P2 Digital Workflows with the Panasonic HPX500
COW Library : Panasonic Cameras : Mark Wagoner : P2 Digital Workflows with the Panasonic HPX500
Digital workflows have been central to my work for a long time now, starting with the still photography side of my business.
I have a film file with a mix of 8x10, 4x5, 120mm, and 35mm film, numbering in the area of at least 250,000 pieces. This is in addition to four hundred DVDs of archived images.
Our still photography projects started going digital 6 years ago, shooting to cards and directly to the computer, both on location and in the studio. For the past 3 years, we haven't shot any film at all.
My first video job came in 1987, when I was asked to produce and co-direct a point of sale video for Hanes Hosiery: shooting 1-inch tape with an Ikegami camera.
Video now accounts for 75% my business, focused on product and corporate video, and video for nonprofit fundraising, with the occasional small commercial thrown in.
In the last couple of months we've shot a large project for a bank (this was a 15-day shoot), a 4-day shoot for a golf community and some Hospital TV spot work.
From the beginning, I've never liked dealing with tapes. Of all the media we use to store our intellectual property, they're the hardest to deal with.
The film and the DVDs are reasonably well organized. Most of the best still images are now searchable trough Aperture, while tapes sit in boxes or stacked in drawers.
My other issue is the capture process. I just don't enjoy it as part of the work flow. Whether I'm editing at a post house or doing an edit at our studio, digitizing has never been my favorite part of the job.
So when I really caught on to P2 cards, I jumped at the idea of no tapes. We have a leg up on our comfort moving to P2 because of our experience with still work. I'm not saying that we're the best workflow engineers. But we've moved, organized and delivered tens of thousands of digital images, so we have a little less trepidation.
We had a Panasonic AG-HVX200, and needed a second camera for some of our shoots. I considered a second HVX, but when I thought about it, though, I went for the AG-HPX500 instead. I bought it in October 2007, and it's obviously now our main camera.
Even though it cost roughly 4 times more than the HVX (around $5200, to the roughly $21,000 for our HPX kit), I liked it for the 2/3 inch chips and the features of the larger camera, including uncompressed HD-SDI out, extensive variable frame rate support, and interchangeable lenses.
(We have the Fujinon XA17x7.68BRM, and plan to test a Canon lens and some wide angle lenses soon).
We've rented a Varicam for some of our jobs in the past, and I feel that we can now shoot jobs like that with the HPX.
Although the capture and file-handling are identical, and the menus are very similar, there are aspects of working with the HPX500 that are different than the HVX200, all part of working with a much more sophisticated, more fully- featured camera.
Not to say that it's hard to learn. We had a jib operator use the HPX500 recently, and he found his way around it in about 5 minutes.
One big difference to note: the HPX500 has FOUR P2 slots, instead of the 2 with the HVX. Using four 16GB cards (which are included in many HPX packages) gives us over an hour of 1080i or p. That means nearly 3 hours of 720p/24 before we have to change a card – more than enough to overcome the objection of short recording times for P2 media.
If you've used very high end digital still cameras - by this I mean medium format backs that are for the most part shot direct to computer -- you might have seen something similar to this, but otherwise, the focus assist on the HPX500 is like none you've seen before.
Rather than give you a magnified window like the HVX200, the HPX500 gives you a graph (a histogram) of the parts of the image that are in focus. It's faster, easier, and far more accurate than making your best guess looking at a viewfinder. When the image is sharp, it shows you a graph of the edge contrast, a very nice way to work that you'll quickly get comfortable with.
Not surprisingly, the image from the HPX is cleaner- looking. You can really see this in the bottom end.
We just did a 2 camera set up for a business announcement the HVX was locked off and the HPX was on a jib. The background was a dark cherry colored paneling; the HVX image had noise in the dark areas of the wood that just wasn't there on the HPX.
The HPX is also 1.5 to 2 stops faster than the smaller camera, giving it much more sensitivity in low light. Yet on the high end, the HPX500 also holds the highlight edges better than the HVX: less blooming, less of that overdriven look, and more detail in the brightest highlights.
That said, we took our time A/B-ing the 2 cameras both on set and in post to match the colors better than the defaults alone provided, and found that the footage from the two cameras cut in nicely.
Whatever system you come up with, follow it as closely as you can.
Have a specific place on your person or in your bag for shot and ready to shoot cards. Never hold a full card and a ready to shoot card at the same time.
Think through the process for getting the footage downloaded, and follow that too. After a long shoot, with a 5:30 AM call in front of you, is not the time to stop and re-think each step.
Our shooting process begins with the cards themselves. After we set up and do any needed test or technical rehearsals, we format the cards we'll need.
While this is happening our production coordinator is setting up a computer with a card reader, we use a Mac G4 laptop with a built in reader.
When a card is full, an assistant pulls the card and takes it to our production coordinator. She then downloads the card or cards to 2 different drives. We don't make one drive a copy of the other, but do two downloads. The cards then come back to the camera as needed.
We use a project folder with a location and date folder, and a folder for each camera and a folder for each card. One card one folder.
For the ride home we try to send the two drives back in different cars. One then stays at the studio and one goes home with me. Now we have at least two copies of the footage, in two different places.
The drive that comes back to the studio gets backed up to our server. These files stay in place while the job is active. It's also the place the we connect for the log and transfer process in FCP.
If we're passing the footage on for someone else to edit, the second drive is for them. We use a small 80 or 160 GB drive, and bill it as part of the job. I hand drives to clients all the time now, and after they get into the flow, they're very happy with this.
Everybody winds up with the footage they need, already on a drive in a fraction of the time it would have taken to digitize. And we end up with a copy of the footage for us to use in our sample reel, or as stock.
NO TURNING BACK
We commit the money to buy equipment and train staff to constantly reinvent Mark Wagoner Productions, and our role as a producer of visual content.
That's one of the reasons we're not afraid of new technologies or workflows. I was speaking at a photo school recently, and I was asked how I had survived over the years. My answer was along the lines that I like being the first to eat at a new restaurant.
Again, we're an independent production company, shooting almost exclusively not-for-broadcast work. The HPX500 has added richness to our work, with features that also make the work easier.
And now that we've developed a P2 workflow that works for us and our clients, we're not going back to tape.
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