Don Chapman Shares About Cheap Video

My friend, Don Chapman, just shared about his experience of looking for an inexpensive video solution. Here’s his…

My friend, Don Chapman, just shared about his experience of looking for an inexpensive video solution. Here’s his latest article:

Video is the wave of the future – and here’s how your church can inexpensively get in on the action.

Since YouTube and other video sites have exploded over the past few years I’ve wanted to try recording some videos for WorshipIdeas (if you’ve noticed I’ve put several up in the past few weeks.) Even in the past few months I’ve noticed more and more video clips turning up in Google search results and on news websites.

I started my research in late August. It seems there are two extremes in HD video records: $200 and under (inexpensive) and $800 and over (expensive.) Since I just wanted to dabble in video (and didn’t know if I’d even like it) I wanted to go cheap.

The little Flip cameras are popular, but I tend to shy away from the popular as experience has taught me there’s probably something out there not as well known but twice as good.

I learned that a key to great video is to have an external microphone for the best sound quality. Internal mics produce crummy sound with lots of room noise. Unfortunately all the mini, cheap HD video cameras have only internal mics – except one!

The newly released Kodak Zi8 is the only mini HD video camera with an external microphone jack. I overnighted it and started playing with it.

Most of the new WorshipIdeas videos (except for the Kristian Stanfill video) were created on the Zi8. And unbelievably, my latest clip of the Jamestown church was aired yesterday on CBN News!! Let me restate that: a cable news channel just broadcast my clip made from a $180 video camera!! Here’s the clip:

The possibilities are endless for a church – man on the street interviews, skits, website greetings, sermon illustrations… great, clear and crisp Hi-Def video at an affordable price.

The Kodak Zi8 is not hassle free. If you want to shoot videos of your cat dancing and upload them directly from the camera to YouTube, you’ll have no problem. If you want to edit video (on a PC,) you’ll have problems.

I spent an entire day bashing my head against the wall trying to figure out how to get video out of the Kodak into my editing software. Here’s the problem: the video shot is proprietary – it’s in a modified QuickTime MOV format. But even though I installed QuickTime I still couldn’t get the video to work in my Sony Vegas video editing software. The included MediaImpressions software has a lousy editing feature that makes Windows Movie Maker look high-end. So here are the hoops I jump through to make great videos and edit them with the Kodak Zi8:

I bought a $30 lapel mic from Radio Shack. Anything with an 1/8 inch plug (wireless, etc.) will work.

Buy memory. The Zi8 needs a memory card, purchased separately. I got a 16 gig SDHC card and have nowhere near filled it up yet.

Shoot video in 720p (the camera will shoot in 1080p but will not export in an editable form for Sony Vegas.)

Buy a “steadicam.” This is a contraption pros attach to their cameras to make the image steady so they can walk around and get action shots. Even though the Zi8 has image stabilization built in, you really need a steadicam if you’re going to move with the camera and want smooth and professional footage. I bought an amateur steadicam that works wonderfully – the Manfrotto ModoSteady is $99 and props the camera up against my chest for a very steady shot. Notice how I pan across the church in my video – that’s using the ModoSteady.

Once you have shot your video, plug the Zi8 into your computer’s USB slot and copy files to your hard drive. The first time you plug your camera into your computer it will ask you to install the proprietary software.

Convert to MP4. The camera’s videos are in the QuickTime MOV format. Even though I installed QuickTime the videos would play but without sound in Sony Vegas. Launch the MediaImpressions software you’ve installed from the camera and use it to open your videos (browse videos.) Select the videos you want to edit, then click “Media Converter” at the bottom of the screen. Convert settings: Manufacturer=Sony, Select Device Model= Sony PS3, click the edit button, resolution=1280×720, Audio Bitrate=128bps. The software will convert the MOV files into MP4 files.

Convert to AVI. Now that the videos are MP4, Vegas will play sound but not play video! So I found a weird little program, probably coded by some kid in his dorm room, that will strip something or other out of the file and turn it into an AVI file. Download MP4Cam2AVI Easy Converter here:

Now, finally, the video is ready to edit! Sony Vegas works much like Sonar in that you have different tracks to play with – video, audio, music, etc. I create a little bumper graphic, pick the videos I want, fade them in and out, add some compression and EQ to the voice to make it stand out, and throw in a little background music.

If you want to upload your edited video to YouTube, that’s yet another step. A YouTube help page offers rendering suggestions (I render to MP4) and a Google search for “Sony Vegas YouTube” found several settings. I tried a few – one setting rendered fine but when I uploaded the clip to YouTube the sound was out of sync. I tried another and it worked fine.

Whew! If somebody ever figures out how to easily shoot video, edit it and upload it without the hassle of codecs and converting, they’ll be rich.

Bottom Line: The Kodak Zi8 has opened up the world of video to me. Did I mention that within a month of shooting my first video I had a clip on a cable news network? It’s an affordable HD video camera with knockout, broadcast-quality video at a rock-bottom price. It’s the only mini HD recorder with an external microphone jack. PC users will have to jump through hoops to edit videos, Mac users may not have as many issues.