Just as with images, there is a production workflow to creating video. By necessity, I am holding the focus of this to productions achievable by those with “prosumer” or entry-level professional equipment: I will not have the opportunity to tell you how to shoot, edit and produce a Hollywood blockbuster.)

General tips:

  • Make sure you can get video from the camera onto the computer and application(s) you want to use for editing. This step is often assumed to be true, and then found out not to be the case 24 hours before the project is due. Shoot 10 seconds of video and test it before doing anything else.
  • Shoot at the highest quality/resolution possible: while it’s possible to down-rez video, quality always suffers when you try to increase resolution after shooting.
  • Determine what your resolution is and stick to it. Make sure that all cameras use the same settings for resolution, fields/frames per second, codec, aspect ratio, etc. Prosumer cameras will not (as of this writing) have a lossless codec option for recording video, but you may be able to set the recording codec to a higher quality / less compression setting.
  • As much as possible, record audio separately, or with a separate mike. Microphones on prosumer cameras universally suck.
  • Always shoot more footage than you think you will need.
  • Back up your footage: burn the raw footage to DVD or copy it to a hard drive.

Assemble your clips and resources together in the editor(s) you wish to use. When you are ready to output the final video:

  • Make sure the resolution and frame rate is appropriate for the media you wish to use (DVD, Blu-Ray, web, etc).
  • Ensure that the height and width of your final output video is divisible by 32. (Most codecs work on 32 × 32 pixel blocks. If you have extra “half-blocks” of pixels the efficiency of the codec will be lowered substantially.)
  • Ensure that the codec you wish to use is appropriate for the media format. If in doubt, H.264 is usually your friend.
  • Video Compression SettingsThe next step is vitally important: do not make the same mistake with compressing video that people make with JPEGs. That is, most people glance at the output compression settings for their video editor, see “high quality” at one end of a slider, mentally respond with “High quality? I want that!”, drag the slider to that end position, and output the video. They receive instant gratification, as output takes relatively little time. They do not realize that their final product is a huge file that will probably stutter in playback.

(A good rule of thumb: you are probably aware that most movie rips are 700MB in size. Most movies are 110 minutes in length. If you have a five minute video that is 1GB or more in size, you don’t know what the hell you are doing.)

So what do you do instead? The same thing you should do when compressing bitmap images as JPEGs: move that “quality” slider (which should really be labeled “level of compression”, with “no compression” on the right) towards the left, to approximately the 20% position. Most video editors will offer a preview mode of the output of the video under the currently chosen settings. Use it, paying particular attention to the quality of scenes with high color contrast (white on black, red on white, etc) or fast movement. (If the editor does not feature a preview, set the in and out points of your video around short scenes with the qualities I have mentioned and export these clips to test for quality). If the video output is acceptable quality, move the slider down another 5% (if unacceptable, up 5%) and look again. Balance visual quality with optimum compression, choose compression settings for the audio track at the same time using similar metrics, then output the video at your chosen settings.

High compression settings will result in a small file size with smooth playback, but will take time to achieve. Make sure you manage your editing schedule to complete this process.

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