Gift guide for amateur video producers

Dan Fellini
D. Fellini|12.17.08

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Gift guide for amateur video producers
We all have a friend of family member obsessed with posting videos on YouTube. Their cats, dogs, babies and whatever else are all fodder for two minutes of teh funny. This holiday season, help them improve their craft and produce the next big viral hit with these gift suggestions.

Quality editing software is not cheap. So it's surprising, actually, that Final Cut Express 4 is reasonably priced ($199US) for the amount of power it packs. I recommend this over cheaper options like iMovie for two reasons. First, it's an extremely capable application that isn't missing much from its much pricer big brother. An amateur video producer won't quickly grow bored of its capabilities. Second, and more important, if the person you are giving this to has any ambitions of becoming a professional, familiarity with the Final Cut way of doing things will be a huge advantage in the marketplace.

We are all too aware that the iPhone, in its unjailbroken state, doesn't record video. That doesn't mean it can't be used as a tool in video production. Slate is a simple application that replaces the iconic clapping chalk slate used for years throughout Hollywood. Reviewers in the App Store have some legit complaints about it, but it's still a fun application with a bunch of potential.


Let's face it. You're not going to drop almost $5,000US on this badboy. (Note to wife: want!) But how about under $150US for a camera that captures 60 minutes of video, at decent quality, requiring no tapes or memory cards, and fits in your front pocket? Enter the Flip Video family of cameras.

These little machines aren't going to do it for professionals, but for amateurs looking to record precious family moments or spontaneous news events, it'll do the trick nicely. And it's called a Flip for a reason -- it has a USB connector integrated into its design. It flips out and, with a little bit of adjusting (a dozen or so business cards tucked under one side of a MacBook) it connects easily to just about any computer.

Flip Video last month announced a high-def version of the camera called the MinoHD. It sells for about $229US. There's also a competing Kodak camera, the Zi6, that has a fanbase of its own.

One of the best presents you can give an aspiring video producer -- besides a gig at LucasFilm -- is more hard drive space. Digital video consumes sick amounts of storage. Luckily, hard drives in the terabyte range are coming into the realm of affordability. A quick poke around shows a few options for under $150US. Some of these may not cut it for actual production work, as speed is of the essence, but for nearline storage, they'll do the trick quite nicely.

Stocking Stuffers
Last-minute shoppers rejoice. There are many cheap, easy-to-order products out there with which you can fill your aspiring video producer's stocking.
  • Mini tripod -- Shaky video is distracting when it's not intentional. A tiny, tabletop tripod is very handy for any videographer to have in his bag of tricks; newer Flip Video cameras have a tripod mount built in.
  • Personal telepromter -- I saw this demoed last year at a conference and I was blown away. It works great with any Mac laptop with a built-in iSight camera, it's cheap, and it's very cool.
  • Snowball -- No, not the frozen kind. The Blue Snowball mic is one of my favorite pieces of post-production kit. It's great for laying down voiceovers, and works equally well for recording audio for video podcasts. It's a USB mic, so it's not going to hook up to a camcorder, but for studio work it gets the job done in style.
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