Camera Roundtable
Issue: September 1, 2012

Camera Roundtable

Post quizzed six manufacturers about how to make cameras that help facilitate the post production workflow. The powerhouse roundtable discussed the production-post link, the transcoding process, hardware and software that streamlines post, the changing role of the DIT, and ensuring compatibility with the most popular edit systems.

Camera-makers of different stripes are represented on the panel: Red Digital Cinema with its popular Red One and breakthrough 5K Epic; Arri with the Alexa digital motion picture camera’s roster of feature and episodic TV credits; Sony with the new F65 and its 4K capabilities; JVC with its full product line, including the new GY-HM650U boasting WiFi transmission; Canon and its much talked about EOS C300 digital cinema camera; and Panasonic with its continuing commitment to its flagship P2 line and the introduction of AVC-Intra and now AVC-Ultra product.

What are your camera’s biggest contributions or innovations to facilitating the post production workflow?

TED SCHILOWITZ: “Connecting production and post has been a contributing factor to Red’s success. Back on day zero we knew that post production needed to be part and parcel of the camera concept. When we came up with a camera that shoots a series of raw frames, we had to come up with a different concept for post production. If you were going to use this camera you had to look at post production in a new way.  Five years later it’s all commonplace! Every editing system in the world supports the Red workflow natively.
“Part of Red’s popularity is that you can take the raw files and turn them into DNx and ProRes files for editing, then link back to the raw files for finishing. Another key component is the Red Rocket accelerator card, for Mac or PC, that allows every process related to Red to happen in realtime: playback, file creation, DPX creation. Almost every post house uses Red Rocket on the set — the post production that used to happen off site now happens on the set.”

NEIL FANTHOM: “Alexa offers in-camera recording of Apple ProRes QuickTime files onto SxS Pro cards, providing the full range of codecs from ProRes 4:2:2 (Proxy) to ProRes 4:4:4:4 and creating a seamless fit into modern post production environments.
“Additionally, the Alexa camera platform has a variety of other recording options: DNxHD recorded in-camera and wrapped as MXF files for direct ingest to Avid editing systems; HD-SDI recording using external low-cost HD onboard recorders for uncompressed HD recording or recording other compressed HD formats such as HDCAM-SR and JPEG 2000; and Arri Raw, a true digital negative providing best possible uncompressed, uncompromised and unencrypted images at full sensor resolution.”

SIMON MARSH: “When we introduced the F65 we knew we couldn’t just introduce the camera — we had to have a pipeline that went from on set to deliverables. We still need to optimize that workflow, but from day one it was workable.
“We did a lot of work with the SR Master Alliance partnership and its 26 member companies, which include 10 Hollywood post houses, so we could offer an SDK that can access the F65 raw decoder and the SR files, which use the same codec as HDCAM SR recorders. 
“We also utilized our cousins at Sony Pictures as workflow partners; they’re working diligently to become the premiere 4K facility in Holly-wood. Sony Electronics’ Professional Solutions of America group created the Digital Motion Picture Center (DMPC) on the Sony Pictures lot so we could work with our workflow partners in a very real setting: We have a shooting stage with F65s, lights, lenses and a Translite and a workflow area for on-set color management, dailies creation and post production editing. All the elements of the 4K pipeline are there — it’s a huge value in helping us get answers quickly. We hold classes in the DMPC every Wednesday through the ICG and other guilds.”

MICHAEL BERGERON: “Panasonic has been involved in post production workflow since we worked with Apple to enable DVCPRO HD to be the first HD format to travel over FireWire; it was the core compression codec inside QuickTime until ProRes was introduced.
“When we launched P2 we knew it had to have a post production workflow: That was the value proposition of P2 — files were offloaded to media at a much greater speed at a time when everybody was still very focused on tape. We’ve stuck with P2 and added the AVC-Intra codec for near master-quality images at the same bit rate.
“Our customers wanted the ability to take media out of the camera and start editing with it. That’s where the conversation started with a couple of vice presidents of engineering; it’s one reason we went with solid-state media — its random access and speed meant you could edit directly off the media. We built the camera around the workflow instead of the workflow around the camera.”

