Digital Cameras - Still & miniDV Digital Video

Digital Still and miniDV Digital Video Cameras This page is devoted to assisting people with the process of selecting Digital Still and miniDV Digital Video Camcorders, hooking them up or transferring the stills or video to a computer and editing them on a computer. I have been using both digital still and video camcorders and editing the digital files for a few years now so I'm hoping people can benefit from a real users real world experience. Last Updated: 23rd January 2004.

Digital Still Camera Digital Video (miniDV) Camcorder
Pricing: In the text below I have sometimes included rough pricing estimates for some items - these prices are generally retail street prices (in the United States in US$ and/or in Australia in AUS$). I generally include this pricing only for comparison - to get a feel for the prices of the products in the professional, prosumer and consumer ranges. Note that many of the expensive professional products (like Adobe and Ulead) have Lite versions as well at a much reduced cost.

Digital Still Cameras There are a number of primary factors to consider when selecting a digital still camera:
  • Image Quality: Not all lens optics, CCD's and digitising conversion routines are the same; this will affect the quality of the resultant image including how faithfully it represents the original. Many manufacturers are known for their colour casts, colour accuracy (or lack), saturation, softness and many other factors. All cameras have some form of distortion from reality - choose the one which distorts the way you like :-). This topic is covered in more detail at the Imaging Resource.

  • Resolution: This is generally quoted by the number of pixels across the image by the number of pixels down. The higher the resolution the more detailed your photos will be. If your main target for the images is for use only on a computer or the web then cameras with lower resolutions (like 640x480, 800x600 or 1024x768) will be satisfactory. If you plan to include these images in digital video productions then you will want 800x600 or above. If you plan to print out your photos (at a reasonable size) on a colour printer and/or plan to do lots of cropping of your images then the higher the resolution the better as it will determine the maximum size you can print your images and have them look photorealistic. For comparison computer monitor displays are generally between 72 and 90 ppi whereas ink-jet printers and scanners are generally in the 300 to 2400 dpi range. Cameras today are often rated in megapixels which represents the number of millions of pixels in the image (calculated by multiplying the number of pixels across and down). An image from a good 1.2 megapixel camera (1280x960) can be printed photorealistically up to about A5 (20cm by 10cm) in size. In comparison a good 35mm slide/negative has around 20 megapixels. Beware some camera manufacturers "fudge" in their marketing by specifying a large megapixel rating but the fine print will show that this is achieved using some form of interpolation technique - you want to compare their raw CCD pixels. This topic is covered in more detail under How Many Pixels do you Need?, Pixels, Dots, and Inches: How Big Can I Print It? and Image Sensors - Capturing the Photograph.

  • JPEG "Quality": Most cameras will have various "quality" settings (often called names like "good", "better" and "best"). Digital cammeras generally store the images in compressed form on the storage card to save space and allow more photos to be taken; JPEG compression (which is lossy - meaning information is thrown away during compression) is often used. The quality setting generally refers to the compression ratio which is used (the higher the compression the more detail is lost and the less clear and detailed the image will look). Not all cameras use the same compression ratios for the three or so quality settings so you may not be able to compare one cameras "best" setting to anothers even if they have the same resolution.

  • Delay: Although cameras have been getting better over the years digital still cameras suffer from startup delay, shutter lag and time between photos - you obviously want all of these to be as short as possible. Put simply:
    • the camera has to boot up when you turn it on and before you can take a picture - this may be a couple of seconds.
    • there may be a noticable delay between when you press the shutter button and when the photo is actually taken - this may be up to a second.
    • it takes time for the camera to digitize the image and transfer the data to the storage card and during this time you can't take another photo - this may take a number of seconds. This generally means that the cameras with uncompressed TIFF options will take longer as it takes a long time to write the 5-8MB file to storage (rather than a 200-1200KB file). Some cameras have a buffer that allows a number of shots to be taken in sequence before writing to the storage card.

  • LCD: Not all LCD screens are created equal - the real test is how they perform out in strong sunlight - can you still see the screen?

