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video on the move

When APJ was first conceived, cameras were heavier than today, less versatile and the quality lower. Digital video cameras are now small, lightweight, relatively inexpensive and can double as a digital still camera.

With no excuses left, APJ bought the Sony DCR-PC100 and struck out for the mountains of Vermont and Maine to test the little beastie.

Years ago, we first wanted to push text via email. Then, when Web browsers first caught on, we found that text could be more than just plain ASCII text, we found that text could carry emphasis and express more than mere ASCII. With the addition of character formatting, we could start to convey more than just words, we started to enter the realm of “a picture is worth a thousand words”. The next evolution was the addition of images and more advanced text formatting. Since the mid-90s this has been all we craved.

Steve Jobs and Apple had different ideas. After selling a ton of iMacs on the premise that they look good and take only minutes to connect to the Internet, Apple needed a new killer application. They found it in Video.

Video can quite literally convey a thousand images. Imagine what you can express with a million words?

So why is APJ so excited? Well, the initial premise of “A Profound Journey” was to travel the world with the latest technology, filming and providing daily commentary via the web. Five years ago, the only technology that needed significant improvement was that of video capture. Cameras were heavier, less versatile and the quality lower. Today, that has all changed. Digital video cameras are small, lightweight, relatively inexpensive and double as a digital still camera.

Sony DCR PC100We chose the Sony DCR PC100 (superceded by the DCR PC110). This digital camera can quite literally go anywhere that you do. It is small, lightweight and shoots film of exceptional quality (day or night – with infrared). This is still not shooting broadcast quality footage (which is the ideal), but the prospect of producing engaging documentaries with these low cost cameras, perhaps distributable via the web, is now possible.

What are we doing at APJ to test these little beasts? Well, at the moment the snow capped mountains of Vermont and Maine (in the USA) are calling loudly, so every time we venture to the mountains for a spot of snowboarding, our trusty PC100 comes with us.

Below freezing temperature? No problem.

Over exposure due to sunlight reflection on the snow? No issue.

Any problem with using the camera whilst flinging yourself down the mountain? None, it’s so small and light that you can forget you are carrying it.

Well, are there any problems? No, not really. Actually, that’s not true. This weekend, for the first time in two months, I had artifacts on the image due to snow melting and leaving residue on the lens. This partially ruined a days worth of filming, but once found, was easily corrected.

Okay, so with the new range of digital cameras, we have found that taking the footage is only dependant on your ability to take engaging imagery and that there is no excuse that the camera just isn’t up to the job. What is the next hurdle to jump?

That hurdle is getting the footage into a form that can be edited and therefore become the next great snowboarding or travel documentary.

This is where Apple are winning the battle for the hearts and minds of those budding film makers who can pick up a camera, shoot some film but haven’t the faintest idea about editing the film. You need two things (other than the camera) in this digital age; a computer that has enough grunt and disk space and some quality editing software.

Firstly, any iMac that you buy today has Firewire (this allows you to connect and control your camera to the computer and transfer the large amount of digital footage at high speed), they have plenty of disk space and all come with iMovie. Okay, I admit that iMovie isn’t the software that will bring you Oscars, but it will allow hobbyists to produce films that will be engaging and make your travel footage eye popping instead of yawn inducing.

If an iMac and iMovie isn’t good enough, you can get a G4 Mac or a Firewire card for your PC. Couple this with Adobe Premiere (and/or Final cut pro on the Mac) and Adobe After Effects, you might well be on the road to the travel equivalent of “The Blair Witch Project”.

first videoAfter buying the PC100, a computer was needed, so an iMac DV+ was bought, extra RAM added and voila! 4 hours later I had my first “short” completed, a 2.5 minute extravaganza of a Canadian cousin try to chop firewood in the freezing cold temperatures of a Vermont Christmas. I didn’t read a single word of a manual – that’s how easy it can be with the right tools.

So, up into the mountains of Vermont (Jay Peak to be exact) and to test the camera. Well, as stated previously, even though the temperature was south of ridiculous, the camera worked well, my fingers on the other hand started to go numb and white…..

Moving mountain range to Maine (Sunday River), the temperature was much more reasonable, the snow was deep and testing of the camera in action poses was needed.

First of all, filming a subject whilst on the move turned out to be simple, the only real problem was knowing whether to keep your eye on the subject or the direction you were headed.

Next, we tried filming as though the camera were the eyes of the subject. This too worked, but the final film didn’t convey the speed or the angle of descent. I’ll have to work on that one!

fast moving subjectFinally, with the light fading, we tested filming a subject moving fast with the camera stationary (in other words, filming ourselves going over jumps ;-) Altough the raw footage was slight under-exposed (human error not camera deficiency) the quality was good and the detail clear.

After a couple of months use, it has become clear that using the digital camera to take both movies and stills is unbelievably useful. If you are up a mountain and you see the most incredible skyline, the chances are you want to take some video of it and some high resolution stills. Single fames taken from the video are good, but stills are of a higher quality. The PC100 has the added advantage that stills can be taken directly to tape (though at a lower resolution) or onto a Sony Memory stick. Taking stills on a memory stick are a huge advantage because you can very easily transfer theses images to a palmtop or laptop whilst you are on location.

Okay, so that’s a ramble about filming in general and a brief glimpse at using a modern digial camera whilst on the road. An in-depth discussion of editing and producing video for the web can be left for a different discussion.

So, let me round things up.

Filming high quality, useable imagery is now extremely viable. If you are considering a digital video camera, it is worth investing as much as you can afford. Make sure that you consider all the options available to you carefully.

I chose the PC100 and would recommend it to anybody, though it has now been superceded by the PC110.

You also need to consider how you will edit your footage. I bought the PC100 then had to go out and buy an iMac.

You need to consider the software you will use to do your editing. All Apple machine come with iMovie installed, so there is no extra expense initially. Remember, iMovie will not do everything for you and you may well find yourself considering upgrading to final Cut pro or Adobe Photoshop. If you do this, consider the cost of the software and that you will have to invest a lot of time and effort learning these packages. They are designed for professionals and if will take time and effort to get the best out of them though it will be ultimately worthwhile.

At APJ, we have really bought into the new digital cameras and cannot wait to take the PC100 on a big adventure, perhaps to the ruins of Tikal, or perhaps to document our footsteps on the Inca trail. Whatever we do, we’ll be sure to report on our efforts and tell you all about the adventure.

by Seamus Waldron
Feb. 2001


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