First iMovie steps: Importing video clips

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Last week we took a broad look at iMovie’s interface. Now that you know your way around, let’s dig in and learn something about importing video into the application.

Creating a project and importing video from a camera

Start by launching iMovie and choosing File > New Project. A Project Themes sheet will appear. We’ll look into themed projects in another lesson, so for the time being just go with the default No Theme project, enter a name for your project in the Name field, choose Widescreen (16:9) from the Aspect Ratio pop-up menu if you’re using high-definition footage or Standard (4:3) if you’re importing video from an older camcorder, leave the frame rate set at 30 fps (frames per second), and click Create. iMovie will display an empty Project pane. As I explained last week, any clips you’ve already imported will be listed in the Event Library pane, and a preview of the clips within a selected event will be visible in the Event Browser.

Now let’s look at a few ways to bring video into your project.

Importing from a camcorder

To pull footage from your camcorder, you need to connect it physically to your Mac. Older tape-based camcorders use a FireWire connection whereas newer ones typically use USB. In some cases, when you make the connection and switch on the camcorder’s power, iMovie will automatically open an Import window. With some other camcorders you may have to initiate the process by switching on some variety of connection mode. For example, with my Sony HD camcorder I must enable its USB Connect mode. When I do that, up pops the Import window.

That Import window contains a few elements you should become familiar with. The top half consists of a preview window. This is where the currently selected clip appears.

Below that area are the play controls, featuring Back, Play/Pause, and Forward buttons when iMovie is connected to a digital camcorder and Rewind, Play/Pause, and Fast-Forward buttons when you’re using a tape-based camcorder. With a digital camcorder these controls provide one way to move between clips. If you have an analog camcorder—a model that uses tape—you’ll use these controls to fast-forward and rewind through your tape.

When you connect a digital camcorder, you should see clips in the area below, with thumbnails giving you a hint about what each clip contains. By default, all clips are selected, as evidenced by the checkmark that appears beneath each one. You can, of course, unselect those you don’t want to import.

In the gray area below that are iMovie’s import controls. The switch on the far left—labeled Automatic at the top and Manual at the bottom—is for choosing which clips to import from a digital camcorder. When you leave it in the Automatic position, all clips on the camcorder that aren’t already in iMovie will be imported. Flip this switch to Manual, and you can choose which clips to import.

With a tape-based camcorder, choosing Automatic will rewind the tape to the beginning, at which point you can capture everything on it. If you choose Manual, you can use the play controls to move to select points in the tape and import what you like.

iMovie’s import controls

On the right side of this area are two buttons. The first always reads Done. Click it, and the Import window closes. If the switch is set to Automatic, then the second button will read Import All. If, with a digital camcorder, you’ve chosen just some of the clips, the button will read Import Checked.

When you import video a sheet will appear. It’s within this sheet that you can choose to add the video to an existing event or create a new one. A new event will automatically have the name New Event followed by the date, but you can enter any name you like. Also, iMovie will split video shot on different days into new events if you wish.

Import options within iMovie’s Import window

You can also analyze the video for stabilization and/or faces in the footage—other features that we’ll discuss in a future lesson. And finally, you can choose to import the clips at their original size or at a “large” resolution of 960 by 540 pixels. Click Import to continue. A progress bar will appear below the selected clips, indicating how the import process is proceeding. When the job is done, iMovie will generate thumbnail images for the imported clips.

At the very bottom of the window are a couple of other controls. The Camera pop-up menu allows you to choose a camera source. This option may seem odd given that you have just the single camcorder jacked into your Mac, but if you click this menu you’ll find that your Mac’s built-in camera appears in the list as well. It does so because iMovie allows you to capture live footage from a compatible connected camera. I’ll deal with this feature shortly.

Also available in this window is an Archive All command, which offers a way to back up the contents of your camcorder. After clicking this command and choosing a destination for your backup, you click Create to have all the data on your camcorder copied to your Mac. This feature is useful when your camcorder’s storage media gets full and you’d like to clear it without losing any of the footage you’ve captured.

To safely disconnect your camera, click the Eject button that appears to the right of the Archive All command. And if you’d like to see larger thumbnails in the clips viewer, just move the zoom slider that appears in the bottom-right corner of the window.

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