  • Zoom: Some cameras have no zoom whilst others have 2, 3 or more times optical zoom and/or some form of digital zoom. If you want/need a zoom make sure it is an optical zoom, digital zoom is practically irrelevant as you will generally just get a very pixelated (blocky) image - you can get better or equally good digital zooming results using an interpolation filter and zooming within your photo editing package on your computer (e.g. Photoshop).

  • Type of Storage Card; there are three main options:
    1. Compact Flash: (Type 1) or (Type II - which generally means you can use the IBM MicroDrive). Can have much greater maximum sizes (96 or 128MB) or much larger for Type II cards. These cards are slightly larger then Smart Media cards but this would be the media format I would recommend.
    2. Smart Media: these cards may be slightly cheaper (although I've noticed that these days anything 16MB and over is the same price as the Compact Flash), they have a more limited maximum size (32 or 64MB) and the interface adaptors for computers can cost more.
    3. Sony Memory Stick: these are generally limited to Sony products so unless you have other Sony products which use these I wouldn't recommend choosing a camera with only this option.

  • Image Transfer: Something to remember with all of this is that for any of the cameras which store large files (especially those with Video or uncompressed TIFF options) you will want some form of higher speed transfer mechanism to get the files into your computer. From slowest to fastest these would be a built in serial cable (really slow), parallel port card reader, built in infrared, built in USB cable or a USB card reader and PCMCIA adaptor/reader. You are going to need the relevant interface type (and possibly and optional card reader) in your computer (and possibly camera) so factor this into your price.

  • Batteries: Digital cameras generally eat through batteries at an alarming rate (expect to only get 50 or so shots and viewings out of a single set of batteries). Seriously consider rechargable (NiMH or LiON) batteries (possibly two sets). Be careful when considering cameras with batteries which can only be charged when in the camera.

  • Macro: Some cameras also have a macro capability (and/or a specified minimum focus distance) - you may want this.

  • Some cameras also have some specialised functions like panorama mode or a mini movie mode (usually a low frame rate, low resolution MPEG movie).

  • Video Out: Most cameras will have some form of (composite) video out which will allow you to hook up the camera to a TV or VCR and allow you to view the images on a television. The only thing to note here is whether the output is PAL (European/Australian) or NTSC (US/Japan) or both (selectable).

  • TIFF: Having uncompressed TIFF option is a good idea for printing (as it gives the best quality) or if you want to edit the photos with a photo editor as there are no compression losses like what you get by opening/editing/saving (possibly multiple times) a JPEG image (which gets worse with each open/edit/save cycle. Note though that uncompressed TIFF files are quite large (often at least 8 times larger than the "best" JPEG setting).

  • I think the floppy option is a bad idea - you'd need far too many floppys with you and with uncompressed TIFF options a single hires TIFF can be about 8MB which obviously won't fit.

  • Like any modern camera there are also a number of other factors which are common to all video and still cameras (whether digital or otherwise), these include things like: quality of the lens optics, metering system (spot, centre weighted, matrix), auto focus system (number of auto focus steps), white balance, ISO equivalence, shutter speed, program modes, manual control, flash, remote control, self timer, quality of viewfinder, quality and ease of use of the inbuilt menu system, quality and ease of use of the camera itself, camera ergonomics and many others - choose the features you require.
Tips, Tricks and other things you need to know
Photo Editing Software
There are a number of excellent software packages you can use to edit your digital images. This includes packages such as Adobe Photoshop (7.0/CS) [US$650/AUS$1400], Adobe Photoshop Elements (2.0) [US$100/AUS$200], JASC Paint Shop Pro (8.0) [US$100/AUS$240], Ulead PhotoImpact (XL) [US$100/AUS$250], Roxio PhotoSuite (5) [US$50/AUS$110] and Microsoft PictureIt! (9.0) [US$50/AUS$80-120]. My pick of the bunch is Adobe Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements).

