Thursday, December 10, 2009

Amateur Video for dummies

Video is a logical progression from still images. Sometimes the actions and words of your subjects are more striking than an image frozen in time. I have had many "movie" cameras over the years back in the days of 8mm where you had to wind up your spring motor and turn your film over half way. Then came super 8 which was in a cartridge. It was very expensive for a young person starting out in life, around $10, per 3 minute roll, without benefit of sound. Then you had to purchase a projector, screen and those expensive projection bulbs. When camcorders appeared they were called digital "8", then came Hi-8. The resolution of VHS tape was around 220 lines and Hi-8 increased that to over 400 lines (per something). Most amateurs don't really edit their movies, they somehow just transfer them to another medium for display. I remember when I had my digital 8 I had to analogue the signal over to a VHS video recorder to transfer over the "raw" unedited clips in real time. Editing was performed by cueing the recorder at various points to basically eliminate the unwanted sections. I have had more than one mini-DV tape camcorder which didn't really get a lot of use as editing was a very daunting task to undertake with no one to show you. The best I could do was to transfer the Raw clips over to a DVD through my DVD recorder using a Firewire cable. No titles, no transitions, nothing.

About a year ago I decided that I wanted to mount a camera on my bike for some "rolling" video. I was lucky to have found a waterproof, shock resistant model which used "flash" memory (SDHC). Because of vibration I thought that it would not be prudent to get anything that had a mechanism for recording. This eliminated Hard Drive or DVD models.

Here is a video which I took last year on my return trip from Kelowna on my Suzuki SV650nK4. It was taken with a Panasonic SDR-SW20 on SP (around 6 Mbps). With a 16 Gig SDHC card it can record up to 7-1/2hrs of modified Mpeg4, sort of a modified H.264. It produces .MOD files which require conversion before it can be imported into Windows Movie Maker (WMM)

There are not a lot of options when using WMM. Your video has to be .AVI to import and edit and when you export to YouTube it converts your file to .FLV (Flash video). Also when saving to your computer it automatically downsizes the resolution from 640x480p to 360x240p, then upsizes it to 425x344p which further degrades the video experience. Everything is working against you to produce a sharp video image. In the player (above), I resized the window back to 360x240p to "help" the resolution, smaller appears sharper

I had a goal to use all the freeware/shareware I could muster on the internet to do my videos. Then there was the matter of finding all the codecs necessary for Windows Media Player (WMP) to play them. I notice that FREE codecs are now available, but 2 years ago I had to pay US$30. to purchase a .MOD to .AVI converter. For some reason VLC plays virtually everything and can also recognize 16:9 ratio . I have been working with Dave: Travels with a Honda Transalp to get his camera working and he has produced some excellent video using WMM. I don't know what make of Chinese Camera he has but the video is smooth and sharp which puts mine to shame.

I have changed software. For the past 2 years I have used all the free stuff I could find and was a WMM user but I just got tired of having that "freeze" up all the time. You can't complain to anyone because it came free with your operating system but they are also not upgrading it, nor providing support. I notice from the forums that everyone is having problems with it freezing up. My work around for this is to frequently save. Then when it freezes up all you have to do is to shutdown your computer by holding the power button until it stops, then restart, load WMM and re-open your project. I also found that if you rebooted your computer before starting any project and didn't go back and forth on your timeline too often it worked better. Earlier this year I actually purchased Adobe Premiere Elements 7 but couldn't get it to work, so I just put it on the shelf and forgot about it. When Dave started posting up his beautiful video I got the package out re-installed it and managed to get it working.

WMM has no project settings. You just import an .AVI file and it works. You are limited in your output/sharing options. With Adobe Premiere Elements (PREL) there are presets for every project dependant upon the format of your source video. I locked myself up with my computer for the past 3-4 days and experimented with each preset and found out what makes this program tick. I think there is a problem with importing .MOD files into PREL . I get poor results using the correct presets, and also get poor results saving to .FLV which YouTube prefers.

