O'Reilly logo

iMovie '11 & iDVD: The Missing Manual by Aaron Miller, David Pogue

Stay ahead with the world's most comprehensive technology and business learning platform.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required


iMovie is video-editing software. It grabs a copy of the raw footage on your camcorder or camera and lets you edit it easily, quickly, and creatively.

That’s a big deal, because over the years, home movies have developed a bad name. You know what it’s like watching other people’s camcorder footage. You’re captive on some neighbor’s couch after dessert to witness 60 excruciating, unedited minutes of a trip to Mexico, or 25 too many minutes of a baby wearing a spaghetti bowl.

Deep down, most people realize that the home-movie viewing experience could be improved if the video were edited down to just the good parts. But until iMovie came along, editing camcorder footage on a computer required several thousand dollars’ worth of digitizing cards, extremely complicated editing software, and the highest-horsepower computer equipment available. Unless there was a paycheck involved, editing footage under those circumstances just wasn’t worth it.

Then along came iMovie, the world’s least expensive version of what Hollywood pros call nonlinear editing software. In the old days, your recorded footage sat on a videotape, and you edited it in linear fashion—you rewound and fast-forwarded through every frame of the tape to get to the parts you wanted. Nowadays, there’s no rewinding or fast-forwarding; you jump instantly to any piece of footage you want as you put your movie together.

The world of video is exploding. People give each other DVDs instead of greeting cards. People watch each other via video on their websites. And some people quit their daily-grind jobs to become videographers for hire, making money filming weddings and creating living video scrapbooks. Video, in other words, is fast becoming a new standard in communication for the new century.

If you have iMovie and a camera, you’ll be ready.

The Difficult Birth of the New iMovie

Within six months of its release in October 1999, iMovie had become, in the words of beaming iMovie papa (and Apple CEO) Steve Jobs, “the most popular video-editing software in the world.”

Apple only fanned the flames when it released iMovie 2 in July 2000 (for $50), iMovie 3 in January 2003 (for free), and then—as part of the iLife software suite—iMovie 4, iMovie HD, and iMovie 6 in successive Januaries.

Then, in August 2007, Apple dropped a bombshell. Or, rather, it dropped iMovie.

The company’s new consumer video-editing program, called iMovie ’08, was, in fact, not iMovie at all. It was a totally different program, using all-new code and a different design, and built by different people. It was conceived, according to Steve Jobs, by Randy Ubillos, an Apple programmer who wanted to edit down his vacation footage—but found the old iMovie too slow and complicated. So the guy sat down and wrote his own little program, focused primarily on editing speed above all. Steve loved it, and decided that it would replace the old iMovie.

Many people were stunned by Apple’s move—and I, your humble author, was among them. In my New York Times email column, I wrote about just how different iMovie ’08 was from its predecessors:

iMovie ’08 has been totally misnamed. It’s not iMovie at all. It’s designed for an utterly different task.

The new iMovie, for example, is probably the only video-editing program on the market with no timeline—no horizontal, scrolling strip that displays your clips laid end to end, with their lengths representing their durations. You have no indication of how many minutes into your movie you are.

The new iMovie also gets a D for audio editing. You can’t manually adjust audio levels during a scene (for example, to make the music quieter when someone is speaking). All the old audio effects are gone, too. No pitch changing, high-pass and low-pass filters, or reverb.

The new iMovie doesn’t accept plug-ins, either. You can’t add chapter markers for use in iDVD, which is supposed to be integrated with iMovie. Bookmarks are gone. Themes are gone. You can no longer export only part of a movie. And you can’t export a movie back to tape—only to the Internet or to a file.

All visual effects are gone—even basic options like slow motion, reverse motion, and fast motion. Incredibly, the new iMovie can’t even convert older iMovie projects. All you can import is the clips themselves. None of your transitions, titles, credits, music, or special effects are preserved.

On top of all that, this more limited iMovie has steep horsepower requirements that rule out most computers older than about two years old.

Pretty harsh, I know. But listen, I was an absolute whiz at iMovie 6. I knew it like the back of my mouse. And it looked to me like Apple was junking that mature, powerful program for what amounted to a video slideshow program.

Fortunately, Apple restored many of those “doesn’t haves” in iMovie ’09. The last major missing feature, detailed audio editing, showed up in your version of the program, iMovie ’11. Furthermore, iMovie ’11 comes with so many useful features of its own, it’s far more difficult to resist.

It’s more modern than the old iMovie, for example. It’s equally adept at importing video from tapeless camcorders (DVD, hard drive, or memory-card models)—and from digital still cameras—as it is at importing from tape. And it’s all hooked up to the Web, so you can post your masterpiece on YouTube, MobileMe, or Vimeo with a single command.

Then there are the cool features that the old iMovie could only dream about. Image-stabilizing, color-correction, and frame-cropping tools are unprecedented in a consumer program. The new trailers builder is downright awesome. You can really, truly delete unwanted pieces of your clips, thus reclaiming hard drive space. (iMovie HD, on the other hand, preserved an entire 20-minute clip on your hard drive even if you used only 3 seconds of it.)

iMovie ’11 also creates titles, crossfades, and color adjustments instantly. There’s no “rendering” time, as there was in the old iMovie. So you gain an exhilarating freedom to play, to fiddle with the timing and placement of things, without having to watch your computer crunch the effect for 5 minutes only to decide you don’t like it.

So, no, iMovie ’11 is not a descendant of the old iMovies. It’s the latest generation of a different program, with a different focus and a different audience. But it’s here to stay, and it has plenty of charms of its own.


