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Adventures in video

January 15, 2010

I’ve been into photography since childhood. Over the years I’ve gone from point-and-shoot to SLR, from film to digital. But for all my interest in photography, I’ve never been able to get into video.

The reasons are complicated, but mostly they begin and  end with my dad. Growing up, he was that guy, the guy with the camcorder, and its constant presence on family trips and at family holidays led my brothers and I to start referring to it as his binky. I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, but he always had the video angle covered, leaving me free to shoot stills.

During and after college, I tried my hand at video a few times, but digital video editing was in its infancy, and distribution channels like YouTube didn’t exist. It didn’t seem worth the effort, and so I always went back to photography.

And to be honest, I still prefer photography. It’s less invasive. You can take pictures with other stuff going on, with noises all around you, and not worry about them messing up your shot. With the right eye and the right camera and lens combination, you can capture a level of depth and emotion no consumer-grade camcorder can match.

But there’s one thing video can do that photography can’t. It can capture motion.

Over the holidays, I spent some time looking back through some clips of Nolan we’d shot on our little Sony Webbie camcorder. The thing’s no great shakes. It technically shoots in HD, but you can only expect so much from a $200 camera. It has no image stabilization, freaks out at the slightest change in lighting, and pretty much blows in low light. Even so, watching younger Nolan teeter on two feet as he figured out the whole walking thing brought tears to my eyes.

After playing with video at work over the past several months, I’d been toying with the idea of shooting more video anyway, if only to boost my skills and be of more use to the team. But watching those clips, I was resolved. I wanted to shoot more video, not only of Nolan, but of little Lola when she arrives.

And so I set about assembling my gear:

  • Sony CX550V Handycam – The experience of shooting videos for work made me a believer in Sony’s latest Handycams. While a lot of the “features” are little more than gimmicks, the Exmor R sensor, Optical Steadyshot with Active Mode, and Face Detection made the HDV Handycam I bought at the end of 2006 look like a piece of junk. And thanks to my parents, I lucked into what’s essentially a flash-based version of the hard drive camcorder we filmed with.
  • Final Cut Express – Way back in the day, I tried my hand editing with a student copy of Adobe Premiere 6.0. It was a nightmare for which knowledge of Photoshop was more than useless. At the same time, I’ve always hated iMovie. And so I opted for the editing program we’ve been using at work – Final Cut Express. It seemed powerful enough to do what I wanted, yet intuitive enough that I wouldn’t want to kill myself.
  • Buffalo DriveStation Combo4 (1TB) – Music and photos and whatnot have consumed most of the hard drive space on my poor MacBook Pro, so I picked up this external drive to use as a scratch disk and storage tank for my video activities. Oh, and it’s also packing FireWire 800 (translation – VERY FAST TRANSFERS).

The results? So far, so good. I’m still learning my way around the camera and Final Cut (not to mention the best combination of settings for output to YouTube), but I’ve already kicked out two videos:

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