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Advice on how to configure new iMac Pro for my needs

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Cherin Bower
Advice on how to configure new iMac Pro for my needs
on Dec 23, 2017 at 5:45:41 am

I am purchasing a new iMac pro. I have the budget to buy what will suit my work needs best, but want to be modest and not just buy the most spec'd out iMac unless I need it. I will try to lay out ALL the details of what I know about my work flow and equipment. I desperately need a solution to my growing editing issues. We are growing and stepping up to a more professional level. I am open to ANY advice you may have about ANY aspect of my current work flow. I discovered all of this on my own, and I'm not very tech savvy.

I edit long form documentaries for a private company played on a 4k projector once a year, and plan to edit them for film festivals and share more online as we move forward.

I shoot around 10 TB of 4k and slo mo footage each year to edit from, and store staggering TB's of older footage (some 4k) over the past 10 years to also use in the documentaries. I am a one "man" show, it's just me, I am not techy and have no outside help at the moment.

Editing setup:
MacBook Pro 15 mid 2014
OSx High Sierra 10.13.1 (will upgrade soon)
2.5 GHz intel core i7
16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3
NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M 2 GB
Intel iris pro 1536 MB
500 GB Flash Storage

Macbook Pro 15 late 2013
2.6 GHz Intel Core i7
16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3
NVDIA GeForce GT 750M 2048 MB
1 TB Flash storage

Macbooks are connected to either a BenQ PV270 27" Video Post­Production IPS Monitor, 2560x1440 QHD, 96% DCI-
P3, Brightness Uniformity monitor or an older 2k apple thunderbolt screen via thunderbolt cables.

I had an imac, but I don't use it because my laptops performed better. Here are its specs:
iMac Retina 5k, 27-inch, Late 2015
3.2 GHz Intel core i5
16 GB 1867 MHz DDR3
AMD Radeon R9 M380 2048 MB
1 TB?

I don't really know detailed reasons why one computer works better for me than the other besides better graphics cards and processors.

I have over 100 TB of footage I'm dealing with on external drives and about 30 TB of that is 4k to edit. I run final cut pro x with some 3d graphics while compressing/converting footage in compressor or edit ready and copying/transferring large video files or libraries at any given time. I also render and convert in Apple ProRes 422 where I can. At some stage I hope to use Motion and other programs to do more with my films.

External drives (connected to the one remaining thunderbolt 2 port and lots of daisy chaining; most are fairly full, but not maxed out):
Promise Pegasus 12 TB USB C (with thunderbolt 2 adapters): setup as RAID 0 - plan to compile useable footage here and create FCPx libraries on here or on a new iMac internal SSD drive.
Promise Pegasus 6 TB (thunderbolt 2): RAID 3 or 5? Stores all 4k footage from previous year.
G-Speed Shuttle XL 64 TB tower USB-C- Raid 3 or 5? Stores all archival footage from trail cameras, timelapse cameras (Wingscapes wildlife cam and Brinnos), 4k GoPros, 4k drones, and other cameras used over the past 10 years.
Multiple LACIE thunderbolt 2 drives (1-2 TB, one 5 TB USB-C)
Multiple G-RAID 8 or 16 TB with 4k footage from other years of filming with the following cameras:


Cameras and settings:
Sony PXW z150 - Shoot everything possible in 4k at 30p; hours of long timelapses in 1080 at 24 p; 1080 at 120 fps in super slo mo. All files are .mxf. I convert every clip in compressor using "4k sharing services" to be able to play back the footage in quicktime and for easier editing and compiling in FCPx. I have done this for two years because of my computer processing and playback. I hope with a new computer I can edit those mxf files in my timeline natively as I fear I'm not getting the highest quality result by compressing to 4k sharing services. I don't have a colorist or know much about audio, so I may not be using this camera correctly.

Canon 1dx Mark ii - Shoot everything possible in 4k at 60 fps; 1080 at 120 fps. Filmed with this for a few months; have 3 TB of footage to pull from.

2017 Phantom 4 Pro+ shoot C4k at 60 fps mostly
2016 Phantom 4 Pro shoot 4k at 30 fps
2015 Phantom 3 Pro - shoot 4k at 30 fps

GoPro Hero 4 Black - 4k at 30 fps and 1080 at 120 fps

And a few other cameras that don't record 4k.

I hope a new iMac well allow me to keep up with the camera gear I use. I am thinking of minimal upgrades to at least a 2 TB SSD so I can create and edit my FCP libraries directly on the iMac. I also plan to upgrade the graphics card to the Radeon Pro Vega 64 with 16 GB of HBM2 memory. Are any other upgrades necessary? 8-core processor to 10-core maybe? What about memory? Can I get by seamlessly with 32 GB?

Thank you for any advice on all aspects of my setup, workflow, and most importantly new iMac purchase.

In the past I created massive FCP libraries by copying every clip I used in my timeline directly to the library and didn't create much proxy or optimized media. I think this year I will change that and leave clips on external drives or compile clips I may use onto one drive and keep the library small. I have never used this work flow, so reassurance and tips on how to be careful so I don't get red "missing clips" all the time, would be great. I also don't really know how to best export my final projects out of FCPx. I used to share as ProRes 422, but they were so massive I have stuck with sharing as Computer & Audio H.264 4k then may compress it in compressor. I can always go back and re-share any of my finished projects, so I haven't done any research on which is the best share from FCPx for my projects. They look ok to me on my screens, but not sure about the 4k projector, film festivals, and possibly TV.

