NYT’s Pogue Agrees: Tapeless Camcorders Not All They’re Cracked Up To Be

Ever since DVD-R and hard drive based camcorders came on the scene I’ve been pointing out that their supposed convenience is outweighed by the difficulty of editing the video files they create. To me, being able to edit the video you shoot is the reason to have a digital camcorder. I don’t know too many people who want to sit through an hour of unedited wedding, graduation or birthday party footage, with minute upon minute of boring, poorly shot non-action punctuated by the occasional interesting moment. Even an hour of mostly horrible footage can be edited down to an interesting minute that neatly sums up a special occasion.

If you’re shooting video for documentary, news, blogging or creative purposes the ability to edit is even more important. But even the hard drive camcorders don’t make this easy because they use highly compressed file formats designed for delivery, not editing.

The New York Times’ tech columnist David Pogue makes these same points, plus a few more, in a recent column, “Beware the Tapeless Camcorder”:

In theory, tapeless camcorders ought to be ideal companions to editing software…

In practice, the story isn’t quite so simple. The AVCHD format wasn’t designed for editing; it was designed to cram a lot of video data into as little storage space as possible. Its footage is heavily encoded, and only a few editing programs can handle it. …

Most Windows programs, like Pinnacle, can edit AVCHD without conversion; instead, you experience short delays each time you try to play a clip or apply a transition.

But to edit AVCHD smoothly in any of these programs, you need a serious, honking slab of computer.

Pogue also takes up the problem of archiving your finished video, since your only real storage format is DVD, which has an unknown useful lifespan. Whereas, with miniDV tapes, Pogues notes that they are “are self-archiving; once a tape is full, you can just stick it in a drawer.”

I’m glad to see these issues addressed in such a major mainstream publication like the Times. In my day job as an educational media producer I have to deal with the problem of these tapeless camcorders on a regular basis. Well-meaning, but clueless faculty buy them thinking it will make it easier to get their video online, only to learn it makes it harder. Then I’m the guy who has to try and clean up the mess.

The flip-side of the problem is that good consumer-level miniDV camcorders are drying up. We’re being left with just cheap, entry-level models with no microphone jacks or headphone jacks–two things I believe are absolutely indispensable for anyone doing remotely serious work–at the low end. And then there are very high-quality prosumer cams at the high end, over $1200. Gone are the good $800 miniDV consumer cams that had mic and headphone jacks and some decent manual control and picture quality, replaced by DVD and hard drive cams that leave you without easily edited video.

I hope we’ll see a second generation of editing software that will handle AVCHD video soon, because the current generation isn’t good enough for serious work.



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