Camera Card Conjuring, Part 2

This is the second part of my series about working with camera cards. Check out the first part and third part for some tipps and tricks you might not know yet.

Copy? Rewrap? What does that all mean?

I have already explained that FCPX will copy media off the camera-cards into it’s own storage location. While this is true it does not always make an exact duplicate of the files on the card. Some file-formats like mpg4 from Canon DSLRs are copied over as they are, but a lot of formats like Sony’s SxS or XQD cards or Canon’s XF-format are treated differently by FinalCutProX. Instead of copying the .mxf files those cameras write to their cards 1:1, FCPX rewraps them to .mov files. That means FCPX strips the mpg4 encoded video out of the MXF container file and puts it into a new quicktime container. During this process video is not re-encoded or altered, thus not degraded in quality—this is an important fact to keep in mind.

Some camera formats—I have encountered this with video from the Fujifilm XT-2 camera—are imported (copied) into FinalCutProX’s current media location without rewrapping, but in the background FinalCutProX starts to automatically create Optimised Media. That means it’s transcoding the mp4 to ProRes thus increasing the storage requirements significantly. I’m not sure why FinalCutProX is doing that for specific files, rumor has it that it has to do with spanned clips those cameras produce. If you have more info on that, please put it in the comments below, I'll update the post accordingly.

You can stop that transcoding, if your machine is coping well with the original camera media, by clicking the circle-icon in the top-left of the Background Tasks window (cmd+9 to reveal) and stop the creating of optimised media there.

If the optimised media has already been created you can select the Event (that has the media in it) in the browser and go to Menu/File/Delete generated Event Files tick Delete optimised Media and click OK to delete the ProRes representations of the clips inside that Event.

Camera Archives

Instead of importing media off camera-cards straight into a library, you also have the option to have FCPX create a camera archive by selecting a camera card that is connected to the Mac and clicking the create achieve… button in the lower left of the import window.
FCPX now creates a so-called bundle file, which is basically a folder that behaves like a single file, but has all the files in it. It’s contents are hidden from the user, but can be viewed by right- or control-clicking it’s icon and selecting show package contents…. Most macOS programs are inside such bundles, a FCPX library file is such a bundle, too.
Creating Camera Archives from cards is useful, if you want to archive the card’s contents into a single easy to manage file, which is a bit-by-bit copy of the camera card. For example while doing DIT work on set.

TIPP: I strongly suggest making a Camera Archive from every card first, before importing media into FCPX. This opens up interesting workflow possibilities. More on that later.

To import media from a Camera Archive into FinalCutProX, simply navigate to the archive file using the Import Media window, select it and you can choose which clips to import from it and even select ranges to import as if it was a physically attached camera card.

Backing up Camera Cards to Harddisks

Copying camera cards to hard drives at the end of a shoot is common practice, but a lot can go wrong when this is not done properly.
Readers and disks are connected with USB or Thunderbolt cables, which can come loose or have bad connection that can potentially corrupt files while they are copied. I therefore strongly suggest you use dedicated offloading-software like Hedge for Mac or Shot Put Pro. Not only do these utilities verify that all the data that has been copied is valid, but they also allow you to copy to multiple locations simultaneously to make two or more backups much faster than the finder can do it. Both programs generate reports that act as proof that the data was copied successfully.
If you do not use a dedicated offloading-utility make sure to at least create a folder for every card you back up, name it appropriately and copy the card’s entire contents into that folder lock, stock, and barrel, never to the root of the hard drive.

TIPP: This is best done by option-dragging the card’s symbol on the desktop in the finder to where you want the card’s content to be saved. You should see a little green “+” next to the symbol you are dragging. Most cards are named “untitled” and the resulting folder on the desktop well be named “untitled” as well. You can safely rename that folder to anything you want.
Copying the complete card structure is very important because some NLEs can’t import footage properly from a folder that does not have all the metadata and folder-structure in place. By copying everything off the card, it’s also less likely that you forget to copy a file or two.

TIPP: That being said, if you get handed incomplete cards or "naked" camera clips somebody slapdashed onto a HDD , do not panic. FinalCutProX can import naked .mxf and .mp4 files from most sources. If ever you come across something FinalCutProX really can't deal with, you can always resort to converters like the free FFMPEG or other third-party software.

Another benefit of having an exact duplicate of the camera card is the fact that it is possible to create Camera Archives with FinalCutProX from such a folder later.
To do that, open the Import Media window in FinalCutProX, navigate to the folder that contains the root content of the card. Select the folder that represents the camera-card in the bottom pane of the Import Media window . If the create archive… button at the bottom-left does not become active, you might have to click the disclosure-triangle next to the folder in the bottom-pane, forcing FinalCutProX to “look” into the folder and “realise” it’s a camera-card. That should make the button active and allow you to create a Camera Archive.

Disk Image Files

FCPX can create camera archives from camera cards that have been attached via card readers, but sometimes I get handed a drive with simple video-files backed up into a normal folder. For example files from an Atomos or Blackmagic recorder. In this case it’s not possible to create a Camera Archive. But there is still a way to backup such “Camera Cards” neatly into one file, with Disk Utility. You can find the little tool under Applications/Utilities/Disk Utility. Launch it, pick File/New Image/Image from Folder… from the menu and enter a filename for your Disk Image. Below you have to navigate and select the folder that contains the root-content of your camera card backup. For Encryption select none and for Image Format set read-only. Click Save to start the process.
create dmg
After finishing you will find a .dmg file at the location you chose. You can double-click this file to mount a virtual disk—which looks like a physically attached disk in the finder and to all other applications. You can import from a mounted Disk Image just like from any other device.

TIPP: If that Disk Image is not an exact image of a camera card, you can import stuff into FinalCutProX and tick leave Files in place, thus referencing files from that Disk Image. Just make sure it’s gonna be available to FinalCutProX next time you launch it, or it’s contents will be offline.

That was it for Part 2 of this series. As always I’m grateful for feedback in the comments below. I’ll post the third and final part of this series in a few days.
Until then—happy editing!
— Florian