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Old November 22nd, 2007, 07:05 AM   #1
Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: Muskegon, MI
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Best (quality/efficiency) setup for documentary

Hi all,
I need your help making a pre-production decision and deciphering what my post staff is telling me.

We are getting ready to start shooting a 90 minute documentary this spring. The production will be split between inner city "man on the street" interviews of everyday people for which I was planning on using our XH-A1. The other half with be featured studio/location shoots of the experts in full/real HD from a Sony HDW-F900R. This idea has sparked two related debates in our shop that I could use your help on:

1. Portability/Efficiency - We will be shooting 4-6 hours of footage in a new city, every other day for a month (about 60 hours) as part of a "road trip" shoot-a-thon. One thing I feel is important is recording direct to a hard drive somehow to get away from the time needed to capture tapes. Ideally we'll be able to have a guy doing take selects in the back seat as we drive to the next city. We've looked at the FireStore FS-C, but concerned with quality loss from firewire (see #2 below), same would be said for Canon Console or Adobe OnLocation, or direct in to FCP.

2. Image Quality - Because our in-house post production guys have been so spoiled with "real" HD coming in over HD-SDI in it's uncompressed beauty. As a result, they are kind of pitching a fit that we'll lose to much quality because of the compression with FireWire. Whether we shoot to tape and bring over on FireWire, or shoot to a FireStore via firewire, they won't be happy. Is there another option? Is using component-direct-out of the camera to another type of a device an option?

As a result of this debate, we started looking at the AJA IO-HD ( to go in via component, but it's unclear (to me) how we could use that on location in the production workflow since it still uses a firewire connection to the computer. Does the ProRes hardware integration "fix" he firewire issues?

In short - what's the best way to get the absolute highest image quality out of the XH-A1 that will allow us to stay fairly portable and able to edit ASAP once we get back in the van and drive away?
Steve Ramsey is offline   Reply With Quote
Old November 22nd, 2007, 07:26 AM   #2
Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: Little Rock
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Originally Posted by Steve Ramsey View Post
As a result, they are kind of pitching a fit that we'll lose to much quality because of the compression with FireWire. Whether we shoot to tape and bring over on FireWire, or shoot to a FireStore via firewire, they won't be happy. Is there another option?
Sure, tell them to stop pitching a fit and do the job they are paid to do!

I love to drive my Ferrari, but it's not the right choice for picking up 4 people with luggage from the airport.

The same way dragging an uncompressed capture setup across the country, along with the budget for the 70TB of uncompressed storage you will need for the footage alone,
is probably not the right choice.
David W. Jones is offline   Reply With Quote
Old November 22nd, 2007, 08:29 AM   #3
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Agreed, and it's not the firewire itself that is causing a loss of quality... it's the m2t compression to tape, or to firestore.

As far as using something like the AJA box, it would be capturing via component to a better codec, and therefore skipping m2t compression... much better! Though personally, for a job like this, I think you should be fine with doing something like HDV tape + firestore for direct-to-edit. m2t is not that bad for interviews and things like that, it mainly rears it's ugly head with fast motion. As well, I see m2t compression artifacts on discovery channel, natgeo, etc on a very regular basis. People who watch HDTV are fairly well used to the occasional m2t artifact in documentary work, imo.

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Old November 22nd, 2007, 09:15 AM   #4
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If you're doing a road tour of inner city vox pops, I don't think you can worry so much about ultimate quality. Reliability and portability will be more important. You're basically doing ENG work.

Are you going to be building and striking sets with lights to take advantage of the quality or are you doing fast and fluid? If you're not lighting and controlling the set, then the extra quality won't do you a damn bit of good.

If it's that important, you need to be shooting on full-size xdcam -- you'll have the disks for backup and instant access for your nle.

Otherwise, use tape and firestore with what you've got (or go to HVX P2) and live with the quality.

Worry about the content first and then pick the tools that are appropriate. If you're talking about uncompressed capture, you're talking generators, crew, permits, security guards, and a host of other problems you don't want to be dealing with on inner city streets.

Whatever you pick, torture-test it before doing it for real.
Chuck Fadely is offline   Reply With Quote
Old November 22nd, 2007, 04:05 PM   #5
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Kansas City, MO
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I've seen XH A1 footage projected on a 40+ foot screen in a 300 seat theater and it looked great. HDCAM would look even better, but HDV, properly shoot, is still in the same ballpark. It is "real" HD, it's just more compressed.

Also, you're doing studio footage with the expensive camera, and then when you go out of the studio you're shooting HDV--that's perfectly fine. People do that all the time (ever watch TV news--studio talking heads are live, perfect video; location footage is anywhere from XDCAM HD to 1/3" chip SD?). Even before HDV I commonly shot studio things with a 2/3" chip camera and location, documentary type footage with a smaller, ligher DSR250, a 1/3" chip camera. You're going from an interior, well-lighted situation, probably with dolly shots, etc., to exterior and location footage that would look totally different even if shot with the same camera.

All you have to do is make sure whoever's shooting knows the camera well, has it set up the way you like and is overall a decent cameraman. The quest for pristine video transparency doesn't necessarily make the best looking footage. Sometimes studio stuff shot with an expensive camera looks like video, while the cheapcam location work will look like 16mm film by comparison and people will like it better. You use the right tools for the job. If you get outvoted and have to have the HDCAM quality, then take the HDCAM on the road. That's the simplest solution.
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