IF THERE’S ONE thing that’s guaranteed to send a shudder down any filmmaker’s back it’s the thought of somehow losing their precious footage on a job. It could be a memory card corrupting or being damaged accidentally or simply lost, or there could be a break-in, resulting in everything, including all the previous day’s footage, being carried off into the night, never to be seen again.
Whatever the scenario the chilling fact is that most clients won’t be in the mood for excuses and, at the very least, it could make you look unprofessional and ultimately lead to a total re-shoot, costing time, money and probably your reputation as well. You simply can’t take chances, which is why it’s so important to put safety first and to have a robust back-up system in place that is adhered to at all times without fail.
For most operators that means investing in proven, reliable gear, downloading on a regular basis and not just having all of your footage saved off-camera on a regular basis, but also having your data backed-up in not just one place but in at least two locations and possibly more. It’s not unknown for cautious camera operators to create a number of back-ups that go home with different
team members each night, so if someone’s house burns down there will still be a memory device in another location that’s survived unscathed. Yes, you really do have to be that careful sometimes if you’re not going to be caught out!
For the hybrid photographer/filmmaker, perhaps working on their own rather than within a team, there’s the individual responsibility to take care of backing up alongside every other aspect of the filming. However, although this can sound scary, in reality it’s just a case of having a solid system in place and of being organised enough to save footage on a regular basis.
“How often and the way you offload your data will completely depend on the needs of your production,” says CVP expert Jake Ratcliffe. “However, if you’re a solo shooter, taking a break from filming to offload media frequently is a good practice to get into. You can cut the risk by looking to invest in a camera that features a dual memory card slot, of course, and if you’re filming to two cards at once at least you have the security of knowing that should one card fail on you, then there’s an automatic back-up that will save you. Bear this in mind when considering at the outset which camera to invest in and there are plenty of options available at a variety of price points.”
Powerful Back Up
On a more involved production, even if you’re working as a single shooter it still makes sense to look for dedicated and powerful storage devices that don’t just offer lots of capacity but also super fast transfer speeds, while being robust enough to take the inevitable knocks that are always likely to happen on a busy outdoor film set.
Back in the day, storage devices were notoriously delicate and fickle, and liable to throw in the towel should they be accidentally dropped, for example, which created a serious element of risk where valuable rushes were concerned. With the
advent of Solid State Drives (SSDs) things are now much better, since these have less moving parts than their Hard Disk Drive (HDD) predecessors, using flash memory as opposed to spinning disks to read and write data. This makes them much more robust but, as always with new technology, when they first hit the market they were much more expensive, and professionals often took their chances rather than make the substantial extra investment. Things have moved on, however, and prices have dropped considerably, and they are now much more affordable and very much the storage device of choice for the filmmaker.
storage device of choice for the filmmaker. “When it comes to what we at CVP will recommend you offload your media onto it will really depend on your budget and what system you’re using,” says Jake. “However, one thing I would always suggest is picking up SSDs whenever possible, since the price of the storage has dropped substantially and they don’t suffer from the reliability issues that traditional spinning disk hard drives do. We actually put a video together comparing four G-Technology external hard drive options (link at the end of this feature) and this helps to explain the differences and shows why SSDs will be the better choice in most scenarios.”
To give some idea of how much external hard drive options have advanced in recent years you only need to look at a product such as the G-Technology ArmorATD Drive, which has been built very much with the requirements of the modern field-based videographer in mind. For a start, it’s small and compact and comes with USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 3 connections to ensure superfast data transfer at up to 140MB/s, meaning that it’s entirely realistic in the field to be downloading footage in-between takes. Previously this would take so long to do that it could use up precious shooting time, creating the temptation to skip the process.
