Roll 'Em; Editing equipment can give your home movies a professional look.


Remember being forced to watch the home videos of Mom and Dad's second honeymoon to Hawaii? It wouldn't have been so bad if you actually got to see the gorgeous volcanoes, sparkling water and cute surfers instead of Dad's shoes, the back of Mom's head and all those fuzzy images that came into focus as soon as the shot changed.

Don't blame Dad. You can't expect him to be a professional cameraman.

People who are still forcing viewers to sit through shaky pictures, shots of everyone's shoes and curses from an inexperienced cameraman may think Hollywood filmmakers with high-tech (and high-priced) equipment are the only ones who can produce a neatly edited video.

With existing technology and a little patience, you can become an accomplished amateur filmmaker and spare your viewers headaches and boredom.

Yes, video editing is here for the masses. In fact, many of the options have been on the market for years. By the time you finish reading this, you'll have a step-by-step guide on how to edit. You'll know how much to spend and where you can find the equipment.

Forget the notion that editing has to cost a lot of money. The cheapest and simplest way takes no more than the equipment you own: your videocassette recorder and video camera. Using this method, you can cut and rearrange your footage to your liking.

Here's how:

Just as you would record something from broadcast television, you simply hook the camera to the VCR through the input slot. When you find the first footage you want to run, hit pause, then get the recorder ready. Hit record, then press play on the camera. Anyone who has copied another tape or taped off the television already knows how to edit this way. It just might not have occurred to you that you could or should improve the overall look of your home video.

When you press record, the VCR automatically rewinds a few seconds on the tape, stops, then begins recording. If you're not careful, you could tape over the last few seconds of the tape you are making. To avoid this, after you stop recording, fast forward just a few seconds. Watch your timer -- five to six seconds will suffice. Then, you can safely record the next section of footage without taping over the last portion of the videotape. Editing this way allows you to cut sections of your home videos that are unnecessary.

To take full advantage of this method, take a few extra seconds of your image when you are shooting with your camcorder. That way, you have some more options of what to put on your final tape, without losing precious images.

Also, each shot should at least be 10 seconds long to give you enough to work with during the editing process. This method also allows you to choose the order of the footage.

And you have the option of using various source tapes to create a single new video. If you wanted to compile footage of all of baby's firsts, you can use old tapes of her first crawl, then add the tape of her first steps and finally edit in her first words. A tape of all these events can be a nice holiday gift for the grandparents.

Although this is the easiest way to edit and requires no extra equipment, it offers the fewest options. You can still create amateurish home videos this way if the camera operator makes a lot of mistakes. The biggest drawback is that your viewers will see an obvious break in your footage at the spots where you cut and added other footage. Sound editing can be messy, if not impossible.

If you want to do a better job, a number of affordable options are just as simple but allow for a little more human error when it comes to shooting.

You have two choices: Use special editing boards, or, since you probably already have a home computer, you may have most of what you need for the next method of editing.

Since the personal computer has replaced the dog and the diamond as man and woman's best friend, many people are probably aware that their PC can help them with their photography and other graphics.

What most people don't know is that computers can also edit moving-picture photography, i.e., home videos.

Many software packages are out there, available at any large software store. These programs allow you to feed your videotape into the computer and do everything from rearranging footage to adding characters, animation, music and narration as well as using special effects.

Two programs for PC owners, Video Wave and VideoStudio, are relatively inexpensive at $100 and allow you all the editing options various editing boards provide. An added advantage is the chance to add animation to your tapes.

Apple owners can take advantage of Final Cut, a program modeled after the AVID program that professionals use. It, too, falls into a reasonable price range.

In order to use this software, the more memory and speed your computer has, the better. Although the minimum requirements are a 166 MHz processor and 16 megabytes of RAM, you really need more. It's best to have 32 megabytes of RAM and a 200 MHz processor. In addition to sufficient hard drive capacity, a special video card is necessary to feed the video from your VCR or camera into the computer.

Digital video cameras are causing a stir with camera buyers, which brings us to new technology for editing. Everything mentioned has been out there for years, but now camera operators are faced with a new option.

Digital cameras do have better-quality resolution, and the footage, after being put through the editing process, comes out cleaner, says David Armstrong of Wolf Camera video sales. Digital video is more popular than the HI-8 format because it yields a finished product with the look of film. Professionals are attracted to digital video because of this quality and its lower-than-film price tag.

However, HI-8 still offers good quality, and editing with either tape has the same requirements and options. The equipment is the same. Digital cameras also allow you to take a still picture from your footage.

For technophobes, or those who don't have adequate computers to run the programs, other options exist. Editing boards sell for $100 to $1,000 at stores that sell video cameras.

Editing boards sit between your VCR and camera. The board contains the technology to produce a series of effects that can alter the footage in the camera before it goes to the final tape. You can watch the editing process on your television.

Editing boards come in different varieties.

A character generator allows you to write titles, dates and other symbols onto a screen. You can even add film credits to your home video. The board looks just like a computer keyboard and is just as easy to use. The catch: All it does is add numbers, letters and symbols in various colors and fonts to your footage, and it's pretty expensive for just that (about $799 by Videonics or $200 by Sima).

Special effects generators are more useful type because they have many options in addition to character capabilities. Not only can you cut and paste footage, as when you use two VCRs, you can do fades, wipes, slow motion and instant replays.

Upscale character generators (like the Videonics MX1 Digital Video Mixer for $1,000) let you edit from four sources at one time. You can put a smaller screen within a screen, make small images get bigger, reverse images, and zoom in and out. There are 250 effects in all. Also, the quality is as close to professional as you can get without spending $100,000 or so for equipment.

If the $1,000 price tag is too high, Sima makes a special effects generator, the SFII, that will allow you to do many of the same effects -- including fades, wipes and dissolves -- for only $200. There are enough effects on the Sima board to keep the home video enthusiast busy.

Even more basic than the SFII is the Edit Master by Sima ($149), which allows you to cut and paste footage as well as add sound. Keep in mind an editing board is an extra piece of equipment, and the editing process can be time-consuming.

Don't lose sight of the fact that the person behind the camera determines the standard of the video. For tips, check out Sima Products' Web site at It offers a section with tips for the home video maker.

Even for those who merely want to document life with a video camera, good editing is worthwhile. Your eyes and your audience will thank you. Who knows, maybe you'll win an Oscar. Just don't forget to mention me in your acceptance speech.

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