Category Archives: photography

Thoughts on Final Cut Pro vs iMovie

Ok, so I’ve started on video project that I think will be much longer than any of the ones I’ve done so far – or at least I have waaaay more footage for it. I ended up switching to Final Cut Pro X (FCPx), for two reasons. First, I’m working on a macbook, with limited storage, and managing the storage with iMovie was getting problematic. Also, I really want to be able to attach tags to various clips, to make finding them later easier.

So, after working with iMovie for over a year, and now FCPx for over a month, here’s what I like about each.

Advantage FCPx:

  • Configurable storage. You can choose where backups go (even different drive – just stores the edits, not the clips themselves). You can choose whether to import the media into the project, or keep it external to the project, and do your own backups, etc. Similarly, you can choose for FCPx to create optimized (potentially larger files, but easier for FCPx to deal with) or proxy media (1/4 resolution for quicker response when editing) – or not. Also, you can easily delete the optimized and proxy media. iMovie has none of these options, and no easy way to delete the extra media it generates.
  • Meta-data: FCPx has some of the best meta data support of any editor I’ve researched. Who knows, maybe this will change in the next year or two.
    • You can label markers in the timeline and later search for them. Dave Dougdale and Chris Fenwick did a great video on editing interviews, that covers this topic.
    • Keyword support. Before you even insert clips into the timeline, you can add keywords to all or just a portion of a clip, which makes it easier to find the stuff later. I haven’t played with this enough to figure out how to best make use of this feature. For now, I’m using these categories/tags: slow-mo, time-lapse, good audio (ie somebody said something funny), and a few others. I don’t know yet, if I’ll label each person in a scene, wide vs closeup shots, etc.
  • Timeline organization
    • Compound clips. So, let’s say you’ve got some audio you recorded separately from the video, that also has (poor) audio. You can group them into a compound clip, and voila you can split (blade) the clip into pieces, and keep all the audio synced. You can also do this with the multi-camera feature (see below). I use it because I’m a cheapskate, and I because I don’t want to pay for any of the wonderful audio cleanup plugins available, I often use Audacity (free and open source) to clean up my audio. This process involves opening the clip in Audacity (which will read video files), messing with it, exporting to an audio file, importing the audio back into FCPx/iMovie, syncing the audio to the original clip (usually manually, but it is easy with audio the exact same size as the clip), and then in the case of FCPx locking it with the clip by creating a compound clip.
    • Roles. At first I didn’t think much about this feature, but after watching a video from Ripple Training, I have fallen in love with it. Basically, I usually strive to get the audio mix pretty close, in a single-ish pass through all the camera audio. Then, after I have a rough idea of what I want for mood music, I go find some, and it almost always is way off from the voice tracks. Ripple’s tip about using roles make it possible to adjust all the music as one, and more importantly, all the ‘voice’ audio from the clips as a single audio track. Way easier than going back and adjusting each individual voice audio clip’s volume. Plus, each clip is limited to +12dB of gain. Once it is grouped into a compound clip (with Ripple’s tip), you get another +12dB to play with. Nice.
  • More flexible titles. So iMovie has some nice titles, and FCPx basically has the same ones, but it lets you change many more of the parameters: locations, fonts, colors, etc. However, Apple wants more money for something called motion (a separate application) for more advanced control of your titles (and other simple overlay with motion graphics).
  • Re-attach Audio. This is a little bit of a nit pick, but you can re-attach audio to a clip after you’ve detached it. This caused me a major headache once in iMovie, and after that I was much more careful about detaching audio. With FCPx, its no longer something I have to be careful about. Just one less thing to worry about.
  • Multi camera support. Super slick, but most major editors out there have similar features. Basically, you can make something like a compound clip (above), but it makes it easier to switch between cameras (“angles” in FCPx lingo).
  • Configure-able exports. So iMovie lets you export to Facebook, Youtube, etc. But with iMovie you can change all the default settings, or save the configuration to a new export style. Nice.
  • Plugins: FCPx has lots of plugins. You can probably spend months researching them. However, from what I’ve seen so far, the only decent ones are not only not free, but typically pricey. By the time I would have bought all the ones that I thought would provide new features to FCPx, and ones that I would actually use, I’d almost double the cost of buying FCPx! So, I haven’t bought any yet.
  • Import iMove Projects. However, I haven’t really tried this one.
  • More online support. Let’s face it, for the most part the Apple documentation and help pages kinda suck. There are way more FCPx tutorials than there are iMovie tutorials. But maybe that’s because FCPx is so much trickier to drive.
  • 1º Rotations. In iMovie you can only rotate in increments of 90º, so you can’t fix slightly rotated horizon lines. FCPx has 1º increments. However, doing 90º is a bit of a pain in FCPx. Hey Apple, add some damn 90º rotation buttons to FCPx!
  • Auditions. Basically, this is a way to try out different versions of a timeline, and be able to switch back and forth. I don’t really use it much, but I can see how it could be useful.