Photo Editing Techniques
  • Firstly you've probably got JPEG files from your digital camera and if you plan to edit these images (possibly over multiple generations) it is best to open them in your photo editor and immediately save them using a lossless format (like TIFF or PSD). The reason for doing this is that if you open and save a (lossy format) JPEG image over and over you will loose more and more information each time and the image will get progressively worse. Always work in lossless formats and then at the end of your various edit cycles save out whatever versions you require (JPEG, GIF, etc).
  • If you plan to use your images for printing always use the highest resolution available to the image. If however you plan to use the images on computer display (e.g. web pages, email messages) then you will want to ensure that these files are optimised for fast downloading. The main issue here involves reducing the resolution of the image to suit the display medium (computer monitors) and the use of a lossy compression format (most likely JPEG as it is so pervasive) where you must trade off image quality with file size. Both of these factors will assist in reducing the file size of the image and thus the time taken to transmit it over the Internet. Packages such as Adobe photoshop have entire bundled components to assist you doing this but the basic idea is this:
    • For example assume the original image file is a 1280x960 JPEG image - if it was saved at a high quality setting it is probably around 600KB in size.
    • If you plan to have it display on a computer monitor in a web page or in an email message you can first off reduce the resolution to anywhere between 240x180 to 760x570 pixels (the later will be an image which displays almost full screen in a browser window on many computer displays).
    • Next try saving the image at various JPEG quality settings from 20 to 70 (and viewing the result - depending on how much detail is required).
    This should reduce the file size of the image from the original 600KB down to somewhere in the vicinity of 15 to 50KB with minimal visual impact.

What is a CCD?
CCD stands for Charge Coupled Device. This technology has been around for some time and is generally an intergrated circuit chip which acts as a sensor and which records light falling on it - it is used in both Digital Still and Video camcorders. This is the device which actually captures the images. This topic is covered in more detail under Digital Photography Review and Image Sensors - Capturing the Photograph.

