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Panasonic AF100 Work-Flow

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.

-a-

PS – here’s a recent short film from Philip Bloom that was shot with a pre-production AF100. Read his perspective here.

South: Test film shot with Panasonic AF100 from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Thomas Zayda February 3, 2011, 9:17 am

    “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.”

    Love this quote! Great post

    • Adriel Brunson February 3, 2011, 9:37 pm

      Thanks, Thomas.

      I’m in the middle of a project and here’s our process for backup. We are shooting a live production with 3 HD studio cameras. We record the program and each camera to an HD DVCam tape deck with program audio for archive. We have a dual DVD burner that captures program and burns two DVD’s live for management review. We feed program to a BlackMagic box connected to a Mac running FCP and burn ProRes 422HQ direct to an external hard drive, then we back up that hard drive to an identical disk at the end of every day.

      That’s a lot of backups but with live material there is no second chance, no “do-overs”.

      -a-

  • Thomas Zayda February 3, 2011, 9:18 am

    Love the quote! “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.”

  • Blaire Johnson February 18, 2011, 11:55 am

    I have just received my new Panasonic AGAF100. Your article above was very helpful and informative, though I’m still uncertain about the best workflow with the following: a Mac Book Pro OS 10.5.8, FCP 6.6 and the 64GB SDXC card. I’ve never worked with USB 2.0 before, always preferring FireWire, and I really like using the Western Digital 2TB hard drives. B&H recommended that I get the Delkin Pro Universal Card Reader for $19.89. Can you recommend a firewire workflow with my current puzzle pieces?

    Thank you! Blaire

    • Adriel Brunson February 18, 2011, 5:32 pm

      Blaire,
      Congratulations on your new camera!

      USB 2.0 is just another way to connect devices to a computer. Depending on what you’re doing, it can be as fast as FireWire 400 for file transfers.

      Unlike regular camcorders, the AG/AF100 does not support a FireWire 400 connection. That’s because regular camcorders need to play the footage in real time so it can be digitized and the clips in the AG/AF100 already are digitized.

      To get your files to your MacBook Pro you can connect the camera directly using a mini-USB to USB 2.0 cable or you can pull the SDXC card and use a card reader.

      The Delkin should work for connecting to your MBP but your operating system may not read the card. Reading a 64GB SDXC card on a Mac takes something called “exFAT” compatibility. This was supposed to be included in the Mac OS from 10.6.5 forward so if you’re running the latest version of OSX you should be okay. If not, the computer will display an error saying “The disk you inserted is not recognized by this computer.”

      If this happens you will need to connect directly to the camera to transfer the files to your MBP.

      In the long run you’ll likely want to explore connecting your AG/AF100 to one of the SDI recorders on the market. You’ll get a higher quality video clip and these devices are FireWire compatible for fast file transfer. Your SDXC card will become your backup.

      Let me know how it goes, I look forward to seeing your work on the web!
      -a-

      • Blaire Johnson March 3, 2011, 1:48 pm

        Hi Adriel,
        Thank you so much for your advice! After a long drawn out battle in the technical realms of mumbo jumbo — FCP 6, the AVCHD footage from the Panasonic AGAF100 and my Mac are all playing together nicely, thanks to an upgrade to Snow Leopard and the magic of Clip Wrap 2.3. aaaahhhh……

        For just $100, I was able to get everything up & running:

        $30 upgrade to Snow Leopard OS 10.6.6
        $50 for Clip Wrap, a killer program which converts ACHDV files to .mov files
        $20 for the Delkin Universal Card Reader from B&H (which is now compatible with my Intel-based Mac with the OS update)

        I looked into the SDI recorders, and they are pretty pricey. I spoke with my local Mac store wizards yesterday, and they said more important than upgrading to FCP 7 , was getting a new Mac Book Pro with 8GB of memory, (mine currently has 2GB) as the HD files are so large that editing the project is really going to require it. Now that FCP keeps bringing up the ‘warning, dropped frames box’ at the end of each 8 sec. test clip in the sequence, I am thinking they might be right.

        • Adriel Brunson March 3, 2011, 6:25 pm

          Blair,

          Congratulations on getting your workflow in place!

          I agree with your local Apple gurus – the new MBP’s will be a major improvement in your editing system. Besides, Apple is about to update FCP and it’s likely to be a “must have” update.

          I’m happy to have been of service and I look forward to seeing your video on the web!
          -a-

  • Jonathan Berman February 22, 2011, 6:38 am

    What do you recommend for drives for my MacBookPro to backup and edit with? My intern was suggesting some kind of hard drive dock

  • Jonathan Berman February 22, 2011, 6:49 am

    Great article! Going AF100, it seems, first card camera for me. What do you recommend for drives for my MacBookPro to 1) edit with 2) backup? My intern was suggesting some kind of hard drive dock. We need to keep it low cost and reliable..and fast for the edit. Also do you have a brand for the SDHC 800FW reader? Thanks!

    • Adriel Brunson February 22, 2011, 4:23 pm

      Jonathan,
      You’ll need to check your MacBook Pro for the types of connections available. Older MBP’s have an ExpressCard slot that will accept an adapter for eSATA. Newer MBP’s only have FireWire 800 and 400. eSATA is the fastest and best for video. FW800 is next best.

      When you know what type of connection your MBP can handle then you can choose the drives. There are lots of good drives on the market, just make sure the drive you choose for the main drive runs at 7200 RPM. Your backup drives can be slower but you’ll need 7200 RPM drives for video editing.

      You can daisy-chain FW800 drives but test your read and write speed with a single drive first. You may find the bandwidth gets reduced when you daisy-chain. If so, you’ll need to pick up a FW800 repeater hub.

      I use a G-Tech RAID drive for my main drive, moving projects on and off as needed. I use cheap 1TB drives for backup and project archive. For $100 you can pack all the assets to your project on a drive, unplug it and let it sit on a shelf for years. Just make sure to move all the project assets to the drive for archiving. It’s discouraging to spend time searching for a small graphics or audio file so you can render a new version of an old project.

      As for the FW800 card reader I use a Hoodman – which is no longer available. And it only reads CF cards, not SDHC. There are other FW800 CF card readers on the market but none that I can find support SDHC. However, there are SDHC to CF adapters which may work. Please let me know what works out for you with this.

      -a-

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