HomeSoftwareArchiveTop TipsGlossaryOther Stuff







Most newcomers to video movie-makers come to editing by a fairly haphazard route. Rick Maybury suggests there are better ways, all it takes is a little planning



Editing -- it's the bogeyman of video, evoking a range of emotions in camcorder owners, from fear to fascination. Even after all these years this essentially simple procedure is still surrounded by far too much confusion and controversy; all too often editing is the factor that decides whether a camcorder is used and enjoyed, or consigned to the bottom of a cupboard


Most newcomers to video movie-making have few preconceptions about editing, it's only after they've used their camcorder for a while they become aware of a desire to cut out naturally occurring mistakes that bedevil the first attempts. That's the point when editing can become another interesting path to follow, or a barrier to further progress. It's a mistake to suppose that the make, model or cost of a camcorder is entirely to blame, we know of plenty of  people putting together professional-looking productions with nothing more elaborate than a basic camcorder, VCR and TV, though clearly technology has an important role to play.


How then can new or prospective camcorder owners avoid the editing-trap? The first hurdle is to understand how video editing actually works. It really is very simple: the camcorder is connected to VCR by an AV (audio & video) lead, this is normally supplied with the camcorder, (the exact procedure is usually explained in both the VCR and camcorder's instructions). Wanted scenes are then played back on the camcorder, and re-recorded, one at a time, on the VCR. The final edited recording will thus be assembled from just the scenes you want, in the order you want them to appear; for obvious reasons this technique is known as 'assembly' editing.


Editing only becomes complicated when an attempt is made to simplify it, and that usually means automating all or part of the process with a device known as an edit controller. Edit controllers are wonderful gadgets, they centralise control of both the source (playback) and destination (record) decks and can be enormously helpful for large-scale productions, involving lots of separate scenes, but they're by no means essential for the average home video movie-maker, which is just as well as the majority of camcorders do not have the necessary connections or terminals, that will allow them to work with edit controllers.


Okay, editing is simple, we've established that, but sooner or later it's going to rear its ugly head, so what can we do about it? The best way is to tackle editing is head-on, with the system approach, that means using the right equipment for the job. It sounds like common-sense but you have to be careful, editing and editing equipment is aggressively marketed and the if's, but's and maybe's are not always very well explained, and it's very easy to end up with wholly inappropriate products.


There are basically three ways to put together an video editing system; the clean slate approach, mixing and matching with existing equipment, and the one-make system, we'll look at each of them in turn.



A clean slate means you're in the market for a sensibly-priced camcorder and VCR, and editing -- now or in the future -- should be one of your priorities; we'll assume that you already have a reasonably serviceable TV. Most camcorders do not have any editing facilities worth talking about, but be careful, a lot of features sound as though they might have something to do with assembly editing. The worst offender is the 'edit switch', this is actually meant to improve the stability of recorded copies, but you would be surprised how few camcorder sales-people seem to know that! Syncro edit can be another source of confusion; it's a marginally useful feature that simplifies transferral of single scenes from a camcorder to a VCR, but normally only when both the camcorder and VCR come from the same manufacturer. Again, don't be misled, by ill-informed shop assistants.


The two features you should be seeking out are an edit terminal, or an on-board assemble edit system, sometimes called 'random' assemble edit. Edit terminals are for connecting the camcorder to an edit controller, and yes, we did say earlier they're not strictly necessary for home video-movie-makers, but look upon them as a form of

future-proofing  or insurance, against the possibility that one day you might want to get serious about editing. There are two types of edit terminal, Control L (also known as LANC), this is only found on 8mm machines; the other one is known as the Panasonic '5/11-pin' or RMC terminal, and they're more or less exclusive to Panasonic equipment, and a few badge-engineered machines made for Philips and Bauer.


Traditionally editing terminals have only been fitted to mid-market and top-end machines, though they have appeared on a couple of budget-priced models. Sony camcorders are generally very dependable though one of their latest machines -- the CS5, due out this Spring -- doesn't have one as standard, but an optional adaptor will be available. 


If we impose a price ceiling of around 1,000, for a camcorder and VCR, then our choice of edit-oriented camcorders would be the Panasonic NV-S20, Sanyo VM-EX20 and Sony TR303.


On-board edit controllers are a fairly recent innovation and so far only four machines have it. The first one, launched last Summer, is the Sanyo EX30, it has been followed by the JVC AX55 and most recently the GR-SZ1 and AX75. There have been several other Sanyo models, based on the EX30 but the editing facility is an optional extra; the same applies to the JVC AX35, which can also be upgraded. They're all easy to use and the results are generally good. We're happy to commend any of these machines to newcomers looking for no-fuss editing.