Digital Still Camera Links
miniDV Digital Video Camcorders  
Introduction To gain a better understanding of miniDV Digital Video I'll first try to explain some basic terms and put some things into perspective:
  • PAL and NTSC: PAL and NTSC are television standards. Phase Alternate Line is the television and video standard in use in most of Europe, Australia, China and others. It consists of 625 horizontal lines at a field rate of 50 fields per second (two fields equals one complete Frame), only 576 of these lines are used for picture, the rest are used for sync or extra information. National Television Systems Committee is the television and video standard in use in the USA, Canada, Japan and others. It consists of 525 horizontal lines at a field rate of 60 fields per second (30 frames per second (really 29.97)), only 486 of these lines are used for picture.
  • 4:3 and 16:9: 16:9 is wide screen format, the horizontal to vertical ratio is of the fraction 16/9 (this means that the horizontal width of the picture is 1.78 times the height). Standard TV has a 4:3 aspect ratio (here the horizontal width of the picture is 1.33 times the height).
  • Overlay: is a function/ability of the Graphics/Video Display card to display/scale Video from an alternate source to the video card in a window. A video card can do hardware or software overlay, and some cards can do both. Many products use DirectDraw Hardware Overlay so the video card will need to support this feature.
  • Compression and Codecs: Whether using an Analog capture card or a digital camcorder, in most cases when the video is digitised it will be compressed. This is necessary because of the huge amount of data in uncompressed video. A single frame of uncompressed video is 720 x 576 (pixels) x 3 (RGB colour) bytes = ~1.2MB, at 25 frames a second this is over 30MB for every second. The Compression and Decompression of video is done by something called a CoDec, which may be in hardware (e.g. DV camcorders or capture cards) or in software.
  • DV: The DV standard is a (consumer) digital video format. The DV (technically DV25) format has a fixed bitrate (25Mbit/sec) and compression rate 5:1 (there are also higher end DV50 and DV100 formats). DV uses intra-frame compression, which means that each frame is a separate unit and does not depend on any other frame. This is why DV is a good editing format [many people may be familiar with MPEG-2 (which is used on DVD and Satelite TV) which uses both Intra and Inter-frame compression which provides higher levels of compression (it is slow though) which is excellent for video distribution but poor for direct recording and editing of video]. A DV tape is about the size of an audio cassette but consumer users are more familiar with the miniDV tape (and camcorder) which is about half that size and is used in consumer miniDV camcorders.
  • Why DV?: DV has superior images and sound, it provides up to 500 lines of vertical resolution (compared to about 240/250 for VHS) and is about on par with DVD. Not only is the video resolution better but so is the colour accuracy. DV also provides CD quality digital sound at 48Khz/16bit. As the connection to the computer is digital there is no generation loss when transferring DV data. miniDV tapes are very small (although they are expensive) which means that the camcorders can be smaller.
  • Firewire, i.Link and IEEE 1394: Firewire originally was developed by Apple Computer, Inc. as a high speed serial bus, in 1995 a tiny connector showed up on the first DV camcorders shipped by Sony (called i.Link). DV was the killer application for Firewire and in late 1995, Firewire was accepted as a standard by the IEEE, henceforth called IEEE 1394. Firewire is currently a 100, 200 and 400 Mbit bus. Many people think Firewire is DV, but DV is just one application which uses firewire technology (there are firewire hard drives, networking and other devices as well).
    Firewire allows you to directly transfer the digital information (video, audio, time code and device control) between the computer and DV camcorder (via a 6/4 pin cable). If your computer doesn't come with a firewire port you will need to purchase a firewire/IEEE1394 card.
  • How fast must my Compuer be?: Firstly as DV data is a fixed rate your computers buses and capturing hard drive must be able to deal with a sustained data rate of at least 3.7MB/sec (usually quite a bit higher is needed - 5MB/sec). At this data rate DV video will comsume about 1GB of space for every 4 minutes and 45 seconds of footage. The specifications of the minimum computer required for DV editing would generally be:
    • A suitable IEEE1394 interface or card [PCI (V2.1 or later) or CardBus].
    • Depending on the capability of the firewire card [PC - Pentium II 200-350MHz or above] [Mac - PowerPC processor 300 MHz or above]
    • 64MB of RAM (although 128MB or more is HIGHLY recommended).
    • [PC - At least a 4MB video card that supports Direct Draw Overlay and at least 256 colours].
    • One or more suitably fast and large AV rated hard drive(s). Generally this means UltraDMA, SCSI or FireWire.
    • Depending on the type of firewire card you may be limited as to which operating systems are supported [PC - generally Windows 98SE is the most supported, Windows 98, Windows 95, Windows NT (SP4), Windows 2000 and Windows ME] [Mac - MacOS 9.0.4 or later]. If you are using an OHCI card on a PC you must use Windows 98SE, Windows 2000 or Windows ME.
    • [PC - DirectX 6.0 or later] [Mac - QuickTime 4.1.2 or later].
    Especially for DV editing - more RAM, faster CPU's and larger hard drives are better.
For a very good in-depth introduction to and complete guide to working with digital video take a look at Adobe's Digital Video Primer (PDF: 839KB).

Like still cameras there are a number of primary factors to consider when selecting a digital video camcorder:

  • Video and Audio Quality: Not all lens optics, CCD's, microphones and digitising conversion routines are the same; this will affect the quality of the resultant video including how faithfully it represents the original. Many manufacturers are known for their colour casts, colour accuracy (or lack), saturation, softness and many other factors. All cameras have some form of distortion from reality - choose the one which distorts the way you like :-).

  • Zoom: Just as with a still camera a digital video camcorder may have both optical and digital zooms. Generally the optical zoom may range up to 8x, 12x, 16x or 20x and digital zooms may even go as high as 400x. Note that as with still cameras high levels of digital zoom will cause a very pixelated image and should be used with care or preferably not at all. Another thing to note is that levels of zoom above 50x are essentially useless as the blockiness and camera shake are too high.

  • DV-in: If you plan on connecting your camcorder to your computer (via Firewire) and editing your own movies make sure your camcorder supports DV-in as well as DV-out.

  • LCD: Not all LCD screens are created equal - the real test is how they perform out in strong sunlight - can you still see the screen?

  • Image Stabiliser: There are essentially two types of image stabilisation - Optical and Digital. They are both aimed at reducing camera shake and blurry images. Optical is generally regarded as being superior to Digital stabilisation.

