Tag Archives: camcorder

A High-End Video Editor for $55

Elements 9 cover

When faculty and staff members ask about video editing software, I have steered them towards Windows Movie Maker because all Windows-based computers have it, it does an OK job and it’s free.  The biggest downside for Windows Movie Maker is that it’s not compatible with every video file type that is generated by consumer cameras, so the shooter may have to use whatever proprietary software that was packaged with the camcorder. This software will probably be very limited and may only allow a video to be transferred to a DVD.  Even if you are able to import your video into Windows Movie Maker, the output options are extremely limited.

For people with newer, more advanced camcorders or high-definition Flip or cell phones, I’ve suggested purchasing Adobe Premiere Elements which is a down-sized and simplified version of Adobe’s professional editing software, Premiere Pro.  I recently downloaded a trial version of latest release of Premiere Elements and put it to the test.

Frankly, I was wowed by its power and versatility!  The complexity of the interface is reduced to make it easier for novice editors, but the functionality is nearly the same as the pro version.  Instead of a dropdown menu where you have to click “File/import”, there is a big, obvious tab labeled “Get Media From” and instead of “File/Export”, there is a tab named “Share” which gives you many options for exporting to DVD, YouTube, Facebook, mobile phones and others.  The default editing interface is called the Sceneline which looks similar to other novice interfaces, but there is a prominent tab that instantly converts it to a “Timeline”, which is the preferred standard for all professional editing programs.

There are many automated features that simplify things for the novice editor and a useful tool named “Smart Fix”, which can help remedy problems with camera shake, lighting and color balance.  You can accept the recommendations then fine tune them further if desired.  There are also many audio features for fixing problems, including audio polish, auto mute, cleaner hum remover, noise fader and noise reducer.

As I edited, I found that Adobe included all of the keyboard shortcuts that are found in Premiere Pro.  I think that this software developer’s rational is great, because if a person wants to pursue video editing to the next level, the transition from Elements to Pro will be much easier.  I would even venture to say that a video professional, say in the wedding video business, could manage with Elements 9 without going to its big brother.  The stand-alone version of Premiere Pro 5.5 is $350 for the academic version and $800 for the commercial version, whereas the street price for Elements 9 is closer to $75.  I even saw a rebate offered that would bring the price down to $55!  Also, if you don’t have a photo-editing solution, you can add Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 in a bundle for under $100.

Camera Accessories for Traveling

It’s summer and time for vacation traveling. If you’re flying to your destination and renting a car, getting your photo gear packed efficiently can be a major concern. Having just returned from such a trip, I’ll pass along some info regarding what I took with me.  First of all, I took just one lens with a wide zoom range for my SLR and left the specialty lenses at home. Since I was in scenic areas, I made sure to take along a circular polarizer. This is essential in producing deep, dark skies and reducing reflections. This is the one filter that you need for every lens in your bag.

I shot 90 percent of my photos with the SLR, but also took along a compact point and shoot for times that I didn’t want to carry a bag.

I brought a Quickpod, which is a small, boom-style extending mounting pole which enables you to mount your camera and extend it away from you to take self-portraits in front of whatever view you like. Using this, you won’t have to ask a stranger to take your picture again! Mine is light-weight, so can only be used with a small camera. It has a small mirror, so you can frame your shot with it, however I found that feature to be useless. You have to use trial and error and practice with it to get your head in the shots. Mine was around $20, but you can spend up to $50 for one that can handle a two pound DSLR.


I also took along a remote wireless shutter release for my DSLR. I decided to get one for doing long exposure photography (to prevent camera shake when tripping the shutter) and to take shots of wildlife where I can be away from the camera. But it also is great for doing self-portraits. I set up my tripod and my wife and I climbed up on a rock in the middle of a creek to get shots that I couldn’t have done otherwise. Phottix makes a variety of these for $25 -$45, which is a fraction of the cost of one made by the major camera companies like Canon or Nikon. The pro units usually work only on IR, but these cheaper ones use radio waves which give you a much longer range. I chose the Phottix Plato which uses the broader 2.4 GHz frequency, so I can be hundreds of feet away if I wish. They come from China and are a bit flimsy, but mine worked flawlessly at a cost one quarter of what the pro companies ask.

Phottix Plato

Another little tripod is called the Gorillapod and is marketed by a company named Joby.  These are extremely light-weight, flexible tripods made of many articulating ball-and-socket joints which enable the user to wrap the legs around things like poles or tree branches.  They also can be stood on a table and used like a normal small tripod.  Mine is made for a small point-and-shoot and cost around $18.  They have sturdier units that can handle cameras and camcorders up to 11 pounds.


For serious photographers who want to make an investment in a tripod, you may want to look into one of the units made by Vortex. 


These are very compact, extremely light weight professional tripods designed for hikers and mountain climbers.  They have as many as 5 leg sections which allow you to fold it to under 15 inches and to extend it out to nearly 5 feet.  I saw these couple of weeks ago while browsing at Fry’s Electronics and was very impressed.  They range from $80 to $300 for a light-weight carbon fiber model…love the carbon fiber, but guess I’ll be sticking to my old steel  legs for now.

Video Recording Tips for Instructors

For instructors who teach on-line classes, putting a face with a name may be a good way for the cyberspace student to feel more of a connection with the instructor and the learning process. A student who sees and hears the instructor will gain knowledge of their personality and retain an image of the instructor which may be beneficial for future communications.

The video may be an introduction or overview of the course and may also contain some biographical information about the instructor. That might be the only video you need for the course, but you might also think about individual chapter introductions, micro lectures, demonstrations or reviews.

If you contact your campus multimedia specialists, we can help do this for you at our facilities. If you have a camcorder and want to do this for yourself in the privacy of your office or home, then you can do that and edit it or bring it to us for editing. If you want us to do the editing, contact us first so we can check for video compatibility.

Following are some tips to consider when doing your video shoot:

  • Set up the camera at eye level if possible. If you don’t have a tripod, you can stack boxes on a table to place the camera. A bean bag can also be useful to fine tune the camera angle.
  • Keep the background as simple as possible to avoid distractions.
  • At home, you might use a couple of lamps with shades to give fill light to your face.
  • Turn off your cell phone and land line ringers.
  • Wear darker, solid color clothes. White and bright colors can “blow out” (lose detail) the highlights on some cameras. These cameras have trouble with tight patterns such as plaids or pinstripes causing the appearance of jiggling or vibrating in the clothes.
  • Avoid jewelry (it can be very reflective) and anything metallic on your wrists because that can make distracting noises when coming in contact with your desk or table top.
  • Frame yourself from just above the top of your head to mid–torso. Most camcorders have flip-out viewfinders that reverse so you can see your image from the front of the camera.
  • Avoid the compositional mistake of leaving too much space (headroom) between the top of your head and the top of the video frame.
  • Use an external microphone if you have one. If not, position the camera closer to you so your voice will override background noises as much as possible.
  • If you have a laptop, you can position the camera lens just over the top of the screen and have notes and topic points visible for prompting. It’s best though, not to rely on this too much because your viewers will know you’re reading if you focus on the screen too long.
  • As far as performance goes, relax, smile frequently and don’t rush the pace. Make eye contact with the camera and don’t shift your eyes from side to side as you may do in the classroom.
  • Review your performance and look for things like excessive clearing of the throat (a sign of nervousness) and saying words like “uh”, “you know” and “like”.

Hopefully, these tips will be an aid in getting started with using video for your on-line classes as well as your face-to-face classes. It may seem like a big effort, but once you have a video finished, you can use it for years to come.