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Demonstrating iMovie’s stabilization feature

On our flight home from Denver last week, our 10-year-old daughter had the window seat. So I asked her to record the takeoff (using a Canon pocket cam with 1920×1080 video). I gave her no tips (she’d never tried this before), other than to minimize any reflections off the window and to try to keep the camera steady.

The results weren’t bad, given her lack of experience at such things, but they weren’t really usable. So as with my early-morning Portland take-off, I fed the raw video to iMovie’s stabilization routine. The end result is nothing short of amazing, with some caveats as noted after the video:


(Also available on my YouTube channel.)

At first glance, the changes are nothing short of extraordinary. The raw video is almost unwatchable in spots, due to the extreme camera movement. The stabilized video, while jumpy in those same spots, is infinitely more watchable. There are some tradeoffs, of course, to get this stability.

As my high school Physics teacher used to say (too many times to count), “Tawnstahfull” or “TANSTAAFL,” which expands out to “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” In this case, as you look more closely, you can see the tradeoffs involved in the stability of the edited video:

  • There are spots where the stabilized video almost appears to skip frames, because of the amount of work needed to smooth some huge camera movements. This leads to the video appearing “jumpy” in spots.
  • Details are lost as iMovie zooms in as needed to smooth the video. You can see more of the ground after takeoff, for instance, in the raw video.
  • The zooming effect can be a bit distracting. For example, as the plane approaches takeoff speed, the runway edge line is moving in and out; it’s not doing that in the raw video (though it is tilting like crazy).

Depending on what you’ve recorded, the stabilization tradeoffs may or may not be worth it in the final product. In this case, though, I definitely find the stabilized video much easier to watch, and it’s the one I’ll be keeping in my collection. Pretty impressive, iMovie!

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