Kodak Digital Camera QuickTime MOV Problems

NOTE: This page is now quite old (December 2004).

For the background to a solution to a more recent Kodak P880 MOV problem emailed to me, see to the bottom of this page …

After battling a number of serious problems with the videos taken by my new Kodak Digital Camera, I decided to write up this page so that anyone searching the web would find out the true answers without as much grief!

I’ve also made some other comments about my experience with the camera, in case anyone was considering buying a Kodak camera in the near future.

I bought the camera just before Christmas 2004 in the US. At the time of writing, it is a pretty good model for domestic use—about 5.2 megapixels, costing about US$400 (or AU$600 back here in Australia). From a company as reputable as Kodak, I expected no problems.

The first disappointing thing was that the spring inside the spring-loaded battery clip, inside the camera, came loose within days. It proved impossible to reattach it without completely dismantling the camera, which (despite my engineering qualifications) I was not willing to do. This would usually have been a warranty item, but Kodak’s warranty does not extend to other countries. I’ve since had to jam cardboard in to keep the battery clip engaged, and have taped the battery bay shut to avoid it opening accidentally when taking the camera out of the case. This works fine with the docking station (an extra AU$100!), but it means I can no longer charge the battery without the docking station (since you need to take it out to charge it). I was not impressed!

The camera takes good photos, and I have no complaint with that. The controls and camera menus are well-designed. The large display is excellent.

The EasyShare software is not as easy to use as it looks, has a habit of crashing, has a web update program that is always running in the background of Windows, and transferring images is nowhere as easy or quick as it should be. I’ve now uninstalled it completely, and simply copy the photos directly from the device. (If the camera memory is nearly full, and you just want to transfer the last few photos, then it’s impossible to use the EasyShare software to browse the camera’s photos without it actually downloading the whole lot through the USB cable—and it takes forever! Copying from the device directly doesn’t hit this bug.)

The capability to take video using the camera was a great attraction when I selected it, and, if it worked properly, it would make it quite a handy little camcorder in its own right. With a 512 MB memory card in it, over an hour of video can be recorded at Video-CD quality (320 x 240 24fps video, 8 kHz audio). It’s not full digital video, but it would still be a pretty good feature for a US$400 camera. If it worked.

The first disappointing thing about taking videos is that the optical zoom cannot be adjusted while the camera is recording. It can only be adjusted between video sequences. I don’t know why this restriction was made in the design.

The real problems, however, start when you try to do anything with the video clips captured by the camera. Kodak has chosen to capture the videos in QuickTime format. This is fine—QuickTime is, technically, excellent—except that there is no simple way to convert QuickTime MOV files to AVI or MPEG or VCD. The Kodak software comes with a QuickTime player, so you can see the video clips on the computer you installed the software on—and they look good. Problem is that you can’t just dump those MOV files onto your Video-CD creator (it will usually want AVI or MPEG files).

It takes some time to realise that Kodak have not even bothered to include any software with the camera that can convert these MOV files to a more useful format. This is a serious PR blunder, and anyone bitten by this is unlikely to go near the Kodak brand ever again.

After some web searching, owners of these cameras generally find that the best (only?) freeware solution to convert MOV to AVI is Bink and Smacker’s RADtools program.

RADtools is amazingly powerful for the price (i.e. free), but it hits two fundamental problems with Kodak Digital Camera MOV video files, that are the fault of the Kodak camera, not RADtools. (I know this because every other MOV converter hits the same problems—except one, as you will see below.)

The first problem is that the sound cannot be converted properly. When you convert any Kodak MOV files, there is an “aliasing” of the sound at the upper frequencies. This is a technical description—you get a whispery, tinny, C3PO type of echo to everything. It really destroys the quality of the video clips (especially bad when I am trying to capture priceless memories of my 4- and 7-year-old sons—I don’t want their voices destroyed for all time).

Every conversion program I tried ended up with the same audio problem. I concluded that it is something strange in the way the Kodak cameras store the MOV files.

Strangely enough, I noticed that the QuickTime player didn’t distort the audio like this. The audio sounds just fine through QuickTime. More on this shortly.

The second, more serious problem is that RADtools could not properly convert some of the video clips at all. (This problem only affected less than 10% of the clips I originally filmed, but most of those clips were very short—less than 20 seconds. It seems that the probability of this problem gets worse, the longer the clip.) RADtools would misreport the number of frames in the clip, and would stretch out a small number of frames of video (in slow motion) to match the length of the audio.

