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|| News Item: Posted 2008-12-02

VJ for PJs
Final Cut Pro 6 Tip: SmoothCam

By Myung J. Chun, Los Angeles Times

Photo by

Click here to see a video demo:
The general rule about shooting video is to use the tripod as much as possible. Shaky pictures just don't look good unless a bear is chasing you. Sure, there will be times when you can't use your sticks (you're too lazy to pull it out of the car) or it's just not feasible. And try as hard as you may, you just can't keep your caffeine-addicted self-calm enough to shoot steady footage.

In Final Cut Pro 6, there is a video filter called SmoothCam (in FCP 5, it's called Image Stabilizer) that may save your shaky footage and save you from potential humiliation by your multimedia peers.

In your Sequence, highlight the offending footage by clicking on it. Go to the pull down menu: Effects>Video Filters> Video> SmoothCam or in your Browser, click on the Effects tab: Video Filters> Video> SmoothCam and drag the filter onto the footage.

A small window will pop up and begin analyzing your footage. Once that's done, render your footage, if needed, and take a look. It should be much better and you will have saved face. One thing to remember is that the footage will be cropped slightly --- or greatly --- depending on how much shaking there is as Final Cut is looking for the edges of each frame. You can change the filter settings by clicking on the Filter tab in your Viewer window. The default settings generally work pretty well.

As with all good things, there are a couple of catches. First, it only works with QuickTime movie files. So if you have a .dv, .avi, .mp4 etc., you need to convert it to a QuickTime movie file.

Secondly, when you apply the filter to the footage, it wants to analyze the entire, original clip that it came from and not just the selected segment. That means if your original clip is five, 10 or 20 minutes long, the filter will analyze all five, 10 or 20 minutes and not just the several offending seconds. That can take a long, long time.

Photo by
The solution is to export that short segment as a QuickTime movie (not QuickTime conversion), re-import it and apply the filter. Once that's done you can drop it back into your sequence.

Lastly, the SmoothCam filter is not the cure for sloppy shooting. It can help, but it's not perfect. The analysis can be time consuming. A five-second HDV clip took 2 mins., 40 secs. on a 2.4 GHz duo core MacBook Pro. Some examples looked great while others showed visual anomalies like skewing, pulsing and a little softening of the image. But it's nice to know that Final Cut can save your bacon.

To see a video demo by Myung showing SmoothCam click here:

(Myung J. Chun is a staff videographer at the Los Angeles Times. You can see sample of his work on his member page: and his space at He is also the "video guru" for all of the Sports Shooter educational programs.)

Related Links:
Myung's member page

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