- Samsung SCA18 8mm Camcorder
- Bogen 3181 Tripod/3063 Mini Fluid Head
- Sony MZ-R30 Portable MiniDisc Recorder
- Videonics Video ToolKit 3.0
- Corel Lumiere Suite Nonlinear Video Editing Software
SCA18 8mm Camcorder
105 Challenger Road
Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660
If you’ve spent any time looking at consumer magazines lately, you’ve probably seen an ad from Samsung’s latest campaign: a slick, expensive full-pager that showed energetic youths using their camcorders, digital still cameras and notebook computers in fun and exciting ways. It’s all part of a recent attempt by the Korean company to change a somewhat unfair public image it’s had in the past, one that portrayed Samsung as a dumper of shoddy, second-rate imports onto the American market.
Having an impressive new image in the mainstream media is one thing, but can Samsung deliver quality merchandise to back up the glitz? To find out, we put the SCA18, Samsung’s latest top-of-the-line 8mm camcorder, through its paces.
A New Look
The SCA18 has a slightly different look and feel than its predecessors in the Samsung line. With gray and gunmetal surfaces, a somewhat boxy design and a rounded lefthand side where all of the important controls are located, the SCA18 has more in common with current-model Sony and Canon designs than it does with earlier Samsung models.
The SCA18’s f/1.4 zoom lens offers a generous 16:1 optical zoom range, which you can boost to 64:1 through digital enhancement. A small rocker switch on the top rear of the camera body controls zooming, while a small wheel located on the lower left side controls the inner-focus mechanism. As with most low-cost 8mm camcorders, the SCA18 limits exposure controls to a set of program autoexposure (AE) modes: sports, high-speed shutter, portrait and spotlight.
Along with typical backlight compensation (BLC), fader and titler controls, the SCA18 includes a set of five picture effects that you can easily access through a rotating wheel on the left side of the camcorder. To activate an effect, rotate the wheel into position and then press the button next to the wheel. Available modes include art, mosaic, mirror, wide (for 16×9 televisions) and negative (for shooting photo negatives).
On top of the camcorder and just behind the camera/VCR switch sits a tiny trap door. When the door is closed, a pair of edit-search buttons are available to help you locate a specific point on the tape. Opening the trap door reveals a set of six buttons, which do triple-duty as the VCR controls (while the camcorder is in VCR mode), titler controls and automated help-system controls. This latter feature is very handy for the beginner; without opening the manual, he or she has access to help screens on 11 different topics, including focusing, using program autoexposure modes, zooming and performing insert edits.
This latter feature–the insert-edit function–is slightly misleading, as it will not allow you to perform a true audio insert without re-recording the video (nor vice versa). Nonetheless, it does provide a good way for those who edit in the camera to re-record a shot that didn’t quite come out the way you planned. Here’s how it works: first, with the camera in record/pause mode, you locate the out point of the insert edit you wish to perform. Then, press the counter reset button, re-adjusting the tape counter to zero. Next, use the edit search buttons to locate the beginning of the insert edit. Finally, after pressing a small button labeled Z/Memo on the side of the camcorder, just hit the record button to begin recording; the camcorder will automatically go back into record/pause mode at the end of the insert edit.
Other important features of the SCA18 include electronic image stabilization (EIS), a microphone input, a headphone output and a self-timer for those who want to squeeze themselves into the picture before the tape begins rolling.
In use, the SCA18 performed very well. Images were sharper than the average 8mm camcorder, owing in part to the inclusion of a 470,000-pixel CCD for both increased resolution and better digital-zooming capabilities. Audio quality was good as well; the inclusion of a stereo microphone and stereo audio inputs on 8mm camcorders is becoming all too rare. The manual focusing system was very responsive to a light touch, and the presence of all camcorder controls right on the body–instead of buried in on-screen menus–was a bonus as well. The EIS system worked fairly well, exhibiting all of the quirks that are common to its kind, including a slight loss in resolution and a tendency to exhibit unnatural movements when pushed to the extreme (when shooting at telephoto ranges, for example).
There were a few problems with our test unit. The view in the SCA18’s color viewfinder was on the dark side. This made it difficult to focus the image and check the lighting. Also, the autofocus and zoom controls were slow to respond.
