Quick Tip: External Hard Drives and iMovie


For those with a lot of footage or projects clogging your hard drive, iMovie '09 made declogging substantially easier by letting you store both events and footage on external drives. But there are some limitations, mysterious in nature because the iMovie documentation doesn't detail them. If your external drive is connected, shows up in the Project and Event lists in iMovie, but has a yellow caution symbol next to it, let's dispel the mystery with two important tips:

  1. Your drive needs to be formatted as Mac OS Extended or Mac OS Extended (Journaled), formats otherwise known as HFS+. If it's FAT-formatted, for example, you have a drive that iMovie will display in its list while taunting you with the caution symbol. If this is your problem, you'll need to use Disk Utility in your Applications->Utilities folder to reformat the offending external drive. Remember, "reformat" is the obscure technical term for "ERASE!"
  2. Your drive needs to be fast enough. Where does iMovie draw the line? Well, thumb drives and network drives are automatically disqualified. Editing video requires a lot of bandwidth between your computer and the drive storing the video footage. Thumb drives and network drives are usually too pokey. I'm told you can overcome this limitation with symbolic links, but at your own peril. If you don't know what symlinks are, this will tell you more than you need to know.
Hopefully these two little tips will get your footage and projects right where you want them.


What Camera Do You Use for iMovie?


I occasionally get requests for camera recommendations, especially as they relate to iMovie. I thought it would be interesting to pose the question to everyone:

What camera do you use with iMovie and why?

In my family, we've used a Canon TX1 for almost two years. It's a hybrid that shoots 7 megapixel stills and 720p video. Our favorite thing is its size, which means we use it all the time, taking it with us most places we go. The 10x zoom is great and the controls make it really easy to shoot either pics or video without having to fiddle with switches. The video files, though large, work great in iMovie.

We don't like its low light performance, which is pretty poor. We've also dropped it and had it repaired twice, once under warranty and once out of warranty, but Canon does a quick turn around and the repair cost didn't break the bank.

It's definitely not a camera for everyone, if for no other reason than its ergonomics. But my perfect, family-friendly camera would shoot stills and HD video and would fit comfortably in my pocket, so this comes pretty dang close. (Plus, we bought it *new* for around $300, which was a hard deal to pass up.)

Please take a moment to tell us what camera you use with iMovie and why.


Great Deal: Creative Vado HD for $129


I know I just spent a whole post questioning the viability of these little devices with the iPhone 3G[S] coming, but this deal is definitely worth passing on.

Today only (June 16), Amazon is selling the Creative Vado HD for just $129. That's $100 off the list price. This little camera shoots 720p in h.264 and has 8GBs of storage built in. That translates to two hours of footage before it fills up.

Despite the great deal on this camera, it's not quite ideal. To get the iMovie compatibility, you'll need to transcode the files it produces with something like Quicktime Pro or MPEG Streamclip, a free video conversion utility. This isn't a perfect situation, but a lot of Mac users seem to like this camera in spite of this drawback. It will definitely do the trick until the iPhone HD comes out next year.


Quick Tip: Uploading to Vimeo and the iMovie '09 Vimeo Group


Just because you can upload your iMovie projects straight to YouTube doesn't mean you have to. Video sharing site, Vimeo, offers a lot of great features, and a much sleeker site design than the clutter you get at YouTube.com.

Uploading to Vimeo is a snap once you've exported the right kind of Quicktime file. Vimeo also supports your HD movies beautifully. For more information, these are the recommended compression settings. And here's a nice tutorial for preparing HD content. (It's covers iMovie '08, but the instructions work for iMovie '09.)

With all of this in mind, David Day has started an iMovie '09 Vimeo group, organized just for iMovie '09 users to share what they've made. Follow this link to sign up:

iMovie '09 Vimeo Group

I think my favorite thing about Vimeo is that it's a lot less to do with webcam rants and much more to do with making cool stuff. Without a doubt, it's a great place to go for iMovie-made inspiration. I'll leave you with this great example by pictureimage:

Speedy Juices from pictureimage on Vimeo.


iPhone 3GS - Flip Killer?


My sister-in-law just bought a Kodak Zi6, and she loves it. The 720p clips work well in iMovie, the camera is small and incredibly easy to use. She paid about $140 for it. More importantly, she gets the camera out a lot more than she did before, meaning that all kinds of great family stuff is preserved. She considered the Flip, too, and settled on the Zi6 mostly because it was cheaper for the features.

The success of these compact video cameras has everything to do with simplicity and size. They're easy to shoot with and easy to carry. According to David Pogue, Flip's little camera took 13 percent of the camcorder market just one year after launch. As the old saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you.

