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XDCAM EX recording format advice

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Greg Barker
XDCAM EX recording format advice
on Nov 16, 2008 at 9:41:04 pm

I just purchased the EX3 and I'm starting to toy with the various formats. I've been following the CineAlta forum for about 6 months so I've read a good deal of information that has helped me both with my decision and planning. I will be shooting footage over the next couple of weeks to get a grasp of all of the info I've read about the camera but I was hoping to get some advice right out of the gate to put me on the right path.

I have been shooting HDV with Sony Z1U's since May 2005. All of my tapes are HDV but all of my projects on spinning disk are DVCPro HD 1080i60 digitized via my AJA Kona 2 card and archived to disk using ProRes 422. I edit DVCPro HD or ProRes 422 using FCP 6.0.4. I have many hours of green screen footage that is in the same format, being used both in current projects and will be used for future projects. I also have many hours of broll that I will continue to use in projects.

My projects generally are talking head either hand held or shot using sticks. If there is camera movement it is usually not fast movement, it would be panning on someone walking, medium pans on fixed objects or shooting rack focus type shots.

Using this information, can I get some recommendations for what format might be best for matching my existing footage, for shooting the type of footage I described and for what formats work best together? Like I said earlier, I've read a lot on this forum and I believe I remember Don Greening saying he liked the HQ 1080/30p format as his mainstay and would vary formats from that as needed. I'm planning to do lots of experimenting but any suggestions I can get as I begin to do this would be great. Also, any resources you could share to help me get a good grasp of the formats as they relate to the EX cameras would be excellent as well. Thanks in advance.

Greg




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Stephen May
Re: XDCAM EX recording format advice
on Nov 17, 2008 at 4:30:31 am

I am certain you will be getting very helpful replies to your well written post, but for what it's worth - here's my thoughts:

You can shoot 1080 / 60i just like you've been doing, and even though your EX3 will be delivering 1920 horizontal res. whereas (I believe) your Z1U is 1440 horizontal res. - they marry well though in FCP 6. Another thing to consider is that there are advantages to be gained by sending your EX3 clips ingested from SxS media cards to compressor to upconvert to ProRes422 even though you will have lost the quality possible from recording straight from the SDI spigot directly to your AJA Kona card.

The advantages are that you will have less compressed clips which will increase the workload for your spinning drives, yet reduce the workload that your processors have to do, AND you will be in harmony with your entire library to date.

I am often exchanging video clips with a couple of videographers who shoot on the HVX200, so I sometimes drop their clips into my FCP6 XDCAM sequences, and things go well. I am usually working in a 1920 x 1080p30 sequence with my clips being native res., and their clips are a collection of DVCPRO ranging from 960 x 540 or 1280 x 720 and it ends up scaling up, but again - it all works out, and especially after compressing the final cut to SD in some cases. Recently, like this last Friday, I finally committed to a 16 terabyte external RAID made by DAT Optics in CA. They're not very well known in the video arena, but they should be! They were very patient as we went through many hours of phone calls and research, and they are much less expensive than other more known options. I am now considering doing what you have outlines; upconverting all of my library to ProRes422. I have the space, even with the RAID 6 backup file structure, and the system is so fast, I can put more work over to the spinning disks and relieve my Dual Quad, plus it looks like color corrections and other filters are able to make higher quality adjustments, and my sequences can now be ProRes422, thus less compressed. The renders will be more intense, but they can wait until the end of the day.

Hopefully this is a little helpful in deciding which way you're going to go with your new camera and your workflow. But it's going to be good! Especially when there is finally a reliable inexpensive device that will record 422 directly out of the SDI spigot in the field. That's what I'm waiting for. -s

Stephen May
Keystone Media Productions
Freelance Videographer


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Greg Barker
Re: XDCAM EX recording format advice
on Nov 18, 2008 at 12:48:31 am

Thanks for the info Stephen. I'm just starting to experiment with the different formats. I don't know how much chroma key work you do but I was thinking in terms of my green screen work I might start shooting progressive for that footage. I think I read that I should be able to get slightly better keys using progressive?



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Don Greening
Re: XDCAM EX recording format advice
on Nov 18, 2008 at 2:17:15 am

[Greg Barker] "My projects generally are talking head either hand held or shot using sticks. If there is camera movement it is usually not fast movement, it would be panning on someone walking, medium pans on fixed objects or shooting rack focus type shots."

In addition to Stephen's advice my suggestion would be to continue shooting 1080x1440 60i with the EX to more closely match with your Z1U footage if you plan to intercut with the 2 cameras in the same project. Going by the subject matter you're shooting in your statement above there should be no problem with using the EX in HDV mode which is called SP 1080i 60 in the EX menu.

