AVCHD and Me

Oooh.  Is that a new Sony camera you’ve got there?  Impressive.  Does it really shoot in full HD?

It does?  Wow, can you show me some video you’ve shot with your new camera?

No?  Why not?

The problem with Sony’s full HD movies is that they are recorded in AVCHD.  Picasa, iPhoto, and Lightroom all fail to import these files directly.  Most of us use one of these apps to import our pictures from our camera to our computer (and delete them from the card after importing).  When this fails, what else can we do?

If I put the camera card into the Mac, I can import the movies into an iMovie event.  This import is done by iMovie copying the AVCHD from an MTS to a MOV container. The GPS and other EXIF data appears to be lost in this process, however.  There is an iMovie Events folder from which movies can then be extracted for use elsewhere.  The beauty of this approach is that I don’t have to burrow down through the folder structure on my camera card to find the pictures.

Similarly, Windows Live Movie Maker on Windows 7 can edit AVCHD files.  But on my pre-Windows 7 PC, I have to manually copy the MTS files from the Streams folder; use Sony’s bundled PMB app, or expensive video editing software like Pinnacle, Sony Vegas, Corel VideoStudio X3, or Adobe Premiere. Sony’s PMB (PC only) is the only way I’ve found to retain EXIF data.  It can be used to upload pictures for sharing, but I haven’t tried uploading videos to YouTube or Vimeo.  Sites which retain and display EXIF like Flickr and Picasa won’t get video GPS info from PMB.

I haven’t found a way for Mac users to retain GPS data on AVCHD videos.  The 1080i MP4 movies only import via iPhoto or Lightroom (I don’t have Aperture to test with that), not Picasa.  iPhoto does not retain the coordinates for 1080i videos.  Both AVCHD and MP4 can be 1080, but AVCHD is 1920×1080/60i and MP4 is 1440×1080/30p (on my Sony HX5V at least).   Lightroom and iPhoto import both 1920×1080/30p and 1280×720/30p MP4s, but do not import geographic coordinate metadata.  Picasa doesn’t even see those files on my camera card.

In short, most movie formats are easily handled at one stop by the same app that handles our pictures.  AVCHD requires video specific importing and manual deleting.  So if the AVCHD format is so problematic, why does Sony use it?  I suppose the primary reason is that AVCHD video provides full HD, but doesn’t gobble up a huge amount of space on a camera card.  The AVCHD format is also Blu-Ray compatible.  If the AVCHD folder is moved from the camera card to a DVD, BD-R, or other media compatible with a given Blu-Ray player, that player can play the movie.  If all one wants is the video clips, they are buried in the Streams folder with an MTS extension.  They play well on both the Mac and PC using the VLC Media Player (free).

The iPad camera connection kit can only import video recorded in MP4 or MOV containing a limited subset of video and audio codecs.  Since I don’t travel with a computer, only my iPad, when on the road, I generally set my camera to record in MP4. As a bonus, I can edit my movies using the well-worth-it ReelDirector app.  (Sorry, even the 720p MP4 files are incompatible with iMovie on the iPad.)  Note that 1080 MP4’s also will not play on the iPad but they can be copied from your camera card for later transfer to a computer when you get home.  This limitation is a shame because my travel videos are really important to me.

When I’m shooting locally, I do shoot in AVCHD.  This requires that I import the videos using iMovie and delete the videos directly on the camera.  (iMovie copies the videos into events instead of moving/deleting them.)  One can upload from iMovie to most online social sites (except Picasaweb).  If one includes the iMovie Events folder in Picasa, I can upload to Picasaweb using that app.

The Canon EOS Rebel records in 1920×1080/60i in MOV but does not offer GPS.  The above hassle could be avoided by the use of a Canon and an Eye-Fi card with a-GPS enabled.

In conclusion,

1) If you have Windows 7, import your AVCHD video into Windows Live Movie Maker and delete the videos from the card using your camera’s delete function.  (Or just import it with your pictures in Windows Live Photo Gallery.)

2) If you own a Mac, import using iMovie and delete the videos from the camera card using your camera’s delete function.

3) If you own a pre- Windows 7 PC, buy Corel VideoStudio and delete the videos from the card using your camera’s delete function.

4) If you can’t be bothered, avoid Sony and Panasonic and buy a camera that records in a more flexible format (like a Canon Rebel).

5) If you say “edit-schmedit”, copy the contents of the AVCHD folder onto a DVD-R or SDHC card and stick it in your Blu-Ray player.

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of people on forums frustrated by this format.  Hope this can be of help to those who wish to enjoy the highest level of performance from their camera with the least amount of hassle.

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