  • Digital Stills/Photos: Many DV camcorders can also be used to take digital still photos - it may have a photo mode or it may have a progressive scan mode (or both). Generally the quality of these stills are noticably inferior to dedicated digital still cameras. Depending on what you plan to do with the images it may in fact be better and cheaper to have separate reasonable quality digital still and video camcorders rather than an expensive digital video camcorder that takes stills - basically if you want a digital still camera - buy one :-). If you plan to use your stills only on screen (e.g. the web) then the stills from the DV camcorder should be sufficient - you should determine how easy it will be for you to get these still images into your computer. Many digital video camcorders will (like digital still cameras) quote their CCD's pixel resolution - this will generally only be of interest to you if you plan to use the camcorder for taking stills and/or it uses digital image stabilisation. Note that the resolution of DV is fixed no matter what camcorder you use - it is 720x576 pixels (PAL) or 720x480 (NTSC)

  • Batteries: Digital cameras generally eat through batteries at an alarming rate - you may only get up to 30 minutes worth of use out of a standard battery. You may need to consider this if you plan on filming for hours at a time.

  • Macro: Some cameras also have a macro capability (and/or a specified minimum focus distance) - you may want this.

  • Microphone: The microphone capability will effect the quality of your audio recordings. Things such as whether the camera has a wind mode which provides a low bass filter to cut down on the boomy sound when recording outdoors. Other aspects like microphone placement on the camera body (and whether it picks up the sound of the cameras own mechanical mechanisms) and if the camera has an external microphone jack (if you plan to use one).

  • Some cameras also have some specialised functions like built in digital effects and editing functions. These are usually inferior to the ones available in NLE packages so are only really of interest to those who intend NOT to edit their movies on a computer. Other features like a widescreen 16:9 mode, low light mode, memory cards, microphone sockets and long play may be of use to you. Here is a good description of a number of camcorder features.

  • There are also a number of other factors which are common to all video and still cameras (whether digital or otherwise), these include things like: quality of the lens optics, metering system (spot, centre weighted, matrix), auto focus system (number of auto focus steps), white balance, ISO equivalence, shutter speed, program modes, manual control, flash, remote control, self timer, quality of viewfinder, quality and ease of use of the inbuilt menu system, quality and ease of use of the camcorder itself, camcorder ergonomics and many others - choose the features you require.
Tips, Tricks and other things you need to know
MiniDV Tapes
I recommend that with new (blank) tapes that you record a continuous clip of blank video (just leave the lens cap on) from the start to the end of the tape. This will provide a continuous timecode (datestamp) on the tape which basically formats the tape. It will make life much easier when you record over this (perhaps discontinuously) and then capture the footage via your IEEE 1394 port. I'd also suggest leaving about 10 seconds of blank at the start of the tape (don't start your recording from the exact start of the tape) and to avoid recording all the way to the end of the tape.

Most MiniDV camcorders have the ability to record sound in two channel 48Khz/16bit or four channel 32KHz/12bit audio. The four channel mode allows you to dub an extra audio track onto the tape afterwards. However if you plan to edit this footage on your computer with an NLE package Always use the higher quality 48Khz/16bit mode.

