Digital Workflow. Going Tapeless using 5Dmk2

Please note that this is a reference article for MMQ proStaff.

Well, this one is going to be a major stumbling block for some. Eliminating tape is certainly appealing to me. Who doesn’t love drag and drop file transfer? But if I have to transcode the files into something more editing-friendly, then I’ve lost that convenience. Apple, Canon, someone, please help us out here and do something to make these files easier to edit!
Here’s the deal, as best I can understand it: The files from the camera are in h.264 format (in other words, they appear as a .mov file and are encoded using h.264 codec). Well, h.264 is a great codec for display and distribution, but not for editing. Once I finally got my Final Cut Pro working with the files, I still have to tolerate some dropped frames on playback. I won’t be exporting out of the timeline in the h.264 format, either.
I’ll run through my setup and what I had to do to get it going so far. I have a Mac Book Pro. It’s a 2.5 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GB RAM. My hard drive has been upgraded lately to 360GB, 7200 rpm. I was running Tiger and finally realized that the 10.4.x OS wasn’t getting it done for me. I couldn’t even play two seconds of video before it would stall. After upgrading to Leopard, I’m finally able to use my laptop. It’s important to make sure that your FCP and quicktime are up to date. We ran a quick test on another laptop in the department and found that the files were mostly editable in Final Cut Express as well.
Now many folks who have been testing the video files from the 5D MK II are suggesting that they be transcoded/recompressed before you begin editing. Again, I find that a ridiculous concept for me and completely negates the gain of shooting to a compact flash card. I want ease of use, speed, and simplicity. I want fewer hoops to jump through, not more. I want things to work fast and I need to be as mobile as possible. External hard drives are a luxury.
If you want to learn how to transcode the files before you edit, here’s a good link for you (with a very thorough review). I may make recompressing part of my workflow on medium to long-term pieces, but I think it’s essential for daily work that I be able to edit in h.264 on my laptop without an external hard drive.
Here are some tips that might help if you chose to edit in h.264
The first time you drag a clip into the timeline, you may get a message from FCP suggestion that you change the timeline settings to match your clip. You should agree to that and let FCP change it for you.
Then, go into User Preferences/General and UNcheck the box next to “Report dropped frames during playback”. If you get a notice every time a frame is dropped, you’ll never get anywhere during playback in the timeline. Expect to see some skipping and dropped frames while editing, but I found it tolerable and they weren’t there after export. Most of the dropped frames happen for me at the beginning of each clip - in other words, when the playhead has moved to the next clip there is a bit of a stutter.

In System Settings/Playback Control, I have the following:
RT: Unlimited
Video quality: low
Frame Rate: Dynamic
Pulldown Pattern: 2:3:2:3
Gamma Correction: Accurate
Frame offset: 4
Record: Use Playback settings

I initially had some trouble with transitions and lower thirds. They would play fine in the timeline, but on export, the video would just completely wig out on playback when it would hit those spots. Originally, I was exporting to quicktime movie, using current settings. So that amounted to taking an h.264 video and coding it again in h.264. Apparently that wasn’t a good thing. After I exported again to quicktime movie, but this time changing current settings to the Apple ProRes 422 1920 x 1080 60i 48kHz (not the HQ version), the transitions came out fine. I used that big file (2.5 GB for 3 minute of video) as my master to encode further for the web.
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