As you may have noticed, this iMovie book comes with a free bonus book: iDVD: The Missing Manual, which constitutes Chapters Chapter 17 through Chapter 20. iDVD can preserve your movies on home-recorded DVDs that look and behave amazingly close to the commercial DVDs you rent from Netflix or Blockbuster.

iDVD ’11 isn’t what you’d call a huge update from the previous version; in fact, this is the second time it’s been put into iLife without any updates. (That’s right, this is the same iDVD you would have bought over three years ago.) Be grateful that Apple even kept it alive, considering how strongly it feels about the DVD being a dead technology.

iMovie: What’s It Good For?

If you’re reading this book, you probably have some ideas about what you’d do if you could make professional-looking videos. Here are a few possibilities that may not have occurred to you. All are natural projects for iMovie:

  • Home movies. Plain old home movies—casual documentaries of your life, your kids’ lives, your school life, your trips—are the single most popular creation of camcorder owners. Using the suggestions in the following chapters, you can improve the quality of that footage. And using iMovie, you can delete all but the best scenes (and edit out those humiliating parts where you walked for 20 minutes with the camcorder filming the ground bouncing beneath it).

    This, too, is where iMovie’s Internet smarts come into play. Instead of burning and shipping a DVD of your home movies, you can shoot the finished product to the Web, where your lucky, lucky family and friends can enjoy them.

  • Web movies. But why limit your aspirations to people you know? This is the YouTube Era, dude. If you’ve got something funny or interesting on “film,” why not share it with the Internet population at large? In iMovie, YouTube, Vimeo, MobileMe, and Facebook are only one menu command away—and that’s just the beginning. New film festivals, websites, and magazines are springing up everywhere, all dedicated to independent makers of short movies.

  • Business videos. It’s very easy to post video on the Internet or burn it onto a cheap, recordable CD or DVD, as described in Part 3 of this book. As a result, you should consider video a useful tool in whatever you do. If you’re a real estate agent, blow away your rivals (and save your clients time) by showing movies, not still photos, of the properties you represent. If you’re an executive, quit boring your comrades with stupefying PowerPoint slides and make your point with video instead.

  • Video photo albums. A video photo album can be much more exciting, accessible, and engaging than a paper one. Start by filming or scanning your photos. Assemble them into a sequence, and add some crossfades, titles, and music. The result is a much more interesting display than a book of motionless images, thanks in part to iMovie’s Ken Burns effect (see Crop, Fit, Rotate on page 272). This emerging video form is becoming very popular—videographers charge a lot of money to create “living photo albums” for their clients.

  • Just-for-fun projects. Never again can anyone over the age of 8 complain that there’s “nothing to do.” Set them loose with a camcorder and instructions to make a fake rock video, commercial, or documentary.

  • Training films. If there’s a better use for video than how-to instruction, you’d be hard-pressed to name it. Make a video for new employees to show them the ropes. Create a video that ships with your product to give a humanizing touch to your company and help the customer make the most of her purchase. Make a DVD that teaches newcomers how to play the banjo, grow a garden, kick a football, use a computer program—and then market it.

  • Interviews. You’re lucky enough to live in an age where you can manipulate video clips in a movie just as easily as you do words in a word processor. Capitalize on this fact. Create family histories. Film relatives who still remember the War, the Birth, the Immigration. Or create a time-capsule, time-lapse film: Ask your kid or your parent the same four questions every year on his or her birthday (such as, “What’s your greatest worry right now?” or “If you had one wish…?” or “Where do you want to be in five years?”). Then, after 5 or 10 or 20 years, splice together the answers for an enlightening fast-forward through a human life.

  • Broadcast segments. Want a taste of the real world? Call your cable TV company about its public-access channels. (As required by law, every cable company offers a channel or two for ordinary citizens to use for their own programming.) Find out the time and format restraints, and then make a documentary, short film, or other piece for actual broadcast. Advertise the airing to everyone you know. It’s a small-time start, but it’s real broadcasting.

    Of course, you could skip the small time and upload your videos straight from iMovie to CNN’s iReport website. Here, amateur reporters post their own news items for all the world to watch. On occasion, CNN even turns to these videos for their nationwide broadcasts.

  • Analyze performances. There’s no better way to improve your golf swing, tennis form, musical performance, or public speaking style than to study footage of yourself. If you’re a teacher, camp counselor, or coach, film your students, campers, or players so that they can benefit from self-analysis, too.

  • Turn photos into video. Technically, you don’t need a camcorder at all to use iMovie; it’s equally adept at importing and presenting still photos from a scanner or digital camera. In fact, iMovie’s Ken Burns effect brings still photos to life, gently zooming into them, fading from shot to shot, panning across them, and so on, making iMovie the world’s best slideshow creator.

A Camcorder Crash Course

For years, when you said “camcorder,” people understood that you meant tape camcorder. And until recently, that meant recording onto MiniDV cassettes.

The popularity of digital tape camcorders is crashing, however. Their sales have been declining 10 to 15 percent a year.

As you can imagine, these numbers caused some consternation at the headquarters of Sony, Canon, and other camcorder makers. What’s going on? Don’t people want to preserve memories of their lives anymore?

As best they can tell, the problem is the cassettes themselves. They’re too hard to find in the drawer when the neighbors want to see highlights of your latest vacation, and they take too long to rewind and fast-forward.

What the world wants, the camcorder manufacturers realized, is random access: the ability to jump directly to any scene without having to wait. In theory, a tapeless camcorder also saves time because, when you transfer your video to your computer to edit it, you don’t have to play the tape back from the camcorder start to finish in real time. The camcorder stores your video on a memory card, hard drive, or DVD as regular computer files, which you should be able to simply drag and drop onto your Mac’s hard drive. (In practice, it doesn’t quite work out that way—see Automatic Scene Detection—but you get the idea.)

