I want to make movies!
Although I was very excited with my Flip Video, I must admit that I started off by thinking of it only in terms of creating "cheap-and-cheerful" video snippets for use as a sort of video diary and also for emailing to my dear old mom in England to keep her up to date with what's going on with me here in the USA.
And then I ran across a very interesting vlog (video blog) by a guy called Kirk Mastin, who used to be a photojournalist and now finds himself a photographer, film maker, and lecturer at the University of Washington (Click Here to see this vlog).
In his vlog, Kirk explains that when he started out, he was always blaming his equipment and saying to himself: "If only I had 'this' or 'that' I could take much better pictures." The vlog goes on to describe an experiment in which Kirk took two videos side-by-side (he strapped the cameras together and took the exact same scenes with both). On the one hand he had a $3200 HD Cannon Camera and a $300 microphone. On the other he had a Flip Video (to record the video) and an iPod equipped with a $60 microphone (to record the sound).
The results surprise everyone who sees them; they certainly surprised me. It may be that the two videos would appear different if presented on a high-end high-resolution display, but if you compare them playing on a computer screen you really can't tell the difference.
This has opened up a whole new set of possibilities for me. I decided that I wanted to make movies like this... and so it began...
First we need an audio recorder
The Flip Video does record audio, but when it comes to full-blown movies we need something extra. As noted above, Kirk used an iPod equipped with a $60 microphone (apparently he claps his hands together at the start of each scene and uses this to help him synchronize the audio).
So, I ambled down to the local MAC Resources store, only to discover that there was no microphone available for use with my modern Flash-based iPod. The folks in the store suggested that I could look on eBay for an old iPod video with the hard disk drive, but experienced has shown me that it's a pain in the rear end to have multiple iPods on the same computer.
Thus, I decided to look for a dedicated MP3/WAV recorder. Good Grief – I hadn't realized these little scamps were so expensive. After rooting around for a while, I decided that the one I really wanted was the Olympus LS-10 Linear PCM Recorder, but this was over $400 at the time, which was way too rich for my blood.
Eventually, following a suggestion from a reader who responded to one of my blogs, I opted for the Zoom H2 Stereo Recorder, which can record in MP3 or WAV formats, and which cost me around $160 from Amazon (Fig 4).
4. Zoom H2 Stereo Recorder.
The more I've played with the Zoom H2, the more impressed I've become. For example, it contains four built-in microphones. You can choose to use the two front microphones in a 90° pickup pattern, or the two rear microphones in a 120° pickup pattern, or all four microphones in a 360° pickup pattern.
I'll describe the way in which I use the Zoom H2 in more detail in Part 2 of this article, but first...
Next we need a tripod
Now, most of the time I end up holding my Flip Video in my hand, but occasionally I want to mount it somewhere and take videos of myself, so I decided that I needed some form of tripod.
Of course, there's no point in having a video camera that's small enough to clip to your belt if you then decide to accompany in with a monster tripod, so I ended up purchasing a Gorillapod Flexible Tripod for a little over $20 (Fig 5).
5. Gorillapod Flexible Tripod.
This is really great, but it's a bit hard to describe (there are also cheaper imitations, but if you read the reviews of the various products you soon realize that you get what you pay for). Basically this is small enough to fit in your jacket pocket. The legs can be bent as required – and they also grip really well – which means that you can stand it on your desk, or attach it to a tree branch, or ... well, whatever you want, really.
We also need a digitizing tablet
As we'll discuss in Part 2, as part of my first film project (whose working title is "Two Stupid Dogs"), I found myself in need of a pen-driven graphics tablet for use with my computer. In addition to adding hand-drawn captions to still images, I needed this to allow me to create hand-drawn titles "on-the-fly" (the effect is really rather cool, but it looks "clunky" if I do it using my mouse).
As usual, I didn't realize these things were so expensive. A lot of them run around $400, which was much more than I could afford. So I bounced over to Amazon and – for only $49 – I discovered the Genius MousePen 6-Inch Graphic Tablet (Fig 6).
6. Genius 6-Inch Graphic Tablet.
I must admit that I was a little worried about this because the Amazon reviews were both good and bad, but this certainly fit my budget so I decided to take the plunge. When it arrived, I immediately plugged it in and loaded the drivers from the accompanying CD. The tablet comes equipped with two controlling devices: a mouse and a "pen". The mouse worked immediately, but the pen was "dead-in-the-water."
Fortunately I remembered that one of the reviews on Amazon addressed this issue. Following the advice in this review, I replaced the battery in the pen and reloaded the latest driver from the Genius website... still nothing happened. So I perused some of the other reviews and, based on what I read, I unplugged the tablet, rebooted my machine, and plugged the tablet in again. This sparked Windows NT to say something like: "Unknown device, shall I find a driver?" So I clicked the box that says "you're allowed to look on the Microsoft website" and set it running...
Wow – the system worked perfectly – it found and installed the correct driver and everything is working as sweetly as one would hope. On the one hand I wish that everything had worked "out of the box"; on the other hand, for the price this tablet has proved to be a really good value (once I got it working)...
But wait, there's more...
In Part 2, I'll discuss the various video editing, video translation, and audio editing tools I'm using, plus I'll be presenting a preview of my "Two Stupid Dogs" film.
In the meantime, I'd like to thank Rich Pell and Cliff Roth, who are the editors of my sister sites Audio DesignLine and Video/Imaging DesignLine, respectively, for their sage advice. Also, I'd like to thank my friend Denis Crowder (www.CroDesign.com) for his help and advice, and I also want to thank all the readers of my blogs who emailed me with helpful suggestions... until next time, have a good one!
Clive "Max" Maxfield is president of TechBites Interactive, a marketing consultancy firm specializing in high technology. Max is the author and co-author of a number of books, including Bebop to the Boolean Boogie (An Unconventional Guide to Electronics) and How Computers Do Math featuring the pedagogical and phantasmagorical virtual DIY Calculator.
Widely regarded as being an expert in all aspects of computing and electronics (at least by his mother), Max was once referred to as "an industry notable" and a "semiconductor design expert" by someone famous who wasn't prompted, coerced, or remunerated in any way. Max can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.