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Trying to weigh the cost and benefits of buying Dragonframe as a beginner

Hello,

I'm having a lot of trouble deciding whether it's worth buying Dragonframe. I think my expectations were greater before I did a little research here, I used to think it was an all-in-one video editing program but from what I understand it's mostly just a pro frame grabber. Up here in Canada its almost $400, which is eye-wateringly brutal, but I can see some serious advantages too. The biggest problems I had with my last project was flicker caused my DSLR automatic lens, and my super janky video editing method. I upload my images in Blender, then put the rendered video in Windows Movie Maker, but to squeeze enough sound effects I had to import and export the video 3 times, and it still didn't come out the way I wanted. 

You can see these problems in my last video (mild violence warning)

I like doing stop motion as a hobby and can't afford to buy Dragonframe and some kind of Adobe video editor at the same time, and I'm not really smart enough to learn 2 new programs anyway. I can't justify spending too much money because I'm not an animator and this isn't an investment for me, just for fun. These are the obvious pros and cons for me:

Pros

- Ability to use manual lenses. I have a small collection of old manual lenses that fit my D5100, so I can play around with different lenses instead of the 18-55mm DX lens that came with the camera.

- Onion skinning. I used my D5100's liveview grid exclusively to make sure I was moving stuff around properly, and I got decently good at it. Even if I knocked something over I could get back to where I wanted, it just took a ridiculous amount of time and it was super finicky, sucked the fun out a few times. I can see how Dragonframe would make everything easier.

- Lip sync help. I want to do voices and mouths in my next projects and figure I need something to make it work besides the tiny liveview screen.

- Image editing and camera adjustments on the desktop. It's nice to be able to play with the adjustments and see what everything looks like without swapping my SD card out every time I change something.

Cons

- Price. $400 CAD feels like it's just too much. There's no way I'm going to make any money on my next project (that's not why I want to animate anyway) so it's hard to justify. I wasn't happy with the look of my last project but that's mostly just because of my DX lens. I already tried a few free trials of cheaper software (there were a lot of suggestions on this site) and my D5100 didn't work with those, only with the Dragonframe free trial. There is NO WAY I can afford another camera body, and the old Nikon lenses I have fit my D5100 just fine, so it's either Dragonframe or I wing it with liveview again (which I might be able to get away with).

- Ease of use. I'm a simple man, and while I could get through the free trial to try a few things out I was also easily confused. The lip sync stuff looked like rocket surgery to me. I'd have to invest a lot of time to get familiar with the program but I don't know if I have the patience.

- No video editing (from what I understand). I think you can add audio in Dragonframe, but I want to add multiple sound effects and music that will overlap. I can't afford to buy some fancy video editing software if I buy Dragonframe too. Maybe I just have to import/export in movie maker a bunch of times but it seems kind of stupid to me (although to be fair I am kind of stupid).

- No rig removal. I'd have to use Gimp or something. The other free trials and software I researched had rig removal but it doesn't work with my camera so I can't use them.

I'm sorry if this has come up here before, I did a quick search on google and the searchbar here but didn't see anything similar, and I think my needs are unique because I want to be ambitious on this project but I'm a beginner and I'm just doing this for fun; I don't have the needs of a pro animator. If you got this far thanks for reading. If you deigned to watch my video literally any criticism would be appreciated.

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You are right, Dragonframe is a pro frame grabber, and because it is for professionals  it does not try to be an all-in-one.  Pros would normally be using things like After Effects and a good video editing program for those purposes.

I can suggest a good free editor, Da Vinci Resolve, which will let you assemble your shots, fine tune the cutting points, add as many sound tracks as you need and adjust levels, and do an outstanding job of final colour grading.  I was using Final Cut Pro but have switched to Da Vinci Resolve, and the free version does all I need. (There is a paid premium version too but I can't see a need for it.) It is laid out like other pro editing programs.  At least that avoids the added expense of an editor, on top of DF.  It runs on both Mac and PC.

I have been a pro in the past, but like you am not making money from my animation, and do not expect to. So that makes a monthly subscription model like Adobe now uses out of the question.  I can still do some things on a very old computer with a long discontinued version of After Effects, but when that dies I will have to find something low-cost.

I can see how the cost of Dragonframe looks like too much from that point of view - it is even more in Australian dollars.  I see it as essential so I pay for it.  My first frame gabber required the purchase of a Perception Video Recorder and Capture Card, at over $8000, back when computers couldn't handle standard def video on their own (let alone HD or 4k) so the $400 doesn't seem that much to me, but I get that it is a serious sum to spend on a hobby.  I also use mainly the basic functions - DF has many features I will never use - so an alternative that only does basics could be ok if it does those well.