That’s why the camcorder industry has been flooding the stores with tapeless cameras, ones that record onto memory cards, hard drives, or little DVDs—anything but tape.

The Downsides of Going Tapeless

It used to be that tapeless camcorders couldn’t match the incredible video quality of MiniDV tape cameras. To store a reasonable amount of video on a tiny memory card, hard drive, or DVD, the camera has to compress it to an alarming degree, using less information to describe each frame of video. Video recorded onto MiniDV tapes, on the other hand, is essentially uncompressed. What you record is what you see on playback.

Everything changed with the advent of High Definition, or HD, compression techniques. Camera manufacturers figured out a multitude of ways to compress very high quality video onto small storage media. Today, most tapeless HD camcorders match or even surpass MiniDV quality. (Some HD cameras still use tape, but tapeless storage is fast becoming the standard.) The technological magic here doesn’t come without consequence, however. Some HD formats, for example, require a fast computer to edit them. (You’ll find more details about HD video and its significance in the next section.)

Remember, too, that each kind of tapeless camcorder has its own kinds of storage limitations:

  • DVD camcorders. The miniature blank DVDs used by DVD camcorders generally hold only 20 minutes of video apiece—and only 15 minutes of high-definition video. (Some models can record onto the newer double-sided discs, which roughly doubles the recording time.) And you can’t play the resulting disc in a regular DVD player unless you first “finalize” it, a sort of software shrink-wrapping process that can take 10 or 15 minutes inside the camcorder. In fact, you can’t play the resulting DVDs on a Mac at all. Macs expect full-size DVDs; these miniature, 8-centimeter discs can literally trash your drive.

  • Hard-drive camcorders can record several hours of video (say, 5 hours at the highest quality) before running out of space—but at that point, you’re dead in the water. Your camcorder is useless until it has a date with your computer, so you can dump the video off the camcorder to empty its hard drive.

  • Memory-card camcorders might be able to store, for example, 1 hour of video on a 4 gigabyte memory card. And you can carry a couple of extras around in case of emergency. But memory cards are still too expensive for long-term storage. In other words, nobody but Donald Trump can afford to buy a new memory card for every vacation, holiday, and wedding. Everybody else transfers their video to their computer when the memory card gets full.


The new world of tapeless camcorders is filled with exceptions, footnotes, and caveats. Apple notes a few of the iMovie/camera quirks here—http://help.apple.com/imovie/cameras—but the best advice is to run a Google search before you buy any camcorder to ensure it’s compatible with iMovie. (Search for Sony SR7 iMovie 11, for example.)

High Definition

A growing number of camcorders film in gorgeous, widescreen, ultrasharp high definition format. The video looks absolutely incredible on an HDTV set. Your own life looks like a Hollywood movie crew filmed it.

If you’re shopping for a camcorder now, you should seriously consider going high-def. High-definition camcorders are available in both tape and tapeless models. The really cool thing about the tape models, in fact, is that they record onto ordinary MiniDV cassettes, exactly the same ones used by regular tape camcorders. The signal recorded on these tapes is different, of course—it’s in a format called HDV—but you still get the convenience and economy of those ordinary drugstore tapes (Figure 1).

High-def camcorders, like the Canon HV40, record onto ordinary MiniDV tapes. The image quality is anything but ordinary, however.
Figure 1. High-def camcorders, like the Canon HV40, record onto ordinary MiniDV tapes. The image quality is anything but ordinary, however.

You may as well start filming your life in high definition now, because, in a few years, standard definition will look as quaint as daguerreotype photographs.

AVCHD, MPEG-2, and Other Jargon

Tapeless camcorders store videos as ordinary computer files—on a DVD, hard drive, or memory card—that you can copy to your Mac and edit in iMovie. But what are those files? Every computer document gets stored in some kind of standardized format, whether it’s JPEG (the usual format for photos) or TXT (text files). So what format do video files come in?


Some digital camcorders, especially old ones, record in formats called MPEG-1 and MPEG-2. Many tapeless HD cameras, especially the smaller, less expensive ones, record in MPEG-4. (The abbreviation stands for Motion Picture Experts Group, the association of geeks who dream up these standards.) iMovie ’11 recognizes and imports MPEG-2—usually. Unfortunately, there are multiple flavors of MPEG-2, and iMovie doesn’t recognize them all.

iMovie can also work with movies created by most digital still cameras, like .mov, .avi, and MPEG-4 files. Here again, though, your mileage may vary.


It’s worth repeating: If you’re tempted to buy a certain camcorder but you’re not sure if it uses a file format that iMovie works with, Google it.

You should also know that the MPEG-4 clips from an HD camera will play fine on modern Macs. A 3- or 4-year-old Mac, because of its older, slower processor, can edit these files, but things like iMovie’s skimming feature and full-screen playback will be a bit choppy.


The good news is that iMovie also recognizes AVCHD, which is the most popular file format for high-definition tapeless camcorders. (It stands for Advanced Video Coding/High Definition, and yes, it’s an annoying acronym. Do they really think they’re going to make video editing more attractive by dreaming up names like this?)

Anyway, AVCHD is a high-def format concocted by Sony and Panasonic in 2006, and is now available on camcorders from Sony, Panasonic, Canon, Samsung, and others. It offers roughly the same video quality as MPEG-2 or MPEG-4, but takes up even less space on your camcorder’s memory card, MiniDVD, or hard drive.

As it turns out, AVCHD cameras can produce the same quality video as H.264 movies, the video format Blu-ray high-definition DVD discs use (and also the format of videos from the iTunes Store). That’s a handy feature for people who own both an AVCHD camcorder that records onto miniature DVDs and a Blu-ray DVD player (or Playstation 3), because you can pop the DVD right out of the camcorder and into the Blu-ray player to watch it on your TV.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that AVCHD files take up a lot of space; an AVCHD DVD camcorder holds only 15 minutes of best-quality video per disc!