But today Apple announced the new iPhone, called the iPhone 3GS. Among its new features is video recording. Not only can you record video, but you can edit it (notice the thumbnail editing, a la iMovie) and upload your clips to the world via YouTube and MobileMe, or just send them to someone via email or MMS. All on the phone.

If I was Cisco (who bought Pure Digital, makers of the Flip) or Kodak, I'd be feeling pretty anxious about all of this. After all, with the exception of no HD recording, the iPhone's video abilities look pretty dang impressive: auto-white-balance, auto-focus, in-device editing, geotagging, and in-device uploading. All of that, plus an iPhone, for $200.

True, the iPhone 3GS only shoots in VGA (640x480, presumably), but so does the low-end Flip Ultra, which has an MSRP of $149 and just 4GBs of storage. Assuming that you'll use 8GB for apps, music, and the like, the iPhone 3GS leaves another 8GBs for you to record video.

Now, there's a lot we don't know. Actual quality, file sizes, and the like could make or break this feature. But even if the iPhone's video quality needs improving, you can count on Apple improving it. I wouldn't be surprised next year to see a 32GB iPhone that shoots 720p. (Samsung already has a mobile phone that can do this.)

If it's true that the best camera is the one you have with you, then the entire camcorder industry should get a pretty good little shakeup from the new iPhone. No doubt, a year from now Cisco, Creative Labs, and Kodak will have new editions for their Flip, Vado, and Z series, but they won't be throwing in an iPhone to go with them.


iMovie v.8.0.3: More than meets the eye


We all know how secretive Apple is about unreleased products, but it's especially striking how quiet they can be with released products. As noted by myself, and others, iMovie updates often have a lot more to them than Apple lets on.

Since the update went out yesterday, I've learned about a huge new list of fixes and features in this version. Here is the detailed rundown:

Ken Burns now works with video clips.
How cool is this? Instead of simply zooming in on part of a clip, you can now dynamically pan and zoom within a clip while it plays. Of course, because of the way the feature works, you can only move the effect in one direction within a clip. If you want to move in then out, just split the clip into two pieces and apply a different Ken Burns effect on the second bit. Whatever you do with it, this will make your pans and zooms look like you did them with professional film equipment. Here's a little sample.

Manual audio fades can now last up to 5 seconds long.
This is a huge deal because the previous limit was only two seconds.

Editing to the beat works with automatic transitions.
Again, a really big deal. Because of the way beat markers worked (a.k.a. didn't work) with transitions, editing a project to the beat meant you had to either go without transitions or spend forever adjusting your timings. Now iMovie can add automatic transitions and keep the cuts to the beat. Because of the way that transitions shorten clips, if you plan on removing automatically added transitions, keep an eye on the effect it has on your cut timings.

One other oddity about this feature is that with automatic transitions turned on, selecting too much footage will cause iMovie to skip over beat markers. It appears that you need to be sure to select less footage than there is time between beats. This is not the case with automatic transitions turned off. In that case, any size selection will downsize to the next beat marker.

You can optimize processor-intensive video clips.
Scrubbing video clips in processor-heavy formats like h.264 can really bog down your Mac, defeating the purpose of scrubbing altogether. (Flip HD cameras shoot in just such a format.) Now you can optimize these video clips with a new menu option (File->Optimize Video). Choosing this prompts iMovie to convert the selected clip(s) into Apple Intermediate Codec, which makes for bigger files, but ones that scrub and preview more smoothly. You can optimize either in full quality, preserving HD resolutions, or downgrade optimized clips to Apple's favorite HD alternative, 960x540.

Turning off automatic transitions maintains project duration.
This fixes a bug that otherwise wreaked havoc on your clip timings.

Overall stability and speed have improved.
You'll probably find improvements in theme and map rendering times, playback, and app launching time.

My understanding that other bugs have been squashed like screen sleep messing things up and free space estimates being incorrect. Altogether, this is a very impressive X.x.x update.


iMovie Software Update: Version 8.0.3


Check your Software Update and you'll find a lot of iLife goodies, not least of which is the newest iMovie update. Version 8.0.3 brings a few handy fixes:

  • * Support for 720p AVCHD Lite cameras and camcorders. (For those of you buying any of the newer cameras that use AVCHD Lite, like the Panasonic Lumix TS1, iMovie will now properly support the format. There had been speed/sync issues before. I was looking into a post on workarounds when this update fixed it.)

  • * Deleting a beat marker no longer modifies the project duration

  • * Video Effects palette now uses the correct thumbnail for still images.
As usual, please let us know in the comments if you notice any other performance or feature changes with this update.