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AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents

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Sebastian Howard
AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 16, 2014 at 8:48:57 pm

I have been reading posts on this site for years and it has greatly helped me. I was searching for info and importing ACVHD and couldn't find definitive answers so I figured it out on my own and thought I would share some info for once.

My cameraman shot some footage for me on his Sony A7 camera. (We normally use bigger cams bu anyway...) I get back home to realize the footage is AVCHD at 60p. The folder structure in the card is weird and the there is no readily playable video file to be found.

I discovered that I can easily import AVCHD into FCPX, as long as the folder structure on the card (or wherever you copied it) is left intact. But the footage then has to be optimized by FCPX and is therefor saved within the library. This creates very big files - almost 10 times bigger:

Original AVCHD media folder - 17.24 GB
Optimized media folder (in FCP library) - 181.71 GB

I then learned about CLIPWRAP, which was recommended by Shane Ross and others on this site. I got the app for $50 on App Store and converted the footage. I was able to change the frame rate to 29.97 and choose a lighter Prores setting (Prores LT). This reduced the file sizes to 125.11 GB for the whole folder.

However choosing the lower frame rate caused the footage to be in slow-motion (half-time). (I guess I was expecting CLIPWRAP to “resample” the footage to play in real time…) So I then re-converted in CLIPWRAP leaving the frame rate un-touched. This resulted in the same file sizes (since the number of frames didn’t change, only the number of frames per second.)

Although the file size was significantly reduced (30%), I decided to stay with the FCP-optimized media as I was concerned about quality and grade-ability of the footage. I know the original quality of the source file in AVCHD can't be great to start with and therefore not very grade-able anyway but I figured I would keep my chances on my side with a higher bit-rate.

If any of you have any insights on this or know of better ways to convert AVCHD footage, I would greatly appreciate your posts.

Cheers

Sebastian W. Howard
Batchfilms
Sculpting Life Into Moving Pictures


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Jeremy Garchow
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 16, 2014 at 9:27:48 pm

FCPX can import AVCHD natively. Unless there is something different about the A7 files, I would imagine that FCPX could import the transport streams without much of an issue.

What does the file structure look like?

Jeremy


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John Davidson
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 16, 2014 at 9:53:41 pm

Our FS700 uses AVCHD files and works fine natively with no transcoding.

John Davidson | President / Creative Director | Magic Feather Inc.


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Sebastian Howard
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 16, 2014 at 10:29:36 pm

Well that baffles me.....

Can you tell me what bit rate your files have?

Jeremy, the file structure looks like this:



Does the FS 700 have the same structure?

Sebastian W. Howard
Batchfilms
Sculpting Life Into Moving Pictures


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Noah Kadner
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 16, 2014 at 10:55:24 pm

ProRes LT is noticeably lower quality as well. 50GB savings doesn't make a lot of sense considering how cheap a TB is these days. Why not slip Clipwrap entirely and just stay in FCPX. Faster and better quality...

Noah

FCPWORKS - FCPX Workflow
Call Box Training


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John Davidson
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 16, 2014 at 11:08:44 pm

As this is a still camera and video camera, are you sure you're not trying to import off the photo side? I think Aperture/iPhoto will see one director and FCPX will see the other.

The bitrate for the FS700 is stupid. Something like 20Mbps. That's why it needs an external recorder to get the good data rate.

John Davidson | President / Creative Director | Magic Feather Inc.


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Sebastian Howard
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 16, 2014 at 11:13:55 pm

Thank you Noah. Yes, I agree the 50GB savings is not really significant, hence the reason I kept the FCP optimized footage. I guess I was wondering if there was something I was missing somewhere in the whole process...

John, what external recorder do you use if you don't mind my asking? Perhaps that external recorder is transcoding to Prores on the fly? That's normally what they do...?

Sebastian W. Howard
Batchfilms
Sculpting Life Into Moving Pictures


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John Davidson
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 16, 2014 at 11:15:44 pm

No external recording in the past - but we have an Atomos Shogun on backorder with B&H should that product ever actually get released. We have in the past used an AJA Ki Pro with a Sony F55 and it worked great.

John Davidson | President / Creative Director | Magic Feather Inc.


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Jeremy Garchow
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 17, 2014 at 2:10:53 am

That is truly AVCHD. IF you quick look the "AVCHD" file you should see a bunch of Thumbnails open. You can double click them to open in QuickTime.

You can right click on the AVCHD file and choose to show the package contents. In there you will eventually find a folder probably called "Stream" and perhaps another AVCHD bundle. If you open that package, you'll find the individual clips. You can bring those in directly to fcpx without transcode or rewrap, but that is optional.


