Editing HD video from DSLRs: why the right software (CS5) is better than a hardware upgrade

Camera labs by Gordon Lang

The widespread availability of HD video recording on everything from mobile phones to DSLRs has seen us capturing events in better quality than ever before. DSLRs in particular have proven a revelation in movie capture: what they lack in video ergonomics and ease of focusing is more than made up for in flexibility and sheer quality. Indeed many professional film and television producers are adopting DSLRs for a variety of tasks from backup cameras to primary capture devices.

It sure is an exciting time, but the HD dream can quickly become shattered when it comes to editing your footage. Files which smoothly play back on the cameras which captured them can see even the fastest computers grind to a halt. Editing footage feels like wading through treacle; preview windows stutter and jerk; effects and transitions crawl; final renders could tie-up your system for hours.

It's enough to put many people off HD video and stick with the considerably lower demands of standard definition instead. But don't be disheartened: I went through exactly the same journey and finally discovered a configuration which could edit even the toughest HD content with relative ease. Surprisingly it didn't require an investment in the latest and greatest hardware either. In this article I'll share my tips on the configuration which now allows me to easily edit HD video from the latest DSLRs or camcorders - and using hardware from late 2007.

Before going any further, a quick disclaimer: this is neither a detailed review nor a group test of video editing products. I'm simply sharing the one solution which worked for me personally under Microsoft Windows. There are of course many other video editing programs available, not to mention alternative platforms, most notably the Apple Mac. I won't be writing about these here, but hope to try out and compare HD video editing on modern Macs in a future article. In the meantime, anyone who has recommendations on editing HD video on Macs or alternative PC platforms, please tell us all about them in our forum thread which accompanies this article; conversely, feel free to ask any questions concerning this article in the same thread.

Work harder or smarter?
I'll admit to being both perplexed and dismayed by my first attempts at editing HD footage from DSLRs. I had a pretty decent PC running Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 under Windows Vista 64 bit on a 3GHz Quad Core CPU with 8GB RAM. It was a fairly modern and respectable configuration, but one which became intolerably slow when fed 1080p footage from DSLRs. read more...

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