Advantage iMovie:

  • Rotation Button. (the other side of the coin of the 1º rotations in FCPx, above) In iMovie you can easily rotate things by 90º, which is mostly what I do with video – either because phone video was started in portrait, and moved to landscape (so the majority of the video is rotated by 90º), or because I recorded with an action cam upside, and I din’t have time at the time of filming to do it in the camera’s settings.
  • Basic luminance adjustments: brightness, contrast, useful shadow adjustments. iMovie has them. They’re not quite as good as you might expect from a photo editor, but they work fairly well. FCPx, WTF?! Only 3 bands of luminance? That’s like buying an equalizer with only 2 sliders! Total BS out of a “pro” level editor. Completely unexceptable. The biggest pain is trying to brighten shadows. Basically, you can’t do it without making the black stuff look not black. Yuck!
  • Simpler Interface. FCPx and iMovie have a lot of UI elements in common, but I think the iMovie interface is just way easier to use. Although I’ve had some people claim its the other way around. In general, the ideas of having an “inspector” (think properties) pane and the plugins interface, while flexible, make it harder to find some of the basic settings that have nearly always visible menu buttons in iMovie. Basic things like color/brightness , volume, rotation settings are easy to find in iMovie, but buried in FCPx.
  • iOS. iMovie has an iOS verson (although I haven’t really tried this one – if someone sends me an iPad Pro, maybe I’ll give it a try. But how do I get the video from my SLR onto the iPad?).

In short, if iMovie had some form of compound clips, better meta-data support and maybe some better storage options, I’d never spend the money on FCPx. That said, iMovie does not have these features, and for me, these couple of features have made FCPx worth the money.

A couple of other points:

  • Yes, FCPx still ties you to MacOs, and I was hoping to get something cross platform.
  • But, FCPx is considerably cheaper for the features you get, than most other cross platform editors.
  • The most notable exception is the free version of Black Magic Design’s DaVinci Resolve, which really is a pro level editor and free! But, it has a pretty steep learning curve. Ok, it’s not vi, but it’s still more than I wanted to learn (for now). However, Black Magic seems to be putting a lot of work into Resolve the last few years, so I actually have high hopes for it in the near future.

Creating Google Earth Fly-over Movie: Part 1

First off: Yuck, what a process.

So here is the scenario: you get a gpx file that somebody gathered from their GPS device, with tracks from a recent trip, and you want to use it to create a fly-over clip, to include in a short travel video about the trip.

