HDV workflow hell

I did a shoot on Thursday for which the client was happy to spring for camera hire, so we ended up shooting with a hired Sony Z1 and my friend Simon’s Canon XH A1. The latter is a lovely piece of kit – it handles brilliantly, the picture quality rocks, and it’s astonishing value. They’re going for about £2,200 at the moment, which is roughly what the hire shop is asking for the beaten-up Z1 they supplied. Easy choice.

We shot HDV, since we thought we might as well, and also because I wanted to gain a little experience with HDV workflows before I wade into the murky world of (probably) buying a camera myself later in the year. The Z1 had to go back, of course, but Simon kindly loaned me the A1 as a capture deck for the weekend. He’s in Maidstone shooting Trisha anyway, poor chap.

…and it’s at capture that my woes begin. I’d hoped to transcode at capture time from HDV to Apple’s Intermediate Codec, but it turns out that this doesn’t work with Canon’s Firewire implementation. There’s no option, in fact, but to set the device control to ‘HDV Firewire Basic,’ and import raw HDV.

This works about 25% of the time. Seriously. Forget trying to log and capture selectively – one’s only hope, it seems, is to batch-capture the entire tape and rely on HDV scene detection. Even then, changing tapes causes the A1 to simply stop sending pictures on most occasions, leading to a turn off/unplug/replug/turn on/unplug/replug/log out/unplug/reboot nightmare before a picture pops up in the log and capture window again. It’s a joke, frankly. If anything, the A1 is less stable with the tapes it shot than it is with the footage from the Z1, but it’s a disaster either way.

Happily, I’ve managed to coax the last HDV tape in, and the remainder are B-roll DV or DVCAM shots from wide-angle lock-offs. They should come in smoothly enough.

Next up: working out whether to edit HDV native, or take Final Cut up on its offer of editing HDV but rendering to ProRes 422. This is probably a good idea, at least going by this excellent summary/advice article.

Canon XH A1: terrific camera, utterly let down by its Firewire performance. If I had an external (Sony?) HDV capture deck I’d be sorely tempted, but I’m not in that sort of league. Roll on the HMC150: if Panasonic don’t naff it up, I don’t think I’ll be alone in bypassing HDV entirely and going jumping straight in AVCHD SDHC. The only real question is: how long does it take to transcode 21/24Mbps AVCHD to ProRes 422?

Some tests may be in order…

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