The bigger bummer is that AVCHD video doesn’t take kindly to being edited. When you import an AVCHD video to iMovie, for example, your Mac first converts it to a format you can edit (see Importing Old iMovie Projects), which takes a very long time. In fact, 1 hour’s worth of video takes over 2 hours to convert, which neatly cancels out the time you’d save importing video from a tapeless camcorder instead of a MiniDV tape camcorder.


AVCHD Lite, a newer format found in a lot of Panasonic cameras, is a slimmed-down version of AVCHD. Instead of recording full-blown 1080p HD video, it maxes out at 720p. That’s still hi-def, but not quite as hungry for memory card and hard drive space as its big brother. And many HDTVs still max out at 720p, so you probably won’t miss the drop in quality.


Apple itself developed this video format in an effort to create easy-to-edit, reasonably sized video files. It doesn’t record in HD (it composes the image from 540 rows of pixels instead of 720 or 1080) but you can immediately edit it in iMovie without any conversion. It also edits much more smoothly on slower Macs. The underlying format is based on industry standards, so you don’t need any special software to play iFrame video on a computer. Even so, the industry hasn’t exactly been jumping all over this new format; only a handful of cameras offer iFrame recording.

Camcorder Features: Which Are Worthwhile?

So how do you know which camcorder to buy? Here’s a rundown of the most frequently advertised camcorder features, along with a frank assessment of their value to the quality-obsessed iMovie fan.

FireWire connector

FireWire is Apple’s term for the tiny, compact connector on the side of most MiniDV tape camcorders—and most Macs. You link your camera and Mac using a FireWire cable that plugs into these connectors. Other companies have different names for this connector—you may see it called IEEE-1394, i.Link, DV In/Out, or DV Terminal.

Tapeless camcorders usually don’t have a FireWire jack, which is OK because you can transfer your video from camera to Mac in other ways, described in Chapter 1.


Since Apple thinks that tape camcorders are dead, it thinks FireWire is dead, too. Some recent Mac models, like the MacBook and MacBook Air, don’t have FireWire jacks at all, and you can expect the trend of the disappearing connector to continue.

Analog inputs

Analog inputs let you connect older, pre-digital video equipment, such as your VCR, 8mm camcorder, and so on, to your camcorder (see Figure 2).

Certain tape camcorders offer inputs for older, analog video. (Actually, what you’ll probably get is a special cable with RCA connectors on one end and a miniplug on the camcorder end, like the one shown here. Don’t lose this cable! You also need it to play your camcorder footage on TV.) A few older models offer an S-video connector too, for much higher-quality playback on TV.
Figure 2. Certain tape camcorders offer inputs for older, analog video. (Actually, what you’ll probably get is a special cable with RCA connectors on one end and a miniplug on the camcorder end, like the one shown here. Don’t lose this cable! You also need it to play your camcorder footage on TV.) A few older models offer an S-video connector too, for much higher-quality playback on TV.

Unfortunately, this is one of those features that camcorder makers have been quietly eliminating in an effort to shave costs. That’s too bad, because there’s no easier, less expensive way to transfer older footage into your digital camcorder—or directly into iMovie.

The transfer technique is described in more detail in Chapter 1. For now, note that the only other way to transfer pre-DV footage into digital format is to buy a $200 converter box.

HD inputs

Most HD camcorders now let you connect your camera directly to your HDTV. Using HD connections means you can see your camera’s footage at full-quality resolution on your TV.

Some cameras have jacks for component cables, which look like the one pictured in Figure 2, except that they have three cables (red, blue, and green) for the video signal and two (red and white) for the sound. The jacks on your HDTV, if there, will match in color.

More and more, HD camcorders have HDMI connectors, a convenient, high-quality connection that sends video and audio signals through a single cable. The connectors are flat and rectangular, and look like oversized USB ports.

Three chips (CCDs)

Professional camcorders offer three image sensors, one for each color component of a video picture: red, green, and blue. You’ll see these camcorders advertised as having three chips, or CCDs (charge-coupled devices—electronic plates, covered with thousands of individual light sensors, that convert light rays into a digital signal). The result is even more spectacular picture quality, resolution, and color rendition than the less-expensive, one-CCD cameras.

Unfortunately, three-chip camcorders tend to be more expensive than one-chip cams—but they deliver much better color.

Not all three-chip models are big and pricey, though. Panasonic, in particular, has developed a line of three-chip camcorders that aren’t much larger or more expensive than one-chip models. Note, however, that they usually contain three very small CCDs, so you’ll notice the quality improvement primarily in bright, outdoor scenes.

Image stabilizer

Certain film techniques scream “Amateur!” to audiences. One of them is the instability of handheld filming. In a nutshell, directors shoot professional video using a camera on a tripod (Woody Allen’s “handheld” period notwithstanding). Most home camcorder footage, in contrast, is shot from the palm of your hand.

A stabilizing feature (which may have a marketing name, such as Sony’s SteadyShot) takes a half step toward solving that problem. As shown in Figure 3, this feature neatly eliminates the tiny, jittery moves that show up in handheld video. (It can’t do anything about bigger jerks and bumps, which are especially difficult to avoid when you zoom in on a subject.) The stabilizer also uses up your battery faster.

