Saturday, April 25, 2009

iMovie '09 Stabilizes Me

This "make a movie from scratch" thing is entirely new to me, but every project is a learning experience. I've learned a little bit about composition, and a bit about lighting, and a LOT about how to use iMovie for something it's not meant for.

iMovie is a video editing tool that is part of Apple's iLife, a suite of integrated multi-media products. You get iLife for free when you buy a Macintosh so a lot of people create their home video projects using iMovie. It's a hell of a lot cheaper than Apple's professional offering (Final Cut Pro).

But why should Apple bother to even SELL Final Cut Pro if people are happy to simply use iMovie? Well, Final Cut Pro is marketed to the professional video editor, and iMovie is marketed to hobbyists. And for that reason, before Apple releases a new version of iMovie, they usually go into it with a stick and beat everything useful out of it.

Even so, if you have a little bit of ingenuity (and an awful lot of patience) you can stretch iMovie beyond its limits and create -- say -- all the videos I've been putting online for the last two years.

This week, however, I ran up against something new: shaky video. In the past I have always filmed footage using a tripod, but now that I'm trying something radically different -- which you'll see soon if it works out halfway decent -- I actually had to take my teeny-tiny camera (a Canon PowerShot SD1000) outside and shoot things by hand...on a windy day.

Despite the wind, there's apparently a growing problem with cameras getting smaller and smaller: tiny, light cameras are hard to hold without shaking them. When I got my hard-filmed footage home and looked at it on my computer I absolutely freaked: it wobbled all over the place, rendering all my focus and detail into an incomprehensible stew!

Short of hiring a steadycam operator I had only one recourse: to upgrade to iMovie '09, which -- besides a whole whack of other new features -- allows you to stabilize shaky video. It analyzes your clip, tracks the motion, and then zooms in JUST ENOUGH to crop out the edges while moving in the opposite direction of the shake.

People are raving about this feature, and about iMovie '09 in general. The thing is, you can only buy iMovie '09 as an integrated iLife '09 package, and this costs (in Canada) $100.

That would be fine if I actually USED anything in iLife other than iMovie and iPhoto, or if there were an existing upgrade path from the relatively pathetic iMovie '08 (which is what I've been using for the past year)...but no. As the folks in our local Apple store said, "There's no upgrade path, but the suite is WAY cheaper than anything you'd get from another company."

Plus there is simply no other game in town. All the other video editors for the Mac are either crappy or vapourware.

So I bought iLife '09 yesterday and installed it late last night. It came to life instantly and worked perfectly. And when I instructed it to stabilize one of my shaky clips -- which it does at about half the speed of the clip itself -- it...holy wow, it WORKED! It looked PERFECT!

I've stabilized half the footage I shot yesterday and it has all come out clean: no shake, no weirdness, just a smoothly-flowing image. All my carefully-filmed details are visible again. iMovie '09 -- despite its slightly galling price -- did exactly what it promised to do.

How often can you say that about software these days? And I haven't even looked at all the OTHER features yet.

Apple, I quite often love ya.

1 comment:

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