Again, I confirmed that this is a property of some of the MOV files stored by the camera. Other conversion tools also had problems with the same MOV clips.

After more angst, I found a number of websites in which frustrated owners of these Kodak cameras have reported the exact same problems.

It was only then that I discovered that QuickTime itself can convert MOV files to AVI. Believe it or not, it’s built into the QuickTime Player that Kodak supplies, or that you can download free from apple.com. The problem is that you can’t use it unless you pay Apple to upgrade to QuickTime Pro.

After realising that this would probably be the only way to get decent audio for these clips, I paid the AU$59 to Apple Australia to get the licence key that enables the extra “Pro” menu options in QuickTime.

Sure enough, you can “Export” any MOV file to a number of formats, including AVI. And guess what? The audio comes out fine!

So, the first piece of advice I can give is: pay Apple the US$29 (or whatever amount it is in your country) to upgrade QuickTime to QuickTime Pro.

From here, however, there are still a few snags to untangle.

The first is that the default settings for Exporting to AVI don’t give a great result. It defaults to the Cinepak codec, medium quality. This looks terrible compared to the original QuickTime movie. Even on maximum quality, that codec just doesn’t give good results.

I finally found that the best option is to use the Intel Indeo Video 4.4 codec, set on maximum quality. This creates AVI files that are 10 to 20 times larger than the original MOV files, but the quality is there. If (like me) you only want the AVI files so you can dump them into your Video-CD program, then you want to keep the quality as high as possible in this first step. The extra hard disk space is not really a concern. When your VCD program converts the AVI files to MPEG, it will compress them to the usual VCD size.

Now for the biggest snag: those problem MOV files are still a problem, even for QuickTime Pro. Unbelievably, these Kodak cameras are spitting out MOV files which have some sort of technical flaw in their data specifications. QuickTime is able to play them back fine—and that seems to be all that the Kodak engineers really checked. However, if QuickTime Pro tries to export them, then when the progress bar gets to the end, it never finishes. It just keeps going. If you check the output folder with Explorer, and keep hitting F5 to update the file listing, you can see the file getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger. It never stops.

That this happens even for QuickTime itself (the native format for these files) confirms that the problem is with the software built into these Kodak cameras. It would be nice it they issued a patch or a fix. I couldn’t find one.

Fortunately, there is a “workaround” for this problem. I found it when trolling the net trying to find solutions to all these problems. The workaround is to use QuickTime Pro’s cut and paste facility. Open the problem MOV file, then press Ctrl-A (the standard key combination for “select all”—in this case it selects the entire film clip, as you can see by the grey selection of frames at the bottom of the player). Then hit Ctrl-C (i.e. copy, which in this case copies all the frames, but not the incorrect data structure in the original MOV file). Now hit Ctrl-N (i.e. new, in this case a new MOV file or player). In this new player, press Ctrl-V (i.e. paste). Now you have a new version of the MOV file with the bad data structure exorcised. You can save this under a new name, but make sure you specify “Make movie self-contained”—otherwise, it will simply be a link to the original (bad) MOV file, which you are probably going to delete once you save the exorcised version. (You also cannot overwrite the original file, because it needs to access that to make the “self-contained” movie. You need to give it a slightly different name, save it “self-contained”, then delete the original and rename the new copy back to what you wanted it to be. A pain, I agree, but at least the damn thing works—finally!)

The exorcised MOV file can now be used to Export to AVI format. (I also keep all the MOV files on a separate CD, in case I want to reconvert them to a different format in the future. I figure it’s better keeping the exorcised ones than the haunted ones.)

So I hope that all this answers a few of your questions. No, you weren’t being incredibly stupid.

 

Following is the email from Dr Bill Suthers, who has kindly offered his solution for a P880 problem:

Hi John,

 

I have a kodak P880 camera, and in googling for solutions for the MOV file problems found your page at http://www.assassinationscience.com/johncostella/kodak/index.html very easily as it's the top of the google results. 

 

Unfortunately, as Kodak constantly change the internal coding used in the MOV's with different models, the solution that worked for your camera didn't help mine. However, it was part of the learning curve, and eventually I did find a solution. The plain text is below: a formatted version with screenshots is attached.

 

If you are willing, I was wondering if you could add this info to your web page for the benefit of other Kodak users.  As your page comes up at the top of google searches on this subject, it would make the info easy to find for others whose cameras use the same MOV file encoding.

 

Shalom

 

Dr Bill Suthers