Another benefit of a product such as the
ArmorATD Drive is that it’s built to take punishment. No responsible filmmaker is going to put their precious back-up drive through purgatory deliberately, but testing out its product by getting it wet and covered in mud, G-Technology demonstrated that a little accidental mistreatment was unlikely to lead to a meltdown. There are other products out there, such as LaCie’s Rugged SSDs, that are similarly designed to be tough guys, and it’s worth the extra investment for the added security that such a device offers. What else should you be thinking about when selecting which storage device to work with? “When it comes to data transfers there are a few things to understand,” says Jake.
“First off it’s worth knowing the difference between a bit and a byte when it comes to data rates. A bit is written as a lower-case b, so 10 megabits per second would be written as 10Mb/s. A byte is written as a capital B, so 10 megabytes per second is 10MB/s, which might be a subtle difference on paper, but it’s one that’s actually quite massive in practice, as 1MB is roughly equal to 8Mbs. It’s worth knowing this as you’ll see both around in different places, and most camera formats’ data rates are referred to in bits, whereas lots of media types use bytes.
“Most modern MacBooks and some high-end laptops will feature Thunderbolt 3 drives, which is an incredibly versatile and fast interface. It uses the popular USB-C connector but can transfer data at 40Gbps, which is roughly 5GBps. With most modern camera media types being limited to data rates far slower than this, as long as you use a TB3 reader you’ll be able to offload your media as fast as it’s physically possible.
“With TB3 having such massive bandwidth and the ability to daisy chain connected devices, you can also use dock systems such as the Blackjet TX-4DS Cinema Dock, which allow you to plug multiple media types in via one cable. This system enables you to drop in different modules for different media types depending on what you need, and it will make things not only faster for you, but also tidier.”
Back at the studio, memory also has a crucial role to play, and it’s important to have a storage system in place that is unlikely to let you down. RAID systems
will allow you to mirror your memory, so that if one drive fails there is contingency built in to save the day. Again, there’s a higher cost, but professionals can’t afford to risk losing precious work.
“In our in-house content creation studio we have a couple of solutions,” Jake explains. “Our primary workhorse is a Codex Media Vault, which is a fantastic solution as it allows us to connect four of our workstations via 10GbE, and it’s fast enough for us to edit even our largest and most intense projects. We also have a couple of G-Technology G-SPEED Shutter XLs that we use as our archive and portable RAID systems. These are great if you’re looking for a solution at home that’s not only fast but also reliable and configurable to your individual requirements.”
Still on the subject of storage, memory cards have evolved considerably over the past few years to take account of the massive amounts of data that modern cameras, with their ability to shoot footage at up to 8K, are now capable of outputting.
“With so many different memory cards around, plus different standards within that particular media type, it can be a little confusing choosing what’s best for your operation,” Jake observes. “However, there are a few best practices. For a start you should always buy media from trusted sellers; you would be surprised how many counterfeit cards are available online and picking one of these up is putting your footage at risk. Buy from a trusted supplier such as CVP and you won’t go far wrong.
“Depending on the camera you’re using you may have several options to choose from, so understanding the differences is also key to making the correct purchase. This is something you can research online, but if you want to save time and are looking for the peace of mind that you’re working with the right media, then call us up and we’ll be able to talk it through. “The size of the memory card you choose to work with can also be something to consider. There are pros and cons to using really high-capacity cards and you might question whether you would be better off going for something smaller. When shooting compressed formats on most mirrorless cameras, a 64GB or 128GB card will give you good runtimes without you running the risk of losing loads of rushes if, say, you used a 512GB card to record your entire shoot and then something went wrong.
“Meanwhile there are new kids on the block and both Canon and Sony’s latest flagship mirrorless cameras now feature new media types that you might not have encountered before. Both the EOS R5 and a7S III allow users to work with both standard SD cards as well as new CFexpress cards. The a7S III uses CFexpress Type A, while the R5 uses CFexpress Type B. Although you have the option to shoot with SD cards as well, you won’t be able to record some of the formats these cameras can offer unless you use these new faster media types.
“So, what media is best for you will completely depend on what you want to shoot. However, CFexpress technology is definitely is here to stay, so investing in these cards now isn’t a bad idea if your system requires them.”
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