PC Alamode
Reviews Columns Features Archives

 PC Alamode

A Spielburg, you’re not, but you can make movies!

Frank Land retired from GE Financial Assurance where he served as vice president – communications at First Colony Life in Lynchburg, Virginia. He is involved in a variety of volunteer and consulting jobs including Web site administration and maintains both PC and Mac computers. Did I mention, he is also Clarke Bird’s brother-in-law.

Retirees are supposed to have more leisure time, but people are always looking for ways for you to use it. You want to be able to do things that you always wanted to do, but couldn’t while you were working. At least that’s the theory.

Now, you can!

Video editing want-a-bees
When it comes to shooting and editing digital video on your PC, you can do so much today, but, I must confess, it requires an investment — in equipment, software, in a reasonably good computer and you must be willing to devote a fair amount of your time to learn new things. When you do so, your rewards can be most gratifying.

Some people are lucky. They get to “work” with video as part of their regular jobs. For the scope of this article, we’ll direct our attention to those of us who consider it “play . . . the amateurs.”

Getting Into Digital Video
My interest in shooting and editing video resurfaced from a communications career where there had been occasional opportunities to participate on video projects using a professional studio full of expensive linear editing equipment.

The introduction of non-linear digital video editing made movie making possible for nearly anyone with the appropriate tools — to produce movies without spending a fortune.

I had a decent camcorder, but it was analog, purchased just before digital camcorders came along. My analog to digital conversion experience seemed satisfactory until I found out how much easier and better digital video was. Screen distortion and the lower quality of the converted video became unacceptable. Thus my quest began for a digital camcorder.

Looking for a Digital Camcorder
When you research consumer digital camcorders, there are endless sources of useful information. My first recommendation is to learn as much as possible about digital video before you start comparing. Make a list of your requirements including important considerations like, what will you use the camcorder for — a hobby, professionally or both? It depends upon your audience.

Next, decide how much you intend to spend on a camcorder — you’ll find these to be general guidelines: 

  • Under $500: budget consumer
  • $500 – $1000: quality consumer
  • $1,000 – $2,000: prosumer
  • over $2,000: professional

As is the case with most purchases, features usually determine price. Here are some important ones: 

  • Format (mini-DV recommended): Mini DV recording format delivers 3x the color bandwidth of VHS and lower signal to noise ratio compared to analog formats, providing good video performance comparable to DVD.
  • Resolution
  • Video interface – IEEE 1394, USB
  • Zoom
  • Picture stabilization
  • LCD monitor
  • Lens quality
  • Low light capability
  • Color viewfinder
  • Still photo mode
  • Size, weight
  • Audio output
  • And the brand you prefer!
Once you understand what these features do for you, you’ll have a basis for comparison. Numerous Web sites will compare camcorders (see sidebar) based on your choice of features and recommend those that meet your needs. You can then select the brands/models that more nearly fit your budget and these Web sites will run a comparison of like camcorders feature by feature.

Then, making your choice becomes really confusing.

One idea is to read reviews of what people say about the camera they purchased. That can be revealing, but you must consider the person’s motives to determine if they expected too much from their camcorder based on their budget. Some people seek high-end performance from a budget camera.

Some dealer Web sites also review the choices and give you their recommendations as to their idea of best values, best features, etc.

A hands-on inspection is very important before buying. Once you arrive at the camcorders you wish to compare, visit local retail outlets to examine your choice(s) and feel comfortable with the way they feel.

A key consideration for most of us is what we’ll have to pay — there is a wide range of prices on most items. The price may depend on additional accessories thrown in. You can definitely determine what a fair price range is for that product on the Internet.

You may prefer to purchase it locally where you have a live contact to answer your questions and for support. Once you purchase the camcorder, your support will depend upon the manufacturer’s warranty, regardless of where you bought it, unless you purchase an extended warranty.

Before you make a camcorder purchase, it would be naive to think this will give you everything you need for video editing. There are camera accessories (case, extra batteries, cables, etc.) Your computer should have plenty of firepower and storage for large video files.

You’ll also need a video-editing program. Depending upon your project’s requirements, there are many low-end to professional video editing programs that will handle everything from the most elementary home movie to large screen movie production.

Now to the best part
It’s extremely fun and fulfilling to shoot video footage of your favorite subjects: grandchildren, families, travel memories . . . and be able to weave a story about them including adding your favorite music, still shots and transitions into a form which is easy to present and archive.

As you work on projects you’ll get better at it and will try more things. Once the editing process becomes second nature, you can concentrate on filming and presentation. You’ll begin to watch other movies from a different perspective.

Today, it is also much easier to produce your movies in a variety of formats that allow playback through a camcorder to a television set, make a low cost video CD that can be shown on a DVD player, or even produce a DVD of a larger project.

If all of this sounds good to you, I recommend you give it a try, it’s not that difficult and fulfilling – it’s mostly about time.

Camcorder Comparisons

Reliable Digital Sources
Circuit City
J&R Cameras
B&H Photovideo

What you need to know about Desktop Video and The Guide to Buying a DV Camera - by Brian Paul Henderson

Desktopvideo site on About.com (a guide to hundreds of sites)

More is better! The more processor speed, RAM, and hard disk space you can afford will decrease the chances of your system having a problem or dropping frames during video capture.


  • Minimum: PIII 750MHz or greater with 128 MB RAM + 4MB Graphics card
  • Better: PIII 850MHz or greater with 256 MB RAM + 8MB Graphics card
  • Best: P4 1GHz or greater with 512 MB RAM + 16MB Graphics card

Copyright© 1996-2010
Alamo PC Organization, Inc.
San Antonio, TX USA