As for green screen work my suggestion is to shoot in HQ 1080i 60 mode to take advantage of the increased frame resolution, then cross-convert to Pro Res HQ using Compressor as a stand-alone app. From there you could finish your comps and drop the EX Pro Res stuff into an HDV timeline along with your Z1U clips. Interlaced green screen work will look fine using the EX, providing you still need to match footage with the Z1U in an interlaced timeline. If you're doing green screen and don't plan to match it with another camera then by all means go with progressive. In the EX menu use the HQ 1080p 30 setting for that.

For really fast action stuff you'd want to use either HQ 720p 60 (that's 60 complete progressive frames a second) or HQ 1080i 60 (60 interlaced frames a second) and adjust your shutter speed accordingly to allow for more or less motion blur. This last bit is an aesthetic choice, depending on the look you're trying to achieve or what your client wants.

- Don



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Greg Barker
Re: XDCAM EX recording format advice
on Nov 19, 2008 at 10:58:19 pm

Thanks for the advice Don. I think ultimately I want to shoot the best format possible for the occasion provided I'm not causing myself too much of a headache in post. Keeping in mind that I want to leverage the EX3's capabilities as much as possible.

The majority of my projects are short-form ranging from 1 minute to about 6 minutes in duration. My strategy would be to determine right now what formats will be used for what type of shooting generally, because I don't want to have a bunch of footage in a hodge podge of formats when it comes time to repurpose clips for projects if I can help it. Especially in the broll department because that is where the majority of our reuse, occurs.

Is the best format (without using direct HDSDI capture) for green screen going to be 1080p 30 and then upconverted to ProRes 422 HQ as was suggested?

Also, I would really appreciate any "avoid this scenario if possible" or "this generally works well" with regard to mixing formats in the timeline. Like when Stephen stated above that he shoots 1080p 30 and mixes Panny footage from the HVX and that generally works out okay. Thanks.





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Don Greening
Re: XDCAM EX recording format advice
on Nov 20, 2008 at 7:29:21 am

[Greg Barker] "Is the best format (without using direct HDSDI capture) for green screen going to be 1080p 30 and then upconverted to ProRes 422 HQ as was suggested?"

Yes, but if you know for sure that the green screen stuff you're about to shoot is going to be mixed with interlaced HDV material from your Z1U then I would do a test first (if time permits) to see if shooting interlaced with the EX will do the job for you. It all depends on the particular project. You have to decide if it's worth your while to de-interlace the Z1U footage to match the progressive green screen footage from the EX. Folks have be shooting interlaced green screen for years with good results. You probably know as well as anyone that lighting is more important than anything else when it's time to pull a good key.

You can also choose to shoot progressive green screen, convert to Pro Res for pulling the keys, then use a good interlacing plugin before output to match the Z1U stuff. It all depends on how you like to work and how much time you can afford to spend in post. What most FCP/EX folks are doing these days is to edit the clips in their native codec but changing the render codec to Pro Res which is an option in the sequence setup menu. This way you have the best of both worlds and the least amount of cross converting.

[Greg Barker] "Also, I would really appreciate any "avoid this scenario if possible" or "this generally works well" with regard to mixing formats in the timeline."

These days with the multi-format timeline capabilities of FCP 6 you can mix just about anything together successfully. FCP will conform the different formats to the sequence settings. The only time I've seen FCP get it wrong is when I copied a 720p EX sequence and pasted it into a DV NTSC timeline. Some of the EX clips were overcranked slo mo stuff and it got the aspect ratio wrong for just those few clips. The quick solution was to export a DV NTSC .mov file directly from the 720p timeline using the Export using Quicktime Conversion option.

- Don



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Greg Barker
Re: XDCAM EX recording format advice
on Nov 20, 2008 at 11:37:52 am

Very helpful Don. Thanks!



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Stephen May
Re: XDCAM EX recording format advice
on Nov 21, 2008 at 9:51:24 pm

Don - sometimes you can fix a wrong aspect ration of a clip by just double clicking it into the viewer and in the Motion Tab, select Distort, and under Aspect Ratio you'll likely need to go a negative value. -s

Stephen May
Keystone Media Productions
Freelance Videographer


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Don Greening
Re: XDCAM EX recording format advice
on Nov 22, 2008 at 7:10:14 am

[Stephen May] "sometimes you can fix a wrong aspect ration of a clip by just double clicking it into the viewer and in the Motion Tab, select Distort, and under Aspect Ratio you'll likely need to go a negative value."

Thanks, Stephen. Yup, that's the way I've always done it but this time instead of copying the 720p sequence into a DV NTSC Anamorphic timeline (where the P.A.R. got screwed up on those oevercranked clips) and then rendering/exporting I simply exported a self-contained DV NTSC Anamorphic .mov right from the 720p timeline. The resulting movie had no aspect ratio problems with those few clips. So it saved a bunch of time futzing around in the motion tab then copying/pasting attributes on to the other problem clips.

- Don



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