New Drivers for Digital Video Editing: A Personal View

My experience over the past year with digital video (DV) makes me wonder if the market is changing in important ways that are perhaps not being picked up by the market. Like so many parents, I bought my first camcorder after the birth of my first child. My wife and I took lots of video the first few years, and I spent many, many, many hours turning the first couple of years into a decent—but not great—movie. By the time my son turned six, I had four years of partially edited video and was falling further behind even though we were taking less video and I had better software. Suddenly, a year ago I started taking a lot more video and within days turned it into dozens of five to eight minute videos kids and adults love to watch.
I don’t have a whole lot more time on my hands, so what changed? Hint: the difference is not the fabulous editing software now available for consumers, nor any of the snazzy little DV cameras on the market. It is more fundamental than that.
It’s the camera that makes all the difference. It’s my ultra-compact, mid-price digital still camera that also takes video.
My nice analog camcorder has been on the shelf since the day I bought my Canon SD400. The Canon is not an expensive camera, but it takes unlimited 30 frames per second 640×480 video (near DVD quality) that is double the resolution of the camcorder. Better yet, it fits in a shirt pocket, so it is easy to have on hand. Not only does it take better video, it’s easier to use than my camcorder.
Editing Software Can’t Make a Bad Director Good
What does this mean for the consumer video editing market? The big problem with consumer video—and it is a really big problem—is that no amount of fancy software can fix badly shot video. In fact, I think that traditional camcorders encourage people to take bad video. Trying to edit bad video is painful, VERY time-consuming and, perhaps most importantly, ultimately fruitless. Because editing is so difficult, people never move down the learning curve and the category fails to live up to its potential. Sound familiar?
The latest generation of digital still cameras won’t turn an Ed Wood into a Cecil B. DeMille, but they do make it easier to capture and edit the good elements needed for success. More importantly, they help people move down the learning curve to the point where they are encouraged by initial successes and they actually get better. There are several factors at work:

  • Limited storage
  • Discrete files
  • Easier import

Limited storage is an enabler. You don’t have to think when you have a two-hour tape; but you do have to think when you’re limited to 10-20 minutes of capture. While I don’t storyboard out my kid’s birthday party, I do find myself composing shots and giving thought to the finished video while I have the camera in hand. Since I am taking lots of short shots, it‘s easy to experiment with a few, and I’m learning to take better video each time I fire up the camera.
SD card media is easy to import into my workspace. DV cameras were a big improvement over analog capture cards, but popping an SD card into my computer is easier still. Since I never bought a DV camera, I went straight from time-consuming analog capture to SD card. Wow!
Discrete files make organization easy. I think the impact of this one is undervalued. Having my video “pre-chunked” into small, logical segments makes organization, review and composition of the final video much easier. I get better results with less frustration.
The latest crop of consumer and prosumer DV editing software makes the editing process easier and less technical, but they don’t do anything to help consumers advance beyond the cycle of “garbage in, garbage out” due to poor incoming video. As a result, the consumer DV editing market trails perhaps only the pen-computing market in the number of times it has failed to meet expectations.
Am I a typical consumer when it comes to digital video? No, and I don’t claim to speak for average consumers. Video editing will remain a niche market for some time, as even editing well-composed video consumes large amounts of time. That said, I think the three factors above have the potential to dramatically change the DV editing market and open it up to the next level of potential.

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