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Old November 13th, 2005, 09:58 AM   #1
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going tapeless remains illusive but...

Just reading through the recent posts in this topic, it looks like there are some very unhappy customers out there at the moment.

That is a shame, because a year ago Focus' presence here, particularly that of Matt McEwen was exemplary. I don't know what happened, but a revolutionary product and potentially highly useful tool seems to be turning into a bomb magnate of criticism for the company.

I have just finished principle shooting for a project last week, on which I used the FS-4 Pro (which I purchased about a month ago). Ironically it was the same client and project for which I was hoping to use the FS-4 last year. It took about one year for the FS-4 to reach my hands from the first moment I had set eyes on it. This project is a training film, which was shot using a XL-2 and the mini-35 adapter from P+S technik.

The FS-4 Pro with firmware version 1.0.1 captured about 80 - 85 % of everything shot. I shot to tape at the same time. This affirms for me that the FS-4 / Pro is not reliable enough to work without a tape running in the camera at the same time.

There were three reasons for the FS-4 Pro not having gotten some shots on HDD.

1. and the most common reason was that the communication between the XL-2 and FS-4 Pro was not solid. The indications of proper or improper communication between the FS-4 and the XL-2 are not adequate for worry free use. A clear indication of lack of communication between the two devices is that the FS-4 Pro does not show TC on it's LCD when it's display is set to DV Pal (in my case) and the TC is set to external (FS-4 gets it's TC from the camera - or more exactly the tape). If there are no numbers there, there is no communication. If you press record on the camera you will record to tape but not to the FS-4. The TC in the LCD display does not advance while recording. The worst case, however, is when there are all zeroes indicated in the LCD TC display on the FS-4. This can mean that there is communication between the two devices and the FS-4 will capture to disk and tape when the record button is pressed. The zeroes are a result of the XL-2 having gone into shallow stand-by and the tape is no longer threaded. The LED on the FS-4 is solid green in this case (which is also the status indication of no connection between devices). When the record button is pressed, the XL-2 threads the tape, the FS-4 starts blinking red and then goes to steady red when recording starts, the TC advances on the FS-4's LCD. Unfortunately when there are all zeroes in the FS-4's LCD this can also mean that there is some, but not sufficient communication between the two devices to successfully record. There is however enough communication for the FS-4 to give all LED indications of recording; only in this case the TC does not advance. This happens most often (or maybe only) when the FS-4 has been turned on after the XL-2 has been turned on. This is unfortunate, because in practice, a shot will be composed with the camera on well before actual recording takes place. This lends itself to leaving the FS-4 off until it will be needed, for two main reasons: to save FS-4 battery life, and to prevent the FS-4 from building up heat and causing it's fan to go on in the middle of a shot. The fan noise in the firmware version 1.0.1 is really much more acceptable than the previous versions I have used thus far, but I still don't like having the fan on. Because of the danger bad communication between the XL-2 and the FS-4 Pro, I found myself leaving the FS-4 on even when I would have otherwise shut it down. When I did shut it down with the XL-2 still on, I would try to reboot it well in advance of shooting, and after the FS-4 was running I would shoot a second of footage to make sure that the TC was running. This is a pain, since I had to direct last second lighting changes, check to see that the mini 35 was running and that the boom microphone was not in frame at this time. The fix for when the TC wasn't advancing was to put the XL-2 into deep standby by pushing the STANDBY button, and then waking it again. This is also a pain because the director kept asking me why the camera was going dead just before shooting. When things got hairy I just shot on tape and ditched the FS-4, making a mental note that that footage was not on disk.

2. The other reason for footage not being recording to disk was battery end in the middle of a shot. The FS-4 battery indicator has several bars which show the condition of the charge. Unfortunately the last bar indicates that the FS-4 can continue to run from anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes (or maybe longer) depending on whether the LCD backlight is on, if the FS-4 is in standby or is recording. That means that until the battery indicator is on the last bar, you don't need to sweat. After that, you have to worry. Since if you change the battery at that point you are leaving roughly a quarter of it's capacity unused and may not have enough battery to finish the shooting day. And if you continue to use the FS-4 in "reserve" it can start giving off an acoustic warning signal which will ruin just about any audio sensitive shot at almost any time after ten minutes. This happened to me in a longer take last week. I couldn't abort the shot because there was no time to do it over, so I managed to turn the FS-4 off after it started beeping while shooting. The ambient sound was important for the shot.