One no-cost or low-cost alternative frame grabber might be Stop Motion Studio for phones and tablets.  I have tested the free app on my iPad, where it uses the built in video camera.  It does the basics well enough and lets me see how much I have moved the puppet, and play back.  Since I want to shoot on my Canon DSLR with manual Nikon lenses, I would use it with a phone alongside the DSLR, to gauge my moves, then transfer the high quality images from the camera's memory card to the computer for processing and editing.  I have read here that Stop Motion Studio also runs on a computer, so that needs looking into, if it also captures from DSLRs that could be the answer.   It would cost some money, but probably very little.

On a Windows PC I used Stop Motion Pro, and was happy with it, but the PC died and I have only Macs now.  I haven't had a PC to try the current version, SMP Eclypse, but if you are on a Windows PC it is worth checking out.  It won't be that much cheaper than DF though, it is also a pro level frame grabber.  I don't know how well they are doing at keeping up to date with new cameras and operating systems, DF started on Macs but then made a Windows version as well, so that took a lot of the market away.  

I am also a fan of Da Vinci Resolve, which is super powerful and jam packed with great features even though it is free. It also has an effects page - Fusion - which I haven't quite got the hang of yet, and an audio page, plus the best colour correction features available. It can export in a wide range of formats, even handling UltraHD. You would not even have to exit Resolve to do all your sounds, so you would preserve the video quality until ready to export.

I can't see any reason for paying a subscription to Adobe for their products. While I can still use After Effects CS6 and transfer it across I shall do so, but then it will be all into Resolve. There are masses of YouTube video tutorials on how to use it.

Dragonframe is such a good program, and I see paying for it as partly a contribution to the continuing flourishing of stop motion as an art, so I would suggest buying that and getting the free stuff for the other purposes. 

There is a pro software free that let make a complete animation film from begin to end. It's OpenToonz and its last incarnation Tahoma. It was created for hand drawing animation but includes a stop motion module that handle DSLR cams like Dragonframe. The con is it's not easy to use at begining but there are tutorials in youtube and it is completelly free.

I downloaded the free software Tahoma onto my iMac.  I was mostly interested in processing images that I had already captured with Dragonframe, to maybe do what I use After Effects CS5 and TV Paint for, and it was on the computer in the house, not the old one in the studio I use for capture.  So I didn't try connecting a camera to see if i could use it as a frame grabber.  I did want to load images into it, but couldn't figure out how.  After a couple of attempts I gave up.

Where I would normally go to File>Import to load an image sequence, the only File Import option was "Import Toonz Lip Synch File".  The only other likely one, Load Folder, only takes me to from My Computer down to Mackintosh HD, which is the main drive, and won't let me see any folders within that.  Other options include Documents, but I don't put video there, and Sandbox, which is specific to Tahoma so of course there is nothing there yet.  I may have another go and try moving folders to those places before trying to import them.  But really, I've never seen a program that wouldn't let me import files from whatever folder I chose to put them in, whether on the hard drive, or an external drive, and it makes the learning curve steep where there is no need for it.

It looked potentially good, apart from me not being able to figure it out, and could be a great replacement for all these expensive programs when I lose access.  

Tried Tahoma again. That sort of worked, moving a folder of 101 images into Documents, then using Import Folder.  They did import. But it seemed to stack them all vertically, like I had Frame 1 with 101 layers, and the rest of the frames on the timeline were empty.  So I can see it is going to be contrary every step of the way.  Looking at the manual, I see there is an option to get images from a scanner, but I can't see anything about connecting a DSLR for capture or importing images from a folder.  It probably makes more sense to a 2d animator,  that seems to be the primary focus - although even my 2d animation program, TV Paint Animation, does most things similar to Photoshop and video editing programs, and is nothing like this.  

I don't see how I can personally recommend it for stop motion capture (instead of DF or other framegrabbers) and the image processing I normally do in TV Paint or AE (re-sizing, cropping, wire removal, clean-up, compositing).  But if anyone else knows how to use it in a stop motion workflow, I bow to your superior skills.

In my last animation, I used Tahoma with my canon EOS 600D only for shooting. All works OK; live view and remote control of the camera. No difficults in that, photos keep ordered in frames OK. After this I processed photos in after effects as usual. I did not try do this work in Tahoma so don't know if it works for this (but is suposed program was used for create complete animation films in ghibli studios!!). I will investigate this in the future. 

I found how to import images. Go to Browser, select first image of your serie, right clic and select Load. It's not difficult when you know it but i must say it's not intuitive nor standard. The question is whether it is worth spending enough time learning it. All answers are in youtube (named as opentoonz).

