XDCAM EX1 Hands-On - Final Cut Pro Workflow
The basics of using Sony's SxS camcorder
By Matthew Jeppsen | January 04, 2008
This article is part of a series of tests FreshDV conducted with the Sony XDCAM PMW-EX1. Thanks to Miami rental house and Sony dealer Midtown Video for providing a XDCAM EX camera. And thanks to DSC Labs for providing test chart patterns. You can read more about ours and others experiences with this camera here.
For our testing Midtown Video provided FreshDV with a EX1 camcorder with the 8GB SxS media card. Before the camera arrived, I downloaded the latest XDCAM Transfer software and SxS drivers. I also had to ensure that I was at the latest FCP version, 6.0.2, and I also brought my Tiger OS and Quicktime versions up date using Software Update (I've been a bit behind, these things make me nervous). I should note that I am using Final Cut Studio on a PPC G5 2.7 Dual. I did not have a computer with ExpressCard slot available for these tests, so the USB connection on the camcorder was used. It simply uses a standard USB cable with mini connector on the camcorder end. Footage shot was a mixed bag...most of the time the card ended up with a mix of SP, HQ, and overcranked 60p footage on it. But regardless of the format, the import procedure into FCP is the same. I wanted to note my experiences with that process.
For starters we should note a few things about the camcorder. Below the rotating handgrip is a small flip-up plastic cover that conceals a line of output connections...A/V, Component mini, and USB mini. The EX has both Camera and Media (VTR) modes, but you can connect to your computer in either mode. When you connect the USB mini cable to the camera and computer, the EX will ask on the display if you would like to connect to the computer...Execute or Cancel. You can use the jogstick at the top of the handgrip to select and click Execute. As a side note, this camera makes you feel really powerful...every confirmation action prompts you to choose "Execute!" The only way that process could be geekier is if the camera gave you a "Make It So!" option. But I digress...
When the camera connects the your Mac, you'll quickly see a new disk volume mount on the Desktop. The camera LCD screen will display USB Connecting and all menus become non-functional until you disconnect. SxS cards are formatted in FAT23, and you can browse the card in Finder just like any other disk or folder. I am told that the cards load on the desktop in the same manner when using a ExpressCard slot instead of USB. If you wish to make a backup of the card pre-import, simply copy the volume's BPAV folder to a directory on another disk. That could be archived or imported/logged later if you wish. As long as the BPAV and ensuing subdirectory files are maintained, Sony's XDCAM Transfer software can import it as if it were a card mounted on your Desktop. Handy.
To import a card into a FCP project, click on File > Import > Sony XDCAM. This loads up the XDCAM Transfer interface separately from Final Cut. I should note that when it loads up, FCP is not "locked" in any way by the transfer software...you can switch back to it and edit while the software imports, etc. Sony's utility loads pretty quickly, and when it does it begins grabbing thumbnails of each clip on the card. These small thumbs are saved as ~50kb jpg in the XDCAM software's database folder structure (which you set the first time you run the software). The Transfer software keeps a log of imported cards on the left side column, and calls up the thumbnails for each when you click on the card name (even if the card is unavailable). This seemed to be of limited use to me, as cards are generally just going to be dumped and erased...but the feature is there. The software allows you to preview clips right there in the window or as full-screen, reveal the clip in Finder, and view generic info on the footage (format, datarate, date/time, but no lens or shot settings seem to be retained). You can also set in/out points for each clip which will automatically create a subclip of that clip which is listed under the Logging tab, and just import the necessary segment(s). You can list multiple subclips for each clip, and it's really quite simple and intuitive to choose which to import, add, remove, all under the Logging tab. Subclip'd clips will show a IN/OUT overlay on their thumbnail, and you can globally clear subclips by selecting all clips, right-clicking, and choosing Clear Subclips from the contextual menu. The Transfer software keeps track of how many subclips you create on a clip...if you make Subclip 1, and then later delete it, the next subclip from that master clip will be named Subclip 2, regardless of whether or not the first subclip still exists. This behavior is retained when the software is closed and restarted. And it makes sense...that way you can never have a conflict with subclip names if you go back and pull in more clips. On transfer, subclips will have an additional number sequence designating they are a subclip. If the master scene clip was named 700_0007_01.mov, subclips one and two would be 700_0007_01_01.mov and 700_0007_01_02.mov, respectively. FYI, clip number designations are derived from a setting in the Others menu of the EX1...you can set the number sequence and reset the clip count as you wish.
To transfer clips from the SxS media, simply select the clips you wish to import, ensure the "Send to Final Cut Pro project" option is ticked, and hit Import. Now is a good time to grab a cup of hot joe...transferring a full 8GB card over USB seems to take around 10 minutes. I'm told that ExpressCard slots are much faster (one user quoted "5min or less for a 16GB SxS card"). As the clips are changed from raw MP4 streams into MXF MOVs, they begin appearing, as if by magic, in the Final Cut Pro Project window. Each clip in the transfer window will indicate if it is being transferred or in queue, and a card clip countdown is shown next to the card name in the left sidebar. When the transfer completes you can kill the XDCAM Transfer software and start editing. The transferred clips are stored in folders matching the card name within the XDCAM Import Location (which is set on the first time you run the software and configurable within the Preferences). Organizational nazis will probably want to change this setting on a project by project basis.