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Claude Lyneis
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 17, 2014 at 4:26:50 am

That ratio, about 10 to 1 was what I used to get importing AVCHD back when it converted the AVCHD into ProRes. With FCPX and a new mac in 2011, I have been able to use the AVCHD files without converting. Maybe there are some settings in FCPX that can be changed at import time. My Canon XA20 records AVCHD at about 26 Mbs and that runs about 10 GB/hour on the memory card and on the imported files.


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Jeff Kirkland
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 17, 2014 at 7:11:07 am

I would have thought the only time FCPX is going to optimise AVCHD media is if your project format doesn't match the footage - in which case it's going to render to ProRes in the background.

Jeff Kirkland | Video Producer | Southern Creative Media | Melbourne Australia
http://www.southerncreative.com.au | G+: http://gplus.to/jeffkirkland | Twitter: @jeffkirkland


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Joe Marler
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 17, 2014 at 2:34:33 pm

[Sebastian Howard] "I then re-converted in CLIPWRAP leaving the frame rate un-touched. This resulted in the same file sizes (since the number of frames didn’t change, only the number of frames per second.)

Although the file size was significantly reduced (30%), I decided to stay with the FCP-optimized media as I was concerned about quality and grade-ability of the footage. I know the original quality of the source file in AVCHD can't be great to start with and therefore not very grade-able anyway but I figured I would keep my chances on my side with a higher bit-rate."


You can just import the AVCHD package directly into FCP X. I usually copy the camera native folder tree (presented in Finder as a single file package) to the Mac then import from there -- usually without optimized media. This is from a Canon XA25 with 1080p/60 material at 28 megabits/sec.

The FCP X import dialog is aware of the AVCHD package and you don't have to drill down to locate the video files.

Clipwrap is great if you need easier Finder-level access to the files. However converting before importing adds a (mostly) unnecessary step. In general FCP X on a modern machine can edit most camera native files with adequate performance and quality. If for some reason you later want to selectively create optimized media on specific clips, this can be done within FCP X after import. Just CNTRL-click on the clip in the media browser, select Transcode.... and pick "optimized media".

It is often assumed editing optimized media is superior to camera native media regarding color grading, etc. As this article shows, that's not necessarily the case: http://www.macprovideo.com/hub/final-cut/fcp-x-the-truth-behind-performance...

My advice is do a few simple tests with optimized vs native media, rather than automatically transcode everything (with all the associated costs) assuming it's automatically better.


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Sebastian Howard
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 17, 2014 at 7:53:21 pm

Thank you all for your interesting and insightful responses.

First, upon reading many comments above from people that said they could import AVCHD natively directly into FCPX, I got a little flustered, couldn't understand what I was doing wrong… So went back to FCPX and tried importing again. Well....I discovered (with great embarrassment) that I could simply uncheck the "Create Optimize Media" option and that the footage would import and play natively in the FCPX timeline.

Now I have been editing for a long time and I have to say I was red in the face with humiliation. How did I miss that, I don't know...

However, I still couldn’t check the “Leave files in place” option. For some reason the files had to be “Copi[ed] to library” It’s probably just a question of re-wrapping the files with the proper extension… And I guess it’s useful if you are importing straight from the camera or card.

But all this doesn’t really solve the problem in the end.

Having worked mostly with XDCAM, Prores and some 5D footage, I wasn’t really knowledgeable of AVCHD and I was under the impression that it was a “semi-pro” format… But after researching a little further, I confirmed that AVCHD is indeed an Interframe format, meaning the video file in there is compressed for playback, not for editing. It’s a consumer format that was designed by Panasonic and Sony for enhanced playback experience, hence the folder structure that allows for menus and such. The root file is MTS but the codec inside is none other than H.264.

Now I know our NLE software systems can work well with these compressed files now days but these files still remain Not-Frame-Accurate. And that's an issue for me. Plus they can get buggy for a number of other reasons when you start to apply filters and other effects like colour grading and speed changes.

So bringing AVCHD into FCPX natively is no different than bringing in footage from the Canon 5D. It’s just another consumer format that is not favourable for editing. Yes it can be “optimized” through FCPX or transcoded through software like CLIPWRAP but the source footage remains 4:2:0 and thus a lower quality, especially with regards to colour space.

The article posted above by Joe (Thank you Joe for that) has more information on this topic.

And this video here offers a well summarized explanation of video formats and codecs:





This all makes me wonder why Technicolor bothered creating the CineStyle profile for Canon DSLR cameras when the video recorded by these cameras is still just H.264. Anyway…

So what is the FINAL conclusion? This is it: AVCHD is consumer. If you want good quality footage to work with (with wide colour space possibilities and frame accuracy), then try to use cameras that can record straight to a 4:2:2 "un-compressed" format, like the Canon C300 or XDCAM HD - OR - use an external recorder to record the raw footage straight to the desired Prores format, like the Atamos or AJA Ki-Pro.