CRAIG YANAGI: “All of the cameras currently in our product line have attributes that have contributed to post production. JVC was licensed by Sony to record XDCAM EX files and by Apple to record Mov files. JVC also had [one of] the first professional video camcorders to record onto inexpensive yet robust SHDC solid-state media.
“Five years ago the biggest hurdle that existed within the creation and production community was the bridge between acquisition and post. We asked that community around the world about the critical attributes they were looking for: One was file format ubiquity and the other was the ability to access the files natively. At the time the best-selling camera was recording XDCAM EX and the major nonlinear editing system was Final Cut Pro. Our engineering team worked with Apple to take one of the most popular file formats and record it natively into a file that could be readily accessed without any manipulation.  
“JVC’s new GY-HM650U camcorder will have the ability to transmit recorded video files via FTP directly from the camcorder via a WiFi hotspot, available on today’s Smartphones. The GY-HM650U will have USB hosting capability that will enable the camcorder to work within a given geographic location with the wireless infrastructure that is native to that area. Now, the files that are recorded in-camera can be transported to a cloud or data warehouse without being physically tethered to a piece of hardware, establishing new economies of time and storage for acquisition and post.
“Also, metadata will be viewable and applicable to the MXF files in the camcorder via ‘apps,’ which will be created for use with mobile devices, providing the ability to mark and manage the video files freely and intelligently.”

CHUCK WESTFALL: “Canon’s new EOS C300 digital cinema product has a codec based on the one we developed for our XF-series professional HD camcorders. That’s valuable for workflow issues because the codec is already supported by the top NLEs in use today from Apple, Adobe, Avid and Grass Valley. We’ve worked hard to make the footage coming out of our cameras very easy to ingest in all these systems.
“On the digital SLR side, with cameras like the EOS 5D Mark III, 5D Mark II and 7D, we’ve developed a plug-in for Final Cut Pro so you can edit the files natively. It’s a real time saver.”

What developments have you implemented in your cameras to facilitate the transcoding process?

FANTHOM: “All Alexa cameras contain extremely powerful image processing systems, which allow realtime in-camera recording and playback of native ProRes and Avid DNxHD encoded files at speeds of up to 120fps. This provides great flexibility in both feature film and broadcast production applications, since offline color processing and/or transcoding to other formats for editing is not required.”
MARSH: “We’re working closely with the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences] to make sure the F65 fits into an ACES (Academy Color Encoding Specification) workflow. We’re also working with other manufacturers to ensure that what you see on set is what you get in dailies and what you see in post. We want to maintain a constant image path throughout the workflow.
“We are releasing free plug-ins in September for Avid Media Composer/Symphony and Adobe Premiere CS6 that will handle F65 raw files natively.”

SCHILOWITZ: “Practically every editing and DI system in the world — Scratch, da Vinci, Nucoda, Pablo, Mistika, Baselight, Lustre, SpeedGrade — supports the Red workflow natively and runs Red Rocket for hardware acceleration. If you go to a post house and drop five hours of Red footage and they tell you to come back in a few days, you should take your footage and leave. You want to walk into a post house, load the footage and play it instantly in 4K; if a facility can’t do that then they haven’t been paying attention.
“If you want to record ProRes or DNx you can have your cake and eat it too. You can shoot super high res raw on Red, Epic and Scarlet, attach a recorder — AJA’s Ki Pro Mini, Atomos’s Ninja or Samurai, Sound Devices’ Pix 240 — and the camera will communicate with the recorder. So without transcoding anything you can walk away with a ProRes version for offline or even online. You can’t get any more post friendly than that!
“Our RedCine-X Pro tool, which is available as a free download and runs Red Rocket, also preps native Red files in a format for your NLE of choice.”

YANAGI: “JVC Professional camcorders provide the operator with the choice of recording the widely used XDCAM EX format natively or consolidating the faceted components into a Mov QuickTime wrapper. A single Mov file can be dragged and dropped into the Final Cut Pro/Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premiere timeline without any transcoding or rewrapping. That’s been a major factor in the wide adoption of our products in the industry.
“We’re also working on placing Mov and MFX file wrappers on the H.264 codec; camcorders with this capability will be out at the end of this year.”

BERGERON: “It took a lot of sweat to get our files working natively on all of the major manufacturers’ systems, whether that’s in a broadcast workflow, a shared storage network in a post facility or on an individual’s desktop. But there will still be a need for transcoding in some environments. We’ve made transcoding very easy — any H.264 decoder will decode AVC-Intra files. And we’re working with companies to produce toolkits and plug-ins that support Panasonic products: MainConcept, Drastic Technologies and Calibrated Software all have plug-ins which support our infrastructure.”