You're going to need a VCR to go with all of these machines and fortunately it doesn't have to be anything special, just a good performer. Most edit controllers operate the VCR by infra-red commands, so there's no need to be concerned about compatibility and edit terminals, though this could be a factor if you're planning to get into editing in a big way, in which case check out the section on one-make systems.


Features we'd look for include a front-mounted AV terminal, it makes life a lot easier, and audio dub, so you can make changes to the soundtrack, but really performance is much more important as copying and editing involves a reduction in picture quality. Bearing in mind that we're never very happy with VCRs costing less than 350 or so, our shortlist for budget VCRs that would make good edit decks, would include the JVC HR-205, Mitsubishi M48 and Panasonic NV-SD40



* Sony TR303 and Panasonic SD40  1150

* JVC AX35 & optional remote, and HR-205 1,000




When you brought your camcorder or VCR did you give any thought to editing? Probably not, and the chances are your camcorder doesn't have an edit terminal. If that is so then you won't be able to use it with an edit controller, and that's that! Of course you can still edit manually, it's not that difficult  and the results can be every bit as good as an edit controller, it just means a bit more patience. Don't be fooled into buying a controller that purports to work with any camcorder, there's no such thing! All that will happen is you'll end up spending several hundred pounds on a smart-ass box of tricks that will tell you to press the buttons on your camcorder, or you will find that you need a second VCR,  to make poor quality third-generation recordings.


Now let us suppose that you do have a camcorder with an editing terminal, either a Control L socket, or Panasonic 5-pin connector, what can you use it with? It's wise to consider the manufacturers options first and both Panasonic and Sony have some excellent controllers in their range, which we'll be looking at them more closely when we come to consider one-make systems. However, the usual problem with dedicated controllers is that they're designed to work best with VCRs of the same parentage, and unless you're a big fan of that company your VCR is probably a quite different make.


That brings us to the Accessory market controllers, which are designed to work with a broad combination of camcorders and VCRs, though bear in mind what we said earlier, your machine must have an edit terminal.


There's quite a lot of edit controllers to choose from, with more coming onto the market all the time, and we've tried them all, but only a handful are really suitable for home video users; the rest are either too specialised, too expensive, or beyond their sell by date. For light duty -- tidying up holiday movies or small-scale productions -- the Videonics Thumbs Up is hard to beat. It costs under 300, it's easy to use, has a 62-scene memory and a stack of advanced facilities that include the ability to read VITC and RC time-codes. Moving up to the other end of the technology scale there's the Vivanco VCR-5055, a real powerhouse of a controller that costs around 600. This is one for the serious video movie-maker, it has a lot of professional facilities, including a 99-scene memory and it can be very accurate, though we thought the controls took some getting used to. In between there's the Hama Video Cut 220, a very competent controller but unfortunately only compatible with Panasonic equipment, it sells for around 350 and has a 99-scene memory.


If you have a home computer there's another option worth considering. If it's an Amiga or IBM PC-compatible you can use it for editing, with suitable software and edit terminal interfaces. There's a few programs on the market right now, but we'd bet on there being quite a few more by this time next year, so you may want to wait. If you can't the ones we suggest you look at are Video Director, from Gold Disc, and Video Workshop from Maze Technology.


If you are going to use an edit controller it's probably worth spending a little extra on a good VCR. Again quality is vitally important, but there's a few extra facilities to watch out for, such as insert edit, so you can drop new sequences into existing footage, audio dub, and good tape navigation facilities, and that usually means a jog/shuttle dial. A front AV socket helps when it comes to connecting everything up. It's worth thinking about a stereo VCR, even if you haven't got a stereo camcorder you may well have one day, and it's a good way of upgrading an old mono TV. We're playing safe by suggesting machines from the major manufacturers, they may cost a little more but it's usually money well spent when it comes to performance and reliability. We are happy to recommend the Akai VS-G74, Grundig GV-250, JVC HR-D980, Mitsubishi HS-M59 and Panasonic HD100. They all cost between 500 and 550, but if you're feeling rich the Sony SLV-825 is a peach. That and the Panasonic HD100 both have edit terminals, which is worth bearing in mind if you have a Panasonic or Sony camcorder.



* Thumbs Up and Akai VS-G74 780

* Hama Video Cut 220 and JVC HR-D980 850

* Vivanco VCR-5055 and Panasonic HD100 1130



Only two manufacturers market everything needed to put together complete editing packages, they are Sony and Panasonic. Their ranges include camcorders, edit controllers, post-production equipment, VCRs and TVs, everything in fact needed to produce polished video movies. Both manufacturers aim to cover as much as the market as possible, from entry-levels systems to semi-pro set-ups, and beyond.


