As you know I’ve always enjoyed producing video reviews and short documentaries to compliment articles here, so it was only natural that I set my eyes on a digital video camera small enough to carry everywhere, yet flexible enough to whip out for quick clips to long presentation recordings. After using various flash-based digital video cameras such as the Sanyo Xacti C5, Sony M1 and even some horrible knock-off brands from Asia (fortunately I could return it!), I finally decided to go with the Sony M2 (see photo set / full camera review soon).
I’ve been playing with these cameras a lot and learnt a great deal on how this new technology still needs time before it can become ubiquitous (i.e. for citizen journalist). Apart from the portability advantage, there are some video editing pitfalls that make the process not much less easier than working with DV format videos from our regular mini-DV cameras.
Most of these hybrid cameras use MPEG4 as a video recording format. While this gives great quality, it also takes up less storage space than traditional codecs such as DV and MPEG1. Try bringing this mpeg4 recording into iMovie… you’ll see that iMovie HD now allows you to import MPEG4 video aside from the usual DV format. This was a feature that sold me on investing in these new cameras. Sounds good right?
Wrong. Look at the screenshot above and you’ll see that importing and editing videos in MPEG4 mode in iMovie takes an incredibly long time. The time shown is always a pessimistic estimate, but it still took a day to process on my 1.5Ghz 12″ Powerbook with 1.25GB RAM. iMovie seems to re-encode the video for some reason instead of working with it natively. I was so disappointed with this that I went to find out if I was doing something wrong. My post on the Apple iMovie discussion forum entitled “Fixing slow MPEG4 import/export in iMovie HD” yielded one reply which suggested working in DV format instead.
How I got around this…
I found that advice so true. Now iMovie is much faster when importing, editing and rendering previews. As a bonus, video quality is better retained since no lossy mpeg4 re-encoding is involved. Instead of having iMovie edit your video in MPEG4, start a new project in DV format. Now drag your mpeg4 clips into the Clips Bin in iMovie and let it encode them in DV streams. When you work in DV, iMovie seems much happier and gives you better results, faster. Working with the new Themes feature in iMovie HD (iLife ’06 edition) was tremendously faster too. When you’re done editing, you can always export your videos into any format, including MPEG4 again if you have to. As a result, I’m a happy camper hoping to bring you more interesting content in a more timely fashion.
Frankly speaking, I don’t know why Apple bothered to add MPEG4 as an editing option in iMovie since it performs so badly. Since there’s little said about mpeg4 cameras on the web, do share experiences you might have. I’d love to hear from videobloggers who use Macs and Windows video editing platforms.