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.