Here’s the basic steps:

  1. Get the gpx into Google Earth. Older (and/or Linux) versions may not work so well.If needed, convert the gpx file to a kml/kmz, with gpsbabel, if you need to edit the flight path (probably), and do something like:gpsbabel -i gpx -f file.gpx -o kml -F file.kml Note: For recent versions of Ubuntu, you can install with: apt-get install gpsbabel. Then, open the newly created kml file in Google Earth. Note: Google Earth tends to read the track information in a gpx file as tracks, which you can’t modify. If you don’t need to modify the path, then you can skip this step.
  2. Copy the placemarks/waypoints, and then (manually) edit the copied version (in Google Earth) to delete the tight turns, and try to even out the distances between placemarks, for a smoother video.
  3. Copy the 2nd set of placemarks (previous step) “as tracks”, and paste.
  4. Optionally, but recommended, re-time the tracks from the previous step:
    1. Export the tracks to a kml
    2. Manually edit the time of each waypoint, or use something like my script
    3. Import the re-timed kml into Google Earth Pro.
  5. Play with the Tour settings, until the fly-over looks reasonable.
  6. Use the “Movie Maker” tool in Google Earth Pro (the regular version doesn’t have movie maker) to export the fly-over. Make sure to select H.264 as part of the output settings, at least if you want to view it on a Mac.

Note: The movie clip created with this process comes with a bunch of copyright restrictions. Basically, you can’t make money off it, but you can share it on youtube. Use the Google to figure out the exact details.

Note: Google Earth is a bit buggy (I’m using both Mac and Linux versions). When deleting sections containing tracks, waypoints, etc. And then you want to open another kml file, sometimes the “Open” option disappears, so you need to restart it. Also, sometimes after copying the waypoints, the display of the new set of waypoints is messed up – again, quitting and restarting Google Earth is the solution.

Part 2

Team Turkey Ten

We went to the 10th Mountain Hut just after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough snow to ski. So, Tucker drove us most of the way in, with the Jeep.

In making the video for this trip, I learned another editing trick. iMovie has a rather limited range of volume adjustments, and it can be difficult to dial in the right amount of volume. So I found that I could more easily adjust the volume with Audacity (free, and cross platform). Basically, Audacity has an amplify effect, and once a portion of the audio is selected, it will automatically adjust the volume to something reasonable – I think based on the peak volume in the selection. So, by making selections of different portions of an audio clip, and applying the amplify effect, I can get reasonable volumes in a clip that has dramatically different volumes. Typically, I run into this problem when doing brief interviews, using the on-camera microphone, which causes my (interviewer) voice to be much louder than the interviewee voice.

CMH Galena 2015 Thoughts

I finally finished the Team G15 video for the CMH Heli-ski trip. Now that I’m done with it, I wanted to post a few thoughts about the experience.

First, some thoughts on the movie:

  • At nearly 20 minutes, it is still too long. I should have removed more the flat light footage.
  • I also should have cut more of the shaky footage. I tried to get around it by using the iMovie image stabilization, and slowing things down. Sometimes this worked ok, but for the most part the iMovie image stabilization is crap – it introduces a lot of ‘wavy-ness’ that is almost as bad ask the camera shake. However, I was really impressed with how well the GoPro (Hero 3) took out camera shake, even before importing it into iMovie.
  • While, I timed the cuts to the music, I could have done it a little tighter, and having a roll cut capability (DaVinci resolve has it, iMovie doesn’t) would have been really useful in fine tuning the sections of footage to use for a certain length of music.
  • Picking the right music is really important to set the mood. While I wanted a lot of up-tempo music to drive the music, I think that maybe I went a bit overboard.
  • I need more storage space on the laptop. I came back from the trip with 6+ hours of footage, weighing in at roughly 128GB. Once cutting most of the truly bad footage from iMovie, I got the iMovie library/project down to about 65GB. Which is still a lot to try to backup or move around.
  • I should have spent some more time evening out the volume levels between different sections – especially in transitions between voices and songs.
  • Prior to going on the trip, I had made a list of shots that I wanted to get. I think I got about 20% of them. I ended up doing mostly GoPro helmet footage. I think you really need a variety of shooting angles, it really helps add interest.
  • I liked having 1 section per skier, similar to how many professional ski videos are organized. However, I was left with a fair amount of footage that didn’t really fit that mold: Tucker’s 1M ft ceremony, the avalanche, and the hiking. I should have put more thought into tying it all together.
  • I should have recorded some interview footage – especially for the avalanche. I think it would have really helped make the different sections more cohesive, and provide more of a story. Right now, in the current form, there really isn’t much of story. I think this deficiency is proven by the fact that the average view length is 6 minutes on a 20 minute video. Most people just couldn’t get interested in a bunch of footage about someone they probably don’t know very well. Adding the interviews would have helped viewers know the skiers and be more interested in their footage.

