Our subscribers give advice, and share lessons learned in their videography experience.
Optimizing for Editing
Thanks, guys, for a great magazine and now, for the great vidcast too! I have a tip I think you'd like on how I optimize my Windows computer for video editing:
Videomaker has often advocated the use of a dedicated computer for video work. In reality, few of us can afford this luxury, and it seems a shame to have a high powered machine sitting idle while you email and surf the Net with the hand-me-down PC from five years ago.
I installed a removable hard-drive-tray unit as my system drive. One tray holds a boot-drive that is fully loaded with browsers, programs, anti-spyware, anti-virus software, etc. This is the "default" tray - the one that is normally inserted into the dock. It configures the computer for typical use by family, friends and myself.
A second tray holds the dedicated system drive that I use when I'm video editing. It runs Windows XP but connects to the Internet only to download updates from Microsoft and trusted software vendors. There is no extraneous software installed on this drive. When I insert this drive-tray into the dock, my system is not exposed to online evildoers, so my editing software runs unencumbered by antivirus software. Performance is remarkably improved!
When my case has the luxury of an extra 5.25" external drive bay, I install a second drive-tray unit to hold video data files. Otherwise, portable drives come in handy. Recently I purchased an ADS Pyro 1394b external drive kit. It features a 5.25" bay which is wide enough to hold an optical drive. FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 connections are both provided, and the face plate is removable so that [when necessary] the front of the drive [e.g., CD Burner] is accessible.
I installed an InClose removable hard-drive-tray unit into the Pyro, and bought enough trays for all nine of the loose hard drives I had on the shelf. I use one of the drives as a target for system backups, and the others to store files from my various video-editing projects.
FYI: The ADS Pyro 1394b was $80 from Other World Computing, and comes with a FireWire 800 cable. The InClose removeable tray unit is less than $20 at Fry's; additional trays are less than $10.
Once again, thanks for all you do for us amateur video enthusiasts!
Give Your Cam a Wedgie
Here's a great way to prop a camcorder when you don't have a tripod and you want a low angle shot from the ground or a table. As you know, if you set the camcorder on its belly, you can't angle it up or down at all. But if you place something small and flat under the lens, but not the camcorder body, your shot is pointed up slightly. Place the prop under the camcorder's butt and you point the lens down a bit.
We've heard people mention that wallets make good props, and we're advocates on beanbags. I've been using clothes pins because of their wedge shape, but while trying to grab a shot in a hurry, I discovered something even better: an old-fashioned plastic door stop. A wedge-shaped prop is perfect, because you can place just the tip for a slight rise, and move the wedge up and back to set the shot higher or lower. Like the clothes pin, the door stop is wedged, but it's even better. Because the wedge has a taller rise in the back for more options, it's wider than a clothes pin for support, and, even better, the bottom has a nice rubber grip.
Depth of Field vs. Depth of Focus
Here is a little help for readers exploring the manual focus capabilities of their cameras. In general, the distance from the camera to the subject is called depth of focus. In general, the distance behind the subject is called depth of field. A wide aperture, or opened camera iris, brings the depth of focus and the depth of field closer to the same point, which is most likely the person or thing you are videotaping. Remember WAND (Wide Aperture Narrow Depth) when you want this camera to operate this way.
Gaffer's tape is important to use, especially when using borrowed space where you don't want to risk leaving tape glue residue. However, gaffer's tape is expensive to use. As I was working as DP on a low (read "no") budget Indie film, I needed to block the light from coming in from several large windows by using cloth table covers. To save money I tried the 3M blue medium stickiness painter's tape to hang the table cloths with. Not only did it work better than the gaffer's tape, but saved me a ton of money, since it was only about $9 a roll. It even held up a large banner. The blue color is not a problem, as long as it is not in the shot. So now, I'm keeping a roll of painter's tape in my light kit from now on.
Good idea, Phil, and one that has many purposes for the video producer. When shooting in public venues, a videographer may need to lay cables across a carpet, tile floor or walkway. The danger of people tripping over the cables is very real, and many public buildings require every inch of cable be tied down. Very costly with regular gaffer tape.
Videographers have tried duct tape and found that it is very sticky and leaves a residue behind. Some public places have banned the use of duct tape, and gaffer's tape, although our preferred tape for video support, is not only costly but hard to find in some areas, as local hardware stores don't always stock it. But the blue painter's tape is found everywhere, and it also comes in white. The tape doesn't leave the same residue, but we must caution users to test it first, as it's designed for short time use and easy removal, so it might tear if used incorrectly. You should also check with your location to see if they will allow the painter's tape instead of gaffer's tape.
- The Editors
Get the Fat Out
I was reading your December 2005 Tech Support column and noticed that you failed to correct for DV's aspect ratio when extracting a still. With your instructions, objects in the still will look slightly "fat" due to the incorrect aspect ratio. To correct this, simply crop the frame to 704x480 and then resize to 640x480 before you do anything else to the still. This will convert the 720x480 frame to square pixels which can then be processed however you like.
Thank you for the additional information, Scott. We received a couple of letters from other sharp-eyed readers like you with similar comments about pixel aspect ratio. We hope Scott's reply will clear up those questions.
- The Editors
Cable Coiling Conundrum
Managing excessive lengths of cable and cord can be a real hassle. I recently experienced this while cabling up under my wife's computer desk. In a minor stroke of genius, it occurred to me that a perfect cable management tool would be empty CD or DVD spools and covers. First, I hot-knifed an inverted U-shaped access hole in the side of the cover. Next, I drilled a small pilot hole on the base of the spool. I then screwed the base of the spool onto the back board under the desk. All that is left to do is gather up the excess cord, coil it around the hub and twist lock the spool cover in place. Simple, elegant, and a great way to recycle empty DVD spools!
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