Import camera videos directly into iMovie '11

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To us, a video shot with a camcorder and a video shot with a DSLR or compact camera are essentially the same thing: a video file stored on a memory card. But to iLife, they're different: iMovie was designed to import footage from devices that primarily shoot video, while iPhoto was designed to import images from still cameras.

By necessity, iPhoto can import video files shot by still cameras. Since iMovie can't import those files directly, it offers a bridge: In the Event Library, click the iPhoto Videos item to view movies stored in your iPhoto library. (You may be asked to let iMovie generate thumbnails of those movies to see them properly.)

However, this approach doesn't give you the advantage of organizing movies into iMovie Events. When you need more clips for a project, you have to keep returning to the large list of iPhoto Videos. One solution is to copy iPhoto videos to your existing iMovie Events—but then you end up with duplicate clips on your hard disk, taking up a lot of valuable space.

There's a better way. Instead of taking a trip through iPhoto, it is possible to import movies created with still cameras directly into iMovie '11. Here's how:

  1. Quit iMovie if it's currently running.

  2. Open one of the unheralded heros in Mac OS X, the Image Capture application.

  3. In Image Capture's sidebar, select your camera or memory card in the Devices list (if it is not already selected).

  4. Locate the Import To pulldown menu at the bottom of the window, and choose Other.

  5. Navigate to the iMovie Drop Box folder, which is located in your Home folder at ~/Movies/iMovie Events/iMovie Drop Box/. Click the Choose button.

  6. Command-click the movies you want to import to select them.

    iMovie imports the drop box items after you launch the program.

  7. Click the Import button. The files are copied to the iMovie Drop Box folder.

  8. Launch iMovie. (iMovie seems to check the folder only when the application is launched.)

  9. A dialog appears saying there are drop box items waiting. Click Import Now. You're prompted to choose or create an Event, as you normally do when importing video. The clips are moved to that Event and appear in the Event Browser.

Admittedly, that's a lot of steps, made slightly frustrating by the fact that Image Capture doesn't remember other folder locations the next time you open the application. So, to streamline the process for the next time, create a simple Automator workflow specifically for Image Capture.

Use Image Capture to import movies directly to iMovie.
Use Image Capture to import movies directly to iMovie.

  1. Launch Automator and, in the initial dialog that appears asking what type of action to create, choose Image Capture Plugin.

  2. In the Actions list, select Files & Folders.

  3. Drag the Copy Finder Items action to the right-hand column.

  4. Click the To pop-up menu and specify the iMovie Drop Box folder.

  5. Save the Automator file with a descriptive name like Movies to iMovie.

This simple Automator action makes the import process easier.

The next time you launch Image Capture, choose your workflow from the Import To menu.

Sure, I'd like to see iMovie import movie files directly from still cameras in a future version. But in the meantime, this workaround allows you to put the video clips directly into iMovie without dealing with duplicates in iPhoto.

[Jeff Carlson is the author of The iMovie '11 Project Book (Peachpit Press; 2011) and is a senior editor of TidBits.]

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