DV IEEE 1394 Cards
There are now a huge range of IEEE 1394 (firewire) cards on the market today. IEEE 1394 cards are available as PCI or CardBus (PCMCIA) cards. As of March 2001 they range in price from [CardBus: US$90/AUS$150 to US$?/AUS$750] [PCI: US$50/AUS$120] to many thousands of dollars.
In the past there was a relatively limited range of specialist card vendors who created their own cards, drivers, NLE (See below for NLE software) plug-ins, software and even all or part NLE software. These packages are typically a complete bundle and often come with one of the major high end NLE packages (Adobe Premiere, Ulead MediaStudio Pro, etc) and some of the commercial plug-ins (Boris, TitleDeko, HollywoodFX, etc). Note: Sometimes only lite (limited functionality) versions are supplied. These cards generally capture to Type 2 DV AVI (see discussion of Media Formats below), are fairly expensive and come from vendors including Canopus (DVRex, DVStorm, DVRaptor & EZDV), Pinnacle Systems (Pro-ONE, DV500, DV300, DV200 & StudioDV), Adaptec (HotConnect), Matrox (RT2500) and ADS Technologies (Pyro). Notes: Users of slower PC's can note that a number of these cards offload some of the processing required to edit your videos online (e.g. DVRaptor and above). The price of these packaged bundles is sometimes good value when you take into consideration the expensive bundled NLE software and plug-ins - this only matters if you don't already have this software.
These days there are a slew of much cheaper no-frills OHCI [Open Host Controller Interface] cards which provide just one or two IEEE 1394 interfaces and very little or no software. They work by using the inbuilt DV driver (Type 1 DV AVI) which comes with Windows 98SE, Windows 2000, Windows ME or Windows XP. The cheaper cards of this nature generally provide nothing else; moving up to the slightly more expensive cards with bundled lower end NLE software (their own or Ulead VideoStudio, Roxio VideoWave, etc) and then onto cards with higher end NLE software.
Other than the above differences there are a number of other common features you can be mindful of when choosing a IEEE 1394 adaptor including:
  • Number of IEEE 1394 ports (usually one, two or three) - two or more is preferred if you plan to use other firewire devices in adition to your camera.
  • Type or ports (4 pin - which is the standard for most miniDV cameras) and (6 pin - which is the standard for most other firewire devices, the extra two pins are for power). Since 6 pin to 4 pin cables are common it is better to have 6 pin connectors on your card.
  • 1394 Cables included.
  • Other bundled software.
  • Computers (Motherboards) and Camcorders that the vendor has tested with.

Optimising Computer Performance
Obviously faster CPU's, more RAM (memory) and faster and larger hard drives will all improve the performance of digital video editing but there are some things you can do with your existing hardware to help improve the video editing experience:
  • Remove, close or disable all extraneous programs that might eat up precious computer resources at an unfortunate moment (screen savers, anti-virus, task-bar programs (clock, etc), tsr programs). You can press the Ctrl-Alt-Del key combination to get to a list of running programs.
  • Use the Control Panels (Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> System) to adjust a number of things like:
    • Setting the paging file size to a fixed size rather than letting windows manage it for you.
    • Connecting your hard drives up correctly and Enabling DMA on your hard drives (detailed information on how to do this is avaliable on the web site).
    • You may consider disabling the Write Cache for certain disks in the Device Manager.
  • Defragment your hard drives (especially the capture disk), it is preferable to have your operating system and software on a different disk (or partition) to your capture disk. If you don't have more than one hard disk, repartition your drive and allocate a dedicated partition for capturing (which can be easily defragmented).
  • Install the latest drivers and software. This includes things like Video and Audio card drivers as well as DirectX 8.

Don't use the firewire cards own camera control tools or your NLE software to capture the individual clips (it takes way too long and produces too much wear and tear on your camcorder having the DV Device Control run the tape back and forth so much to find the exact cut in point). Instead have it capture a big chunk of footage (just hit the "Record/Capture" button in the DV Device Control window whilst playing the tape) or use the freely available VirtualDub software to perform the capture. Then use a freely available program called Scenalyzer to scan and extract the scenes (clips) out of the AVI file [using Timecode (preferred) or Optical scan]. Scenalyzer will even automatically name the clip files by the timecode and produces a clip sheet.

