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Cut Lines: Canon DSLR Workflow in Final Cut Studio 3
Posted Jun 30, 2010 Print Version     Page 1of 1
  

DSLRs are becoming very popular with some event videographers. They take nice HD video images, but they capture them in highly compressed formats that don't lend themselves well to native editing. This month, we'll look specifically at the Canon EOS workflow since Canon has released a Final Cut Pro (FCP) plug-in for the Log & Transfer window. But there's more than one way to go about ingesting this footage into FCP in a format that lends itself to fast, easy editing.


H.264 LongGOP and ProRes 422
First, let’s talk about video file formats and codecs. Long GOP codecs group a specified number of video frames together and make all of those frames dependent on each other. This is known as the GOP, or “Group of Pictures”; a more descriptive term would be “group of video frames.” In each group of pictures in a long GOP stream, about 12–18 frames are grouped together; that group is made up of I-, B-, and P-frames. I-frames are complete and independent and can be read by themselves. An I-frame is normally the first frame of the GOP. The other frames are B- and P-frames, which need to refer to the I-frame or to one another to compile a complete image. Standard-definition DV is an all I-frame format, as are DVCPro HD, AVC-Intra, and ProRes.

In a long GOP format, such as MPEG-2 (HDV) and H.264 (MPEG-4), B- and P-frames contain only data that has changed from other specific frames, not all the data to make up the image in the full frame. B-frames are bidirectional frames and must read data from other frames (those frames before and after them) to fill in their missing pieces. P-frames read data from previous frames to fill in their missing pieces.

An all-I-frame format can be read quickly and easily by the computer hardware. Long GOP formats take more computer horsepower to read each individual frame. This is why videographers who made the jump from DV to HDV experienced such a processing culture shock. In addition to the processing challenges inherent to long GOP formats, edit points and chapter markers can be made only on I-frames, which makes them even more taxing to deal with during editing. It also means color space is limited. You can’t get a 4:4:4 or even 4:2:2 color space out of such highly compressed file formats.
DSLRs record video in long GOP formats. Canon’s EOS cameras (5D Mark II, EOS 7D, and Rebel T2i) record in H.264—a very efficient but highly compressed format. You could import these cameras’ H.264 files directly into FCP and edit with them, but you’d be doing a lot of rendering, you’d find that playback may stutter, and you’d have “conforming” times to sit through. Not to mention that transcoding upon output takes many times longer than editing with all-I-frame codecs.

So we transcode these H.264 files into ProRes (long GOP to all-I-frame) in order to make editing and output much faster, easier, and more productive. I know some folks are using XDCAM and HDV formats in order to save disk space. But the fact is they’re also wasting a lot of time with conforming issues and unreasonably long transcode times. Hard drives are so cheap these days that disk space shouldn’t be any concern to a professional. And transcoding from one LongGOP format to another LongGOP format is very lossy—meaning you're losing image quality—which defeats the purpose of shooting video with a DSLR. So how do we translate into ProRes? There are several ways to get the raw video data from our Canon DSLR to FCP.

Before getting into these ingestion methods, I’d like to point out that this is a tapeless workflow, so you’ll want to keep a copy of the data, intact and in its native format, before you erase it from your CF card. Disk Utility can make a Disk Image of it, or just copy it to a folder to keep it as a backup to the files you actually work with. You must back up data because it will eventually be lost. This is not an “if” but a “when.”

Method 1: StreamClip/Canon Utility
The first method of transcoding DSLR footage for use in the FCP timeline is to use StreamClip or Canon’s own software utility to get the footage from the CF card into an editable format. This has been a popular workflow from the start, as there was no other way to get the footage into FCP. You have to use a card reader to get the original contents, intact, to your hard drive. Then use something such as StreamClip to convert it. This was practically the only way to accomplish this until another option came along that didn’t require a card reader.

Method 2: Aperture/Compressor

The second method that came along was to use Aperture. Why not—these are still cameras, right? When Aperture recently upgraded to version 3, it began supporting video
from DSLR cameras. So when you import your stills, you can create a project in Aperture in which to store your video clips too. They will import in their native H.264 QuickTime format (.mov files). You’ll have two options during the Import process in Aperture: store them inside the Aperture library database, or store them externally in the location of your choice. I put mine into folders in my Capture Scratch folder for FCP, but you can choose any location you wish.

With the Import window open in Aperture (Figure 1, below), the first thing you do is click Uncheck All at the top left. Then, click to highlight the first clip to import and Shift+click the last clip to select them all. You could also Command+click each one individually to select more than one clip at a time.

Canon E1 Plugin
Figure 1. EOS 7D Clips in Aperture's Import window

Once you have all your video clips highlighted, select the check box on one, and all the highlighted clips will be checked for importing. Next, go to the import settings pane to the right, and from the Store Files drop-down menu, select Choose. This opens a regular OS X Save dialog. Navigate to the appropriate location, create a new folder, name it appropriately, and click Create, then Open.

