Among the things I already do to over-occupy the fleeting amount of spare time I have on this little blue-green planet, it seems the latest addition is thatnks to the enthusiasm and cooperation of The Whisky Guy – Mr Darren Rook – and booze blogger Mr Billy Abbott: a new video podcast about whisky, which we’ve hilariously dubbed Village of the Drammed.

We’ve recorded a couple, and so far it’s great fun.  What’s interesting/puzzling me at the minute though is the production process – Darren’s mixed down the first episode, and most of the second, but it would be great to know the optimum way to do this.

We’re trying to operate a 4 camera setup: 3 fixed to tripods to give different angles, and one handheld camera for closeup product shots.  We thought we’d just spring into action and get going, but we’ve discovered that our ragtag assembly of camera gear is going to give us editing headaches, so the question I suppose I’m asking of anyone out there who can explain or point me to the right resources is CAN we achieve anything useful with this gear?

The cameras we have are:

Panasonic HX-DC10 :  This apparently records MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 at 1080/60i, 1080/30p, 720/60p, 720/30p, 540/30p, or 480/30p.  (I say “apparently” because I’m copying this info from the specs page, but I haven’t got a blind idea what any of it means, and therefore if I’m presenting the right info)  I think it comes out as MP4.

Panasonic Lumix TZ5 : I bought this in the USA.  Records QuickTime Motion JPEG in HD 16:9 Aspect Ratio (1280×720) at 30fps or 15fps.  The limitation of recording is that the max filesize is 2gb and it produces an MOV file.

Panasonic Lumix ZS10 : Also bought this in the USA. 1920 x 1080 AVCHD (GFS: 17 Mbps / FSH: 17 Mbps): 60i  or 1,280 x 720 pixels AVCHD (GS: 17 Mbps / SH: 17 Mbps) 60p.  As far as I can tell, the video file produced is an MTS file.

Flip Ultra HD 8gb : Also also bought this in USA.  It records 1280 x 720 @ 50fps, 8.8 Mbps bitrate, using H.264 video compression to an MP4 file.

HTC Desire : We used my phone to do product closeups once when we were short of cameras.  It shoots 720p@30fps, as a 3gp file.

And I’ve got access to a Sony DCR-SR45 Handycam, which appears to film 720×480 MPEG-2.  And now I have no idea whether that’s going to help solve our conundrum or make things more complicated…

The show tends to run at approximately 40 mins per episode, which of course makes for some large-ish files.  It’s all one take though so aside from camera switching, there’s not much edit work to be done (aside from titling).

I suppose the first challenge is to get all of the files into a mutually compatible format that we can then edit.  Is this going to be possible?  I can’t figure out how to convert the MTS file (or do I refer to it as AVCHD?) to something I can import into the editing software I’ve got.  And presumably it’s problematic that the cameras are capturing at different framerates?  I’d figured that the ZS10 would make an ideal “main” camera because of its great resolution, however we haven’t found a software convertor yet that doesn’t turn the file into a garbled mess… not that I really know what it is I’m meant to be converting into.

Software-wise – Darren’s been using iMovie.  I’ve got a fairly elderly Education version of Final Cut Pro 5.1.4- it’s great for cutting together multiple camera shoots but it doesn’t appear to know what to do with HD files.  I’ve also been told that the current version of Final Cut isn’t as good as the older ones in terms of file wrangling.

But yeah – apart from the very rudimentary instructions I’ve got memorised for doing 2 camera shoots of morris dancing (under 4 mins’ duration), I’m in the dark about this.

Can anyone give me any useful tips as to what I should do, or what I need to read to start understanding the ins & outs of the different bits of jargon used in these formats?  For instance, what does 720p *mean*?  What’s H.264, and how does it relate to MP4 files?  At what point would I use XviD?  And just what the hell are video formats (eg how does the format differ from the resolution, encoding type and framerate)?  And what in thundering hell is NTSC?  I know it’s the video standard that they use in the US, whereas we use PAL in the UK, but how does that affect the price of eggs?

The easiest approach I can think of is to buy 3 identical camcorders – because then at least we’ll have identically formatted source materials – however it probably still helps to know what type of thing to aim for.  Would there be a downside to grabbing 3 of these, for instance?

The next step after that of course is prepping it for distribution – currently Show 1 is available as a 581MB download, which probably isn’t ideal for the average viewer.  I think I get what needs to be done here…  the chief initial dilemma is getting the show together in the first place.