How to edit old videos with the bare minimum effort

The way we capture and consume videos is always evolving. We may have hit record on camcorders for an hour at a time decades ago to capture moments like graduations or weddings, but these days we’re more likely to enjoy 30-60 second clips that get right to the point. Luckily, the tools we use to make and edit videos today are more accessible than ever. One reader wrote in asking about how to convert old videos on VHS tapes into shorter, edited clips:

From VHS to Short Clips: I have 10 two hour VCR videos of my grandchildren’s dance recitals. I would like to edit each one to only their 3 minute appearances. Then I would like to put it on one CD or whatever is timely. If I try to use a service, I am not sure that they would be able to recognize the kids. I am not too tech savvy, but the one good thing is I have the time.

Gini Musmanno, Pennsylvania

Thanks for writing — it’s always a good time to tackle old stacks of video tapes. Thanks to advances in AI, it’s actually easier than ever to edit videos without having to do anything more than upload your clips. But first, you need to get those taped digitized.

The very first step of any VHS editing project is to get those fragile videos into a more modern, malleable format. For most people, it’s not something worth attempting yourself, at least for a one off project. There are services you can mail the tapes to and they’ll convert them to digital files.

However, experiences can be mixed and if you only have one copy of the recitals, it might feel too risky to let some warehouse across the country take it on. Instead, find a local service that handles video conversion. On Yelp, search for keywords like “video conversion” or “VHS conversion,” or check out the category for “Photography Stores & Services.” They typically charge a fee based on the length of the video.

It’s important to ask the company to convert the VHS tapes into much smaller clips instead of a single two hour file so that they’re easier to work with. If possible, see if they’ll break it up by individual performance. That way they don’t need to know which dancers are your grandchildren, you can review them yourself (this could cost extra but save you a lot of time). If they can’t, you should still be able to find the shorter clip you’re looking for and do a simple trim from there.

Most video and photo hosting services have built-in tools for cropping movie clips, like Apple’s iMovie, Apple Photos and Google Photos. Should you want something a little more polished, there are a number of apps and services that can automatically edit together videos for you with some flare, but many are built to work with videos on a smartphone or tablet, so you’ll want to move your videos onto those devices.

Apple this week announced that the iPad and iPhone version of its iMovie app has a new automatic feature called “Magic Movie.” It lets you choose the clips you want to edit from your phone, then it splices them together to highlight what it detects as the most important parts, such as faces and dialogue. Google Photos, the company’s storage service, has an option to make automated videos on demand.

You can even pick up themes or specific people using its face-detection technology. GoPro, the company that makes small sports cameras, has a mobile app called Quik that automatically edits down long videos or multiple clips intoer projects (you can make one sleek video with the free version, or pay $1.99 a month for a subscription). Video-hosting company Vimeo has an auto-editing tool called Vimeo Create, which includes some free templates or fancier options for paid members, but is more manual.

The company that converts your video can make you a CD or flash drive backup of the videos, but I don’t recommend sending out DVDs or CDs to family members unless they specifically request them. Instead, upload the desired clips to someplace like Dropbox, Google Photos or Apple’s iCloud and share the link over email. This way they’ll be accessible, shareable and backed up.

Another reader wrote in about making videos from scratch, this time on their screen.

Screen recordings for the family: I’m getting a little long in the tooth. I promised my family I’d figure out how to create a video for them of the steps I go through on my iMac to log into various sites, pay my bills, check my bank accounts, manage my portfolio on Vanguard, etc. etc. But I have no idea how to even begin. I’ve seen many instructional videos and YouTubes of people moving from one screen to another, talking as the cursor moves, showing how to click on this, click on that. I’m sure if I could learn how to do this and put the resulting feature on a thumb drive or whatever — call it “Uncle John’s Life Online” — my family would be overjoyed.

John Leydon, Virginia

Hopefully you won’t need these videos any time soon, but I love the idea of ​​making them and adding a little color to your estate planning, in addition to a collection of login names and passwords. The videos of computers and smartphones are called screen recordings, and it’s a built-in feature for most computers and mobile devices these days.

You’re on a Mac computer, so first you’ll clear off your desktop so it’s clean and you’re only showing the window you want. Then open an app called QuickTime Player. Go to File -> New Screen Recording. You’ll get a small window with a few options to record the entire screen or just the selected portion (you can adjust the square to cover whatever part you want to record).

There’s also an option to record audio from the computer’s built-in microphone. I’d highly recommend you turn this on and narrate what you’re doing. In addition to being helpful, I think your loved ones would enjoy hearing your voice.

On an iPhone, you can find a screen recording button (a dot inside a circle) in the control center. If it’s not there, you may need to add it by going to Settings -> Control Center and hitting the green plus sign next to “Screen Recording.” It will count down for three seconds and start recording. Click on the red icon in the top left corner of your screen when you’re done recording.

On many Android devices, you can pull down twice from the top of the screen to locate the screen record button. There are also third party apps you can try like AZ Screen Recorder.

Save any videos someplace your family can easily find them, and be sure to add them as legacy contacts on your big services like Apple or Facebook. This feature lets approved people access your account if something should happen to you.

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