Now some thoughts on the process of shooting footage.

  • I didn’t really learn about trying to limit scenes/cuts to about 10 seconds or less, until after the trip. Knowing that ahead of time would have really changed my shooting strategy. I think I would have done a lot more stop and shoot uphill, as skiers approach footage. I also would have tried to get more people/cameras involved, so I had more angles recorded for all events.
  • Shooting with a tag-team GoPro approach didn’t work as well as I hoped. What I tried was to have the first skier point their GoPro behind, to film the second skier, and have the 2nd skier point their GoPro forward at the first skier, so that I’d be able to switch between the view points while editing. Unless there are significant terrain cues, the viewer can’t tell that the two viewpoints are related. Having both GoPro’s pointed forward worked better, but still suffered from similar issues. I think in the future, I should try 2 or 3 GoPro cameras tracking the skier, and maybe have have a GoPro on the skier.
  • If the light is flat, just don’t shoot. Wait until there is good light. Skiing is a world of white on white, so contrast is essential.
  • Next time (if  there is one) I want to try getting the GoPro closer and lower to the skier, especially in the powder. I want better visibility of the rooster-tail of snow behind the skier.
  • I should have done more pole mounted shots, like in the Revelstoke video. These shots are a little harder to do, because you have to keep track of 2 things: where you’re skiing, and where the camera is pointed. With the helmet mounted camera, you just ski at the skier. However, with the pole mount, the shooting angle is way more flexible on the fly – its very easy to switch between front, back, left, right on a moment’s notice. The main thing that prevented me from using the pole mount on the Heli trip is that the logistics were difficult. With the helmet mount, you just climb into the helicopter. With the pole mount, the pole has to go into the equipment basket outside of the helicopter. So, some sort of quick mount is required. Trying to use the screw swivel at the base of the GoPro seemed like a good way to drop a screw. Plus, it means using a ski pole without a basket. I’ll need to find a good size extension arm and a decent quick release system to make this a reality.

Comments on iMovie and editing.

  • At first I really liked the magnetic timeline (i.e., it doesn’t let you have gaps in the timeline). For short videos, its handy. For longer ones, like this one, I need a better way to group sections together. Putting gaps in the timeline might be one way to do it.
  • After seeing a video by Dave Dougdale on editing an interview, I am convinced that having meta-data editing (i.e. tagging of sections of clips) would be extremely useful. iMovie does not have this feature. Final Cut Pro does. I haven’t quite figured out if DaVinci Resolve has it.
  • At a bare minimum, I was able to organize footage by day and cinematographer/camera, using iMove events. If it wasn’t for that, finding footage would have been a nightmare.
  • I wish iMovie had a roll cut. I do a lot of videos set to music, and I think a roll cut would be very useful. So that, once you’ve set the length of a clip, you can fine tune which portion of a clip is used.
  • I wish iMovie volume adjustments were easier. Maybe I’m missing some keyboard short cuts for up/down on volume or something, but it is really hard to dial in the volume adjustment.
  • I absolutely hate how you have to deal with backing up iMovie libraries/projects. You can’t just copy an iMovie library (with Finder or the command line) to another disk and expect to start editing. You have to copy everything from within iMovie to another library. In other words, you can’t treat the iMovie library file as a portable thing, like you would a word document, or just about anything else in the computer world. Yuck. To make it worse, iMovie does not display where projects (i.e. a timeline) is located. So, once you’ve copied it within iMovie, you’re not sure which one is on which disk. Double Yuck.
  • You are probably going to spend 10-50x more time in your editor, than shooting footage. Use a good one, and learn it well.