I discovered Focus Enhancements' FS-4 Direct-to-Edit (DTE) recorder while facing near-impossible production deadlines as the production manager for isportsTV, an Internet-based sports broadcasting company. I was covering BMX race events across the country, shooting about 100 individual races at each event. Anyone covering live events knows they typically involve tight schedules and long nights — and this was no different. I'd finish shooting races Sunday night and have to get final products up on the Web site by Tuesday.
With a tape-based workflow, I simply couldn't meet this deadline. Capturing and labeling tape took forever. I'd typically end up finishing on Thursday, two days after the deadline. Faced with this grueling schedule and lack of sleep, I started looking for ways to cut down on production time.
The FS-4 is a portable 1lb, palm-sized DTE recorder that lets me record DV or HDV streams directly to disk via FireWire. The device can be mounted to the camcorder or clipped to my belt. Its 40GB capacity gives me three hours of uninterrupted recording time. An 80GB version is also available.
I typically capture a full day's worth of footage on Saturday, dump everything to an external hard drive Saturday night and am ready to go with a fresh unit Sunday morning.
The ability to record to hard disk and tape in parallel offers the best of both worlds. I use the disk as my editing source, while tape serves as an archive, giving me the added peace of mind of a back-up. Other useful features include the built-in six-second electronic shock cache, as well as the ability to extend the prerecord buffer to minutes, or even hours.
The unit lets me review clips in the field, and while shooting BMX races doesn't exactly allow for much leisure time to review footage in the field, from time to time I do check to see if I got a shot. This playback feature comes in handy when it's time to transfer clips, as I can quickly scan through each clip and delete the unnecessary ones before transferring everything to my hard drive.
The recorder provides the flexibility to select my preferred file format — whether it's uncompressed MPEG files (720p/24, 25, 30) or edit-ready file formats for the major NLEs. Once shooting is complete, I simply connect the device to a Mac or PC editing system just like any FireWire hard disk drive. Clips can be dragged straight into the NLE's timeline, and the footage plus metadata are instantly available for editing. There's no more capturing, labeling or looking through tape. The recorder's transfer time is typically three to four times faster than real time. For example, a one-hour file takes about 15 minutes to transfer.
Most importantly, DTE technology allows me to finally meet my deadlines. Now I can post BMX race footage to my own Web site at www.bmxvideo.net. I'm able to get footage online faster than before.
Capturing tape is the biggest waste of time for any editor — not to mention your creativity can dwindle before you've even started editing. The FS-4 allows me to focus on the creative editing process, instead of logging and capturing footage.
Initially, I did have reservations about whether the device could withstand the rigors of extreme sports BMX videography. Shooting extreme sports is not your typical “set-up a tripod and shoot” video job. On race day, I might be crouching on the side of a jump or perched on top of a mogul. Then, there are the BMX riders. I've been hit more than once. At one point, I was hit by a rider while on the back of a turn about 30ft off the ground. I went down, along with my equipment. As I saw the recorder bounce across the ground, I was pretty sure I'd be shooting with tape for the rest of the day, not to mention spending a long night in the editing room. But when I picked up the recorder, turned it back on and plugged it in, it started working right away. That's when I realized it's no average hard drive.
Richard Montalvo is a BMX videographer.