The inclusion of microphone and headphone jacks is a very nice touch, as is the built-in help system. The built-in digital effects were also quite nice, and well-selected; the mirror effect in particular was a nice change from the standard digital effects one usually finds on camcorders. All in all, the SCA18 proved to be an excellent choice for those who want a good 8mm camcorder with most of the features that are essential to consumer-level videography.
3181 Tripod with 3063 Mini Fluid Head
($282 Tripod; $163 Head)
Bogen Photo Corp.
565 East Crescent Avenue
Ramsey, NJ 07446-0506
The tripod is among the world’s oldest and most useful inventions. Drawings of tripods supporting incense burners, water basins and various kinds of religious paraphernalia decorate 4,000-year-old tombs in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Language scholar Michael Ventris, in his attempts to learn how to read an ancient form of Greek writing known as linear B, came across a drawing of a tripod in the 3,200-year-old inventories of a Minoan temple treasury, and the familiarity of this figure suggested the four syllables (ti-ri-po-da) that eventually led to the decipherment of the language.
If tripods have been around so long, then why are there so many crummy tripods in the consumer video world today? Many of the retail outlets that sell camcorders don’t keep a single decent tripod in stock. By "decent," we mean something that will perform three basic functions: hold the camcorder steady; perform smooth camera movements; and lock firmly into the precise position you need. A majority of the low-cost tripods available at the larger retail outlets won’t provide even these basic functions at a level that’s acceptable for the serious hobbyist videographer.
Luckily, help is available for those low-budget video professionals and enthusiasts who realize the importance of a good solid base for shooting video. Bogen Photo Corporation, a company that has long specialized in providing stable shooting platforms for photo and video professionals, makes its entry-level 3181 Tripod and 3063 Mini Fluid Head for those videographers who don’t want to spend a fortune on a quality camera-support system.
Most good tripods come in (at least) two pieces. For starters, let’s talk about Bogen’s 3181 Tripod, and then move on to the 3063 Mini Fluid Head.
Built of high-quality aluminum, each of the 3181’s upper legs is constructed in a tandem configuration, which simply means two supporting columns instead of one. The single-column lower legs attach to the upper assembly with a pair of heavy-duty sliding brackets; this system offers far more strength, stability and durability than the telescoping legs found on many inexpensive tripods. At its fully extended height, the 3181 reaches just an inch short of five feet; at its lowest, it sits 33 inches off the floor. Don’t forget to add about six inches for the height of the pan/tilt head, as well as a few inches for the height of the camcorder, when determining whether a given tripod will suit your shooting needs.
The 3181’s spiked feet hold the tripod firmly in place on a wide variety of terrain types. To protect hardwood floors and other indoor surfaces, Bogen provides a set of rubber covers for the spiked feet, which give the added bonus of friction to hold the tripod steady on smooth surfaces.
On the upper end of the tripod sits the bowl, into which fits the included ball-leveling mechanism. Once installed, the ball leveler makes leveling the camcorder as simple as loosening the bottom hand screw, rotating the head mechanism in the bowl, and tightening it back down once it’s level. Like all of the locking mechanisms on the 3181, the ball leveler is easy to clamp down into the precise position needed in a matter of seconds. On the upper deck of the ball leveler is a large bolt, onto which the 3063 head easily attaches. (Note: before attaching the head on this or any other Bogen tripod, be sure to tighten the three screws located on the bottom of the ball leveler. This will ensure that the drag mechanisms of the pan/tilt head will operate properly.)
Though it’s impossible to keep your camera steady without a good set of legs, the head is without a doubt the most important component of the tripod. It holds the camcorder in place and lets you pan back and forth and tilt up and down as you shoot. It also holds the most important locking mechanisms on the tripod assembly: those which allow you to fine-adjust the framing and secure it quickly into the exact position you want.
The 3063 Mini Fluid Head supports cameras weighing up to 11 pounds–a class covering nearly every consumer camcorder ever made. Though it incorporates a number of important features–such as a built-in bubble level, a long pan/tilt arm and a hexagonal quick-release plate–the most important is the mechanism that allows you to perform smooth camera moves. Because the 3063 incorporates a true fluid-head design–one which suspends the moving parts in a thick, viscous fluid–on-screen pans and tilts can be performed without the characteristic jerks and starts that you’ll find in lesser units.