A digital stabilizer works by “taking in” more image than it actually uses in your final footage. The stabilizer analyzes your clip and identifies its subject. It then shifts the focus of the clip’s individual frames to keep your subject centered and moving smoothly. To make this process work, the stabilizer zooms in on your image a bit. That’s why you need the extra-large image capture—to compensate for the zoom-in. On less-expensive camcorders, unfortunately, this zooming in means that your clip’s final frames will have less video information in them than normal, to the detriment of picture quality.
Figure 3. A digital stabilizer works by “taking in” more image than it actually uses in your final footage. The stabilizer analyzes your clip and identifies its subject. It then shifts the focus of the clip’s individual frames to keep your subject centered and moving smoothly. To make this process work, the stabilizer zooms in on your image a bit. That’s why you need the extra-large image capture—to compensate for the zoom-in. On less-expensive camcorders, unfortunately, this zooming in means that your clip’s final frames will have less video information in them than normal, to the detriment of picture quality.

This kind of anti-shake feature comes in two forms:

  • Electronic, or digital, stabilization is what you get on cheaper camcorders. Figure 3 describes how it works.

  • Optical stabilization is much preferable. It involves two transparent plates separated by a special optical fluid. As the camera shakes, these plates create a prism effect that keeps handheld shots clearer and steadier than electronic (digital) stabilizers. The images are clearer because optical stabilizers don’t have to crop out part of the picture as a buffer, unlike the stabilizers illustrated in Figure 3.


What could possibly be better than image stabilization on your camcorder? Image stabilization in your editing software. You’ll find iMovie ’11’s amazing stabilizing feature described on Video Stabilization.

Manual controls

Better camcorders let you turn off the camera’s automatic focus, automatic exposure control, automatic white balance, and even its automatic sound level. You’ll find this feature useful in certain situations, like when you want to change focus from one object to another in the same shot (known to the pros as a focus-pull). If you decided to pay extra for this feature, look for a model that lets you focus manually by turning a ring on the lens casing, which is much easier than the alternative—sliders.

Optical zoom

When you read the specs for a camcorder—or read the logos painted on its body—you frequently encounter phrases like “12X/300X ZOOM!” The number before the slash tells you how many times the camera can magnify a distant image, much like a telescope does. That number measures the optical zoom, which is the amount of magnification you get through the camcorder lenses themselves. Such zooming, of course, is useful when you want to film something far away. (As for the number after the slash, see Digital zoom on on page 16.)

You should know, however, that the more you zoom in, the shakier your footage is likely to be, since the camera magnifies every microscopic wobble by, say, 12 times. You also have to be much more careful about focusing. When you’re zoomed out all the way, everything is in focus—things near you, and things far away. But when you zoom in, very near and very far objects go out of focus. Put into photographic terms, the more you zoom in, the shorter the depth of field (the range of distance from the camera that can be kept in focus simultaneously).

Finally, remember that magnifying the picture doesn’t magnify the sound. If you rely on your camera’s built-in microphone for sound, always get as close as you can to the subject, both for the sound and for the wobble.


Professional video and film work includes very little zooming-in, unlike most amateur videos. The best zooming is subtle zooming, such as when you very slowly “move toward” the face of somebody you’re interviewing.

For this reason, when you shop for a camcorder, test its zoom feature if at all possible. Find out if the camcorder has variable-speed zooming, where the zooming speed increases the harder you press the Zoom button. Some camcorders offer only two speeds—fast and faster—but that’s still better than having no control at all. (The standard camcorder literature doesn’t usually mention whether a camera has variable-speed zooming or not; you generally have to go to the store and try it out to see how it performs.)

Minutes-remaining readout

Fortunately, the problems exhibited by camcorder batteries of old—such as the “memory effect”—are a thing of the past. (When you halfway depleted an old camcorder battery several times in a row, the battery adopted that halfway-empty point as its new completely empty point, effectively halving the battery’s capacity. The lithium-ion batteries today’s camcorders use eliminate the problem.)

Some camcorders—mostly from Sony, JVC, and Canon—even display, in minutes, how much recording or playback time you have left—a worthy feature.


The number of minutes’ worth of recording time advertised for camcorder batteries is continuous recording time—that is, the time you’ll get if you turn the camcorder on, press Record, and go out to lunch. If you stop and start the camera to capture shorter scenes, as almost everyone does, you’ll get much less than the advertised time out of each battery charge.

Built-in light

Insufficient lighting is one of the leading causes of “amateuritis,” a telltale form of poor video quality that lets viewers know that the footage is homemade. In the best—and most expensive—of all possible worlds, you’d get your scene correctly lit before filming, or you’d attach a light to the “shoe” (light connector) on top of the camera. Those few cameras that have such a shoe, or even have a built-in light, give you a distinct advantage in capturing colors accurately.

Scene modes

Many camcorders come with a number of canned focus/shutter speed/aperture settings for different indoor and outdoor environments: Sports Lesson, Beach and Snow, Twilight, and so on. They’re a useful compromise between the all-automatic operation of less expensive models and the all-manual operation of professional cameras.

Remote control

Some camcorders come with a pocket-sized remote control. It serves two purposes. First, its Record and Stop buttons let you record yourself, with or without other people, in a shot. Second, when you play back footage with the camcorder connected to your TV or VCR, the remote lets you control playback without needing to have the camcorder on your lap. You may be surprised at how useful the remote can be.

FlexiZone or Push Focus

All camcorders offer automatic focus. Most work by focusing on the image in the center of your frame as you line up a shot.

That’s fine if your subject is in the center of the frame. But if it’s off-center, you have no choice but to turn off the autofocus feature and use the manual-focus ring. (Using a camcorder isn’t like using a still camera, where you can point the camera directly at the subject for focusing purposes, and then—before taking the shot—shift the angle so that the subject is no longer in the center. Camcorders continually refocus, so pointing the camera slightly away from your subject makes you lose the off-center focus you’ve established.)

