Last week I participated in a “Meet the Vloggers” theater presentation at the Apple Store in San Francisco. As part of my five minutes I introduced the idea of using iPhoto Smart Albums as a cataloguing tool in an iPhoto-to-iMovie workflow.
iPhoto’s role in importing and cataloguing video is barely mentioned in the section of Apple’s website dedicated to iPhoto, and absent altogether from its iLife multimedia tutorials. Granted, there are only so many features one can highlight, and movie importing is last year’s news (iLife ’05).
Also, the iMovie story since iLife ’05 has been all about HD(V), so it’s understandable that little emphasis would be placed on 15 frame-per-second videos shot at QVGA resolution (320 x 240).
But for Mac-using videobloggers capturing footage on digital “still” cameras, iPhoto has become indispensable (especially when you stop to consider you have no original tapes to go back to), despite some nagging UI annoyances.
Slow to Adapt
As late as iLife ’04, iPhoto did not even recognize the MPEG4 video recordings on digital cameras. (Of course, when it launched, few of the cameras were recording videos with sound.) Once the camera was connected to the computer, one had to manually dig through the folder hierarchies to find the .avi files (which itself required knowing that .avi files were what you were looking for to begin with). You could then place the files… somewhere on your hard drive, watch them in the QuickTime Player, and even use the Import command in iMovie to add them to an iMovie project.
In iLife ’05, iPhoto finally imported the videos off of digital cameras, along with photos. An overlay at the bottom of the thumbnail made it easy to pick out videos from within the Library view, and indicated the length of the clip in minutes and seconds. Most brilliantly of all, iMovie automatically applied the keyword “Movie” to all movies it imported, whether imported directly from the camera or added manually to the Library. Keywords, ratings, and comments could all be applied to movies, making it easy to find, for example, the best movies taken at one of the kids’ birthday parties. (As long as the proper metadata has been applied.)
But you still couldn’t watch movies from within iPhoto (double-clicking on a movie launched the QuickTime Player application.) And there was no simple way to get the movies into iMovie. The Photos pane in iMovie gave you access to the iPhoto library, but AVIs did not appear within the window. So once again you had to use iMovie’s Import command, which required you know where the .avi file was located within the iPhoto library (which required knowing the date the movie was shot). If you had shot several movies on a single day, you also needed to write down the filename of the AVI, to ensure you selected the right one. (Ok, so now I gather you could have just dragged and dropped the clips from iPhoto to iMovie. That would have saved me some time.)
That last obstacle was lifted with the release of iLife ’06. Now within iMovie’s Media Browser, access to iPhoto’s Library now includes access to its movies. Of course, iPhoto still doesn’t know how to play the videos it catalogs, so once again it has to launch QuickTime Player.
(With video recording pretty much standard these days on all digital cameras, and the trend towards hybrid still/video cameras like the Sanyo Xacti, this seems like a glaring omission. But then I remember that the iPhoto team basically had to rewrite the application from the ground up, to raise the ceiling on assets from 25,000 photos to 250,000 photos, so it’s perhaps understandable they left some key features out.)
Wishes for iLife ’07 and Beyond
First and foremost, I’d want to view movies within the iPhoto application, with standard QuickTime/iMovie playback buttons. A full-screen mode for viewing wouldn’t be required, but it would align well with the new full screen edit mode for photos.
Second, I’d like some basic trimming tools. I can already trim the heads and tails off my videos while they’re still inside my camera, why can’t I in iPhoto? This function is basically parallel to the photo “Crop” tool. I expect the main issue here would be that once the video is cropped, does it save over the original file, or is a new file created? (Currently when photos are edited, the original remains untouched and a duplicate file is built.) Saving over the original file would require keeping it as an .AVI–and I’ve had trouble with QuickTime and .AVIs in the past. Creating a duplicate could get pretty slow, especially if there was pressure from a particular product team or another to encode the file in H.264.
Third, I’d like the ability to assemble video playlists–akin to a video slideshow. I found a terrific app called Movie Gallery that did just that.* Let me play several clips in a row without having to click anything, and let me do it in full screen mode. With the Core Video underlayer, adding transitions between movies in a playlist should be as easy to include as transitions in a slideshow. This would allow people to show a polished collection of their (trimmed) movies in a highlight reel, without having to think of themselves as having done any video editing.
Bonus features (perhaps for future releases) could be to send a playlist/collection of movies to iMovie or iDVD. Or to export/compile a playlist of movies into a single quicktime movie. But let’s start with being able to play the movies within iPhoto. Because: come on.
*Sort of. Except that you can only sort in ascending/descending order along a particular vector of data–title, size, date added, etc. You can’t actually arrange movies in an order of your choosing. It’s a gorgeous application, mixing low res 320×240 clips and full resolution DV without a stutter (good luck with that, iTunes). So other than the fact that the app is basically useless, I’d recommend it highly (the programmer says manual ordering will be built into v2.0).