In use, the combination of the 3063 Mini Fluid Head and 3181 Tripod performs very well, providing smooth movements and quick, easy lock-down into the precise shooting position needed. It certainly isn’t the lightest tripod and head assembly available on the market today, weighing in at a solid 12.1 pounds. Also, these and other products aimed primarily at professional videographers could certainly benefit from a good user’s manual to help beginners with the task of setting up and using the equipment for the first time. Even so, the quality of the 3063 Mini Fluid Head and the 3181 Tripod far outweighs these minor drawbacks. If you’re looking for a steady, durable shooting platform that will last for years, these products will give you what you need.
MZ-R30 Portable MiniDisc Recorder
One Sony Drive
Park Ridge, NJ 07656
If you’re a frequent visitor to these pages, you probably already know why we’ve decided to review an audio recorder in Videomaker magazine: because the sounds you hear are at least as important as the images you see in any good video production. Whether it’s to record your own sound effects, capture ambient sound at a location or to provide an extra sound source during editing, a high-quality portable audio recorder is a welcome addition to any serious videographer’s arsenal.
Now, the technology of audio recording has evolved to the point where you can assign the tired old tape cassette to the scrap-heap of history. Only a few years old, Sony’s MiniDisc (MD for short) audio technology offers near-CD audio performance in a compact, recordable format.
If you’re worried that this relatively new digital audio format is too expensive for your tastes, take heart. Sony’s latest portable MD recorder, the MZ-R30, has many features that are sure to please the weekend video hobbyist as well as the part-time prosumer, and at a price that’s only about half what you’d pay for a low-cost Hi8 camcorder.
Smaller than most of the portable Walkman-style cassette players in the market today, the MZ-R30 fits easily into a coat pocket or a camcorder bag. Curiously, it doesn’t come with any kind of harness to strap it to your belt. What it does come with is a handy, stylish carrying bag that’s rugged enough to protect the unit from the weather and those minor bumps and scrapes that portable electronics devices are often subject to.
On the top face of the unit is a small LCD display panel that shows indicators for current location on the MD, mono/stereo mode, play mode, disc spinning, record, record level, time/tracks remaining, battery level, Mega Bass on/off, date recorded and current time. Also included on the LCD is a space for displaying disc name, track name, error messages and other information. Next to the LCD display, a series of buttons control the unit’s track marking, searching and standard tape-transport features.
On the side of the MZ-R30 are the unit’s audio inputs and outputs, including stereo line out, stereo microphone in and a special combined input that can accept either analog stereo line-level signals or a digital optical connector. This latter feature–digital optical input–provides loss-free digital recording for those videographers who have access to equipment with a fiber-optic output, including DAT players and certain high-quality digital amplifiers. A special headphone/remote jack connects to the supplied miniature-sized remote controller, which, in turn, holds the headphone jack. The headphones themselves have a special proprietary connector that will only plug into the remote. In use, the remote controller sits on the cable between the MZ-R30 and the headphones, providing easy access to play, stop, search and volume controls.
Power for the MZ-R30 is provided either by the included rechargeable lithium-ion battery (5 hours recording time, 8 hours playback), a pair of AA dry cells or an AC wall outlet via supplied adapter. Charging the lithium-ion battery is as simple as plugging the unit into the wall with the battery inserted, then waiting approximately 5 hours for a full charge.
To test the MZ-R30, we plugged a handheld microphone into the unit’s microphone jack and then walked it through several typical audio-for-video recording situations.
First, we tried recording some ambient sound–the "location noise" that video editors often use to cover problems with audio continuity–at several locations, indoors and out. In all cases, the MZ-R30 performed far better than any but the best analog tape recorders, reproducing sound faithfully with no audible noise. With this unit, you can say goodbye to that awful hissing sound that accompanies most analog cassette recordings. Though the MZ-R30 does default to the automatic recording level circuitry, it’s possible to disable this feature and set the recording level manually–a must when you’re recording very quiet ambient noise in a room. However, you can’t set individual levels for right and left stereo signals.
Next, we tried connecting the MZ-R30 to the stereo signal coming from an audio mixer at a live musical performance. Again, the unit recorded a very clean signal–better, in fact, than the expensive analog reel-to-reel machine that the band was using to record their performance.
