Price: £625 plus VAT; HD version, £1,250 plus VAT
Company: Red Giant Software
While everyone would love to shoot on 35mm, the practicalities and expense mean that real film is only used now on the most high-budget productions. The rest of us have to make do with DV, with all its limitations – jaggies, low colour-contrast, a video sheen, and interlaced motion. And there are situations where handheld DV is the only way to go, and a full 35mm system is just impractical. Magic Bullet has been building a solid reputation in the industry as a package that can solve these problems. In theory, you put DV footage in at one end, and you get 35mm quality footage out at the other. In practice, it isn’t quite that simple. But it isn’t far off. Version 1.5 is a free upgrade from 1.1 and is optimized for Pentium 4, rendering up to four times faster, according to Red Giant. The package installs as a collection of plug-ins, protected by a USB dongle. The original Magic Bullet gets rid of jaggies, and does an impressive job of smoothing out all manner of compression artifacts. Look Suite controls colour, and comes with a wide range of colour presets intended to create various warm or cool, stylized or natural, high-saturation or B&W, or indeed just plain bonkers visual looks. This tool on its own is worth the asking price because of the way it adds serious creative punch to dowdy DV footage. Rounding off the set is a letterboxer that adds the usual black borders; a colour filter that makes sure your colour tinkerings are broadcast-legal; and a collection of optical-fade simulations that are only rarely useful, but have much more character than the usual digital transitions. The learning curve is minimal, and you can create preset and custom looks straight out of the box. The results are exceptional. Against real 35mm, Magic Bullet doesn’t quite hit the spot, but its output is miles ahead in smoothness, saturation and character than plain vanilla DV captures. It already has feature-film approval, notably in projects such as Vanilla Sky and Jackass. Overall, it’s an essential purchase for music-video makers, ad directors, and anyone who wants to give their work a truly professional visual appeal.