabilizing the image then letting go of it thinking it's a genuine movement, then stopping it again and so on making the shake look worse than it probably would have done naturally. Another situation where I needed to disable image stabilization was on very slow panning shots and the reasons were the same. As the motion starts the camera initially stabilizes the shot before realizing it's a pan shot at which point it lets it go and it catapults to catch up. This seems to be repeated over and over during a very slow pan leading to a choppy look to the final footage. So yes image stabilization works well so long as you appreciate it has to be used with care and using it as the lazy alternative to a tripod is a definite no-no.

Apart from this both cameras performed admirably. I preferred the menu navigation found on the cheaper GR-DVX400 as it centred around a rear dial which was pressed to access the menu and turned to scroll through the options. This to me was far more instinctive than the panel of membrane type buttons stashed away behind the LCD on the side of the GR-DVP7 as these required too much pressure to operate easily and were generally more fiddly to use. Also, don't be fooled by the claimed low light capabilities. Although you can shoot in almost total darkness you can only take static footage. The shutter speeds at these light levels are so slow that moving the camera gives a strobe like effect that's hardly suitable for most situations. A tripod is still a must.

Basic Techniques :

I don't want to get too in depth here as I'm no expert videographer myself but a few pointers never did any harm and can help get better results sooner. These are fairly rudimentary tips that most experienced users take for granted but if you're just starting out they're worth you knowing.

1/ Use a tripod ~ using a tripod not only steadies your shots it also slows down the filming process and gives you time to think about how you want the scene to look and whether you're shooting from the right place. Generally speaking more expensive tripods offer smoother panning through the use of better quality heads and though a general SLR tripod is fine for static shots you'll need a video specific tripod for fluid action pans and tilts.

2/ Think about height ~ Not all subjects look best from your eye level. Children and animals in particular may look better filmed from a lower level so don't be afraid to drop to one knee or lower your tripod and see how a particular scene looks from a lower vantage point. Likewise, some subjects may look better from a higher vantage point so weigh up the options before you shoot.

3/ Slow you panning ~ Almost all new video camera users pan around too quickly. The human eye is very good at compensating for a fast pan when you're looking through a viewfinder because your head translates the movement to your inner ear but watch the same scene later on your TV with your head perfectly still and it's going to look completely wrong. Always pan slower than you think you need to.

4/ Take close and wide shots of every scene then edit them together later. For children opening Christmas presents for example don't just point the camera at them and keep it running, start with a wide shot then get a close up of the hands, the facial expressions and the paper littering the floor. These close ups can be used to break up long scenes where the subject matter remains the same and stop it getting boring.

5/ Think about background noise ~ Our brains automatically filter out background noise and home in on important audio but a video camera can't do this. That radio in the background that you didn't even notice could ruin a great shot.

6/ Don't snake ~ Snaking is when your camera is constantly snaking from one part of a scene to another without ever settling on anything. Plan your shooting before you start and make your moves from one part of the scene to the next slow and deliberate. Rest on each part of the scene for at least six seconds to let the viewer look at it.

7/ Try to keep every scene at least ten seconds in length. You can always edit footage out but you can't add what isn't there.

8/ Watch the lighting ~ Most domestic camcorders feature a backlighting function but don't allow exposure to be locked. In this situation it's better to keep any unusually bright light sources behind you so they don't interfere with the camera's exposure settings. Windows when shooting indoors during daylight hours, the sun and particularly bright room lights should be kept behind you where possible or out of the viewfinder where it's not.

9/ Don't bullseye ~ As with still photography it's rarely correct to place the point of interest smack in the middle of your frame. If you watch the TV you'll find that even shots of people rarely have the main person dead centre in the frame unless it's a formal shot such as a news reader or something similar. Landscape shots in particular should, where possible, feature a focal point (a point of prime interest) which should be placed at the intersection of thirds. This is the imaginary place where the two lines that horizontally divide the viewfinder into thirds cross the the two lines that vertically divide the viewfinder into thirds. Also try to have people looking and moving (walking, running etc.) into space, that is have more space in front of them than there is behind them, ideally two thirds more space unsurprisingly :).

10/ Enjoy it ~ A little planning and thought needn't turn a fun hobby into an obsession that has you snapping at the kids for looking at the lens or wandering off their marks. These are guidelines not rules and most things can be put right at the edit stage. Don't let your attempts to improve take the fun out of what you're doing.

 

<<< Back to Review Index | Page 3 - The PC and Motherboard >>>

Home