I also notice a lot of problems with resizing the video. I thought that if I started out with a 640x480p and downsampled to 360x240p that the results would be sharper, but they are much, much worse. I have experimented with most settings and by trial and error discovered which one is the least worse. Notice that I didn't say best.

All of my test videos were taken with my new Canon FS200 in SP which is 6 Mbps. I did one test at XP which is 9 Mbps which I think is test#3. I was trying to economize with storage capacities and don't think they will make much difference as I am setting the streaming output to 2.5 Mbps anyway. All source resolution is 640x480p. Here is the first test clip resized to 360x240p

Forget what the title says, it was set at 360x240p and streaming at 1.5 Mbps . I reduced the player to match the resolution of the output. Whenever you resize anything, .jpg or .avi or .mov you are throwing away original pixels. You have NO control over which pixels are being discarded. They could be adjacent pixels or pixels which affect sharpness. The general rule is to shoot close to the resolution required for the purpose so that if you have to resize down (or up) it would have minimum effect as to your finished project. I got a much better result keeping the output the same as the input (source), but changed the bit rate to reduce file size. Here is test#2

This time I kept the output at 640x480p and increased the player to the same size. It doesn't seem to make any difference but I selected 4:3 ratio this time and the video is streaming at 2.5 Mbps . I think that PREL is having trouble detecting the correct aspect ratio on .MOD files. When I select the wide screen option when starting a project the video is very muddy and barely viewable.

I'm not sure if you are aware but compressed video formats such as H.264 or derivatives have a key frame, and the following frame(s) only contain "changed" information until there is a scene change, in which case there will be another Key frame. If you happen to delete a key frame, then all subsequent frames related to that scene are removed too.

Here is test clip #3. the only difference here is the source video was taken at 9 Mbps and I made a custom preset to output at 4:3 ratio even though the video specs were recognized at 16:9 . The video is streaming at 2.5 Mbps

I love video and the fact that you can experience the thrill of being there. I also think that videos are much better than panoramas as you are more able to view the environment and surroundings. Try it and you make like it too.


  1. Bob, How you can write about making videos for the web without swearing once is a testament to your patience.....Just why, in this day and age does this simple operation remain so difficult.

    WMM is the best in a kinda weird way, but then the constant crashing really puts you off, Microsoft missed a trick not developing WMM just a little more, its about 80% there, just needs a few more editing features, stable software and it would be perfect.

    There are some plug-ins you can buy for WMM, but not here in Turkey because all software is pirated no matter what computer shop you go in. No one has found a 100% un-detectable crack code for windows yet, you need this for the validation process.....theres always something lol.

    BOB: the first vid on the bike, was the camera behind the screen, the sound quality was outstanding, very rare for a bike video!!



  2. Bob

    I can see from this post and your U Tube channel that you are an acomplished movie maker!

    On a practical note, how do you control the camera whilst on the move?

    Now, the potter's wheel - this is a reference to something used in the 60s on BRitish TV during intermissions where a short film was played showing a potter forming a sensuous pot from sexy wet clay....There was some strange music too but I don't remember what that was!

    Have a good weekend

  3. Dave:

    as you know, WMM outputs/saves the file with its preset parameters which is 360x240p and the highest bit rate available for selection is 1.5 Mbps . The source video is 640x480p. Now with PREL I can set the output to whatever I desire. I should have re-edited this video and showed you the difference.

    As mentioned, the Panasonic SDR-SW20 is waterproof and shockproof. I have it mounted on the right mirror stem using U-clam and other bits from "Ram-mounts" ( It is exposed directly to the air and is not behind any windscreen. It is in a waterproof housing but there is no way to connect to the electrics of the bike as you have to open a sealed (rubber gasket) panel to access the DC in plug, which makes it NOT waterproof anymore. The camera records in Dolby stereo. Often there are problems with wind noise, there is a setting for WIND CUT which is turned ON.