WESTFALL: “We like to allow people to make choices. For example, our cameras provide many ‘custom picture style’ settings that create a finished look in-camera for those who don’t want to grade during post processing. The Final Cut Pro plug-in lets editors work natively if they have a time sensitive project and need finished footage as quickly as possible. But we also recognize that other editors prefer to grade in post, so cameras like the EOS C300 can be set up to record in Canon Log gamma for maximum grading flexibility. Additionally, once the original image data has been imported to a compatible NLE, it can easily be transcoded into other codecs that are supported by that editing system, such as ProRes HQ for Apple’s Final Cut Pro or the DNxHD codecs from Avid. This gives editors a tremendous range of options.” 

Are post houses required to buy additional hardware or software to work with your cameras?

MARSH: “A lot of post is moving to near set, so the only purchase they may want to make is transfer stations for the memory cards; we make three relatively low-cost models. So far, every F65 we’ve sold has been in a package with a memory card, transfer station, viewfinder and recorder so practically every camera available in the market comes with our SRPC4 transfer station.  We just began shipping the SRD1, a low-cost memory reader, that also fits into the workflow.”

SCHILOWITZ: “They can work without additional specific hardware, but we don’t recommend working without hardware acceleration or nothing will happen in realtime. Every DI system supports our Red Rocket card, and it’s so inexpensive that it’s not a talking point.
“Almost every post house uses Red Rockets on a regular basis, and many post facilities are ‘taking their show on the road,’ per se, and doing dailies prep and initial first light grading right on the set as productions are shooting Red.
“Do we see a Rocket-less future? Sure.  Computers will eventually be powerful enough to do on their own what Rocket is designed to do with the files.”

FANTHOM: “Post houses are not required to purchase additional hardware or software to work with Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD files, as these are industry standard formats which are natively supported in all popular NLEs.
“In some cases, post production of Alexa’s highest-quality output format — Arri Raw — can be throughput-optimized by using faster computing platforms with increased networked storage and/or graphics processing power. Looking at the immediate future, the processing and graphics power of mid-range desktop computing systems has increased to the point where direct ingest, realtime viewing and even editing of Arri Raw is now possible. Going forward, more and more post platforms and tools will support Arri Raw as a native working format for online, realtime editing and color correction; as an example, Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 now deals with native Arri Raw files.”

WESTFALL: “Because our cameras use widely supported recording media such as CF and/or SD cards, hardware is not an issue; edit houses usually don’t incur any extra hardware expenses when using our cameras.  On the software side Canon offers various plug-ins as free downloads from our Website along with full online tutorials.”

BERGERON: “They shouldn’t have to, no.  DVCPRO HD has been around forever, and AVC-Intra has been out for a while. There’s been plenty of time [for manufacturers] to catch up with them. So if editors are using Final Cut, Edius, Premiere or Media Composer [the ability to work natively] is in there.  In most cases, when a plug-in is necessary we put it on our Website as a free download.
“We also offer a migration path if we change codecs. Next year we’ll introduce AVC-Ultra. AVC-Intra will be at its core, but it will expand to include additional data rates and formats — 2K, 4K, 4:4:4, 1080/60p and some smaller date rates necessary for sending via data or wireless links.”

Is the role of the DIT changing as the link between image acquisition and post production?

SCHILOWITZ: “In the Red world I like to call the DIT the digital technician (DT) because the imaging responsibility has been given back to the DP. Since our cameras shoot raw files, the digital equivalent of film, the DP doesn’t have to worry about the video signal, only about exposure, framing and color choices. The DT works with the DP to ensure that what he wants out of the on-set experience is delivered.
“The DT also has to deal with all the complexities of dealing with files and everyone who wants to look at them.”

FANTHOM: “The ‘perceived’ role of the DIT is evolving as camera systems such as Alexa deliver edit-ready archive quality content ‘right out of the box,’ with mission-critical confidence, straight into post. Most DITs have recognized this and are adding to the value chain by performing data management/on-set archival roles as well as developing wider systems-level expertise in the growing plethora of on-set image capture, processing and monitoring systems. This is of importance, as it adds value to complex shoots where the cost to production of systems’ reconfiguration or downtime can be significant.”

