Tools to Make HDSLR Editing Easier
Third -party developers have eased way for cutters faced with HDSLR-shot content.
By Oliver Peters
Video-enabled digital still cameras continue to be hot, and Canon, more so than other manufacturers, has been on the vanguard. Nearly every DP I know has responded to at least one bid where the client requested a hybrid DSLR, and quite a few have put down their film, RED, P2 and Sony cameras to shoot predominantly with a Canon EOS 1D/5D/7D camera. Although it still takes a number of accessories to make these cameras "motion production friendly," most of the learning curve is behind us.
The post vendors have responded in kind, with the latest NLE updates from Adobe and Avid designed to address this trend. One of the early stumbling blocks—the true 30fps frame rate of the first 5D cameras—is gone, thanks to a firmware update earlier this year. Now these Canons all shoot in video-friendly frame rates and it's easier than ever to post the footage.
All of the desktop editing applications have been able to handle the camera files to varying degrees, but Apple Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 and Avid Media Composer 5 have specifically targeted this market with added features. Final Cut Pro can handle the native Canon H.264 files, but editing response is poor. Instead, use the free Canon EOS Log & Transfer plug-in to import your clips and convert them to ProRes. This plug-in requires that the files stay in the DCIM folder from the camera's memory card and that the .THM (thumbnail) files are in that same folder. If you strip out the movie files and organize them outside of this structure, then the EOS plug-in won't work.
Adobe and Avid have tweaked their software to go "native," letting you work directly with the movie files. It's no problem if you remove them from their original folder. In Premiere Pro CS5, simply use the Media Browser to locate the files and drag them into the project window. Adobe includes a number of sequence presets optimized for the Canon files. Avid Media Composer 5 does a similar thing using AMA (Avid Media Access). Link to the folder and the Canon files open as an Avid bin. Both applications work relatively smoothly with these H.264 camera files, but performance is clearly better if you convert the files to a more edit-friendly format, like Avid DNxHD or Apple ProRes.
I prefer to convert and organize my files outside of the editor. Any encoding utility, like Sorenson Squeeze or Telestream Episode, will work, but commonly used solutions include Apple Compressor, Squared 5 MPEG Streamclip and Red Giant Magic Bullet Grinder. Since FCP, Premiere Pro and Media Composer all now work with the ProRes codecs, I convert the Canon files to either ProRes 422 or ProRes 422 LT. The H.264 camera files are very highly compressed, so I see little difference between these two codecs on most footage. I'll generally use the lighter ProRes 422 LT codec to save on storage space.
New from Red Giant Software is Magic Bullet Grinder, a Mac encoder designed specifically for the task of batch-converting HDSLR files. It converts them into both a high-quality master file and a draft-quality proxy file. You may choose from several ProRes and/or Photo-JPEG options, complete with added timecode and burn-ins on the proxies. 720p files are automatically upscaled to 1080p. The frame rate of 30p and 60p files can be automatically conformed to 24p for slow motion.
A conversion utility that will appeal to Avid users is the free Offloader application from VideoToolShed. Offloader automates the process of copying and verifying files from removable media, like camera memory cards. It will also transcode the movie files into QuickTime or Avid MXF format.
To organize the footage without an NLE, you can view the files in QuickTime Player or even in Quick Look and Cover Flow on a Mac. Other tools to catalog and rate selects include Adobe Bridge, Adobe Lightroom 3 and Apple Aperture 3. The latter two are still photo applications, but the newest versions let you view motion files, making these viable tools for reviewing footage and adding metadata.
Grinder and the Canon EOS Log & Transfer plug-in will add timecode to the camera files; another handy tool is VideoToolShed's QtChange. I use QtChange to add reel numbers and timecode to my files after conversion, which ensures that the NLE properly tracks the media. Some features, like dupe detection, are dependent on it.
Digital Heaven's MovieLogger is a straightforward logging solution designed for QuickTime media, like HDSLR movies. Use it to review footage and add markers with comments. MovieLogger exports an XML file, which can be read by Final Cut Pro. Import the XML and you'll instantly get all the related footage complete with the markers and data entered from MovieLogger.
Fix It in Post
These cameras have become wildly successful despite one glaring defect: rolling shutter artifacts. All CMOS-sensor cameras have it, but HDSLRs show it more. The most egregious form is the so-called "jell-o-cam" image distortions. These have been addressed by two plug-ins: The Foundry's RollingShutter After Effects plug-in and CoreMelt's Lock & Load X FxPlug filter (Final Cut Studio and After Effects).
Lock & Load X is designed as an image stabilization plug-in, similar to FCP's Smoothcam, but it also includes rolling shutter artifact reduction. It differs from Smoothcam in that it processes the clip only for the length that appears on the timeline, instead of the entire clip. In addition, it will analyze and attempt to correct certain horizontal and vertical image distortions based on specific camera profiles.
Recording good audio is a challenge, so film-style double-system sound has become a great workaround. One option in the field is to use a low-cost handheld recorder, like the Zoom H4n, and sync the recordings in post. The Zoom accepts external microphones and records high-quality uncompressed WAVE files. The need to sync these files to picture led to the popularity of Singular Software's PluralEyes among HDSLR shooters.
PluralEyes is a solution to sync consumer cameras on multi-camera productions using waveform analysis instead of timecode. It was first introduced for FCP, but Singular Software has since expanded its NLE support and added DualEyes as a standalone application. If you record audio in-camera as well as on the Zoom, PluralEyes can automatically sync your dailies. Remember to use a slate and clapsticks, in case you need to sync without PluralEyes or are using an unsupported NLE.
HD-capable digital SLRs are here to stay. The look is awesome and shooters love the creative options they provide. Post is now easier than ever with a little planning and some extra tools in the kit. If you haven't cut one of these jobs yet, I'll bet you will before the end of the year. Jump in—the water's fine!