April 3, 2012

What You Need To Start Making Videos On Your Computer

If the glut of user-generated content on YouTube doesn’t make a point of it yet, making videos is now incredibly accessible. Even with zero experience in editing movies, in fact, you can produce decent-looking presentation versions of your old home movies within a very short time.

What exactly do you need to begin doing video projects on your desktop?

A Digicam

First things first: you have to shoot some movies. And for that, you need a digital camcorder. You don’t have to invest a hefty amount of money, especially as you’re only testing the waters out. If you have a good smartphone, there’s a good chance it can record 720p video all on its own, so maybe you should experiment with recordings you take from that. Back when pocket cams were all the rage a couple years ago, those things managed to capture decent HD recordings, too. If you’re looking for a starter camcorder for video, you could try to find cheap second hand units, which should damage you $50 or less.

Later on, when you start cherishing dreams of doing professional work and longer-form movies, you could begin researching about more expensive cameras. Make sure to familiarize yourself with how the different recording formats work and what all the various features do. That should help you make a more informed decision, which is crucial for a major financial purchase like a high-end consumer video camera.

An External Mic

Most video camcorders can record audio just fine. If you’re putting a premium on sound, however, you may want to invest in a separate microphone. Many mics built into camcorders can pick up as much background noise as actual sounds that are central to the scene.

Boom microphones, even amateur-level affordable ones, will almost always produce better results than whatever your video recorder can pick up. Technically, the “boom” is actually the stand that holds these microphones; the actual sound is picked up by a “shotgun microphone,” which limits the audio it captures from the direction it’s facing.

For home videos and general tomfoolery, built-in mics can be acceptable. If the sound is central to the footage, though, like if you’re recording a concert or a speech in public, you’ll need to invest in something better.

A Computer With Decent Power

Your current computer may or may not be sufficient for handling video editing. If you’re planning to work on cutting up and connecting simple home movies, it could be enough. Once you jump to the higher-end of quality, however — such as HD videos and more polished productions — you’re likely to need something with a more powerful processor and graphics card pair.

Getting a Mac isn’t necessary, but it will be helpful, as everything you need will be necessary to get started. Depending on your computer, you may need to install additional hardware for getting video into it, like a DV capture card or a Firewire port.

Here’s the basic rule for computers: the more pre-configured a system is for video editing, the faster all the features of a software will work. Hence, why Macs are usually touted as better than PCs for the job. However, if you buy a machine that’s been designed specifically for video work, it will likely perform just as well.

Digital Video Editing Software

Despite all the fun you can have shooting video, the editing could actually end up even more satisfying. Getting on your video editor app and turning hours of footage into a tight short film that’s genuinely watchable can make you feel like you’ve really accomplished something special.

Free software, such as Windows Movie Maker, can be enough for your early forays into editing movies. You can learn plenty of stuff from it, from chopping up footage to arranging clips in a timeline to applying basic effects. For amateur hobbyists who like to fix up their home movies, this will do.

There are many categories of folks who will want to produce more professional movies than what free options can deliver. And, no, it’s not limited to folks who are trying to break into commercial film. Folks who edit wedding footage, for instance, aren’t likely to do the work on a two-bit video editor, nor will somebody making a video presentation for a professional audience, as their needs will be substantially more than what those titles will allow.

If you’ve decided to invest in video editing software, here are some points to consider:

  • Ease of use. Sometimes, the most expensive and full-featured titles can also be the most confusing, especially if the developers haven’t taken the effort to tailor it for users. Video editing requires a lot of work and attention — you’ll frequently make multiple decisions on the fly and invoke multiple commands to get the results you want. The easier the software allows you to do that, the smoother your workflow will be.
  • Compatibility. While most paid video editing applications will support all common sources and recording formats, it still pays to be sure. The last thing you want is to drop $100 or so on a software that won’t even pick up your footage nor output to the format you need.
  • Editing Tools. Most software in this category will use either one of two approaches for editing: multi-track timelines or storyboard. Many paid titles now offer both, but it’s important you get a feel for how well the tools available on the software suit your working preferences. The facilities the software has for specific editing tasks, like automatic trimming, syncing audio with video, and correcting lighting, will be critical to how well you’re able to work with them. Always try a software out before buying — it’s the only way to know whether it will support the things you want to do or hinder them.
  • Documentation and Tech Support. Never underestimate this. No matter how good you think you are with computers, you have no idea what kind of issues you will encounter. This is one of the advantages of popular editing applications, as they usually have established communities of users that you can check online for information even if the documentation and tech support fail you.

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