Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What we learned

..that is, apart from how treacherous even a thin layer of fresh snow can be, on top of an already wet road. Congratulations to all who came out into what later became the snow epicentre of the West Country, namely Whiteladies Rd last night. And special thanks to Stuart Wiley of Visual Impact Bristol who came along with the Sony EX-3 to demo.

With showcase material from Richard's new Morgan production line and Andy Chastney's Antarctic movies, last night's wefcpug became an XDCAM workshop. It's always gratifying to see Apple continuing the tradition of having at least 2 ways of accomplishing anything, so here is a record (and clarification for some, including me!) of XDCAM workflows. Both routes involve extra downloads from Sony (free) and neither will work with FCP below, I believe, 6.0.3

Richard demo'd the straight FCP-based 'Log and Transfer' from the File dropdown in FCP. This is an exciting applet for code aficionados, being one of the 'new' Cocoa-based chunks of FCP. IMHO the excitement is muted in the look of the L&T window, which is pretty standard FCP look but with a drop shadow for the app's window. Straight out of the FCP box, it works with P2 and AVCHD file, but not with Sony SxS / HDCAM footage. The necessary Sony software is called XDCAM EX Log and Capture and can be downloaded here. That is, if you're registered on the Sony Biz site: you might be bounced to a registration page. If in doubt, google 'XDCAM EX log and Capture'. Note this software is a plug-in to add XDCAM capability to FCP, it's not a stand-alone app, so FCP has to run first.

Method 2, which I demo'd, uses the Sony clip browser/import software which is a stand-alone app. I've been checking links on the web today and there is a bewildering variety of Sony clip browser software offered on their website, most of which is hidden in product pages. The version I use, which I recommend, and which seems to be the latest, is version 2.8.0 The bundle it comes with is PDZK-P1, which has the further Sony product number of BPE-SS-03A1 - I told you it was confusing! It's bundled with the essential SxS software driver from Sony so the card will be recognised by the OS. Now the easiest way to get this software is either (as I did originally) install from the supplied disc and then hunt for an update - or hit the Sony UK front page which is here and look down the page for the full list of (confusingly titled) software downloads. As I said, the first one bundles the app and the SxS driver.

The XDCAM transfer software is, as said, a standalone app. It looks better than the FCP window (IMHO) and is -slightly- more user friendly for non-FCP viewers (eg the producer who's breathing down your neck as you jointly decide which are the good clips). Care needs to be taken in setting up the import prefs (certainly more care than I did last night) so that they are saved in the project's Capture Scratch folder. The workflow for import is effectively the same as the FCP Log&Trans window: view a clip, choose a clip, import a clip (with optional inpoints), and it's possible to rename to something more friendly at this stage. There's one extra step: the transferred clips are put in a folder (with the card index number) and this folder needs to be imported in FCP, by dragging to the browser (where it becomes an FCP bin, as you'd expect).

So, you pays your money (or you don't, since they're all free apps) and takes your choice. One caveat - I'm not sure all the software works on PPC macs. The versions I've featured are OK, but I have a distant memory of getting an error 'architecture not supported' with another version of the clip browser software on my G5.

The other software I was using is ShotPut, which is an app I featured in the podcast recently. It's a file backup/copying app for SxS and P2 cards which you can read about here. I see they're no longer selling the SxS only app, only the pro version which covers both cards, price $89. It is certainly quicker than finder copying, I can vouch, with facilities I didn't use for printouts and DVD burning. If you're seriously into file-based workflows AND need to offload material from the cards frequently, I'd say it's worth the money for peace of mind.

We also saw another solution to the high cost of SxS cards problem: using an SD adapter (Richard waved the Kensington adapter - available here ) plus high speed SDHC memory cards.
According to Richard and Dave, they've not had problems with this method - no dropped frames, no nasties. Plenty to read on the web about it (the good folk at dvinfo.net have summarised the reams of comments here )

And finally
we all got to play with the EX-3 and gave it high marks for picture quality, with some reservations about usability off-tripod. Seemed to be 4 1/2 thumbs up out of 5.

Next meeting will be 2nd Monday in March, that is the 9th March.
(remember M2=wefcpug@BBC)

Phil