Videographer/Ecologist
MPG Ranch Montana


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Joe Marler
Re: Advice on how to configure new iMac Pro for my needs
on Dec 23, 2017 at 1:29:13 pm

[Cherin Bower] "I am purchasing a new iMac pro...I shoot around 10 TB of 4k and slo mo footage each year...
I had an imac, but I don't use it because my laptops performed better. Here are its specs:
iMac Retina 5k, 27-inch, Late 2015...3.2 GHz Intel core i5....AMD Radeon R9 M380 2048 MB....1 TB?

...I have over 100 TB of footage I'm dealing with on external drives and about 30 TB of that is 4k to edit. I run final cut pro x with some 3d graphics while compressing/converting footage in compressor or edit ready and copying/transferring large video files or libraries at any given time. I also render and convert in Apple ProRes 422 where I can....


Cherin, using FCPX, a top-spec 2017 iMac 27 could handle this if you used proxy files. I know this because I'm editing a 20 TB documentary on one and have about 300 TB of on-line storage, mostly 4k H264.

The 2017 iMac is about 2x faster than a top-spec 2015 iMac at H264. It generates ProRes proxies from 4k H264 about 2x faster than a 12-core D700 Mac Pro. It might be 3x faster than your 3.2Ghz i5 with R9 M380.

That said, documentaries shot on H264 with a high shooting ratio are technically very challenging. A top-spec 2017 iMac could do this (using proxy) but it can be a struggle and the proxy workflow for external proxies (ie outside the library) is complicated and tricky.

For this class of endeavor, an iMac Pro would definitely give more performance headroom and the possibility of editing native 4k XAVC-L MXF files without transcoding to proxy. I have not tested this, only mentioning the possibility. The limited early reviews indicate that Apple has somehow added hardware acceleration for H264 encode/decode to the Xeon-based iMac Pro. Nobody yet knows how this was done, whether a custom Xeon design or using the special transcode logic on the Vega GPU.

You will often hear people say "just transcode to ProRes". That may be OK for scripted narratives but for large-scale documentaries with many cameras it doesn't work. E.g, we can't put HDMI recorders on our fleet of drones, our 12 GoPros or our motion control cameras. We have several HDMI recorders but IMO they don't work well in the rough-and-tumble field documentary environment.

This is where an iMac Pro could make a huge difference. If it can smoothly and rapidly edit all your camera-native content, then suddenly you have eliminated all transcoding, and all the associated time and space. It would be a gigantic improvement and simplification of your post production workflow. I don't know for certain it will do that for your 4k XAVC-L MXF content, but my 2017 iMac is on the borderline of being able to smoothly edit camera native 4k H264 XAVC-S without proxy (single cam, not multicam).

Likewise the 4k H264 video from GoPros and DJI drones is highly compressed and can be difficult to edit. However I suspect an iMac Pro can smoothly edit that without proxies or optimized media -- because my 2017 iMac nearly can. So there is a performance threshold, that if obtained, is absolutely transformative when dealing with large amounts of this type of material.

That said, if you edit collaboratively with anyone not having an iMac Pro or want to edit on a laptop, you'll need to generate proxies for that.

Another issue is compute-intensive effects. E.g, Digital Anarchy Flicker Free can miraculously de-flicker a time lapse or banding caused by fluorescent lights but it's extremely CPU-intensive and slow to run. Likewise Neat Video. Running plugins like these on 4k material is agonizing but sometimes necessary. This is another area an iMac Pro would help.

I don't know the optimal iMac Pro config for your case but even a base model would be much faster than anything you have. I'd personally get an 8 or 10-core model with Vega 64 GPU and at least 32GB. For FCPX 32GB is probably enough and according to the latest info Apple and 3rd party service providers can upgrade the iMac Pro memory. That said 64GB and 2TB SSD would give plenty of "elbow room".

In general I would not suggest transcoding to the 4k video sharing presets of Compressor for later editing. By default that uses only 19 megabit/sec for 4k. Even if using a higher bitrate, you are transcoding one H264 format to another for editing. By contrast if using proxy you are editing a ProRes version of the original camera files -- there is no generation loss or lower quality from diminished bit rate.

I know there's a tendency to browse the camera files using Finder, and some codecs make that very difficult. However another solution is just ingest everything to FCPX and browse it there. If using "leave files in place" this is very fast and takes no additional disk space -- provided the machine is fast enough without proxies. The iMac Pro might be that machine.


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Cherin Bower
Re: Advice on how to configure new iMac Pro for my needs
on Dec 27, 2017 at 7:37:29 pm

Thank you Joe, and thanks for reading my long post. I'm looking forward to how much better the iMac pro will perform to my current setup. I think I will go with the specs I mentioned and maybe the 10-core and change my work flow to at least "leave files in place". If I need to generate some proxies, like from drone footage or anything else that is not playing back I'll do that instead of transcoding clips in compressor. I will have a big job going back and replacing all the mxf files that are compressed to 4k sharing services, but it sounds like that is not good to have those compressed clips in such a high end project. If I can't edit them natively, I'll go for proxies first. I've heard this a lot, so I know it must be worth changing. Plus the large fcp libraries were hard to deal with and back up.

Thanks again!

Videographer/Ecologist
MPG Ranch Montana


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Steve Connor
Re: Advice on how to configure new iMac Pro for my needs
on Dec 24, 2017 at 10:38:24 am

Hi Cherin, I checked out your YouTube channel, what fascinating work you do! Please let us know how the iMac Pro works for you. I imagine it's going to be quite a leap in performance, but until we start seeing some real world use of them in January we can only really guess.

"Traditional NLEs have timelines. FCPX has storylines" W.Soyka


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