Finally, we took the MZ-R30 into the editing bay, where its small size, standard line-level connectors and excellent audio quality made it easy to fit in with existing video and audio equipment. The ability to put your own titles on individual tracks, mark specific index points and gain instant access to tracks without fast-forwarding or rewinding were all very beneficial to the audio editing process.
Is the MZ-R30 the audio recorder for you? If what you’re after is portable, digital-quality audio, you might just want to give it a try.
Video ToolKit 3.0 for Windows
1370 Dell Avenue
Campbell, CA 95008
What comes to mind when you imagine the ultimate desktop video workstation? Do you think of a fully tricked-out nonlinear system, complete with a top-notch video and audio digitizer, an A/V hard drive and the latest editing software? Some would; others–especially those who deal with longer productions, such as event videographers–might be just as happy with a simple computer-based edit controller, a few good edit decks and maybe a special-effects generator (SEG) and a good titler thrown into the mix.
One of Videonics’ latest products, Video ToolKit 3.0, is designed to please the video editor who’s looking for a good computer-based edit controller, one that will take charge of a wide variety of VCRs and other editing devices. It’s also got a few tricks up its sleeve, such as an easy way for nonlinear editors to identify, log and capture selected clips from a number of source tapes onto the hard drive (a process known as "batch capturing"), and an option to output edit-decision lists in HTML, the language of the World Wide Web, for long-distance collaborative projects.
Included with Video ToolKit 3.0 package is Videonics’ new AV/Net module, an innovative piece of hardware that’s designed to simplify the task of connecting and controlling a number of different VCRs, camcorders, special-effects generators and/or titlers. With a single AV/Net module, you can control up to four separate devices via standard machine-control protocols such as Control-L (LANC), Control-S, Panasonic 5-pin, RS-232, infrared (IR) or general-purpose interface (GPI). What’s more, you can daisy-chain your AV/Net modules, giving you control over up to seven separate devices from a single serial port on your computer.
Connecting the AV/Net modules to all of your video editing devices is simple, if somewhat tedious. People who make use of standardized consumer protocols such as Control-L or Panasonic 5-pin will have an easier time of it; integrating an IR-controlled record deck, however, can be a chore. This is because each manufacturer has its own particular set of IR codes, and sometimes these codes will vary from VCR to VCR. Like most IR-controlled editors, the Video ToolKit requires a bit of trial-and-error experimenting to get this kind of connection working properly.
Editing with Video ToolKit 3.0 is a four-step process. First, you review your tapes and log your clips. Then you build your program by dragging and dropping clips from the log into the edit-decision list (EDL). Next, if you have a special-effects generator, titler, or other GPI-triggered device, you can place the proper commands to run those pieces of equipment into your EDL. When you’ve finished all of that, it’s time to let Video ToolKit execute all of your editing decisions for you while you sit back and watch it all happen. Let’s look at each of these steps in a little more detail.
Anyone who has ever logged the contents of a stack of videotapes with pencil, paper and a VCR remote control will tell you that the process can be one of the more tedious and time-consuming aspects of video editing. Video ToolKit simplifies the task with the Tape Log Binder, a user-friendly window that allows you to select each clip’s in and out points by clicking a button with the mouse as the tape is playing. The program’s user interface offers several ways to control your VCRs, including a simple, visual point-and-click system that resembles the transport controls of a typical editing deck, jog/shuttle and all. If you have a video-capture card in your computer, you can view your videos during the logging process from a small window on the computer screen. Then, as you define your clips, Video ToolKit will insert a little still image (a "picon") from the beginning and end of each shot into your clip log for easy visual identification. As you identify and name each clip, it appears in a typical Windows branching file display for easy organization into folders and sub-groups.
Once you’ve logged your tapes, it’s time to start building your program in the Edit List Binder. This process can be as simple as dragging and dropping selected clips in a list, or as complex as a full-featured A/B-roll edit, complete with effects, titles and insert edits. Trimming individual shots from within the Edit List Binder can be as simple as clicking and dragging the simplified timeline that accompanies each clip; or, if you prefer, you can just type in the time-code numbers for each clip directly. Video ToolKit 3.0 is capable of reading rewritable consumer time code (RCTC), vertical-interval time code (VITC), longitudinal time code (LTC) or the tape-counter readings in decks that lack time code.
