Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lessons learned from the Feldman File videoblog

I produced five episodes of the Feldman File videoblog from late October to early December, in part as a challenge to see how much I could do with inexpensive, consumer-grade hardware and software. I put the videoblog on hold after five episodes because viewership dropped below the level where it made sense to continue producing it in its current format. However, I learned a few things that may be helpful to you:
  • It's perfectly reasonable to use an inexpensive, Flip-style camcorder to shoot a videoblog, and the results are much better than using a webcam. The camcorder I chose was Sanyo's VP-CG102. It's priced about the same as a Flip, but it has a monitor that folds out and turns 180 degrees, so that I can check framing and focus without jury-rigging mirrors.

    However, I ran into problems with the Sanyo when I shot some green-screen footage. The footage looked fine by itself, but when I composited it with a background image in iMovie '11, it looked terrible. Noise levels were very high.
  • iMovie '11 is a great video editor for its price, but there's very little control over "trick features" such as green screen mattes. You get what you get. Rather than move to a more expensive editing package, I did some investigation and purchased FXhome's CompositeLab Pro. It offers much more control over the quality of mattes and only costs $149. (If you're also interested in video effects, take a look at their VisionLab Studio, which combines the green screen compositing of CompositeLab with visual effects and color grading, for $349.)

    That improved, but didn't eliminate, the noise problems. The real solution will be to replace the Sanyo with a better camcorder.
  • Singular Software's DualEyes is a real life-saver. It allows me to record audio on a separate recorder and sync the audio tracks from the recorder and camcorder automatically. Manually syncing the tracks would have taken hours per episode.
  • If I were starting all over, knowing what I know now, I'd spend the money on a better camcorder.  I probably could make do with iMovie '11's green screen capabilities, and could record usable audio directly from the camcorder, eliminating the need for an external audio recorder and DualEyes.

Here's the final list of software that I used for the videoblog:
  • Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Fireworks (creating graphics, title slides, lower thirds, etc.)
  • Adobe Audition (editing audio tracks, noise reduction, EQ, etc.)
  • Apple iMovie '11 (video editing)
  • Apple Keynote (displaying title slides)
  • Singular Software DualEyes (synchronizing camcorder footage with separately-recorded audio)
  • FXhome CompositeLab Pro (compositing green screen footage)
I owned the Adobe applications before I began, so I ended up purchasing Apple's iWork and iLife suites, DualEyes and CompositeLab Pro specifically for this project. There were two other practical lessons that I learned:
  • There has to be more visual interest than just pictures of products and text slides. The comment that I got most often was "Why can't I see you?". I went to a narration-only format after a few episodes, but viewers like to see people.
  • I've been doing everything myself, but it's much easier if you have at least one other person helping you.
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