You can also specify the name of the project to which the clips will be referenced inside of Aperture’s catalog. Aperture will include these video files in its library, but they will be physically outside of the Aperture library. You can choose to create a new project in Aperture and store the files inside the Aperture library. Either way will work just fine.

Now that we have our files imported, we want to change them into ProRes files rather than keeping them in their native, tough-to-edit QuickTime H.264 format. In Compressor, I’ve created a droplet
to do this. (See the January 2009 installment of Cut Lines, Step 7, at, for an explanation of how to create a droplet.)

Inside Compressor, go to the Settings window, and click the Plus symbol button at the top right. From that menu, select QuickTime Movie. A new custom preset appears in the Custom folder in the Settings window,
with its settings opened in the Inspector window. Before you do anything else, name it “Canon 7D ProRes,” and for the description, type in “Convert 7D H.264 to ProRes 422” (Figure 2, below).

Converting H.264 footage
Figure 2. Converting H.264 footage from the Canon EOS 7D to edit-ready ProRes

Next, click the Video Settings button and set Compression Type to Apple ProRes 422 and whatever your current fps is (30 or 24). Set gamma correction to none.

Then, click the Audio Settings button and configure the audio to Linear PCM, Stereo, 48 kHz, normal quality, and 16-bit, and turn Little Endian off. You’ve just created a custom preset for transcoding your Canon EOS H.264 video to the much-easier-to-deal-with ProRes file format. There will be absolutely no loss of image or audio quality at all.

With this new preset highlighted in the Settings window, click the Save Selection As Droplet button in the top left (it’s the middle button in the group of three there), and save it to your location of choice. I’ll save it to my desktop for now. Once that’s done, all I have to do is drag and drop my 7D’s H.264 QuickTime files onto the droplet, and it will automatically give me ProRes copies. As long as Destination is set to Source, they’ll end up in the same folder as the originals.

Method 3: Canon's EOS Movie Plugin-E1 for FCP
In March Canon released its own plug-in for FCP 7, EOS Movie Plugin-E1. It lets you use the Log & Transfer window in FCP 7 to ingest the Canon DSLR clips in any flavor of ProRes you want. With this option, you still need a card reader, as the original contents of the CF card must remain intact, folder structure and all.

But with the Canon EOS Movie Plugin (a free download from the Canon Drivers & Downloads section on the 5D Mark II page), you can ingest footage directly from the Log & Transfer window. The great thing about this is you can set In/Out points to limit what part of the shots you ingest and to control audio tracks, mono/stereo, clip names, reel names, and other metadata that is vital for organization and for searching clips as a project progresses.

After installing the plug-in, open the Log & Transfer window in FCP 7, click the folder icon at the top left, and point to the folder containing the CF card data; all the clips will show up in the list. In the Action menu, using the gear wheel icon at the top right of the clip list panel, go to Preferences, and choose ProRes 422 for the Canon option (Figure 3, below). Among the available choices, and HQ will be overkill, and ProRes 422 is recommended by Apple, but my associates and I are finding that the ProRes LT option makes smaller file sizes and retains the original video's quality just fine. Next, adjust the metadata, audio, and video settings for each clip, and drag it to the Queue window below; then watch FCP ingest it all. When it’s done, you’ll have great quality ProRes 422 files in the Browser to start editing easily and quickly.

Choosing ProRes 422
Figure 3. Choosing ProRes 422 via the Canon E1 plug-in in the Log & Transfer window

All in all, this free download makes ingesting much nicer, allowing for metadata customizing, clip trimming, and audio track control.

Inside Final Cut Pro
Once you’ve ingested your footage and imported it into your project’s Browser window, go to the Final Cut Pro menu’s User Preferences and select the Editing tab. Make sure that Auto Conform Sequence is set to Ask. When you drop the first video clip into a new Sequence, FCP will ask you if you want to conform the Sequence settings to the clip’s settings. This way you’ll know the Sequence is configured properly each time you start a new one. If you’re sophisticated enough with FCP, you can also go to the Audio/Video Settings and make the Apple ProRes 1920x1080i60 48 kHz preset the default (Figure 4, below).

Choosing audio/video settings
Figure 4. Choosing audio/video settings for your ProRes file

I hope this helps you work with your Canon DSLR HD video clips. It’s a new genre of video camera, and although it’s not applicable for all applications, these DSLRs do a great job in the environments they are most suited for. Until next time, rock those edits!

Ben Balser (benb at bbalser.com) is an Apple Certified Master Trainer and Support Professional based in Louisiana. He produces media, consults for studios, and teaches media production nationally.



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