Controlling the Videonics MX-1 Digital Video Mixer from within the Video ToolKit interface is quite simple; a graphical user interface displays the MX-1’s major controls for easy point-and-click operation. Other GPI-triggered devices are more difficult to integrate into the system.
After defining your clips, arranging them in the proper order and applying effects, it’s time to put the Video ToolKit to work. If your goal is just to capture a series of clips onto the hard drive for nonlinear editing, your next step would be to drag the Capture Agent icon onto the appropriate Edit List Binder, then hit the Execute button and let the software do its stuff. If you’re making tape, then just substitute the Edit Agent for the Capture Agent, and get yourself a soda while the ToolKit takes over.
Hard to Beat
Videonics’ Video ToolKit 3.0 is certainly not the only inexpensive computer-based edit controller on the market. But it is probably the most comprehensive and versatile hardware/software solution available for the price. Where other systems give you only A/X roll (which performs transitions from still images, not moving video), no time-code support and only one or two machine-control options, Video ToolKit 3.0 covers all of the major editing protocols in a true A/B-roll system. Nonlinear editors, too, will like the logging and batch-capture capabilities of the Video ToolKit, and may even find themselves using the tape-based portion of the system for simple edits now and again.
Though it was a long wait for version 3.0, it seems that Videonics has delivered once again on its promise to provide powerful, inexpensive solutions for the serious hobbyist or prosumer videographer.
Lumiere Suite Nonlinear Video Editing Software
1600 Carling Ave.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1Z 8R7
Though the desktop nonlinear-editing software market has been ruled by a small handful of companies over the past few years, a number of low-budget alternatives have sprung up recently to contend for the home-multimedia producer’s dollar. Most of these new products can’t provide full-featured nonlinear video editing with high-quality NTSC video output. But some–like Corel’s new Lumiere Suite–offer a surprising range of capabilities at a very reasonable price.
At a glance, the Lumiere editing interface looks very similar to most industry-standard nonlinear editors. Though a closer observation reveals not quite as much editing power as you’d find in Adobe’s Premiere, Ulead’s MediaStudio or in:sync’s Razor, there’s plenty for the serious video hobbyist to work with. Lumiere is capable of 32-bit color depth and a maximum output resolution of 800×600 pixels–more than enough for high-quality videotape production.
Old and New
As stated before, the interface is much like that of most other nonlinear editors. A timeline holds two tracks for video clips, while a single track in between holds the transitions. When you import a video clip into the timeline, it appears as a solid bar on the video track with the name of the file in the middle (clip.avi, for example) and an identifying frame at the beginning and end of the clip. Re-arranging your edits is as simple as dragging and dropping the clips into place; trimming is handled by grabbing the beginning or end of the clip and dragging it until it matches the size you need.
Below these tracks are three superimpose tracks (for overlaying titles and graphics) and five tracks for audio. If you find that these aren’t enough, you can add more of either by pulling down the Edit menu and clicking the Add Track button; Lumiere supports up to 99 tracks of each.
The transitions window holds 70 pre-made transitions for use in your video productions. These include all of the standard slides, wipes, dissolves and merges that we’ve become accustomed to, plus a few not-so-standard transitions (the Zoom Trails, for instance) for added flavor.
So much for the ways in which Lumiere is like its competitors. Now let’s look at those features–and omissions–that set it apart from the crowd.
Begging to Differ
Included in the Lumiere Suite bundle are a pair of software titles designed to flesh out the nonlinear-editing experience. Corel Photo-Paint 6, a successful stand-alone software product in its own right, provides high-quality still-image editing, while Corel Motion 3D simplifies the task of creating impressive animations and title graphics for your videos.
Also included is a rather extensive CD library of backgrounds, animations, video clips, sounds, clip art and photography for use in your video productions. The quality of the still-image artwork varies, but most of the video clips, moving backgrounds and animations are quite good. One animation, for example, shows a spinning camcorder that flies onto the screen, eventually flying toward the viewer and engulfing the picture with the lens. There is one major flaw to the video clips included in the library: the maximum resolution is 320×240, or one fourth the size of a typical video screen. This means that if you try to use them in your videotapes, they will have a stair-stepped, low-resolution appearance that looks shabby and unprofessional. For Web or CD-ROM videos, however, they should work just fine.