Thanks Antonio.  I tried that, still got all the images stacked as layers on frame 1.  I watched a couple of Youtube videos but they didn't cover what I was looking for.  Probably too difficult for me, when I have other software and don't need it yet. When my old computer with most of my software dies and I have no choice, I will be motivated to figure it out! 

Hey Douglas,

After reading through your post, it seems that DragonFrame isn't going to work for you because of the cost.  That being said, I do highly recommend it - it's the only frame grabber software I can find to work with a lip sync / x-sheet.  It gets easier to work with, but yes, it is a bit complicated.  I believe you get access to two licenses for the $400 purchase - that means you could share that license and split the cost with someone else. I've used someone else's in the past, but bought it when I needed it for work.  Is $200 more in your range?

I believe the terms are, you can install DF on 2 computers, but it is intended that both belong to the same person. Probably it is not meant for you to be using both at once, either, though that is possible. I have it on both my Macs, but don't normally use it on both at the same time.  I did do a 2-camera set-up a couple of times, with both computers in the studio and a camera hooked up to DF on each of them, but normally it is just the one being used.  It's nice to have a backup, in case the older one (2008 Mac Pro) breaks down, or I get a glitch and want to figure out if the fault is in the computer, the camera, or the cable.  

I'm sure that sharing the licence with another animator at a different location is not what they had in mind.  

I have yet to test Tahoma as a free frame grabber, since it is installed on this iMac which is not in the studio (a seperate building at the back of the garden).  (Busy stripping and painting old doors out there at the moment so not a good time to drag it out there to test, but I will get around to it eventually.)  But it may be a solution, and costs nothing to install.  

Just following up - 

I did some set StopmoNick with Tahoma.  It is a bit awkward to find my way around, but does the important stuff ok:

1. It found my Canon 7d camera, though I did have to switch it off then on again.  If I wanted to see the full view, I had to specify the pixels (5184 x 3456) when starting the new scene, otherwise it seemed to have 1920 x 1080 as a default.  If I left it like that, I saw a 16:9 view with top and bottom cropped.

2. It could see live view, and click back to previous frames.   Onion skinning if you want it, you adjust transparency of live view, reduce it to see last frame superimposed.

3. I was able to adjust the brightness of the live view, just like in DF, so it was a closer match to the actual exposure.

4. I was able to export the full res images (Large Fine Jpgs) to a folder I created in My Documents.

So basically it does what I need in a capture program.  It is a bit hard to navigate, and the actual scene files are shown in Tahoma as being in a folder inside the Tahoma app in Applications, but the Mac Finder can't see any folders within the app.  And I haven't been able to save to the folders I normally create for my animation projects, I have to put them in Documents.  Otherwise it wants to put everything in the Tahoma App in the Applications folder where they are invisible to my computer.  And so far I need to have made the sub folders in advance, I can't see how to create a folder within Tahoma when I am exporting.  (But there may be a way, just not where I expect to see it.)

But the bottom line is, it is a free program that will capture hi res images from a DSLR and save you the $400.

Next question is, how would it go with Lip Synch?  In DF, I load the audio file, and make the wave form visible below the image in the capture window.  I find I don't need X sheets, used to draw them up manually but no need now.  I can see the sounds coming up, and scrub them to hear the sound, and that is enough to animate the mouth to fit. Just opened Tahoma again -  the online manual I found said to go to the Browser window, then go up to Level at the top of the screen, then Load Level, then find your wav file and import it. Took a bit of fiddling to get to folders that were not in documents but I got there. Then when I went back to the Stop Motion room, it was there in the timeline right where I need it.  I was able to drag it back and forwards to position it in time, and hear the sounds as I scrub - so, althoughI never would have found it without the manual, it does works for animating lip synch as well.  

The other thing yet to try - can it capture Cr2 Raw images?  

I'm sorry for not responding in so long, thank you everyone for your answers.

Based on StopmoNick and Emily Meyer's suggestions I decided to just buy Dragonframe yesterday. I did a little test animation and I have to say Dragonframe makes animating and correcting mistakes/accidental bumps insanely easier, more than I ever considered it could. I had a bit of trouble with editing some images in a sequence and putting it back in but I figured it out. It's still a lot of money but I don't regret buying it like I thought I would.

I also tried DaVinci Resolve and for my purposes it works nicely. My tiny laptop seems like it's on the verge of exploding when editing but it runs reasonably well. I need it for adding lots of sound effects and music and I wasn't limited by anything except my own shortcomings on figuring everything out. It's still a little complicated for me but I stumbled through and got it to work, and it's free so I feel less guilty about buying Dragonframe now. 

If anyone's interested my software toolkit is now Audacity, GIMP, Dragonframe, and DaVinci Resolve, and I don't think I'll need anything else (except maybe a Canon body...)

Thanks again to everyone for your help!

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