Compared to ProRes, and other codecs that some brands of cameras use, XAVC on Sony cameras is amazingly efficient. For example, 4K XAVC-I (240 Mbps) is about three times more efficient that 4K ProResHQ (754 Mbps) – with nearly identical picture quality – plus being just as easy to edit in post. Having an efficient codec is important because it reduces file sizes. Smaller file sizes mean you can get more recording time on your memory cards. But even more important than stretching card capacity is how much storage space you will save in post. I don’t know how you make backups in your workflow, but I generally make three copies of all my raw footage:
1) Archive copy A on an HDD.
2) Archive copy B on an HDD.
3) A third copy saved on my editing system’s SSD.
The A and B copies are my digital negatives that will be put into storage and might never be needed again. The third copy is the one I use for editing and grading. Making three copies is necessary to protect against disaster if a drive should fail. Unfortunately, making three backups really chews up a lot of storage capacity. For example, if I bring home 1TB of footage from a shoot, suddenly that grows to 3TB of storage in post.
So, even though XAVC is already far more efficient than ProRes, I still like to further reduce my storage requirements in post by getting rid of material I ready know I won’t need. Whenever possible, I like to reduce that 1TB of raw footage to 500GB, or 300GB before I make my backups. So, instead of making three copies of 1TB of footage, I can save a lot of storage space if I only backup 500GB or 300GB of footage -- all without transcoding or degrading the footage in anyway.
Basically, what I’m talking about is doing a quick rough cut during ingest to throw away unneeded clips entirely, and also trimming the unneeded heads and tails of the clips that are “keepers”.
For example, I shoot a lot of wildlife in slow-motion, and that always results in some lengthy clips. If my camera is set for 23.98p and I track a bird for 30 seconds at 120 fps S&Q Motion, the result is a 2.5-minute slow-motion clip. But who needs a 2.5-minute clip? Nobody. Most editors are only going to use 10-20 seconds of the bird flying -- or less. Almost every wildlife clip has one or two key moments of action, and the rest will be left on the cutting room floor. So what I like to do is only ingest, backup, and archive the best 20-30 seconds of that 2.5-minute clip.
Here's another example: I shoot many rocket launches in Florida using as many as 10 cameras. Some of my slow-motion cameras are on locked-down shots of the pad and I must start them recording a couple of minutes before liftoff. And sometimes I won’t have a chance to stop those unmanned cameras for several minutes after the rocket has left the pad. So, when a camera has been running at 120 fps for a few minutes, what I end up with is a 30–40-minute clip. Of which maybe only two minutes in the middle is all I care about. So why backup a 40-minute clip if a two-minute clip would suffice?
Here's another example: Let’s say you’re working with “talent”, and they keep blowing their lines take after take. Finally, after a dozen takes you get a couple of keepers, and there’s no question that the first ten takes are completely useless. So, why would you waste space backing them up in post?
Here's another example: Let’s say you’re shooting a long interview and the subject rambles for an hour. When you get back home and review the footage you realize there are only two good soundbites in the whole interview. So, why not extract those two soundbites and throw the rest of the footage away? In other words, why back up an hours’ worth of junk (on three different drives) if a couple of minutes of footage will give you all the soundbites you need?
An often-overlooked advantage of shooting with Sony cameras is that you are provided with a very powerful utility program for post called Catalyst Browse – and it is free. No other camera manufacturer has anything for customers that comes remotely close to Catalyst Browse. Catalyst has a ton of features and capabilities, but at its core it is mainly for checking dailies and looking at metadata. Everyone who works with Sony footage ought to have Catalyst Browse on their computer.
One of Catalyst Browse’s best tricks is its ability to make an identical copy of a clip -- but with new In/Out points. Other than having a shorter length, everything about the clone is identical: Same codec, same frame rate, same metadata, same clip name, etc. There is no transcoding or other damage. The clone is still first-generation quality.
Disclaimer: This post isn’t intended to be a tutorial on how to use Catalyst. I'm just going to focus on describing my own workflow for reducing storage.
First, I insert the memory card into the reader and use Catalyst Browse to navigate to the contents of the card. If the BROWSE tab is selected, I can click the thumbnail for any clip and play it back. I then decide if this clip is worth keeping. If not, I do nothing. That clip will not be ingested, and I move on to the next clip.
I continue previewing my clips and skipping over bad takes, until I find a clip that I want to keep. When I find something I want to ingest, I click on the COPY tab in the upper right corner (shown with yellow circle). Then I use the BROWSE button to designate the destination where I want to copy this clip from the memory card to an HDD (or SSD) on my computer system. In this case, let’s say we are going to ingest the footage to the following location: EDIT DRIVE 1 > PROJECT 123 > RAW FOOTAGE > FX6 CARD 1.
Finally, I check the two boxes called “Copy all related media” and “Copy only between mark points”.
Next, if I want to ingest a clip with its original length (no trimming) I just need to click the blue COPY button and the clip will begin transferring. While the clip transfers in the background, I can move on to the next clip, so there is no waiting for the copy to finish.
Let’s say the next clip is 30 minutes long, but I only need two minutes in the middle. So, I mark a new In point . . . and then mark a new Out point. BTW, this is just a rough cut, so I recommend allowing 3-5 seconds of handles. Then I click the COPY button to clone only that two-minute section. I then move on to the next clip.
Let’s say the next clip has two soundbites I want to keep. So, I mark new In/Out points for the first soundbite (allowing 3-5 seconds of handles) . . . and click COPY. I then mark new In/Out points for the second soundbite . . . and click COPY. BTW, the file name of the second clip will automatically have a number added as a suffix so that it does not overwrite the first. If there are other segments of this clip that you want to keep (i.e., more soundbites), just continue to mark new In/Out points and click COPY each time.
After you reach the last clip on the card, you can eject the card and close Catalyst Browse.
Finally, you can use Finder (or some other method) to make two additional copies of the folder FX6 CARD 1 onto other drives. That’s it.
Obviously, this workflow requires a little more time than just copying the entire contents of a card, but it will save you time during editing because you’ll have far less footage to sift through. In fact, whenever I’ve compared the amount of footage that was originally on the memory card to the copy that I made, the difference is usually a 50% – 70% reduction. That is significant.
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