I used PCs on a daily basis for about ten years, but over the last three or four years I’ve become a full-fledged Apple fanboy convert. I buy a new mac about once a year or so and have tried out pretty much every product they’ve released over the last few years. So when Steve Jobs debuted iLife ’08 and mentioned iMovie worked with the new AVCHD format available in $700 Panasonic cameras, I bought one to give it a go.
Today I put all this new software and hardware to the test. I carried the video camera around and shot a few things during a visit to the Oregon Garden. I came home, imported all the clips into iMovie, arranged a few and threw a song on top of it. Finally, I uploaded it to my “Web Gallery”.
Here is the resulting 3 minute movie
Quick review of each aspect
Panasonic HDC-SD1 Camera
This is a great camcorder. I’ve had and used a couple mini-DV camcorders over the last few years and this was easier to use and packed with more features than I was used to. My favorite thing is that it writes all video to a special 4Gb SD card (most card readers can’t understand it, so I just use the included USB cables with the camera). What is great about ditching tapes and simply using a memory card is the unit is much lighter than a camcorder that uses tapes, and if you’re reviewing ten previous recorded clips, say clip 1, and you hit the record button, it’ll start recording clip 11 in the right place (no more fast forwarding or taping over previous video).
It charges fairly fast and video looks fantastic on my 46″ 1080p LCD. I can’t believe a little $750 camcorder can do such nice high def stuff. About the only downside I’ve found in use is the microphone which is about what you’d expect (only works well if someone’s standing directly in front of it speaking) and if I really wanted to film a nice movie I’d need some external microphones.
So far in two weeks of using this, I’m finding that since I don’t have to fumble for tapes or worry if I’m taping over something, and since it’s small and light, I use this much more than my previous camcorders.
iMovie is completely different in the new iLife suite. David Pogue has written a scathing review because they changed everything compared to the old version and actually removed some functionality, but I followed the use-case presented by Jobs in the last Apple demo: I recorded some clips about a trip and assembled them really quickly in the editor. Compared with iMovie ’06, I’d say the new version is much easier and faster to make short videos. I used the previous version on a handful of occasions and found myself using the help files more than the iMovie tools themselves. With iMovie ’08, the things Steve Jobs did in his demo pretty much covers the entire application. I edited my movie in about 20 minutes total, which is at least twice as fast as me doing the same thing in the old version. The “skimming” feature where you mouse over clips is incredible and really handy for testing out sections of clips you want to cut.
.Mac and the Web Gallery
I’ve never been much of a fan or user of the .Mac service. I only had to pay for it once when coworkers used to share some tools and I let my membership lapse until today. So far it seems like a nice backup space to keep 10Gb of files but mostly I wanted it for the tight integration with iMovie. I have to say it’s really, really easy to upload something to your .Mac webspace by simply clicking a menu item and telling iMovie to do its magic. Time will tell if it’s worth keeping for more than a year but so far I really like the photo galleries and movie player pages.