Home Video Hints: Digital Editing for Free

Say "digital editing" to a casual video shooter and two other words leap instantly to mind: "expensive" and "complicated." Well, that’s partially true. Prosumer software does have a steep learning curve and a well-tempered editing computer can run you more than $600. But if you bought an Apple iMac or a PC such as a Sony Vaio, you already paid for a digital video-in-and-out port and pre-installed, easy-to-use digital editing software.


Are the Bundled Editing Tools Worthwhile?

Computers often have stuff that few people use, so why bother with the editing software that came with your machine? Aside from the fact that you may have essentially received it for free, there are several compelling reasons.

First, simple digital editing is actually less complex than traditional analog. Equipment hookup is a straightforward and procedures are so intuitive that a third-grader can master and enjoy them.

Second, the resulting programs look and sound better than anything you can do with a comparable analog setup. You can perform transitions like wipes and dissolves, input nifty professional -looking titles over live-action footage, and you can mix music or narration in with your production’s audio.

Finally, the software allows you to optimize format, resolution and frame rate. You can create videos ready for Web streaming, so you can send Junior’s first steps to Grandma (or Grandma’s snowboard gymnastics performance to Junior). If you already have the hardware and software, why not give simple editing a try?


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Easy as 1-2-3

To begin, connect a digital camcorder and computer FireWire ports with the video camera’s supplied cable. Place the camcorder in VCR mode (so it plays like a home deck). Open the application on your computer and, presto, you’re ready to take on editing’s three basic steps: importing selected footage from your camcorder tape, editing the material as desired and exporting the finished movie back to tape.


Step 1 – The Import

Importing raw footage is straightforward. Each shot displays itself in a window as it plays. To begin the import, just mark the starting and ending points and instruct the program to capture everything that is in between.

When the import process is complete, a thumbnail image will represent the first frame of every clip that you capture on your hard drive. The shot information will include video, audio and time code address.


Step 2 – The Edit

Editing your footage means putting your shots in order, trimming them to the required length, creating transitions and titles and enriching the soundtrack with music, narration or both.

When you’ve captured your shots, your screen will be full of little pictures, one for each video segment. All you have to do to make a show is to drag them around the screen until their sequence tells your story. When you are finished, play back the results.

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll recognize that some shots are too lengthy while others aren’t needed at all. Drag unwanted material out of your program. Then, inspect each remaining shot and decide on starting and ending points. Mark them and instruct your program to trim the shot accordingly. Before you know it, you’ll have a nice, concise little show. To hold the viewer’s interest, try to hold it to 10 minutes or less, as a rule of thumb.

The next step is to separate different sequences with transitions such as dissolves, wipes or other digital effects. Usually, you can drag a chosen effect off a menu and place it between the appropriate thumbnails of your show. As a rule, stick with just a few transitions the simpler the better.

Don’t forget titles. Use your software to design and compose them and then superimpose them onto your show’s opening shots. For a professional look, try opening with one or more "teaser" shots that start the action, before supering your show title. If you want ending credits, you may wish to place them over a solid color background for simplicity.

Last but not least, consider your audio. Since you have a second track to play with, you can add music or narration to your opus. If you want, you can place shot B’s audio on Track Two, then cross-fade the Track One sound from A to B as you wipe or dissolve the picture.

But whoa! While we weren’t looking, we’ve strayed into more advanced post-production techniques. That’s what happens when you start playing with editing software. Once you discover how much fun digital cutting can be, you really start getting into it. And the good news is that before you exhaust the features of these entry-level programs, you will be able to create remarkably sophisticated and satisfying videos.


Step 3 – The Export

Exporting the finished program is as simple as sending it back to a blank tape in your camcorder for permanent storage. Because the whole process is digital, you won’t lose a bit of quality in the editing process, and you can play your programs for admiring friends and relations by connecting the camcorder’s analog outputs to any TV set.

In a couple of hours, you can edit a simple program, like a family picnic. And there’s a good chance you’ll find the process as enjoyable (and addictive) as playing games or surfing the Web. There’s a lot to learn in the beginning, but we’re sure you’ll be happy with the results.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.