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iMovie (Mac OS X)

If you’ve read the appropriate bits of Film School, you’ll know that we’re big fans of iMovie. It’s terrific editing software, and the biggest problem is that you need a Mac to run it. Later this month, however, the somewhat anaemic iPhone/iPod touch/iPad version of iMovie is seeing a huge update, and from the snippets we’ve been shown so far it looks just as wondrous as its desktop counterpart.

We’ll do our best to find out just how good the camera in the new iPad 2 is — if it’s anywhere near the standard of a Flip or (still our favourite!) Kodak Zi8, it’ll be hard to beat. The ability to shoot, edit, and upload a film all from one device is pretty much the goal here, and it looks like we might finally have got there.


We’ve been keeping an eye on the January sales, and so far the best deals we’ve seen are:

Of the two, we prefer the Zi8 — it has a wider-angle lens, a close-up mode, and a microphone jack. However, the Flip Mino is dinkier, which has to count for something. Oooh, but then the Zi8 comes in different colours… only, you have to spend another £15 on an SDHC card for it… decisions, decision.

Actually, the camera of this type that we really want to try out is the new Zoom Q3HD — perhaps not quite as good a camera, but the microphones are likely to be stunningly fabulous. Prices from about £200.


Regular readers will know I’m a bit of a fan of the Kodak Zi8 stick camera — similar to the ubiquitous Flip range, but arguably better quality, a close-up focus mode that’s surprisingly effective, and featuring the all-important jack for a decent microphone. For my money it’s as good as anything several times its price.

If it has an achilles heel, however, it’s shot steadiness. Although the camera does apply a smidge of anti-shake processing, it’s simply impossible to hold the thing without jostling it slightly, as if your heartbeat is making the camera tremble. It helps if you try to imagine you’re holding a priceless vase filled to the brim with water, but the Zi8 is still a bit too light.

Attaching an accessory grip does help a little. However, what I really want to try is one of a new breed of ultra-light (and relatively cheap) Steadicam alternatives. Steadicam themselves make an astonishing bit of kit called the Merlin, but it’s far too costly for our pockets. However, there are a couple of similar products available for around £80, which might just solve the Zi8’s greatest weaknesses.

The things I want to try are the Manfrotto 585 Modosteady, or the Hague Mini Motion-Cam. Most reviews of the former are pretty poor, but expectations may have been too high; the latter may be more effective, but by the time it’s balanced for a very light camera it may be more expensive than the Modosteady.

Neither of these is going to be a patch on the Steadicam Merlin. But if they make a £200 package that rivals £400 camcorders for smoothness, they might just be worthwhile.


At SciCast’s orbiting world headquarters we’re big fans of Canon’s range of video cameras. While we like the Flip range around the £100 mark, we really really like Canon’s flash card, hard drive, and HDV cameras, for three very simple reasons:

  1. They’re competitively priced.
  2. They’re at least comparable in picture quality to other cameras around the same price.
  3. They have microphone input sockets.

That last is key. Really key. Very very key. Built-in microphones are one thing, but being able to plug in a cheap lapel microphone makes a huge difference.

Right now, we’ve a fourth reason to like Canon’s cameras: they’re doing a cashback offer. £50 back on high-definition models like the HF100, and £30 back on the standard-definition FS100.

The offer’s valid until January 12th 2009, and you’ll find honest reviews of these cameras at Look, we’ll even point you straight there: HF100, FS100.


We never really went away, we were just quiet for a while. But we’re back now… and if you’re wondering why we’re referring to ourselves in the plural, well, stay tuned — we have exciting announcements.

Well, not that exciting, frankly, so to keep you interested: our current favourite ‘cheap’ camera, the Flip Ultra, has recently had a price cut. it’s down to £80 from Amazon and other suppliers.

These really are terrific little things, and they’re now 20% cheaper than they were last week. Bonus.

A treasure-trove of supplies and ideas, this. Middlesex University have been supplying teaching resources for years, including some terrific activity packs you'll find in Maplin.

I'm particularly taken with the cardboard Stirling engine kit, the samples of stainless steel microsandwich engineering material, the single-cylinder compressed air motor, and the Baird-style electromechanical Televisor kit. Great stuff.

Middlesex University Teaching Resources web shop

“What camera should I buy?” is just about the most common question I get asked by prospective SciCast film-makers. My usual reply is “What have you got already?” — most people, it seems, have a mobile phone that can record video, or a stills camera that has a video mode, or a mate who has a video camera, or there’s something stashed away in the back of the cupboard in school, or…

When people actually want an answer, however, things get trickier. Broadly, you get what you pay for. We’ve some basic notes on the main SciCast site to get you started, but it’s hard to know what you’re actually getting for your money.

Enter the BBC. Springwatch last week featured an excellent story with a pair of teenage brothers who are keen wildlife cameramen. It’s a lovely piece, but it’s also interesting (and useful) since it sets footage from their cameras alongside professional equipment. The brothers are using cheap-and-cheerful Sony miniDV cameras, and the footage from them looks rather flat and blurry, and somewhat purple-edged, next to the shots from the ‘proper’ camera.

But you know what? Once the clips are compressed down to web video quality, it doesn’t make anything like as much difference as you might expect. Having a good eye is more important than having the ‘best’ camera gear.

Don’t believe me? You’ve three more days to catch the film on iPlayer. It starts about 24 minutes in.

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