Using video

Tom Honeyman at Transcient languages and cultures has an interesting post on digital video and alternatives, and asks for other people’s opinions. I meant to write about this some time ago so apologise Tom for the delay in a reply!

While most people I’ve talked to have been pretty positive about using video in the field, I’ve had mixed successes with it. It was really useful for some things – weaving stories, for example, where the text crucially depended on gesture and visual illustration. And spatial deixis. And the music/dancing (bunggul) recordings were considerably better for the visuals!

For regular texts, though, I think it didn’t really add anything. People were more stilted in front of the camera, so while I was using video to capture gesture and other non-verbal aspects of storytelling, the actual stories didn’t contain very much of it, because people were very conscious of the videos. It was also a magnet for the kids and so the humbug factor increased a lot when the video was on.

Then, there was all of the editing issues. My laptop isn’t powerful enough for me to transfer video recordings directly to it, so I couldn’t edit them in the field. I had to wait until I got back to Houston so that I could make a backup, transfer them to computer, and do the editing. Doing the editing involved booking a time in the computer lab, which was difficult to get, transferring the videos in real time, which also took a huge amount of time, then burning things to DVD. The software that my University has allows me to copy DVDs that I have made myself, but the format of that it lets me save them in does not allow direct editing. If I want to do that, I have to make another time to sit at another machine, copy the videos again from the original digital video, edit them on their machine, and then find a program that I can export them to which will allow me to look at the videos on my PC (they only have Macintosh software for video editing). In the time I had before classes started, I couldn’t all this to work. I’m sure it’s possible, but it involves more time than I have at present.

There seems to be a problem on some of the videos with the time stamps and the audio, so that when I play back videos through Windows media player, half the video is without sound. Apparently this is something to do with the quality of the audio versus the quality of the picture and the sampling rate of both when redigitised. Again, a problem for the future when I have time to deal with it.

So, my experience with video wasn’t great, although there were a number of things that I could have done better that would have improved it. And, it would also be much better if I had had a compact flash digital video (although that would have broken my budget!) Which would have made transferable to computer much easier. It would also be better if I had got the computer I had asked for when I moved to Rice, rather than the computer that the Dean’s office assumes will be fine for everyone in humanities.

I don’t want to turn people off using video in their recordings, and I know that others have had a lot more success than I did. David Harrison and Gregory Anderson have used a lot of video in their work on central Asian and Siberian languages, and the results they produce are absolutely fantastic! Then again, there are two of them in the field — 1 to work the video and equipment and one to ask questions, and I am sure that makes a big difference.

6 responses to “Using video

  1. Interesting comments, thanks for responding.

    I have some thoughts on decreasing the uncomfortableness factor, which I’m writing up as a post, and have to admit that my own experience with videoing in the field was mixed too, and for all the same reasons. Also, my video camera, 2x 5 hour batteries and the charger were the heaviest bits of equipment in my kit, which didn’t suit the remote location I was in. And I recorded far less video than audio, but when I did record video I was very happy with the results… In fact it was critical for investigating spatial deixis… Working for an archive, I’m also interested in the possibility of recordings being used for more than the researcher’s original intentions, so I’m particularly keen to figure out ways to make it easier. We’re setting ourselves up to ease the process of working with MiniDV and other formats… but its really stress testing our capabilities!

    That’s why I think this next generation of recorders is interesting. Recording straight to a dvd saves time in preparing your video for transcription (btw, there’s freely available DVD ripping software out there). Some of these DVD recording videos are supposed to support in camera editing too, but I’m not sure how useable this feature is (you probably have to make shorter recordings too so there’s room on the disk). Same goes for the hard Disk recorders. ELAN is supposed to be able to use DVDs as video sources (I must check that though!). Recording to a CF card means that your video is already compressed and ready to work with. Using compressed digital formats lets you record more too as you lug in a backup medium instead of multiple cassettes.

    My main concerns are the quality of the metadata in these recordings and the amount of detail lost by using codecs with a higher compression ratio than DV. There seems to be no agreed upon minimum acceptable quality for video (unlike audio), so what’s to stop you from getting several cheap CF recorders and recording from multiple viewpoints. Joe Blythe is the guru at Sydney Uni on recording excellent conversational data. We’re going to try a few experimental video recording set ups in the new year.

  2. I tried a bunch of ripping software and I had problems with all of them and the visual-audio alignment. And yep, the video, charger and batteries were the heaviest part of my kit apart from my laptop (Rice wouldn’t buy me an ultralight….)

    Wow, those cf videos have come down in price hugely! When I was looking, I couldn’t find anything for under US$700, and that wasn’t feasible in my budget.

    Thanks for your comments!

  3. One advantage I’ve noticed to using video is that the community responds to it better and will want to look at videos much more than wanting to listen to audio recordings. This is especially important for promoting endangered langauges to generations who have lost their language.

    At Ngukurr we have videos made twenty years ago with two old men having conversations in Ngandi for hours. They’re magic. There are no completely fluent Ngandi speakers anymore and these videos are gold, both for the language and as documents of those two important old men. I’m so glad people went to the effort to make these videos twenty years ago.

    I wonder if recording people conversing rather than telling stories on their own will make people feel more comfortable and make for better recordings?

  4. Pingback: Endangered Languages and Cultures » Blog Archive » Recording Aboriginal conversation with video

  5. Pingback: Endangered Languages and Cultures » Blog Archive » ‘How about a cuppa tea?’ On techniques for recording naturalistic conversation.

  6. Pingback: Endangered Languages and Cultures » Blog Archive » Non-intrusive video taping or spying on your informants?

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