Non Linear Editing (NLE)
Non Linear editing (NLE) is when you edit videos within your computer. Instead of using jog shuttles and special video decks, you simply capture the video to your hard drive. You can then edit and rearrange the scenes by arranging the clips along a timeline on the computer screen much like moving paragraphs around in your favorite word processing program.
There are a number of excellent software packages you can use to edit your digital video movies, including Adobe Premiere (6.5) [PC & Mac] [US$550/AUS$1400], Ulead MediaStudio Pro (6.5) [US$500/AUS$1150] & VideoStudio (6.0) [US$/AUS$230], Sonic Foundry Vegas Video (3.0c) [US$700/AUS$950] & Video Factory (2.0) [US$/AUS$250], Pinnacle Studio (7) [US$500/AUS$260], Discreet CineStream (3.0) [US$500] (was EditDV), MainConcept MainActor (3.65) [US$100], Roxio VideoWave (5) [US$100], Apple Final Cut Pro (3) [US$1000] [Mac] and Apple iMovie (2.0.3) [Free] [Mac]. My pick of the bunch for Windows is Adobe Premiere for the Pro's and Pinnacle Studio for the Home/Consumer users.
These packages fall into two broad categories:
  • Professional; expensive high end NLE's with a great deal of power and flexibility, often with a huge array of editing controls, tracks, titling, transitions, compositing, animation and special effects. These packages are usually extensible through the use of plug-ins but often aren't exactly easy to use so are best suited to experienced editors.
  • Consumer; cheaper lower end NLE's which are extremely easy to use and are great for beginners, but have limited power and functionality.
Note that some Firewire cards come bundled with an NLE package (sometimes one of the above and sometimes the card vendor has their own product).

NLE Special Effects Plug-ins
For the professional user there are a number of excellent software packages you can use to extend the capabilities of your NLE application. These include Boris FX (6.1), Red (2.1), Graffiti (2.0), Pinnacle Hollywood FX (4.5.8), Pixelan SpiceMaster & Spices, Inscriber TitleMotion (4.2), Canopus Xplode & Soft Xplode, Pinnacle TitleDeko and Sonic Foundry Sound Forge (6.0). A quick snapshot and review of a number of the top packages is available at the Videoguys' NLE Plug-in Round-up 2001

Video for the Web, CD, etc
There are a number of excellent software packages you can use to convert your movies into the correct form to place onto the web (Windows Media, Real Media or Quicktime). This includes packages such as Discreet Cleaner (5.1) [US$600]. My pick is Discreet (formerly Terran) Cleaner. Some higher end NLE packages come with plug-ins for streaming media output (e.g. Adobe Premiere comes with Terran Cleaner EZ).

Media Formats: Type 1 and Type 2 AVI files, Quicktime, DirectShow and OHCI
There are essentially three possible media file formats that your captured DV footage will be stored as on your computer: Type 1 and Type 2 DV AVI files or Quicktime.
Microsoft defines two types of DV files as part of the AVI file specification. The older Type 2 DV AVI contains two data streams, a "vids" video stream and an "auds" audio stream. This is the sort of AVI file used by VfW (Video for Windows) compatible applications, including a number of NLE applications on Windows today, including Premiere (5.1 and earlier), After Effects, and the like. A Type 1 DV AVI has neither the "vids" nor the "auds" streams familiar to most VfW compatible applications, but a single "ivas" (interleaved video & audio) stream. Type 1 AVIs are also blessed with the removal of the 2 Gig limit, through an extension of AVI called OpenDML.
With Windows 98 and Windows 2000, Microsoft provides a standard DV codec as part of the DirectShow suite of technologies. The bad news is that the supplied codec will only handle Type 1 DV AVI files.
Older-generation products, like DPS Spark, Canopus Raptor/Rex, Pinnacle DV200/DV300, and the like (and this includes Adobe Premiere through at least version 5.1 running on these boards) read and write Type 2 AVIs. These boards supply their own codecs and VfW utilities and they tend to cost a bit more.
Newer products have appeared at very aggressive prices (1394 DirectShow-compatible OHCI-compliant [Open Host Controller Interface] cards) at a fraction of the cost of seemingly identical older cards. These cards aren't carrying the engineering costs of their own software codecs; they use the DirectShow infrastructure on Win98/Win2k to supply a DV codec. Because they rely on DirectShow, they read and write Type 1 files.
We are in a transition period on the Windows platform between the "pioneer" days of each vendor supplying its own DV infrastructure from the ground up, based on VfW Type 2 precedents, and the "embraced and extended" days where Microsoft has internalised the DV infrastucture (incompatibly so in the process). Unfortunately many NLE applications only deal with one type of file format so make sure all your DV bits and pieces use a compatible file format (Firewire Card, CODEC, NLE Application, other DV software).
Currently there are few convenient ways to go between Type 1 and Type 2 AVIs (there is a DV Converter package). Fortunately, Type 2 tools will install and run happily on the Type 1 Win98/Win2k platforms, and the major application vendors (like Adobe Premiere 6 and Ulead Media Studio Pro 6) have now provided direct support for both Type 1 and Type 2 files, allowing for seamless transcoding, conversion, and use.
QuickTime will read Type 2 AVIs, but not Type 1 AVIs.
The upshot of all this is that today at least you're either in a Type 1 world or a Type 2 world, and never the twain shall meet. So far, at least. Here is further Dicussion on the differences between the two DV AVI file types and an extensive Overview of Video for Windows, DirectShow (ActiveMovie), and AVI.

