I just received a question from a reader about the Panasonic AG-AF100.
On the new Panasonic AG-AF100, what is the workflow like (how does it get into the edit system)?
The answer to this question depends on the answers to two more questions:
1) how was the video captured and 2) what edit system are we talking about?
Using A Field Recorder
The Panasonic AF100 internal system captures video to SD cards using the AVCHD format. It also has an HD/SDI output which allows capture of Apple ProRes 422 video directly to a field recorder such as the Nanoflash or AJA Ki Pro Mini.
If you opt for the higher quality of a field recorder, and you’re using Final Cut Pro, your workflow is simple. Transfer the files from the Compact Flash (CF) cards of the field recorder to your computer and start editing.
While you can use the USB 2.0 CF card reader included with these devices, I strongly recommend purchasing a FireWire 800 CF card reader. Depending on the speed of your CF card, you can cut the transfer time in half.
I just transferred 32 gb of video on a SD card using a USB 2.0 reader. It took almost 40 minutes. The same transfer using 300x CF cards on a FireWire 800 reader takes around 22 minutes.
While it’s possible to edit directly from the CF card through a FW800 reader (yes, it’s that fast and the card shows up just like a hard drive) good work flow calls for backups so I recommend transferring the files. I’ll talk more about backups later.
Using The Built-In Recorder
If you’re using the built-in recorder you’ll end up with AVCHD files on an SD card. The first step is to transfer these files to your computer for editing.
I am only able to find USB 2.0 readers for SD cards so you’ll spend more time transferring video than with FW800 CF card readers. On the other hand, AVCHD files are significantly smaller than ProRes 422 files so you may find the transfer time is not a big problem.
If you’re working with AVCHD files you’ll have another step in your work flow – depending on your edit system. After transferring the files to your computer you may need to transcode the files to a format that is more designed for editing.
Adobe Premier Pro CS5 has support for editing AVCHD files directly. Apple’s updated iMovie in iLife ’11 works with most AVCHD formats. It hasn’t been tested with files from the Panasonic AF/AG100 but chances are it will work. With Final Cut Pro you’ll need to transcode your clips to another format.
SD Cards or SDXC Cards?
SDXC is the latest flavor of SD cards and supports higher speeds and cards larger than 32 gb. Panasonic uses a 64gb SDXC card as the reference point in their specs about how much recording time you can get on the AG-AF100.
If you’re on a Mac, you may not be able to read an SDXC card. The built-in card reader on most Macs is SD only. The newest Mac Mini and some mid-2010 iMacs have SDXC readers but OSX does not consistently support the format.
This is supposed to change in the near future as Apple adopts the SDXC standard across its product line but for now you’ll need to carefully check your system capabilities before springing for SDXC cards.
Whichever editor you use, I still recommend transcoding. Here’s why.
Like HDV from mini-cassettes, the AVCHD format is highly compressed so you’ll force the computer to spend lots of processing power to decompress and play every frame in real time.
Also, applying effects to highly compressed clips will always require rendering for viewing. With every little change to the clip you’ll need to render… and render… and render…
It doesn’t take much of that and you’ll wish you’d spent the time up front transcoding to a less compressed format no matter which editor you’re working with.
So, how do you transcode from AVCHD to an editing file format?
With Final Cut Pro you can import the files and transcode to ProRes 422 in the process. You use the Log and Transfer function under the File menu. Here’s a link to the Apple support site with information about the functions and limitations of this feature.
Note that you’ll need to have the file structure of the card completely intact for Log and Transfer to function. If you just drag the video files to your computer and try to import them into FCP later you’ll likely have problems. There are small files associated with the video files that contain metadata about the video files that are necessary for the transfer.
Another option is to use the free video converter MPEG StreamClip from Squared5.com. Available for Mac and Windows, it does a good job of conversion and has a batch tool. I find the gamma is dropped a bit on almost everything converted using MPEG StreamClip. It’s easy to correct this slightly darker video look when you’re grading your final edit. You can create a setting in MPEG StreamClip with increased brightness but that’s not the same as changing the gamma.
Backup, Backup, Backup
A final word about working with video files recorded to any type of card. Backup everything. Several times.
I use a Sony Z5 for some productions and we always shoot double-format – direct to card for fast transfer and high quality and HDV tape for backup. Even with that, I immediately copy the files from the card directly to two drives on my computer. Then I transcode the .MTS files from the Sony to ProRes 422 and keep that copy on another drive.
Professional productions often make a copy of each original file to three drives in the field. They send the three drives home with three people flying on different flights.
When you have tape for a backup you can always ingest the tape and convert from HDV to ProRes in real time. When all you have is a digital video file you have no physical media as a backup. You can’t be too careful or do too much to make sure you have secured the data on those files.
I have personal experience of the value of a backup to a backup.
I recently looked for files from a project shot and completed about 10 months ago. I had decent logs of the production and I knew we had the shots. But I could not find the files.
I’d found the drive with the original transfer of the files and the backup for that drive. But the files from that day were not on the drive.
I checked the log and discovered that the camera operator had not shot tape at the same time. I’m still not sure why but it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
After searching everywhere for three days I was resigned to having to explain that we’d lost the files.
Then I remembered my double-backup scheme and went searching for the “lost” second backup drive. We usually recycle these drives after the project is complete so I didn’t have much hope for recovering the files.
Miracle of miracles, the drive had not been wiped. I discovered that the files had been stored in an incorrectly named folder that had been deleted from the original drives. And now I had the only existing copy.
Yes, I immediately made copies into the correct folders. We made sure that everyone knows how cheap tape is compared to the lost files. And we changed our process for labeling folders to ensure this never happens again.
So, the day will come when you’ll be overjoyed to find your missing files on the backup to your backup. Until then, you’ll just sleep better at night knowing you’ve got your digital assets protected.
I know this has been a long post but let me know what you think about AVCHD editing or backups or the Panasonic AF-AG100.
PS – here’s a recent short film from Philip Bloom that was shot with a pre-production AF100. Read his perspective here.