Some Canon, Sony, and Sharp camcorders let you specify the spot in a frame that you want to serve as the focus point, even if it’s not the center of the picture. (Canon calls this feature FlexiZone; Sony calls it Push Focus. On Sony cams with touch-screen LCD panels, it’s especially easy to indicate which spot in the frame should get the focus.) If the model you’re eyeing has this feature, it’s worth having.

Night-vision mode

Most Sony camcorders offer a mode called NightShot that works like night-vision goggles. You can actually film (and see, as you watch the LCD screen) in total darkness. The infrared transmitter on the front of the camcorder measures the heat given off by various objects in its path, letting you capture an eerie, greenish night scene. Rent The Silence of the Lambs for an idea of how creepy night-vision filming can be. Or watch any episode of Survivor.

The transmitter’s range is only about 15 feet or so. Still, you may be surprised how often it comes in handy: on campouts, during sleepovers, on nighttime nature walks, and so on.

Still photos

All modern camcorders can take still photos. The camcorder freezes one frame of what it’s seeing, and records it either on the tape (for, say, a 7-second stretch) or as a regular JPEG file on a memory card.

The still-photo image quality, unfortunately, is pretty terrible. The resolution may be OK (some camcorders offer 2- or even 3-megapixel resolution), but the quality isn’t anywhere near what you’d get using a dedicated digital still camera.


Newer hybrid cameras shoot OK stills, but the cameras themselves aren’t ideal for still photography. Be sure to try out a camera or do thorough research. The last thing you need is a camera you never want to use.

If the camcorder you’re considering offers the still photo feature, fine. But it may be redundant for the iMovie owner. iMovie can grab 1-megapixel still frames from any captured video, as described on The Long Way.

Progressive-scan CCDs

This special kind of image sensor is primarily useful for capturing still images. It ensures that the entire image is grabbed, not just one set of alternating, interlaced scan lines (the usual video signal). If you plan to catch still frames from your camcorder, a progressive-scan CCD will spare you some of the jagged lines that may appear. However, if your primary goal is to make movies, this expensive feature isn’t worth paying for, especially since you can buy a digital still camera with much greater resolution for about the same added cost.

Useless Features

Here are some features you’ll see in camcorder advertising that you should ignore (and definitely not pay extra for).

Title generator

Some camcorders let you superimpose titles (that is, text) on your video as you film. In your case, dear iMovie owner, a title-generating feature is useless. Your Mac can add gorgeous, smooth-edged type, with a selection of sizes, fonts, colors, and even scrolling animations, to your finished movies, with far more precision and power than the blocky text available on your camcorder. (Chapter 8 shows you how.)


A title generator on a camcorder is actually worse than useless, because it permanently stamps your original footage with something you may wish you could amend later. In fact, as a general rule, you should avoid using (or paying for) any of the in-camera editing features described in this chapter—title generator, fader, special effects—because you can do this kind of editing much more effectively in iMovie. Not only are the in-camera features redundant, they commit you to an editing choice in advance, thus limiting how you can use your footage.

Special effects

Most DV camcorders offer a selection of six or seven cheesy-looking special effects. They can make your footage look solarized, or digitized, or otherwise processed (see Figure 4).

Using the stock collection of special effects built into your camcorder, you can create special, hallucinogenic visuals. The question is: Why?
Figure 4. Using the stock collection of special effects built into your camcorder, you can create special, hallucinogenic visuals. The question is: Why?

Avoid using these effects. iMovie has its own special-effects options, and it gives you far greater control over when they start, when they end, and how intensely they affect the video.

In fact, unless you’re shooting a documentary about nuclear explosions or bad drug episodes, consider avoiding these effects altogether.

Date/time stamp

Every camcorder offers the ability to stamp the date and time directly onto the footage. As you’ve no doubt seen (on America’s Funniest Home Videos or America’s Scariest Cop Chases), the result is a blocky, typographically hideous stamp that permanently mars your footage. Few things take the romance out of a wedding video, or are more distracting in spectacular weather footage, than a huge 20 NOV 11 12:34 PM stamped in the corner.

Nor do you have to worry that you’ll one day forget when you filmed some event. As it turns out, digital camcorders automatically and invisibly date- and time-stamp all your footage. You’ll be able to see this information when you connect the camcorder to your Mac; then you can choose whether or not to add the stamp to the finished footage (and with much more control over its timing, location, and typography).

Digital zoom

Much as camera owners mistakenly jockey for superiority by comparing the megapixel rating of their cameras (more megapixels doesn’t necessarily make sharper pictures), camcorder makers seem to think that what consumers want most in a camcorder is a powerful digital zoom. Your camcorder’s packaging may “boast” digital zoom ratings of “50X,” “100X,” or “500X!”

When a camcorder uses its digital zoom—the number after the slash on the camcorder box tells you its maximum magnification—it simply enlarges the individual dots that compose an image. Yes, the image gets bigger, but it doesn’t get any sharper. As the dots get larger, the image gets chunkier, coarser, and less recognizable, until it ends up looking like the blocky areas you see superimposed over criminals’ faces to conceal their identity on Cops. After your digital zoom feature has blown up the picture by 3X, the image falls to pieces. Greater digital zoom is not something worth paying for.

The Long-Term Storage Problem

No matter which kind of camcorder you choose, you have more to think about than just features and price; you have the future to consider. Every kind of camcorder presents serious challenges if you hope to preserve your video for future generations.

  • DVD camcorders. Nobody has yet figured out how long those home-burned DVDs actually last. They don’t last essentially forever, as Hollywood DVDs do. In Hollywood, they stamp DVDs, pressing a pattern of bits and bytes into the plastic. Home DVD burners, by contrast, record the pattern in a layer of organic dye on the bottom of the disc—a dye that can break down anywhere from several months to several decades later.