Sorry for the long post. I felt the need to try to clear up the subject (somewhat). Hopefully it can help others.

Cheers

Sebastian W. Howard
Batchfilms
Sculpting Life Into Moving Pictures


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Jeremy Garchow
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 17, 2014 at 8:23:05 pm

[Sebastian Howard] "However, I still couldn’t check the “Leave files in place” option. For some reason the files had to be “Copi[ed] to library” It’s probably just a question of re-wrapping the files with the proper extension… And I guess it’s useful if you are importing straight from the camera or card.

But all this doesn’t really solve the problem in the end."


Again, you don't have to rewrap as FCPX can import AVCHD transport streams natively (as of version 10.1.0)

You have to dig in to the package (right click on the AVCHD file and choose to "Show Package Contents", then right click on a file called "BDMV" and chose to Show Package Contents, then open the folder called "STREAM" move the streams out of the AVCHD structure and import.

This cuts down on unnecessary copies of the media on the same drive, and still allows transcoding if you need it. It also breaks the native AVCHD structure and may cause you to lose any spanned clip information, and it might (depending not the camera) create a lot of files that are named the exact same thing, like 00000.MTS

AVCHD is a pain of a format to work with. FCPX (and OSX) have purposefully tried to make this easier, and simply by using FCPX to import and rewrap the footage to .mov saves some trouble at the expense of disk space.


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John Davidson
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 17, 2014 at 8:27:18 pm

I don't think of AVCHD as complete garbage. My take on it is that to use it professionally you just have to know exactly how you want your footage to look when you shoot with it, set the camera accordingly before you hit record, and don't have a 'fix it in post' mentality.

It's a lot like working with HDV. You just have to get it right, right from the start.

John Davidson | President / Creative Director | Magic Feather Inc.


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Joe Marler
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Dec 18, 2014 at 12:36:05 am
Last Edited By Joe Marler on Dec 18, 2014 at 12:43:31 am

[Sebastian Howard] "However, I still couldn’t check the “Leave files in place” option...AVCHD is indeed an Interframe format...the codec inside is none other than H.264...these files still remain Not-Frame-Accurate. And that's an issue for me. Plus they can get buggy for a number of other reasons when you start to apply filters and other effects like colour grading and speed changes...So bringing AVCHD into FCPX natively is no different than bringing in footage from the Canon 5D....the source footage remains 4:2:0 and thus a lower quality, especially with regards to colour space."

You should be able to select "leave files in place" if you copy the AVCHD bundle to your local hard drive. FCP X disallows that option (for obvious reasons) on the camera card.

You're right AVCHD is an interframe codec, but so is MPEG-2, MPEG-4, XAVC and XDCAM. We rely on the codec to reconstruct the P-frames just like we rely on the codec to reconstruct the missing macroblocks within each frame.

I personally have never found a problem with using AVCHD, MPEG-4 or any other interframe codec in FCP X. I have tested the all-intraframe codec (All-I) on my 5D Mark III. It produces 3x the file size at 3x the bit rate, but I can't see any significant difference in image quality or editing.

However I am biased toward documentary work, where our shooting ratio is typically 50:1. If I transcoded all that before or during import it would be a huge task.

If I was shooting mainly scripted narrative, I might record straight to ProRes using an Atmos Ninja or similar. That would still effectively be 4:2:0 from the 5D3, regardless of the storage codec because that's all the camera sends.

Vincent Laforet shot "Reverie" at 4:2:0 on a 5D2 and nobody complained. However he transcoded to ProRes for editing since that was on Final Cut Studio. But he did that because he had to -- Final Cut back then wouldn't edit H.264.


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Andrew Moore
Re: AVCHD and FCPX - my two scents
on Jan 11, 2016 at 6:57:14 pm

Hi mate

I know this post is old but I saw it when looking something up and thought I would mention a couple of bits that might help. You said on your original post that the files had to go in the library if you are converting to optimised. Just in case you are not aware you can change that and put them wherever you like, external drive as would be normal. Just go to library settings before you import and change the location.

With the AVCHD files you have to put them on your hard drive or better save as archive first, you can then leave in place as you mentioned. This is a safe way of doing it and retaining file data as well.

To be honest the way I did things is based on the fact that I shoot both photo and film here and there so.... I right click a few times as stated above in previous post and copy the MTS files into my client folder template. I then import like any other file. I then immediately build proxy files. No matter how you get the AVCHD or MTS files in they are a pig to edit with. I assemble with the proxy and can normally do some good basic colour work with them before switching back to original for final work.

This is now a mute point anyway as I shoot everything with XACV anyway now and they are all MP4 files so no problem, FCPX rolls with fine. The quality is way better as well. I guess you know most of this now but just in case... Cheers


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