HVX-200 Workflow

There is a lot of hearsay, rumor, and innuendo floating around about working with Panasonic’s fancy HVX-200 camera. I have fairly limited experience with it, but I thought I’d throw in my impressions of the best workflow options.

Shoot 720pn on the biggest P2 cards you can afford. Considering the astronomical cost of P2 media, we’re back in the old days where storage space is a limiting factor. Now, the sensor on the camera is 960×540, and it uses fancy methods to squeeze some extra resolution to get to 960×720 (the actual resolution of the 720pn footage). If you go up to 1080p24, tests have shown you do get a slightly better picture, but at the expense of halving the amount of footage you can fit on a P2 card. You’re already getting something really good at 720pn and unless you’re a fanatic about resolution you might not even see the difference. Shooting at 1080p24 also means the files on tape have 3:2 pulldown added in, which is just taking up space and you’ll have to remove the pulldown before you start editing.

Have a laptop on set with a PC card slot. There are a lot of products out there that will read P2 cards or hook up directly to your camera via firewire but I find them dodgy. I don’t like extra steps. The old PowerBooks (before Intel) had PC card slots, as do most PC laptops, although many of them don’t have firewire ports. (UPDATE: You can get a “Duel Systems” (sic) adapter to plug the cards into a MacBook Pro) Hook up a firewire drive to your laptop and you’ve got yourself a perfect transfer station. You might need some drivers, which you can get from Panasonic. Just pop the full P2 card out of the camera, put it in the card slot on the computer, then copy it to a clearly labeled folder on the firewire drive. Come up with your own folder system, but keep it clear and consistent like you would with camera rolls or tapes. Then erase the entire contents of the P2 card and put it back in the camera. You should have at least 2 cards so you can keep shooting while you copy. (Another update: According to Shane Ross, you can’t just delete the cards anymore, you have to use a P2 card formatter, which you can get from Panasonic.)

You need an extra crew member. Unfortunately you’re going to need someone who only pays attention to media management on set. Trying to split up the job can lead to lost footage, which is bad. The best person to have on set is an assistant editor or the editor. That way things can be organized exactly how they want it. If the post-production staff can’t do it, you’ll need an additional person who knows computers.

Make a backup. Look, hard drives crash all the time. And they’re really, really cheap. Buy an extra one and backup as often as possible.

Edit with new versions of FCP or Avid. P2 is bleeding-edge stuff. Don’t waste your time trying to make it work with FCP 3. It just doesn’t work. And I’m sure those upstarts like Premiere Pro and Vegas are just fine, but why are you making everything so difficult? Avid has the advantage of working natively with MXF so you don’t do any transcoding, but because there’s no tape name associated with the files there’s a lot of worry about what happens when things go offline. I haven’t had enough experience working with P2 in Avid to dismiss any of those fears, so proceed with caution.

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