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Easy Digital Video

Add some movement and sound to your next trip into the wilds

This Article Features Photo Zoom

video With Apple’s iMovie ’08, making a quick, high-quality video is as simple as dragging and dropping your clips onto a timeline.

How often have you been to a beautiful location and wished you could bring some of it back as a video? There’s no question that still photography has its limits in portraying a location. Video brings movement and sound to a setting and offers a whole new dimension for nature images.

Interest in video also has grown with two things: video on the web and high-definition video. Newspapers and news magazines now are adding video regularly to their coverage of events on their websites. This adds a multimedia dimension to the news that can be engaging. And high-definition video has increased image quality, giving video a quality that just was never available before. I watch more nature programs on television when they’re in high definition, or HD.

If you want to try out video, it doesn’t have to be expensive, even for high definition. You don’t even need a special video camcorder. Many compact digital cameras include the ability to capture excellent-quality video built into the camera, plus this video is recorded to memory card, rather than tape, making it easy to get it into the computer for editing. In addition, new video programs are available for around $100 that allow you high-capability editing of videos for both the web and high definition. All you need is a large, fast hard drive to handle the increased storage needs of video.

Many small digital cameras have video capability, and for this column, I worked specifically with the Canon PowerShot G9. This compact digital camera has full controls, from a variety of exposure modes to manual focus and more for under $500.

The camera offers a fine built-in zoom lens that offers a 35mm-film equivalent of 35-210mm. You even can add accessory lenses to extend that range. In the video area, it records standard, traditional video of 640 x 480 pixels at 30 fps. That 30 fps is significant because that’s how we view all video. We’re used to seeing motion at that speed.

In addition, the camera records high-definition video of 1024 x 768, though at 15 fps. Even at 15 fps, that’s impressive. The difference between 30 and 15 fps is that the lower fps won’t give quite as smooth a movement, which is especially noticeable when you pan or move the camera across the landscape. It actually isn’t as noticeable with moving subjects such as birds. Still, there’s a trade-off in using high definition versus standard mode in this speed. Yet if you want something to fill up that new high-definition television in your living room, this camera gives beautiful results.

The G9 includes some lower-resolution video, which allows you to record more on a memory card and which can be used for the web. However, I think you’re best off shooting at the higher 640 x 480 resolution and downsizing in the computer later. The camera also includes an interesting way of shooting 640 x 480 that allows you to shoot at one fps or even 0.5 fps. This dramatically speeds up motion, including allowing you to see a flower open on screen.

This spring, I was up at the Lepp Institute of Digital Imaging doing a class on digital printing. The Lepp Institute has a great location right on the Pacific coast about midway through California near Morro Bay. Within a few miles is a beautiful state park called Montaña de Oro. I’ve always enjoyed shooting there, with its dunes and coastal bluffs and scrub vegetation.

I had taken the G9 with me because it’s a compact camera that’s easy to carry almost anywhere, yet I don’t feel limited by it because it has such a full set of capabilities. I took it out to the bluffs one stunning afternoon. When I got there, the light was still a little too high for the perfect landscape photo, but it was low enough to give nice definition to the scenery. I wanted to record some of that experience as video.

Recording video with small cameras like the G9 is easy to do. Simply choose the Movie mode and set the appropriate video resolution. Then press the shutter button and start recording. The camera records sound; however, don’t expect high-fidelity sound as the microphone is very small. When I do this sort of video, I typically add music anyway. So having a little bit of ambient sound is useful but not critical.

Like many of the small cameras, the G9 doesn’t allow you to zoom while you’re recording video. I’m not sure that that’s really a problem. All too often, photographers who aren’t used to using video will overuse the zoom control. The camera is lightweight, so it’s easy to use as a moving camera, panning across the scene, and even literally moving the camera through things like a clump of flowers.
Always check your movement in shots like this by looking at the LCD playback. How fast you move the camera through a scene or across a scene does makes a difference, but sometimes it’s hard to predict what speed you need. A given scene may have more or less detail that looks best at a certain speed of movement. And many scenes look best with a camera locked down on a tripod while you let the movement of the scene, such as flowers blowing or waves crashing, carry the action.

Often, photographers using video for the first time will use the camera like a regular still camera. They capture snippets of the scenes without giving any shot a long enough capture of video. For editing purposes, you need to have at least 10 seconds of any given video shot. Yes, you can edit shorter bits, but you’ll find it frustrating to work with very short bits. Having at least 10 seconds gives you a lot more flexibility and options when you edit your video.

When shooting video, you need a large memory card. A 10-second clip of video can take 20 MB of storage space, while a minute can take 120 MB of space (this depends on the video resolution and the camera). You can see it wouldn’t take very many minutes to use up a small memory card. But to be honest, I don’t use these little cameras for epic video productions. When I go out to specifically shoot a lot of video, I take a dedicated video camcorder, such as my high- definition Canon XH A1. I use the little cameras simply to have the opportunity to shoot a variety of scenes when I’m at a great location, scenes that can be combined later to create a short, fun piece that can help me remember and reexperience that location.

Once you shoot your video, you need to edit it. Editing video has become so much easier to do than it used to be. You need a fast hard drive with enough space for your video. There are many easy-to-use video software programs on the market today. If you have a Mac, you probably have iMovie already installed. Adobe Premiere Elements and Pinnacle Studio are inexpensive and easy-to-use programs that offer a bit more power than iMovie.

Typically, you can simply drag and drop your video files from the memory card to a folder on your hard drive. Then you import those files into your video program. I used iMovie for my Montaña de Oro video; I selected all of the video files in the appropriate folder and dragged them into iMovie. The program imported them all for me. Then I built a video by dragging and dropping individual clips onto the timeline. I made clips shorter or longer by dragging their ends. I used simple transitions between clips, using mostly one-second dissolves.

Finally, I added some music. I like the music software from SmartSound, which allows you to create music to a specific length, and you can use it for slideshows or videos. There are no issues with rights when using this music either, which can be a problem when you simply take some music from a commercial music CD or an MP3 file.

You can see the results of this short video I made on the OP website at These videos are a lot of fun to do. They can be a great addition to any photographer’s website, or you can just put them onto a DVD and send them to friends and family to show them a little more of what you were doing last time you were in the field. All of the programs mentioned here make it easy to put these videos either on the web or a DVD.