The CD audio library holds over 60 minutes of royalty-free music for use in your videos. The quality of these clips is equal to that of many production music libraries we’ve seen–and even better than a few of them. For an easier way to tailor your audio to fit your production, Lumiere includes the SmartSound Wizard, which will create a song or a sound effect of a given length in the category and style that you choose. It’s quite a useful feature for making the song fit the length and subject matter of the video material, instead of the other way around.
To simplify the process of previewing your clips, Lumiere has a so-called "jog/shuttle" controller located at the top of the program’s main window. Like its namesake, this jog/shuttle will show you a preview of your video at several different speeds in forward or reverse by simply sliding the controller forward or backward; you can also use it to move frame-by-frame through your movie. The previews themselves–which consist of quick, low-resolution versions of the editing decisions you’ve made thus far–were very quick to render and easy to navigate with the jog/shuttle controller.
Some reports in other publications claim that Lumiere matches Adobe Premiere, the current industry-standard desktop nonlinear editing software, feature for feature. This is not quite true; Premiere does incorporate a number of features that Lumiere lacks. Premiere, for example, has an open-architecture design that makes it possible to include a wide range of third-party plug-ins, such as Photoshop filters or additional transitions and special effects. Nonetheless, Lumiere does succeed in providing all of the basic functionality of a typical nonlinear editing system at a price that almost anyone can afford. In fact, when you take into account all of the software that comes with the package (4 CDs in all), Lumiere might very well be the best value currently available in the consumer nonlinear-editing market.
Samsung SCA18 8mm Camcorder
- 16:1 optical zoom, 64:1 digital zoom, 3.9-62.4mm focal length, two-speed power zoom, f/1.4, inner focus, telemacro
- Image sensor
- 1/4-inch CCD, 470,000 pixels
- Color, 113,000-pixel LCD
- Auto, inner manual
- Maximum shutter speed
- 1/10000th of a second
- Auto, 4 program AE modes (spotlight, portrait, sports, high-speed shutter)
- White balance
- Digital effects
- 5 (art, mosaic, mirror, wide-screen, negative)
- AFM stereo
- Microphone, composite video, stereo audio
- Headphones, composite video, stereo audio
- Edit interface
- Other features
- Electronic image stabilization, self-timer, stereo microphone, titler, fader, backlight compensation, edit search, built-in help screens
- 4.2 (width) by 5 (height) by 7 (depth) inches
- Weight (sans tape and battery)
- 2 pounds
- Video Performance (approx.)
- Horizontal resolution (camera)
- 310 lines
- Horizontal resolution (playback)
- 250 lines
- Performance Times
- Pause to Record
- 0.5 seconds
- Power-up to Record
- 6 seconds
- Fast-forward/Rewind (30 min. tape)
- 1 minute 45 seconds
- Good resolution
- Built-in help screens
- Microphone and headphone jacks
- No manual exposure control
- No edit control jack
- An excellent choice for beginners who want both ease of use and quality images
Bogen 3181 Tripod/3063 Head
- Maximum weight
- 11 pounds
- Very sturdy
- Good locking mechanisms
- True fluid motion from pan/tilt head
Sony MZ-R30 Portable MiniDisc Recorder
- Excellent sound quality
- Random access to individual tracks or index points
- Track titling feature handy for locating audio clips
- No separate right/left audio record level controls
- Proprietary headphone jack
Videonics Video ToolKit 3.0
- Operating system
- Windows 95 or NT
- Other requirements
- Available 9-pin serial port
- Pentium or Pentium Pro
- Optional hardware
- MCI-compatible video and audio capture; standard 4-button joystick for machine control
- Controls a wide range of hardware
- Easy to use
- Batch capture for nonlinear videographers
- Infrared connection difficult to configure
Corel Lumiere Suite Nonlinear Video Editing Software
- Pentium 90MHz
- 256-color, 800×600 resolution
- Operating system
- Windows 95
- Pentium 133 or above
- 24-bit color
- Other requirements
- Video and audio capture capability
- Lots of media clips included to enhance your productions
- SmartSound Wizard
- Library video clips included have 320×240 maximum resolution