It’s the workflow, dummy

RED’s forthcoming Scarlet mini marvel is shaking up the video world somewhat. A 3k HD camera for circa. $3,000? Blimey. Two problems, and two reasons I’m not planning to wait for it:

  1. That $3k figure is for a pretty basic camcorder. By the time you add monitoring, storage, and some grips it’ll likely be comparable in price to more conventional camcorders.
  2. Post-production workflow. Ouch.

RED is doing amazing stuff, and it gives us a glimpse of what the future holds. But their cameras are designed for film production, and film production models.

I’m a television and video guy. In my world, colour grading is a luxury, not routine; audio post-sync is something we resent because it costs us extra; we don’t faff about with ‘dailies,’ we shoot, log (if we’re lucky), and cut. We use slates or claps to sync multiple cameras when we don’t have genlock. Audio is onboard.

So my camera dilemma at the moment is between hiring Sony Z1s and Z7s, buying a Panasonic HMC151, and waiting until the end of the year for a Sony Z5. This choice, it turns out, is about post-production workflow:

  • Z1 & Z7 capture HDV to tape. I don’t actually have an HDV playback deck, so I’d probably end up having to buy a Canon HV30 anyway.
  • HMC151 records AVCHD to SD cards, which means transcoding to Apple Intermediate or ProRes on import. I’ve been cutting HDV in ProRes, of late, and it rocks… but how slow are transcodes from 24Mbit AVCHD? Until the camera appears, we don’t know.
  • Z5 records to HDV and – with an adaptor – simultaneously to Compact Flash (as does the Z7). This could be the best of both worlds… or the last gasp of MPEG2. How well does Final Cut handle .m2t files? (hint)

It’s all well and good gushing over a Scarlet, but handling any form of HD – even HDV – is non-trivial. And until you’ve got a reliable post-production workflow, you’ve got nothing.

This is true even of domestic gear, where you can shoot onto miniDVD-R only to find you have a slot-loading drive, or HDV to find you’ve no Firewire, or MPEG2 .mod only to find that Windows Movie Maker can’t handle it.

Don’t be seduced by glamorous bits of kit: the connections are just as important.

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