UPDATE: On the subject of organization, here's a few notes on metadata that is transferred. If you manually add a clip or subclip Title in the Transfer software, that is carried over to FCP in the form of the clip's actual filename in lieu of the numbered name. Manually marking a clip or subclip as Good OK in the Transfer software will tick the Good option in FCP's Item Properties > Logging tab. Likewise, the Transfer software's clip/subclip Comment field maps to FCP's Log Note. Transfer software's Creator field doesn't appear to map to anything in FCP. In the import method I outline in the paragraph below this one, the Comment and Good metadata does not get automatically transferred into Final Cut. So if you are manually adding metadata to clips in the XDCAM Transfer software, use the "official" method outlined above. Thanks to Mike Curtis for raising this question!
UPDATE #2: Specifically setting a bin as the Logging Bin has no effect on where the XDCAM Transfer software imports clips. In every situation they end up in the root of the project window. A minor complaint perhaps, but worth noting. Thanks to Kendal Miller for the suggestion.
That is one way to do it...perhaps the official way. Let me tell you how I made the process more streamlined for me, and why. Whether you initiate the XDCAM Import from the File menu or by right-clicking in your project window, the imported files will always show up in the root of your project. You can try the import from within a bin, but no dice. The bin is ignored and the files go to the main project root. For a project organizational freak this is most distressing. You quickly end up with a project window littered with unhelpful clip names like 400_0007_01. Then you gotta make bins, drag all the files into those bins, pray to $DEITY that you didn't accidentally select and move a sequence or other file into the wrong bin, etc. Very messy and most irritating. Here's what I did. Instead of initiating the import from within FCP, I would mount the camera/card and load up the XDCAM Transfer software myself (it's in your Applications directory). It acts, walks and talks the same way with the exception of a missing "Send to Final Cut Pro project" option. But no worry. Next, I select the Untitled card on the left sidebar and name it in the info tab. These names have to be fairly short (probably a FAT32 thing), the software will warn you if it's too long. Then I just hit CMD+A to select all the clips on the card, and hit Import. The clips are massaged and transferred to a folder with the new name you chose, in the XDCAM Transfer Import folder (which is set when you first start the software, or under the Preferences for Import Location). If you don't first name the card, you'll end up with a jumble of files in a Untitled folder. After the transfer completes, I right-click in my FCP project window, select Import Folder, and browse to the appropriate folder name under the XDCAM Import directory structure. Bam. A new bin with a name that makes sense, chock-full of the files you just transferred. This process takes little or no extra time than initiating the transfer from FCP, and the end result is that I control the bins the clips get imported into. Much cleaner overall in my opinion.
When you are all finished importing and logging clips, you should eject the SxS card volume from your desktop like you would any other disk. At that point you can unplug the USB cable from the camcorder and format the card(s) if you wish. One odd thing that happened to me more than once...after renaming a card, transferring clips and then ejecting it (and waiting a few seconds before unplugging the USB cable), the camcorder would sometimes display that it needed to do a Rebuild. This process took all of about 2 seconds to complete, and I never figured out why it would do this. It seemed to happen about 50% of the time for me. I never lost a clip, and haven't seen corrupted or odd files yet (though I do have about 55GB of video to review still, so perhaps we'll find something at a later date). I am assuming it had something to do with renaming the cards on import, as it seemed to start doing this after adopting that workflow. I would appreciate some feedback or explanations from other EX1 users who have experienced the same behavior.
The EX1 clips edit in FCP just like any other long-form GOP format. Not blazingly fast on my 2.7 DP G5, but I certainly get realtime playback with color correction and limited effects. The only real complaint I have is some odd behavior with bins containing a large number of XDCAM format clips...at perhaps 40-50 clips in a bin, the UI will start acting a little wonky. When you select a clip, the clip above it selects instead of the one you clicked on. It's not unusable, but it's really irritating. I have seen this behavior in two of my dozen or so project bins. I haven't figured this one out yet, any helpful tips would be appreciated.
Overall I am pleasantly surprised with the XDCAM Transfer utility and import/logging/performance in general. The UI is useful and performance on my system was snappy. Clips load and preview quickly, and creating subclips is a simple three-click process. USB import directly from the camera isn't particularly fast at 10 min for a full 8GB card. Assuming you've got 30 minutes of footage on a 8GB card you are looking at 3x faster than realtime. However, ExpressCard slot transfers are much faster, so MacBook users have a definite advantage. For P2 users the workflow should be very simple to pick up, and those used to tape will appreciate the ability to non-linearly grab and import scenes and subclips from a card without capturing/importing the whole thing.
Thanks again to both DSC Labs and Midtown Video for making this EX1 test series possible. Stay tuned here or at our EX1 link page for more test results.
This FreshDV classic article is licensed and republished at ProVideoCoalition with permission.
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