Making Video CD's
The process of making a VCD involves a number of steps:
  • Capturing and Editing your Movie - see above for what I do.
  • Converting your Movie into VCD compliant MPEG format
    I have tried a number of different methods for doing this including trying all of the following encoders (Panasonic 2.51, Xing 2.20, LSX 3.0, bbmpeg 1.23) as well as using some encoders to resize the original 720x576 PAL DV AVI video down to the required 352x288 PAL VCD MPEG but have determined that the best quality by far is achieved by using the following procedure:
    1. Use the freely available VirtualDub to resize the 720x576 PAL DV AVI file (using Precise Bilinear filter) into a 352x288 PAL Indeo AVI file. VirtualDub's Precise Bilinear resize filter is noticably better than the Panasonic Encoders builtin resize filter.
    2. Then use the Panasonic MPEG1 Encoder to convert the 352x288 PAL Indeo AVI file into a 352x288 PAL VCD compliant MPEG file. The free Tsunami Encoder (TMPGEnc) is also an excellent (if not better) encoder to use.
  • Creating the VCD Menus, etc and Burning the VCD - I use Adaptec Easy CD Creator 4.02 Deluxe to do this - see the link below for an example of this.
Some useful Video CD links include:
Digital Video Links If you are interested in DVD technology then you may wish to take a look at my pick of the Best DVD Sites links page.
My Digital Configuration I have used the following hardware and software configurations:
Digital Still Camera
Nikon Coolpix 995 & WC-E63 (24mm) Wide Angle Converter Lens & TC-E2 2x Telephoto Converter Lens & FC-E8 (8mm) Fisheye Converter Lens
Nikon Coolpix 900
Digital miniDV Camcorder
Canon MV-20i (this is the PAL version of the Elura in the US)
Manfrotto 190PRO Tripod with 460MG Head
IBM ThinkPad A31p Laptop, P4 1.8GHz, 1024MB RAM, 60GB Ultra IDE drive, 64MB Radeon FireGL 7800 video card, 15in 1600x1200 TFT display, builtin OHCI Firewire, Adaptec CardBus UltraSCSI controller and external 6 x 36GB 10K RPM Ultra SCSI drives
Operating System(s)
Windows XP
Firewire Card(s)
Built in OHCI, Pinnacle miroVideo DV200 and Canopus DVRaptor
Photo Editing Software
Adobe Photoshop (Versions 4.0, 5.0, 5.5, 6.0, 7.0 & CS)
Non Linear Editing Software
Adobe Premiere (Versions 5.1c, 6.0, 6.5 & 7.0)
  I've taken some sample photos with the Nikon Coolpix 995 with both the standard lens and also in conjunction with the following lens converters: Nikon FC-E8 (8mm) Fisheye Converter Lens, Nikon WC-E63 (24mm) Wide Angle Converter Lens and Nikon TC-E2 2x Telephoto Converter Lens.

I have also been creating Panoramic photos using a digital camera and special stitching software. These Panoramas let you see a full interactive 360 virtual reality view that you can pan around and up and down as well as zoom in and out of as if you were standing at the centre of the scene. Please feel free to take a look.

Canopus (DVRaptor) Issues and Tips
Using Premiere 6 with Canopus (DVRaptor)
If you plan to use your Canopus (DVRaptor) card with Adobe Premiere 6 then you should: Currently most things in Premiere 6 are supported with the Canopus (DVRaptor) card except most notably the new Audio Mixer function.

Rodney Campbell
Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002