MARSH: “There are some sensitivities in the DIT/DP relationship, so we tried to make a camera that was easy to operate — you can treat the memory card like a film magazine. But the DIT is still very important: Shoots today want a lot of back-ups to ensure that the pipeline is intact. We’ve tried to provide a camera system that services both the DP’s and DIT’s worlds.
“Our DMPC has worked closely with the ICG to develop an in-depth course attuned to the needs of the DIT and F65; it starts this fall. There’s an enormous amount of detail in a DIT’s life and this course will take them through every part of the F65 from its menus and functions to data wrangling. Our goal is to make everyone comfortable with the camera.”

BERGERON: “The DIT is the guy who’s a year ahead of the rest of the crew in terms of new technology. He’s read all the manuals, seen all the new stuff and has a method to handle everything down the road. The stuff a DIT was doing 18 months ago you can perform comfortably now, but it’s the new things you need him to handle: He’s sort of the mountain guide through technology.”

YANAGI: “From a production standpoint, our record formats are [easy] for anyone to work with. But the complexity of other formats and codecs and the vast number of imaging adjustments for cameras on the market today will keep DITs as necessary members of the production team. If anything, their role will be expanding with specialized tasks, such as setting up LUTs, establishing camera settings and designing media management systems.  
“File structures and image manipulation are becoming more and more complex. As the dynamic range of manipulation becomes increasingly broad, you’ll need expertise to understand that and to control and manipulate that information and technology. The DP team almost has to have a sense of alchemy to create something that’s not just an image but an artistic image.”

WESTFALL: “The DIT is a valuable asset who understands things about the camera settings that others may not, who knows how to get the maximum results out of the camera — that’s an important role to fill. The DIT is also responsible for checking the quality of the recorded footage on set. If there are problems, such as a bad memory card, an incorrect camera setting or something similar, the DIT can often notice them and correct them before they become expensive to fix in post.”

How are you currently working with developers of edit systems to ensure compatibility of your cameras with their workflows?

MARSH: “We have very good relationships with the ‘Big Three’: Avid, Adobe and Apple. Avid and Adobe are on board with F65 raw files, and Avid and Apple with SR files; we hope to have Adobe on board with SR files by NAB, and we’re discussing Apple support for F65 raw. At every major trade show we have meetings with the Alliance group and major manufacturers.  It’s an ongoing thing.
“Sony Vegas is also part of our family, and we do an enormous amount of work with them, so Vegas will be able to edit with all of our camera systems. Right now it has SR file decoding and encoding; as 4K becomes a bigger part of their offering we expect Vegas to support F65 raw, perhaps by NAB.”

FANTHOM: “Arri works closely with the major recording and post production tool providers through our Arri Partner Program to ensure that high quality, trustworthy and reliable products and file-based workflow solutions are available to all our customers worldwide. Arri also provides freely available reference tools for customers and partners alike to ensure that regardless of the recording format or choice of workflow system, image quality is always traceable back to Arri’s own research and development and QC standards.”

SCHILOWITZ: “Our whole engineering team interfaces with everyone in the post business — sometimes on an hourly basis — to make sure that our software development kit, which runs the underpinnings of the Red workflow, is working as it should.”

WESTFALL: “Before we release a codec we go directly to the software developers at each major edit company and provide information about it to make sure the compatibility between our input and their program is as good as it can be and that it matches their standard.  The software developers appreciate the support from the camera manufacturer, and vice versa.”

BERGERON: “When we first developed our P2 cameras, and later our AVCCAM cameras, we knew there wasn’t much value to going to reusable media if it wasn’t going to speed up the process. We were breaking the baseband chain. So we began building relationships between our development teams and the core development teams at all the edit systems.  These longstanding relationships make it easier to work in new technology situations — we can speak frankly and we all have each other’s interests at heart.  We try to get the development teams at the leading edit system manufacturers around the world sitting at the table as often as possible.”

YANAGI: “Our product engineering team and I are in constant contact with the major NLE companies and their engineering teams; that’s evident in the post-friendly operation of our cameras. We consider ubiquity very important with regard to the internal workings and file formats of our cameras. At the end of the day, an image is worthless if you can’t manipulate the image file.
“At the same time, we have no intention of compromising the imaging aspects of our cameras.”