Put an edit controller inside a camcorder and what do you have? A video Swiss Army knife.

If youre shopping for a camcorder, you might run across a few that are camcorder and edit controller in one unit. (I know what youre thinking: "Oh great, just when Im trying to simplify my equipment you throw in more of those demoralizing buttons," Or even, "What’s an edit controller?")

But work with me here. Edit controllers are the first step up from crash cutting (making a video program by manually copying one shot after another to an assembly tape) and they help you perform four basic editing tasks:

  • Selecting shots to include in the program (because no one but you will sit through all of them)

  • Trimming shots (because ditto ditto)

  • Sequencing shots so that they appear in the order you choose rather than the one in which they were originally recorded, and

  • Assembling shots by copying them automatically from the camera original to the edited program tape.

Now if you study the ads in Videomaker you may have noticed several inexpensive edit controllers that work alone or with your computer; so why consider one built into your camcorder? Because it minimizes the number of editing components while delivering a simple way to get started editing at a very nominal extra cost. Three examples of camcorder models with built-in controllers are the JVC GR-AX910 and Canon models ES970 and ES4000.

To demonstrate the basics, we’ll show you how to set up an edit session and how to create a finished program using a camcorder with a built-in edit controller.

Insert Plug A Into Jack B …

Youll begin, of course, by plugging boxes together. At its simplest, hardware setup means cabling video and audio from your camcorder to your VCR (and from the VCR to a TV monitor, just in case you might like to see what you’re doing.) Kidding aside, the monitor also acts like a computer screen, displaying control functions, shot lists, etc. Your original tape plays in the camcorder and VCR records the edited assembly copy.

All edit control functions are on the camcorder, but you’ll find it more convenient to work instead with the camera’s wireless remote control (an optional extra with some units, so check before you buy).

Now for a crucial concept: edit controlling involves not one but two sets of control actions. You operate the edit controller functions through the camcorder; but the camcorder, in turn, controls the recording VCR, starting and stopping it at the proper moments each time it records a shot. Most models operate the VCR via infrared signals from the camera (exactly the same ones used by the VCR’s own wireless remote) so it’s important to place the camcorder close to and directly facing the VCR. Weve diagrammed it for you in Figure 1.

With your hardware all lashed up and functioning correctly you’re ready to feed it your software (a.k.a. original camera footage). To work properly, this original material must observe two iron rules:

  • It must be the same format as the camcorder, so, for example, VHS footage from a different source would have to be copied to 8mm to play in your 8mm camera (at the loss of one generation).

  • Every component of a sequence (a group of shots to be edited together) must be on the same cassette. Hint: if you create show titles, record them on the same tape as your main footage.

With your boxes cabled and your footage ready, you’re all set to edit and auto-assemble a sequence.

Create a Sequence

“Sequence?” Don’t we mean “program?” Well, no, unless your show’s one minute long or else your average shot drones on for two numbing minutes. Why? Becaus the auto assembly function can handle only 8 shots at a time. To create a longer program you’ll need to break it down into sequences of eight shots or less and then transfer them in order to the assembly tape.

So let’s try out our new editing rig by cutting a sequence we’ll call “Lillie Lands a Bass.” Daughter Lil’s out on the bow seat of your bass boat and you’re at the helm. She sings out, “Got me a live one!” and you grab your nearby camcorder. You shoot the ensuing duel ad-lib, panning from Lil working the fish to the quarry leaping to Lil again, zooming in as she nets a nice six-pounder and brings it deftly aboard.

As you finish with the obligatory portrait of Lillie hoisting her trophy, you reflect that you’ll want to edit this eight minute event down to maybe a one-minute finished sequence. So, canny videographer that you are, you grab two cutaways:

  • a clenched-teeth closeup of Lillie as if she were still playing the fish, and

  • another closeup of the rod tip suddenly bowing, as if the bass had just struck the lure. (Off-camera, Lil can hold the rod in one hand and yank on the leader with the other as you shoot the rod tip isolated against the sky.)

Notice that these two extra shots are on the same cassette, but they’re not in the right order on it.

When you get ready to edit, your tape looks like Figure 2, with Lil’s catch footage somewhere in the middle. To create a finished sequence, you’re going to:

  • Select and time each shot.

  • Put the shots in the right order.

  • Make an automatic trial assembly.

  • Fine tune your work.

  • Make a final auto assembly.

So pop your original tape into your camcorder and let’s go.

As you play the tape you discover a nice shot of Lillie casting. In real life it happened much earlier than the one that hooked the bass, but, hey! A cast is a cast, right? Using the buttons on your camcorder remote, you mark the start of the part you want to use (called the in point), then continue viewing the shot until the end of the cast and mark the out point. The camcorder will remember that this is the first shot and where the in and out points occur.

Now you come to the long single shot you made of Lil playing and netting the fish, and as you study it, you find four choice moments: Lillie playing the fish, Lillie playing the fish some more (actually a continuation of the same shot), the fish on the line, and finally, Lillie netting the fish. Using your edit controls, you mark the in and out points of each of these shots.

Last of all, you mark the in and out points of Lillie displaying her catch, Lillie’s tense closeup, and the rod tip bowing. Now you have identified the exact parts of the eight shots you want. But of course, they’re all out of order, as shown in Figure 3. You’ll want your finished sequence to look like Figure 4, with the bowing rod and the tense face concealing the parts of the main shot that you’re discarding.

To arrange your shots into their final sequence, simply use your edit controller to move them to the right positions in your on-screen shot list (Figure 5), and voila! you’re ready for a trial assembly.

Fit and Polish

This is where an edit controller really shines. Pop a junk tape into your VCR and instruct the controller to make an assembly. All by itself, the system will copy all eight shots to the junk assembly tape, in the adjusted shot order you specified and beginning and ending at every designated in and out point.

Incidentally, you can achieve nearly the same results without actually making a trial assembly by using the preview command instead. But though you will see the shots played at the right length and in the right order, you can’t judge the overall effect because the playback will pause each time it hunts and finds the next shot and its start point. A trial assembly, by contrast, plays back in real time.

The next to last step is fine tuning your edits. Say that second shot of Lil playing the fish went on too long. No problem! To shorten the shot, simply find it in the on-screen shot list and change the out point to make it earlier. Then check your adjustment. Chances are, you will want to use the preview command this time because you only need to evaluate this one shot.

Looking good? Then insert your final assembly tape into the VCR, forward it to the exact frame at which this new sequence is to start, and instruct the edit controller to make another auto assembly.

You could do all this manually, of course; but you’ll soon find that the tedious part of video post production is not editing but re-editing, because in traditional linear editing, any change in the middle of your show forces you to re-do every single edit that precedes it. Like their stand-alone siblings, VCR-based edit controllers reduce this tedium by automating the re-editing process.

Just one caution about in-camera edit controllers: they are touted as a way to make multiple same-generation copies of programs by auto-dubbing to one assembly tape after another. But with their eight-shot memory limits, you’d better stick to one minute shows or else be prepared to transfer a sequence a number of times, swapping assembly cassettes each time, and then repeating that painful process until either you’ve completed all your copies or they ship you off to the bin, which ever comes first.

Good shooting!

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