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Where the tapeless workflow begins

In the not-too-distant past when you were through with a day’s shoot, the tapes would be packed up and delivered back to the station or post house. Once there, they would be viewed and transferred to work tapes, which would be edited and then used to generate an edit decision list and for the final edit.

All that has changed over the past few years, and now, today’s shoot may only exist on an SD card, just a little bigger than a postage stamp. This tutorial will explore what recording devices are in use today and how to ensure that what you shoot will make it to the edit bay.

In-camera storage

Much of today’s video is captured directly to solid-state memory devices within the camera. The size of the memory device and the quality of the video captured determines the amount of time that can be stored on one memory card. For longer shoots, these memory cards will need to be changed out several times.

There are basically four types of solid-state storage cards in use today that plug directly into the camera: Panasonic P2, Sony SxS, SD Memory and RED Compact Flash. The manufacturers of many of these cards offer different price ranges based on the lifetime of the card or the number of read/write cycles the card is expected to perform without error. (See Figure 1.)

Of the two Sony SxS cards, the SxS-1 is a lower-cost version of the SxS Pro; the Pro version has a much higher data transfer rate and a longer lifetime (number of read/write cycles). Using the SxS-1 card may require you to perform a software update on your equipment before you can use it, so check with Sony for details.

P2 cards come in two varieties: the E series (with a higher transfer rate of 1.2Gb/s) and the A series. Even the SD card now comes in several flavors: SD; SDHC, which can hold as much as 32GB; and SDXC, which can reach capacities of 2TB. Keep in mind that the SDHC and SDXC cards are not backward compatible, and the equipment that works with SD may not work with the other two. Always check to see if your equipment will accept a higher-capacity card.

Fitting in

Now that the video is on the memory card, how do you transfer it? The Sony SxS card uses an ExpressCard interface, and the Panasonic P2 cards use a PCMCIA card connector. Some laptop computers have one, if not both, of the connections, but if yours does not, there are many adapters that allow you to connect to a USB port. Both Sony and Panasonic sell docking stations that enable transfer of the data right onto a removable hard disk.

The SD or SDHC card has many adapters to connect it to a USB port, but once again, make sure the adapter will handle the type of SD card you are using.

As the name implies, the RED Compact Flash memory card uses a compact flash (CF) reader, but be careful because some cheap CF readers have been reported to corrupt the data on the card.

Keeping track

The next challenge is keeping track of a card that can be as small as a postage stamp. First off, don’t stick them in your pocket. In the past, reels of film or video tapes were marked and stored in cases, and a sheet was kept with them that noted what scenes were recorded on which reel or tape. The same procedure should be used for today’s storage media.

All memory cards should be labeled, so you always know which one you’re working with and don’t record over what you just captured. These labels should be permanent and labeled with an ID number.

To help keep track of these memory cards, they should always be stored in a case of some kind that protects them from dirt, damage and moisture. Manufacturers make cases that can store up to eight SD cards, and the Sony SxS cards can be stored in a cell phone or cassette tape case.

The amount of effort you expend to protect your recordings should be at least proportional to the amount you would have to spend to replace what’s stored on them. Even in the studio, many stations still record onto videotape (or a separate server) at the same time the video is being ingested into the main video server for studio recordings.

Time to record

Every memory device has a limit to how much video it can store, and with their small size, these solid-state cards are no different. During long shoots they will have to be changed out for new empty ones, but how often is determined by the type of video you are shooting and how big the card is. (See Figure 2.)

Before going out to the shoot, make sure you have enough memory cards to handle all the footage and then some, taking into account how many minutes you plan to shoot and in what format. If the shooting time and number of cards becomes excessive, then you will need to offload the data from the cards to another storage device, like a hard disk. You could also bypass the onboard storage and record directly to an outboard device, either solid state or disk based.

Larger storage options

One of the tradeoffs of using memory cards is that to obtain the longest record times, some compression must be performed on the video being recorded. Many manufacturers use their own compression schemes to record to the memory cards, so if you want more control over the type of compression, or none at all, you will need to use an outboard storage device. These come in two types these days: large solid-state disk drives and traditional disk drives. The traditional disk drives can still hold more data than the solid-state versions, but if the environment is unstable (such as in a helicopter) then a solid-state recorder would work best. (See Figure 3.)

Some of these devices can also be used to offload the memory cards in the field, but once again, it will be to a proprietary hard disk sold by the manufacturer, which will require you to transfer the data again so you can empty and reuse the device.

Most, if not all, of the devices shown in Figure 3 connect to the video camera via HD-SDI cabling, so you get an uncompressed signal from the camera, and all compression choices are made in the recorder. This allows you to pick a format that is compatible with your NLE so the files do not have to be transcoded back at the edit suite.

Besides HD-SDI inputs, these devices also have time code and audio inputs, allowing everything to be stored in one place.

Next Time

The next tutorial will continue this discussion with ways to make sure what you recorded makes its way back to the edit suite.