  • Memory-card and hard-drive camcorders. Once the card or drive is full, you’re finished shooting for the day. The camcorder is worthless until you offload the video to a computer, thereby freeing up space to continue shooting.

    But what then? Are you going to burn hour after hour of captured video onto DVDs? Not only is that practically a full-time job, but you’re stuck with those homemade DVDs and their questionable lifespan.

    You could, of course, just keep the video on hard drives, even though that’s a very expensive and bulky solution. Here again, though, you have to wonder: Will the hard drive you buy today still work 50 years from now?

  • Tape camcorders. Digital tapes may deteriorate over a decade or two, just as traditional tapes do.

The solution to all these problems, of course, is simple vigilance. Every 10 or so years, you’ll have to copy your masterworks onto newer tapes, discs, hard drives, or whatever the latest storage format happens to be.

About This Book

Don’t let the rumors fool you. iMovie and iDVD may be simple, but they’re not simplistic. Unfortunately, many of the best techniques aren’t covered in the only “manual” you get with iLife—its electronic help screens.

This book is designed to serve as the iMovie/iDVD manual, as the book that should have been in the box. It explores each iMovie feature in depth, offers illustrated catalogs of the various title and transition effects, provides shortcuts and workarounds, and unearths features that iMovie’s online help doesn’t even mention.


Your camcorder and iMovie produce video of stunning visual and audio quality, giving you the technical tools to produce amazing videos. But most people don’t have much experience with the artistic side of shooting—lighting, sound, and composition—or even how to use the dozens of buttons found on modern camcorders. If you visit this book’s Missing CD at http://tinyurl.com/33blf68 (see The Missing CD), you’ll find a bonus appendix in PDF form: three chapters designed to give you the basics of lighting, composition, and camera technique.

About the Outline

iMovie ’11 & iDVD: The Missing Manual is divided into three parts, each with several chapters:

  • Part 1, is the heart of the book. It shows you how to transfer your footage into iMovie, edit your clips, pop them into a timeline, add crossfades and titles, edit your soundtrack, and more.

  • Part 2, helps you take the cinematic masterpiece on your screen to the world. iMovie excels at exporting your work to the Web, to YouTube, to an iPhone or an iPod, to an Apple TV, to a QuickTime file on your hard drive, or to iDVD for burning (your best bet for maintaining the visual quality of the original movie). This part of the book offers step-by-step instructions for each method, and shows you how you can use QuickTime Player Pro to supplement the editing tools in iMovie.

  • Part 3, is just what you’d expect: a bonus volume dedicated to the world’s easiest-to-use DVD design and burning software. It goes way, way beyond the basics, as you’ll see.

At the end of the book, four appendixes await:

  • Appendix A provides a menu-by-menu explanation of iMovie menu commands.

  • Appendix B is a comprehensive troubleshooting handbook.

  • Appendix C is a master cheat sheet of iMovie’s keyboard shortcuts.

  • Appendix D is a visual reference to all of the little symbols, stripes, badges, and color-coded doodads that, sooner or later, will clutter up your iMovie window and leave you bewildered. Turn to this two-page cheat sheet in times of panic.

Technical Notes for PAL People

If you live in the Americas, Japan, or any of 30 other countries, your camcorder, VCR, and TV record and play back a video signal in a format known as NTSC. Even if you’ve never heard the term, every camcorder, VCR, TV, and TV station in your country uses this signal. (The following discussion doesn’t apply to high-definition video, which uses the same signal across continents.)

What it stands for is National Television Standards Committee, the gang who designed this format. What it means is incompatibility with the second most popular format, which is called PAL (Phase Alternating Line, for the curious). In Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, and China (among other places), everyone’s equipment uses the PAL format. You can’t play an American tape on a standard VCR in Sweden—unless you’re happy with black-and-white, sometimes jittery playback.


France, the former countries of the Soviet Union, and a few others use a third format, known as SECAM. iMovie doesn’t work with SECAM gear. To find out what kind of gear your country uses, visit a website like www.vidpro.org/standards.htm.

Fortunately, iMovie converses fluently with both NTSC and PAL camcorders. When you launch the program, it automatically studies the camcorder you’ve attached and determines its format.

However, most of the discussions in this book use NTSC terminology. If you’re a friend of PAL, use the following information to translate this book’s discussions.

The Tech Specs of NTSC

Whether you’re aware of it or not, using the NTSC standard-definition format means that the picture you see is characterized like this:

  • 30 frames per second. A frame is one individual picture. Flashed before your eyes at this speed, the still images blend into what you perceive as smooth motion.

  • 525 scan lines. The electron gun in a TV tube paints the screen with this number of fine horizontal lines.

  • The DV picture measures 720x480 pixels. This figure refers to the number of screen dots, or pixels, that compose one frame of image in the DV (digital video) version of the NTSC format.

The Tech Specs of PAL

When iMovie detects a PAL camcorder (or when you inform it that you’re using one), it makes the necessary adjustments automatically, including:

  • 25 frames per second. Video fans claim that the lower frame rate creates more flicker than the NTSC standard. On the other hand, this frame rate is very close to the frame rate of Hollywood films (24 frames per second). As a result, many independent filmmakers find PAL a better choice when shooting movies they intend to convert to film.

  • 625 scan lines. That’s 20 percent sharper and more detailed than NTSC. The difference is especially visible on large-screen TVs.

  • The DV picture measures 720x576 pixels. This information may affect you as you read Chapter 12 and prepare still images for use with iMovie.