We'll begin with Panasonic, and build a system around each of their edit controllers. The simplest model is the EC1, and it really is quite basic, with a four-scene edit memory. It's an ideal companion for the NV-R10 palmcorder, a simple, no-nonsense point and shoot machine, excellent for family users. Edit terminals have become a little scarce on Panasonic VCRs of late and only two models in their current have one (HD100 and HD700) which is a good excuse to seek out a couple of  older machines that can still be found, if you're prepared to do some phoning around. They are the NV-F75 and F77, both very well equipped with all of the facilities that go to make up a good edit deck.



* NV-R10, WV-EC1, NV-F77 1550


It's not so easy to put together systems around their mid-range and top-end edit controllers because quite frankly they're both looking rather dated, not to say prehistoric, in the case of the EC310, which we suspect has all but disappeared by now. That leaves  the VW-EC10, a full-spec time-code edit controller, so it's potentially very accurate, but it's showing its age. However, advanced users won't be too concerned about the gimmicks and this is the controller we'd use with Super VHS-C camcorders, like the S85 and S-VHS VCRs like the FS88 or FS90. They're both overdue for replacement as well, so look out for some attractive deals, if you can find them. It's about time Panasonic brought out a new edit controller, so it might be worth waiting a while, if you want to stay faithful, and up to date.



* NV-S85, VW-EC10, NV-FS88 3100


While we're waiting for a new controller Panasonic have come up with a very interesting stop-gap measure, in the shape of the HD700 VCR. It has it's own built-in edit controller, so it can control a camcorder, operating as source deck. That's in addition to a host of useful editing and post production facilities, like audio dub and insert edit. The memory is rather modest -- only 10 scenes -- and it's quite expensive (circa 800) but you save the cost of an edit controller. It would make an ideal companion for any of their non-S-VHS camcorders, such as the NV-S20, R10 and R50.



* NV-R50, HD700 1700


Sony's edit controller range is a little more up to date, and it's getting another facelift later in the year but right now there's three controllers to choose from. The first one is the RME-33, it's part of their Family Studio range of post production components, and designed to compliment their F-series camcorders. The FX200 and 300 are both relatively cheap, but like the recently launched TR202 they're a little too basic for our taste, so we'd probably opt for the TR303 or FX500. The choice of a matching VCR is easy, the SLV-E8 or SLV-715 both make useful edit decks.



* FX500, RME-33, SLV-715 1600


The TR303, TR606, FX700 and TR323 are well suited to work with the more advanced RME-300 edit controller, and again the SLV-E8 and 715 VCRs are our first choice for record decks. The only gap in the Sony range is a Super VHS VCR, to use with their Hi8 camcorders, like the FX700, TR606, TR2000 and the 805. The RME 700 edit controller is up to the job, but there's no alternative to another manufacturer's VCR, or wait a few months for the EVS9000 Hi8 VCR, and it's going to be well worth the wait, but even that is not going to solve the problem of creating a S-VHS final copy.



* FX700, RME-700, EVS9000, (Panasonic FS88 ??) 2,500





VITC, RCTC, LTC, what does it all mean? They're all types of time-code, invisible data recorded on the tape that uniquely identifies each frame of video information. The codes are used by suitably-equipped edit controllers to accurately designate the edit in and out points on a recording, which -- in theory at least -- will be accurate to a single frame. In practice accuracy also depends on  a number of other factors, including the characteristics of the record and playback decks but in general edits made on a time-code system will be more consistent and more accurate than those made on conventional set-ups, where accuracy is rarely better than +/- 10 frames.


The two most popular time-code systems are VITC (vertical interval time-code) and RCTC (rewritable consumer time-code). VITC (pronounced vit-see) is the oldest system, and used predominantly on S/VHS/C equipment and professional systems. The main disadvantages are that codes can only be imprinted at the time of recording, and care has to be taken to avoid  gaps in the recording. The RCTC (pronounced Arctic) is exclusive to 8mm, unlike VITC RCTC codes can be recorded retrospectively but few machines have this capability and the choice of equipment is still quite limited.


LTC or linear time code is an older system that records code information on the tape's soundtrack. It's little used anymore, apart from on a couple of odd-ball edit controllers which can record the code retrospectively. Ignore.


Timecode editing is still pretty much a luxury for the average home user, It can be useful tool for serious and professional users but to be brutally honest at the moment the small improvement in accuracy -- over the better non-timecode systems -- isn't really worth the extra expense and bother.



R.Maybury 1994 1702





[Home][Software][Archive][Top Tips][Glossary][Other Stuff]

Copyright (c) 2005 Rick Maybury Ltd.