I started the days with three fully charged standard battery packs. I shot around an hour of footage each day. On the most efficient day I used one and a half battery packs. On the most inefficient day I needed two and a half battery packs.

-->For Focus<--

It would be nice if the acoustic battery low warning could be shut off and if the last battery warning bar could be set to "change battery in five minutes or else".

3. This last reason is really my own fault, but I am including it as a practical example.

Every night after shooting, I transfered the the days shooting to an external FW HDD. It took about ten minutes. I left previous shooting days on the FS-4 for reference purposes.

AND HERE IS THE FIRST BIT OF POSITIVE FEEDBACK -

The FS-4 proved itself to be worth every cent, in that it was possible for us to look at previous takes much quicker (in most cases) than if we had to rewind the tape. The FS-4 also prevents any accidental rerecording of already shot footage due to improper end docking of the tape. This impressed the director, and made up for whatever delays which where caused by using the FS-4 while shooting.

But due to this stockpiling of previous shooting days I managed to fill the FS-4's HDD in the middle of a take while shooting one of the last shots of the day. This could have been easily avoided by deleting at least part of the footage saved to disk between shooting days.

I will post a separate thread with some of the positive benefits I have already felt from working with the FS-4 on this job. In spite of it's short comings I am still very glad that I used it for this project, but I am certain now that the dream of tapeless recording has not yet been fulfilled.
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Old November 14th, 2005, 05:57 PM   #2
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thanks for the post... i have not been able to get any kind of timecode recording to the fs-4 files in tapeless mode.

the alarm can be turned off in the setup menu.

you should abandon the extra fs-4 factory battery packs, and go with a seperate power supply situation that's run in tandem with one small fs-4 battery... i have run the fs-4 for 6+ hours a day on the setup i have, without recharging anything... that included using the fs-4 as an editing source part of the time.

after shooting at least 10 hours of tapeless footage, i have no qualms about using the fs-4 in tapeless mode IF, repeat IF, you make sure to visually verify that it's going into "REC" mode in the viewfinder, every single time that you hit the record button.
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Old November 15th, 2005, 03:34 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dan Euritt
the alarm can be turned off in the setup menu.
Doing this only turns off the button beep. I have the alarm set to ALARM OFF in the SETUP menu - it beeps when the battery gets low.

I'm with you on the self made battery system. I just bought two 3300 NiMH battery packs which I will put in a case. I didn't want to show up on set with too many "experiments" though - the FS-4 in itself was enough. The XL-2 is a rental and I would have had trouble finding a place to put the cobbled battery pack.

I don't know what kind of stuff you shoot other than the car racing, but I can only say that I am very thankful that I had tape in the camera when I was shooting. Not just because I would have not gotten some footage but also because the client has a direct copy of everything we shot.
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Old November 27th, 2005, 08:49 PM   #4
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Dan/s - over the years I've used a number of external Firewire and USB drives (normal PC - not camera). All the problems you are experiencing I believe relate to the same problems I experienced with these drives. Communication errors whether firmware or hardware are common. Damaged harddrives are common. The controller and bridge chips just do not seem to be intelligent/well made enough.

Compare this to my experience using a DSR1500AP as an external recorder for my Sony PD100AP which works faultlessly, every time. The ONLY reason for this failing would be power or cable being knocked out.

Personally I think they have a way to go - a better connector for a starters is necessary. Looking at the connector I don't think IEEE was ever designed with mobile use in mind. At the very least they should have a retaining clip (gee that was hard to think of).
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Old November 28th, 2005, 07:00 PM   #5
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i'd certainly have to agree that the firewire cable was never meant for mobile use... the big plug end going into the fs-4 itself will not pop out, but the little end definitely should be lashed down somehow.

i just shot another 3 hours of tapeless trackside footage a few days ago, no problems at all... every time that the camera viewfinder said "rec", the footage recorded to the fs-4 perfectly... i have never had a communication error with the fs-4/xl1s combo.

i have seen a number of your firewire communication problems on the pc end, tho! typically it's an error that sez something about windows being unable to save the $mft(?) file... i just had it over the weekend, when an ancient firewire enclosure took a dump... i was able to pull the hard drive out and put it into another enclosure, tho, so far no problems with the new setup, but it is a usb 2.0 box... no more external firewire boxes for me.
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