Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer

Cinematic Excellence at 24 Frames a Second

How To Prepare Youself For Working With An External Recorder

So how do knock off $10,000 from the price of a a $16,000 camera? By using an external recorder like the Atomos Ninja and buying a C100 instead. When recording externally to the ProRes codec you get a higher quality codec then what you can get out of the the more expensive C300 natively. And while I welcome the ability to save a chunk of cash and still get the same, if not better quality images from a more affordable camera, it's not all a bed of roses, as I experienced recently on a shoot. Continue reading to find out what happened, and how you can prepare yourself for working with an external recorder.

DISCLAIMER: While I will be talking specifically about the Canon C100 and the Atomos Ninja, this applies to all external recorders and cameras. I've experienced the same or similar problems with other setups as well. (For example, at the Zacuto Shootout, the KiPro failed to record the FS100 footage.) A perfect solution doesn't exist from any manufacture.

The Problem:
On a recent shoot I was filming a series of talking heads against black, nothing to extreme for either the camera or recorder to handle. On the day of the shoot, everything proceeded as normal with no error messages from either the camera or recorder. (The camera did say it was getting hot, but no error message.) When it came time for the edit, two clips form the external recorder ended up with interlacing artifacts in them, even though it was supposed to be a progressive recording. (The camera and recorder were set to record at 23.98 fps.)

Interlacing artifacts in the ProRes HQ footage

The same frame from the AVCHD file recorded internally.
The good news is that it only happened twice for a short period of time. The bad news is that the two times it happened it was during a great take that ended up in the final edit. (Of course that is Murphy's law, right?)

The Solution:
After encountering this problem, I have developed a three recommendations to make life in post easier ...

Recommendation 01- Check and double check all settings ...
Make sure that the settings in the camera, and on the external recorder match each other. According to the Atomos documentation, when the C100 "is set to PF24 this will output with pulldown applied" and "24p will require 3:2 pulldown". And according to the C100 documentation, the signal out of the HDMI port is "1080/59.94i". Fortunately, the Ninja can automatically remove the pull down and record the straight 24p signal. However, as I experienced, this doesn't always happen 100% of the time, which leads me to my next two recommendations ...

[SIDE NOTE: You can set the camera to either 24p mode or PF24 mode, and then set the Ninja to 1080p23.98. Which setting you choose is up to you. If you choose 24p, then your internal recording will be a straight 23.98, and if you choose PF24, then the 23.98 signal will be wrapped in 60i so you will need to extract it in post. From my testing, ClipWrap and Compressor are a great combo to get to the 23.98 file that is hidden within the 60i AVCHD file. You'll want to follow this tutorial if you use Compressor.) These are the tools I use, even though I'm editing in Premiere.]

Recommendation 02- Dual Record
Always, always, always, record in camera when using an external recorder. Even if your plan is to only use the external recording, by recording internally you are protecting yourself by instantly having a second copy of the footage. (And with the C100's ability to record to both SD cards at the same time, you instantly have three copies of your footage- no DIT required. :) ) This is the file that saved me in the edit. I don't know what I would have done, if I had opted to only record externally ...

Recommendation 03- Slate everything
Even though you are recording audio and video internally, I highly recommend that you treat the shoot like you are recording sync sound, and slate each take. By slating each take, you give yourself two ways of syncing the external recording with the internal recording - either visually, or audibly. That way, if you do have to go back and use the internal recording, (like I did) syncing it with the external recording is a breeze.

If you follow these three recommendations when you use an external recorder, you will be prepared when the inevitable happens ...

Are you using an external recorder? If so, what has your experience been like? What have you done to overcome problems like these?

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