The Very Basics

You’ll find very little jargon or nerd terminology in iMovie ’11 & iDVD: The Missing Manual . You will, however, encounter a few terms and concepts you’ll see frequently in your computing life. They include:

  • Clicking. This book offers three kinds of instructions that require you to use the mouse or trackpad attached to your Mac. To click means to point the arrow cursor at something onscreen and then—without moving the cursor at all—press and release the clicker button on the mouse (or laptop trackpad). To double-click, of course, means to click twice in rapid succession, again without moving the cursor at all. And to drag means to move the cursor while keeping the button continuously pressed.

    When you’re told to ⌘-click something, you click while pressing the ⌘ key (next to the space bar). Such related procedures as Shift-clicking, Option-clicking, and Control-clicking work the same way—just click while pressing the corresponding key on the bottom row of your keyboard.


    Apple has officially changed the name it uses for the little menu that pops up when you Control-click (or right-click) something on the screen. It’s still a contextual menu, in that the menu choices depend on the context of what you click—but it’s now called a shortcut menu. That term not only matches what Windows calls pop-up menus, but it’s slightly more descriptive of its function. Shortcut menu is the term you’ll find used in this book.

  • Menus. The menus are the words at the top of your screen: File, Edit, and so on. Click one to make a list of commands appear, as though they’re written on a window shade you’ve just pulled down. Some people click to open a menu and then release the mouse button; after reading the menu choices, they click the command they want. Other people like to press the mouse button and drag down the list of commands to the desired one; only then do they release the button. Both methods work, so use whichever you prefer.


    On Windows PCs, the mouse has two buttons. The left one is for clicking normally; the right one produces a tiny shortcut menu of useful commands. (See the previous Note.) But new Macs come with Apple’s Mighty Mouse, a mouse that looks like it has only one button but can actually detect which side of its rounded front you press. If you turn on this feature in System Preferences, you, too, can right-click things on the screen.

    That’s why, all through this book, you’ll see the phrase, “Control-click the photo (or right-click it).” That tells you that Control-clicking will do the job—but if you’ve got a two-button mouse or you turned on the two-button feature of the Mighty Mouse, right-clicking might be more efficient.

  • Keyboard shortcuts. Every time you take your hand off the keyboard to move the mouse, you lose time and potentially disrupt your creative flow. That’s why many experienced Mac fans use keystroke combinations instead of menu commands wherever possible. ⌘-P opens the Print dialog box, for example, and ⌘-M minimizes the current window to the Dock.

    When you see a shortcut like ⌘-Q (which closes the current program), it’s telling you to hold down the ⌘ key, and, while it’s down, type the letter Q, and then release both keys.

If you’ve mastered this much information, you have all the technical background you need to enjoy iMovie ’11 & iDVD: The Missing Manual.


Throughout this book, and throughout the Missing Manual series, you’ll find sentences like this one: “Open your Home→Library→Preferences folder.” That’s shorthand for a much longer instruction that directs you to open three nested folders in sequence, like this: “In the Finder, choose Go→Home. In your Home folder, you’ll find a folder called Library. Open that. Inside the Library window is a folder called Preferences. Double-click to open it, too.”

Similarly, this kind of arrow shorthand helps to simplify the business of choosing commands in menus, as shown in Figure 5.

In this book, arrow notations simplify folder and menu instructions. For example, “Choose →Dock→Position on Left” is a more compact way of saying, “From the menu, choose Dock; from the submenu that then appears, choose Position on Left,” as shown here.
Figure 5. In this book, arrow notations simplify folder and menu instructions. For example, “Choose →Dock→Position on Left” is a more compact way of saying, “From the menu, choose Dock; from the submenu that then appears, choose Position on Left,” as shown here.

Online Resources

As the owner of a Missing Manual, you’ve got more than just a book to read. Online, you’ll find example files as well as tips, articles, and maybe even a video or two. You can also communicate with the Missing Manual team and tell us what you love (or hate) about the book. Head over to www.missingmanuals.com, or go directly to one of the following sections.

The Missing CD

This book doesn’t have a CD pasted inside the back cover, but you’re not missing out on anything. Go to http://tinyurl.com/33blf68 to download additional information mentioned in this book. And so you don’t wear down your fingers typing long web addresses, the Missing CD page also offers a list of clickable links to the websites mentioned in this book.


If you register this book at oreilly.com, you’ll be eligible for special offers—like discounts on future editions of this book. Registering takes only a few clicks. Type http://tinyurl.com/registerbook into your browser to hop directly to the Registration page.


Got questions? Need more information? Fancy yourself a book reviewer? On our Feedback page, you can get expert answers to questions that come to you while reading, share your thoughts on this Missing Manual, and find groups for folks who share your interest in iMovie. To have your say, go to www.missingmanuals.com/feedback.


To keep this book as up to date and accurate as possible, each time we print more copies, we’ll make any confirmed corrections you suggest. We also note such changes on the book’s website, so you can mark important corrections into your own copy of the book, if you like. Go to http://tinyurl.com/296w6aa to report an error and view existing corrections.


Our free email newsletter keeps you up to date on what’s happening in Missing Manual land. You can meet the authors and editors, see bonus video and book excerpts, and more. Go to http://tinyurl.com/MMnewsletter to sign up.

Safari® Books Online

Safari Books Online is an on-demand digital library that lets you easily search over 7,500 technology and creative reference books and videos to find the answers you need quickly.

With a subscription, you can read any page and watch any video from our library online. Read books on your cell phone and mobile devices. Access new titles before they are available for print, and get exclusive access to manuscripts in development and post feedback for the authors. Copy and paste code samples, organize your favorites, download chapters, bookmark key sections, create notes, print out pages, and benefit from tons of other time-saving features.

O’Reilly Media has uploaded this book to the Safari Books Online service. To have full digital access to this book and others on similar topics from O’Reilly and other publishers, sign up for free at http://my.safaribooksonline.com.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, interactive tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required