Capturing Video Footage

Post-Production | By: indie

Once you’ve come across that magic moment and gotten it on film (or tape, or hard disk space) you need to get that footage onto your workstation so you can edit it. That is, unless you’re using in-camera editing. This process is called capturing video footage, and is simply the means by which you transfer the footage to a place where you can alter it in some way from its original format, length, sequential order, and/or quality.

Hard disk cameras are the easiest to capture from, because instead of having to play your tape or DVD back and record that footage as a digital video file in real-time, you can simply drag and drop the files from the camera’s hard drive to your workstation. It’s essentially the same thing as getting photos off of a digital camera – once you’re connected, you can pull up a folder view of all the files available and grab whichever ones you want.

With any other technology, you’ll need to sit down and connect your camera to your computer workstation and choose the segments you want to use. You could watch the tape and assemble a detailed shot list, complete with timecode locations for each one. This may be necessary if you were not present or behind the camera during a particular shoot, in fact.

Chances are that if you were in the director’s or cameraman’s role, you have a pretty clear idea of what footage you got.

Make the Connection

The first thing to do is decide how you’re going to make the connection between your device and the computer/workstation. RCA connectors, for example, can go through a mini-plug or DVI jack on your camera and be plugged into a breakout box or sound card, depending on the hardware you have on your machine for capturing video footage. For detailed hardware specs, check out the digital workstations page.

An S-Video cable will transmit good footage, but it cannot carry sound. USB technology is fast and reliable, but firewire is better. Choose your connection method based on the resources you have and the available interface on your camera.

Transfer and Device Control

There are lots of good programs out there that will capture video footage. Most editing software has its own built-in capture application, and my favorite is Pinnacle Studio’s Capture tab. Certain types of graphics cards may also come with software utilities that allow you to capture from an external connection on the card itself. MainConcept’s MPEG Encoder also has a capture utility, and it’s one of the better ones I’ve used in the past.

If you have an older analog camera, tape location and recording are going to be two separate functions for you. Your play, stop, fast-forward and rewind will have to be set on the camera, while the record function is controlled on your capture software.

Newer digital cameras are manufactured with a feature called device control, which detects when their output jacks are connected to an exportable source. Within the capture software (as long as it also has the ability to use device control) you’ll have an interface that mimics the buttons on the camera and will let you control the play/pause/stop and tape location from your computer.

From Footage to Filesize

Think of capturing like filming, except you are recording exactly what’s on the device’s media a second time to a digital file. Your capture settings are what will now determine the video’s resolution, frame rate, quality, and bandwidth – the amount of space needed to store a video file.

Some video formats, like MPEG, have variable bandwidth settings that let the size shrink or expand within certain parameters based on the number of colors and the speed of motion within a given set of frames. More so than audio, a video’s file size can vary widely, and the largest uncompressed videos can take up large amounts of space on your workstation.

Changes in quality are also much more readily apparent in video as opposed to audio. Even with the slightest amount of compression, digital video can begin to show artifacts in the form of squaring or pixelation. You’ll need to learn how to make a video so that you know what to look for when these digital artifacts appear.

The Rule of Quality

A digital signal can never be made better than its previous iteration. In other words, it’s virtually impossible to get a clear, crisp result if your original capture is of poor quality.

It’s like if you pour a bottle of water into a glass; it will never be more purely water than when it first emerged from the bottle. As you drink it and carry it around with you, the bacteria from your mouth, any contaminants on the glass itself, dust from the air and any other particles that come in contact with the water continue to depurify it.

Without boiling or some other purification method, you have no way to make your glass of water live up to a sealed bottle. In the digital world, there is no purification method that doesn’t further alter the footage from its original source. There are plenty of filters and effects you can add to clean up certain aspects of the image, but they’ll all change the fundamental make-up of the footage. So start with your best possible source to achieve your best results.

Getting the Right Stuff

You may find that you’re watching and re-watching segments as you capture them, or that you’re having some trouble starting and stopping at the right points. If most of your footage is at least usable and your storage volume is sufficient, you may prefer to simply start capture and record an entire tape or disc in one go.

This is fine, but be aware that all the little pieces you don’t end up using will be taking up space on your workstation for as long as you want to keep your project file working in your editor. When you edit a video, it isn’t actually imported into your project file – the project simply references the copy of the video wherever it is stored on your hard drive.

This means that if you move the file, delete it, change the file name, or change any folder name along the file path, your editing software isn’t going to be able to find it and it will ask you what’s going on. Capturing in small segments can be a lot more time consuming, but if space is at all an issue then it’s the best way to go – even if you are working on a more lengthy piece.

You can also organize your work better if you have several clips and you can more easily find and access them. That way you won’t have to scrub through a super-long piece of footage trying to find the segment or shot you need. In most situations, capturing video footage is a process determined by whichever connections and technologies are available to you, but hopefully this gives you at least an overview of the basics.

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