Adventures in HVX200 workflow with my MacBook Pro and Final Cut Studio

The week before last I spent some quality time in the field with my HVX200 doing simple ENG work, and a little bit of editing. I didn't have any time to really play with settings or experiment. It was a media event to preview a new amusement ride. These are my impressions.

First of all, P2 rules. When you're trying to get stuff online quickly, I can't imagine a better way to record than using P2. Tape is dead. I bought the camera in part because I needed something quality to shoot HD for the Web (yeah, you could call me an early adopter), and it didn't make sense to me to buy a DVX100 at this point.

The camera itself performed as expected, and like a pro camera. Save for the non-shoulder-mounted nature of the camera, it did everything I expected. I have an Azden AZ-200UPR receiver and a Vidled that I had mounted, and both worked great with the camera, provided it was on the tripod. It gets a little heavy with that stuff if you have to go without.

We shot interviews in 480/30p anamorphic, so we had plenty of space with a pair of 4 gig cards. There is little reason to go to a higher resolution for talking heads. I was doing the interviewing, so the guy I had shooting for me made some mistakes hear and there, especially with focus, but nothing was totally unusable. The overcast skies made for some goofy white balance at times too, but again, it wasn't horrible. Using Compressor to squash the video to H.264 worked as expected, and without issue. The images were a little on the soft side.

I shot some stuff in 720p as well of the amusement ride. First I tried 24pn, figuring I'd go for that "film" look, and I knew immediately that was a bad idea. All of the tips and suggestions you read on this forum about capturing fast horizontal motion became evident, and having no experience in that area, it looked pretty bad. I tried again doing 60p, and it looked fabulous, even using the camera handheld. This compressed really well to H.264, but needless to say, it won't playback at speed on most computers.

In every case, I was unhappy with the black levels in the compressed video, especially when viewed on a Windows machine. That's something I need to figure out. Playing back on an actual HD monitor via Final Cut Pro's full-screen function, it's still not great.

I'm not at all happy with a lot of the images I shot, but I don't blame the camera, I blame myself for not spending the time with it I should have. It reminds me of the crap I used to shoot when I first got an SLR camera. With time, I'm sure I'll figure this out too. As is the case with most things I do, I can't really learn unless I can apply what I'm learning. I have to fail at something worthwhile, I can't just come up with some artificial situation and work from there. :)

Getting this stuff to DVD was a lot more work than I expected too. Exporting cuts out of FCP sequences did not preserve the aspect ratio. Using default settings in Compressor, we didn't get good quality MPEG-2 for the DVD we wanted to send to the park either. Ultimately, I ended up telling Compressor that it was 4:3 instead of 16:9, so it wouldn't cut the resolution down to 720x404. Even then, it was coming out as 640x480, which someone in the Apple forum assured me was still 720x480 internally to QuickTime. Even more weird was the way it treated the 720p stuff when I wanted to compress it for DVD. I ended up having resize it first to an uncompressed Animation movie at 720x480, then compress that to MPEG-2. Going without the intermediate step introduced all kinds of interlacing artifacts that I couldn't account for.

So overall it was a chance to do some experimentation, and as is the case with most first attempts, the results weren't great. You can see the product of some of this experimentation here:

And yes, I know the images aren't great. :)


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