    I started the channel when I first got serious with video editing. The very first video was my "test" and was done using a Canon SD700is still camera in movie mode. It only had a max resolution of 360x240p.
    I have a prev post somewhere called "Rolling Video" with pictures of how the camera is mounted using Ram-mounts. I fix the camera in a forward position to "film" the road ahead and don't touch it anymore. The camera moves with the handlebars, other than that it is Fixed in one position.

  4. Dear Bobskoot:

    After reading this post four times, I reached the conclusion that you and I speak a different language. All I want to do is point the camera... Down load the video to my vomputer... Download the video to my blog.

    There has to be a method by which this can be derived by clicking "install" or something.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  5. I'm with Jack on this.


    Just kidding though. What a marvelous display of your experiences and expertise with videos. I have yet to try a video on my blog yet, but have been thinking about it. I have copied this post for safekeeping and will refer back to it when I make my first attempt.

    You the Man!!

  6. I'm gaining a whole new respect for you, Mr. Bobskoot!

    I've thought about doing video from the bike both in normal riding and in training exercises.

    Have to keep this post for reference over the next few months.

  7. Bob,
    Video being a different "animal" compared to still photography presents unique challenges and I admire your expertise in both. I've also had some moments while riding when I've thought a video would be nice. Great post. Thank you!

  8. Hi BOB,

    I got hold of Cyberlink power Director 8 today...pruduced the worst result I've ever had and that was keeping it on YT setting..WMM is still the best so far, might try Coral or Adobe tomorrow.

    I left the result on my YT channel if you want to look, but I will be deleting soon lol.



  9. Jack "r":

    When I started my YT channel I didn't know that much about it either. I started out using my still camera in video mode. Then I purchased a Camcorder with flash memory which had an unusual file structure, then the learning started


    Sometimes sound and action bring the scene alive & sometimes the image should be in B&W . You are the artist to determine how it should be presented.


    I found that it wasn't very safe to attempt taking still pictures while "Rolling". You are trying to fiddle with your camera with only your right hand on the throttle and looking at that screen instead of the road and watch for hazards ahead. Plus cameras aren't meant to be operated with your left hand. Often I would have to hold it upside down.
    I decided one day that it was easier to set up a camcorder. It is fixed in position directed at the road ahead and I just turn it on and off when I see something interesting. Plus you can just edit out what you don't want.
    For me, it was a safer way to document your ride.


    I am a hobbyist. When I undertake a project I read everything I can then experiment until I figure it out. The same principles of composition are in play and it is nice to see your pictures "come to life"


    After using Premiere Elements 7, I will say that it runs rings around WMM, and I have been using WMM for nearly 2 years. Once you figure it out it is easy and it doesn't freeze up.
    Your videos have a lot of Pixelating in the foreground. It seems that your resolution is too low, or the lens is not focusing on the foreground. I had similar results converting to .FLV
    My test videos are now output as MPEG2 2.5 Mbps 640x480p. I'm not worried about file size as YT has increased to 2 gig max
    My Canon SD780is has 720p HD video mode, I'm going to do a sample clip to see how it goes. Probably at the Seattle Motorcycle Show tomorrow.

  10. Dear Bobskoot:

    We have Comcast here at the house. That means we get 2200 channels(all showing the same four movies). I couldn't find a YT channel among them.

    Please advise.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  11. Bob, I also hate WMM. The constant crashing drove me nuts. Windows 7 has a Windows Live Movie Maker which hasn't crashed on me yet and actually works pretty well.

  12. Bob,

    Very instructive! I really enjoyed riding pillion with you on the 'cycle trip! I bought a helmet cam a couple of years ago--used it once or twice. I'm now inspired to give it another go 'round. Thanks.

  13. Bob, you might find this interesting:

    Something to look forward to..


