Travails with my camera


Twice in recent weeks I’ve ended up speaking with event organisers who are looking at allowing participants to create their own footage. The end use cases are different; one is to allow participants to create travel movies, one to use their footage in an online TV documentary.

In the past ten years the software and hardware available has reduced in cost dramatically and increased in ability to the point decent results can be had for free.  But free is rubbish right?


Assuming that the participants are able to use any camera they want, we need to convert the camera file to an edit format. For this there is FFMBC, a very capable encoder. Unfortunately the user interface is awful, but EyeFrame is an excellent free GUI for it.  The same GUI can be used for taking edited files and converting them for delivery to YouTube, Vimeo etc. If you’re aiming higher it can create broadcast ready files encoded to XDCAM, DVCPRO-HD etc. For the true high aimers, OpenDCP will create industry standard Digital Cinema Packages.

Open source codecs are reaching maturity, x264 (as used by YouTube and FFMBC for creating h.264 video) recently won the MSU coder trials beating numerous proprietary coders.

To edit, the best free software I’ve found is Lightworks. It’s not open source (yet) but offers a modern non-linear editor for the cost of a download. It was used for films like the King’s Speech, but has a huge amateur following who provide YouTube tutorials and a forum. It’s relatively simple to get high quality edits and it has a lot of high quality effects built in. If you’re using it a lot, you can buy professional codecs for £40 and a high quality keyboard for about £80.

For colour grading there is daVinci Resolve. Works great and is free. It’s free to try and convince you to pay for other Black magic products. But why colour grade? Lightworks offers simple correction, but daVinci allows each object in a scene to be graded and tracked.

Then we have important things like Rsync for backup, Recuva or Photorec for recovering deleted files.

Audio editing can be handled by Audacity, a multi track editor with the ability to down mix to stereo. Again a load of excellent plugins and effects are available.

Audio synching of high quality recordings and video files is available via Shenidam.

If you want to try your hand at some CGI, then Blender is open source. Its TV show reel is at the top of this post.

Finally for the video production aspect, some really useful free effects are available for platforms like VirtualDub. Here’s a virtual steadicam and a couple of slow motion tools. (I intend to write posts on these effects at a later date).

For still videos, stills2dv is an excellent tool for creating rostrum or “Ken Burns” effects.

Outside of video production, we can use Celtx for script creation, CasparCG for live production, mpeg2videotools for measuring picture quality.

But then we come to the one problem of democratisation of video. It is caused because it is now easy and cheap to create video, and therein lies the problem. Back in the 60s, scenes were either shot on expensive 16mm film or super-expensive video tape. For every hour used, you shot maybe 2 hours. Then came DV, and that rose towards 10 hours. In both cases, the results were tangible, they sat on a shelf with a label and inside the case resided a shot list neatly typed by a researcher. Now we are approaching 100 hours and worse, the results are files on a computer with unlikely names like “”. This is the major challenge now facing amateur/low-cost productions, keeping track of what they’ve shot and in which file it is.

I know I’ve missed a bit, like the musical score. Comments?


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