Getting Video from New Cameras into FCP

posted Sep 20, 2010, 12:17 PM by   [ updated Dec 7, 2010, 1:45 PM ]

Brave New World

The last couple of years have seen a major changes in the video cameras that are available. Probably the single biggest difference is that virtually all of these new cameras are tapeless. No more winding, re-winding and time code breaks (they either record onto a built-in hard drive, some sort of removable media, or both). The second big thing is that most are exclusively High Definition; there is no Standard Definition (wide screen or not). How do you get the footage from these cameras into FCP for editing?

Note: The first consumer level High Definition was called HDV and was recorded onto the same mini-tapes that DV went on to. The only cameras we used that shot in HDV were the Canon HV20 and 30. Most Project LIVE folks recorded regular definition on those cameras instead of HDV. In that case, you already know how to capture. If, however, you shot in HDV, you need to go Final Cut Pro > Easy Setup > HD> HDV-108060i-Firewire Basic. Then choose File > New Project. After saving the project, choose File > Log and Capture.

Final Cut Pro 5

Note: These instructions are for High Definition footage you've captured in iMovie '09 (or later), but want to use in Final Cut Pro 5.xx.

Most people who are in this little FCP sub-group are still using FCP 5 (to find out for sure, in FCP choose Final Cut Pro > About Final Cut Pro). If you are one of the lucky few to have FCP 6 or 7, you have other options below.

Long story short, if you're in FCP 5, that means you can't get the footage from these new cameras directly into FCP. Not only that, but you probably can't get to the footage at all (you may need an Intel based Mac to get it). Is all lost? No.

If you have access anywhere to iMovie '09*, you can get the footage through there. It doesn't even have to be on a computer you have access to all the time. This is the procedure:
  1. Turn on the new-fangled camera, put it in VCR (or Play) mode, and connect it to the Mac with iMovie '09; you may have to also plug in AC power first (if the footage is recorded onto removable media like an SDHC card, you can mount that instead from the SD slot on the computer or a card reader; it's easier if you do).
  2. If you want the footage on a portable drive (instead of the computer you're on), make sure it's plugged in and mounted on the Desktop.
  3. Open iMovie '09.
  4. iMovie '09 should automatically open the Import window; if not, click on the Camera icon about halfway down on the left.
  5. Set the Import window to Automatic if you want everything that's on the camera; if not, switch it to Manual and then de-select any clips you don't want (one of the nice things about tapeless cameras is how you can access individual clips, almost like photos on a digital camera).
  6. Click Import.
  7. Give your new Event a good name; if you have a portable drive plugged in, be sure to select it as the destination.
  8. Choose from iMovie's size setting: 960x540 (bigger than Standard Def, but much smaller than HD) or Full Size (full HD 1920x1080; big file sizes).
  9. Don't elect to have the footage analyzed for stabilization (you can do it later, if needed).
  10. Click Import.
  11. When done, click Done and quit iMovie.
* Another free tool people use to transcode video files (for all kinds of reasons) is MPEG Streamclip

Where's the Footage?

If you saved the Event to the hard drive of the Mac you were importing from, it'll be in User > Movies > iMovie Events. Burrow in a level or two there and you'll see a folder named for your Event. In that folder are all of the QuickTime files iMovie '09 made from the original stuff on the camera (iMovie transcoded it into something called Apple Intermediate Codec; FCP will be able to easily edit those files if you follow all of these instructions). If you know you aren't going to ever edit in iMovie, you can take that Event folder anywhere you like. If you do want the option to edit the footage in iMovie, you must leave it there. In FCP, choose the proper Easy Setup (Final Cut Pro > Easy Setup (e.g. AIC 540i 60 from iMovie)). Create a new project; it's Sequence will be automatically configured for your iMovie footage. You can get it into your project by choosing File > Import > Folder. Navigate to the Event folder that contains the clips and choose OK. It won't make copies of the footage in FCP; it's just referencing them from that location. 

If you saved the Event on a portable drive (to my mind, the preferable way to go), you will see an iMovie Events folder at the root level of that drive. Make sure the drive is plugged into your editing laptop and then, in FCP, choose the proper Easy Setup (e.g. AIC 540i 60 from iMovie). Create a new project; it's Sequence will be automatically configured for your iMovie footage.  Choose File > Import > Folder, just like in the paragraph above.

Sequence Settings

You have to configure the Sequence Settings to natively accept the AIC footage you captured. I've created two Easy Setups to make this happen.
  1. Download this file for full-size 1920x1080; Download this file for 960x540.
  2. Put both in Mac HD > Library > Application Support > Final Cut Pro System Support > Custom Settings.
  3. Launch FCP and then choose Final Cut Pro > Easy Setup and choose AIC 1080i 60 from iMovie or AIC 540i 60 from iMovie (depending on which size you captured the video in iMovie).
  4. From this point forward, any sequences created for projects will be created with the proper settings for the footage captured in iMovie.
  5. Choose File > New Project.
  6. Sequence 1 in the new project should have the correct settings (picture below for 1080i).
  7. Choose File > Import > Folder and navigate to the iMovie Event (either in your Movies Folder or on your external drive).
  8. To double-check that all is good, take a small clip from the iMovie footage and drop it onto the Timeline. You should get no red render bars. If you do, check your Sequence settings (picture below).
  9. If you later want to use other footage for a different project, you'll need to choose the proper Easy Setup first (e.g. DV-NTSC for regular mini-tapes or HDV-Apple Intermediate Codec 1080i 60 for HD footage from a tape-based camera, then create a new project (as outlined above).

FCP 6 or 7

If you have FCP 6 or 7, you can use the iMovie'09 method detailed above if you want. But you can also bring the footage in directly from FCP (so long as your laptop is an Intel machine; choose Apple > About this Mac to check). To do so, make sure the camera is on, set to VCR, and connected via USB (not Firewire) to your Mac (if the footage is recorded onto removable media like an SDHC card, you can mount that instead from the SD slot on the computer or a card reader; it's easier that way). In FCP, choose File > Log and Transfer (for a brief examination of that window, click here). If you don't already see thumbnails of the clips you want to import, click on the Folder icon in the top left window and navigate to your camera footage. Click on a clip, set an In- and Out-point, enter a name and any other information you want, and then choose Add Selection to Queue. If you don't care about In- and Out-points or metadata, just Command-click on the clips you want and choose Add Selection to Queue. Your camera footage will be transcoded to either Apple Intermediate Codec or ProRes (a higher quality codec with bigger file sizes; you can choose which under the Gear icon, in Preferences). For more information on the Log and Transfer process, click here. For an explanation of the Log and Transfer windows, click here.

Where's the Footage?

The footage that is copied this way should be in your FCP Media > Capture Scratch > Project Name folder if you ever need to get to it outside of FCP. It should also show up in your Browser in FCP.

Sequence Settings

For me, the best thing about FCP versions 6 and 7 is the multi-format timeline that allows for mixed video formats on the same timeline. Even better, when you drag your first clip onto the timeline, if it doesn't match how the Sequence is set up, it'll ask you if you want to change the sequence settings to those of this first clip (like the settings in the picture above). You say Yes. If, later, you drag footage on that differs in format from the first clip, it will automatically convert it to what your timeline is set up for. Saves a lot of headaches.
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