  14. Your videos are a lot more bearable than most which wobble,carry the sound of wind in the mike and and lack any kind of editing.However i can only watch three seconds of road unspool before my brtain wanders.
    ( I enjoyed watching the cyclist look backwards as though asking himself why you were filming the skyscrapers on the horizon).
    I think video works best for family movies. And the technical stuff? Arrgh.

  15. Thanks Bob for the tutorial. I hope to get into video someday to chronicle my rides.

  16. Jack "r":

    Wow, you sure get lots of channels. We had a problem with our digital cable box a while ago so we downsized to a handful of channels and don't really miss it much.


    I must be missing a codec or something on WMM. Everytime I try to import any clip, it just sits there and thinks for a while before starting. Premiere Elements has a lot of options that WMM doesn't have


    I also purchased a Helmet Cam a few years ago, but other than testing it, it just sits unused. I have an Archos 604 with helmet cam attachment. There is a velcro head band. It looks sort of like a "bullet" shape and records mpeq4 640x480p. I think the Archos has a 40 gig HD. I also have a smaller unit Archos 404 with 30 Gig HD. They are PVR's and I used to use them to record TV shows.
    I can't believe that we have the same tastes . . .

    Mr Conchscooter:

    Each type of media presentation has their place and you use the best one for the circumstance. Often you just can't beat sounds and movement to experience the moment.


    I think if you try it, you will like it. The editing is a problem because of all the different formats, unlike still photos which are all .JPG

    Missed you at the MC Show . . .

  17. bobskoot,

    I mounted mine on the bike handlebars and only used the thing once or twice. I'm determined to ride next season with it--or something better suited. Same taste? know what they say about great minds ;-)

  18. Bob, I am a complete novice when it comes to shooting video on my motorcycle. I am thinking of doing some of this on my upcoming motorcycle tour of the USA.

    Having read your post on the subject, it is clear to me that you know a considerable amount about this, so I want to take advantage of that and ask you a few basic questions!

    Given what you now know, if you were starting from scratch, what camera would you use? The GoPro Motorsports Hero ( good to me, but I have no experience to judge it against.

    Next, how have you overcome the problem of vibration of your bike - is there a trick to this?

    What software would you now recommend for editing videos?

    Is it right to call them videos? That seems wrong to me. Film clips?

    Like you I want to post my videos onto my blog, but I don't have a clue how to do this. From looking at your clips, I see a You Tube logo on them. Would I be correct in thinking you first upload them onto You Tube, then link to that in some way?

    I hope you don't mind me asking!

    Many thanks.

    Gary France

  19. Gary: I know you're looking for Bob's comment, and he does know a bit about cameras!

    I have been thinking of adding video to my blog as well and decided against the hero after seeing some of the video locally. Instead, I am thinking about this one: VholdR ContourHD 1080p:

    Flickr and Youtube both can take HD video and integrate into your blog, but I think I'd choose youtube because of the wider audience.

  20. Thanks Chris. I have taken a look at the ContourHD. Very usefully they have a side-by-side comparison chart on their website that compares the ContourHD with the GoPro HD. The two are almost identical except the Contour is slightly more user configurable, they have different outputs (.mov with the Contour and .mp4 with the GoPro), the GoPro has a wider lens, the GoPro has a larger maximum memory card capacity, the GoPro weighs more. The Contour comes with its own editing software.

    I have looked at the output of the GoPro on the web and its quality is fantastic. Also, I think they have really cracked the problem with wind noise.

    So, that leaves me in a dilemma. Which should I go for, which I guess is going to be driven by which is the easiest to use, which is the easiest to edit and upload, which is the best to fix to a bike or helmet. Having seen clips from people using cameras on their helmets when on a bike, I probably won’t go for this as you need to keep your head pretty still to avoid the clip jumping about a lot.

    I wonder if the difference between .mov and .mp4 is significant? Also, is a wider lens better for on-bike filming?

    I’d like to hear what views people have, including Bob.

    Gary France