How to quickly edit Canon DSLR videos

The new crop of DSLRs are great at recording video, but editing the resulting files can be a chore. iMovie / Windows Movie Maker do an ok job, but if you want full control over quality you’ll need something more powerful, like Adobe Premiere (Express) or Sony Vegas Pro. And if you want smooth editing, you’ll need an intermediary codec…It gets expensive, time-consuming, and annoying if all you want to do is quickly share something.

Most of the time, all I want to do is chop the start/end off a video and upload it without losing too much quality. I’ve finally found a way to do this pretty quickly, at a high quality, for free, and without too much fuss. It works fine with video direct from my 7D, so I assume it’ll be fine for the 5D Mark II and the 550D. You’ll need two freeware programs: Avidemux and Handbrake.


Avidemux screenshot

Avidemux can directly cut out a section of video without reprocessing it1.

  1. Open the .mov video file in Avidemux. You’ll get a message about B-frames, asking whether you want to use a safer mode. I say no to this, and everything works fine.
  2. Drag the slider to the start of the section you want to extract, then click the A button on the lower toolbar. The black/white dial on the right hand side works well for getting just the right frame – the further you drag the red line from the equilibrium point, the faster the video will play.
  3. Drag the slider to the end of the required section, and click the B button. The section should now be highlighted in blue, as in the screenshot.
  4. On the left side, make sure Video and Audio are set to ‘Copy’, and the format to ‘AVI’.
  5. That’s it – ‘Save video’ (include the .avi extension in the file name) and it’ll directly copy the extract to a new file.

Check the video plays, then fire up Handbrake.


handbrake screenshot

Handbrake is the best compression tool I’ve found. The resulting video is – to my eyes – indistinguishable from the original, but at a fraction of the size.

  1. Open the newly-produced file in Handbrake, either by dragging+dropping or from the ‘Source’ menu.
  2. In the Presets list, select ‘Normal’. This will produce a file of the same dimensions as the original (Flickr video users: see note and fix below). You can play around with the settings, but I’ve found that the defaults work very well.
  3. Set a file name in ‘Destination’
  4. Hit ‘Start’

Handbrake will presently pop out the resulting file. Check it plays, then you’re ready to upload to wherever.

In my experience this works fine for Vimeo and YouTube, but Flickr needs an extra step during compression. My 7D produces HD videos at 1920 x 1088, and Flickr seems to object to the 1088 – it conks out with a ‘BONK! This video cannot be processed’ error. It works fine if the video is 1920 x 1080, though.2.

Happily, Handbrake can chop out the extra 8 pixels: after you’ve set the ‘Normal’ profile, change the ‘Cropping’ option to ‘Custom’. Set the Top and Bottom to 4, and you should see ‘Display Size’ change to 1920 x 1080. You’re throwing pixels away, though it’s hard to imagine many circumstances where 8 lines make much difference. If it does, you could play with the settings and squeeze it instead.

This works for me using Avidemux 2.5.2 and Handbrake 0.9.4. I don’t know anything about Nikon video formats, but I’d expect they’d be similar enough.

  1. VirtualDub with various plugins can supposedly do this, but I can’t get it to work []
  2. I haven’t tried it with 720p videos, but if you get an error it could be because the video isn’t using standard dimensions, and the above fix, suitably altered, will work. Alternatively, it might be that 1920×1080 is the max. size Flickr accepts, in which case you’ll be fine at 720p []