Shooting video with a still camera

Last summer, we were on a family camping trip in the Canadian Rockies.

I saw hardly anyone using a video camera and I was bewildered at no one using video cameras anymore?

I guess I can be a little dense – it hit me that everyone is now taking their videos with smart phones and still cameras. Hello? Duh!

I got religion and bought a factory refurbished Canon SX1 at a very deep discount. The good news is – the camera exceeds my expectations and cost a huge amount less than the fancy DSLRs. Its not the DSLR’s price that will kill you – its that you’ll soon need a $600 lens, and then a $1200 lens … and pretty soon you are broke.

The SX1 does everything those cameras do except – no interchangeable lens (which can be a good thing), no where near the narrow depth of field of DSLR, better low light performance and … well, unless you shoot professionally and need huge blow ups and narrow depth of field, the SX1 is just fine.

The bad news is that I’ve been much too busy to make much use of the SX1 yet 🙁

In good light, the camera’s 1920×1080/30p video is outstanding. I took the camera down to a nearby river and shot video of some geese and ducks and the images were stunning.

But in low light, not so good! Too noisy for me. Regardless, I bought this camera to replace carrying both a video camera and a still camera when I am out hiking or doing other activities. Its perfect for activities like these.

It won’t replace my video camera though. For controlling exposure, using external mics, recording long events, or shooting 24p – the video cameras still rule.

Link to sample video – available in 1920x1080p at the link. The compression artifacts you see are from YouTube, not from the original video.

Oh, the SX1 is primarily a still image camera and takes very good still images. The main problem with any of these CMOS cameras is the noise (graininess) of the stills goes up rapidly and can be annoying at ISO 400 and up. This is true of all small imager cameras. Those images can be cleaned up remarkably well with noise removal software like NeatImage. ISO 400 and 800 images can end up looking near perfect after processing with NeatImage.

Do you need 1920x1080p? While I notice the difference between 1920×1080 and 1280×720, most people do not.  Many people do not even have a way to watch their own videos in full 1920x1080p.

Therefore, you can save a lot by buying a Canon SX20 or SX30, which shoot 1280×720/30p. Both run about 25 Mbps compressed video data rates, which is more bits per pixel than the 1920×1080 – but with fewer overall bits for disk storage and time spent editing on your computer. There are many camera choices available for taking 1280x720p video – and you may be just as pleased with those results as with 1920×1080/30p.

MAGIX Movie Edit Pro – video editing software

MAGIX Movie Edit Pro – video editing software.

I sprung for the “Plus” version of Magix Movie Edit Pro 17 Plus, from German software company, Magix. Runs on Windows.

I’ve only used it for a bit to do some “toy editing” of a mixed group of AVCHD files of different sizes and from different sources. Trying to make things hard for the program! Everything worked fine and was able to edit the AVCHD files natively on my $400 quad core Windows 7 box. I output to both 1280×720 and 1920×1080 MP4 files to watch on the computer and on a computer connected to the HDTV – excellent results.

The program has a unique user interface in that it can be operated in “movie clip” mode, like iMovie, or timeline mode, like Final Cut Pro, Sony Vegas or Adobe Premiere. I found this interface very slick – I could string together whole clips quickly in “clip” view then switch to the time line and do more precise edits, create cross dissolves, etc. Creating dissolves is very easy and, by default, is set to automatic: just drag the edge of one clip over the edge of another and Movie Edit Pro automatically sets up a dissovle.

I’ve used only a few features such as image stabilization (worked VERY well for my test clips – better than the similar feature in Vegas).

I have not yet done a lot with this program – there are tons of filters, effects, and titling options, including “3D titles”. Oh, and there is even 3D video editing too. If you have two video streams, say from identical side by side cameras, you can stitch them together to make a red/blue (glasses) 3D video to play on your computer or your TV. Can’t wait ’til have time to try that out.

Overall, so far, I am very pleased. The regular price is $99 for the “Pro” version. The program delivers capabilities costing far more than that from other vendors.

Magix merged with Xara, the UK company that makes several programs for graphic design, photo editing, web layout and more. I own the Xara Xtreme designer and like it quite a bit. It is inexpensive and does most everything the “really expensive” packages do.