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Category/ Case Studies

Tapeless Workflow: The Lessons Learned

Friday 17th June 2011
Two men in purple shirts


FEATURES IN BROADCAST AUGUST 2010

Procam was one of the first hire companies to provide tapeless cameras to the broadcast market, notably on shows such as Channel 4's Scrapheap Challenge.

Managing director John Brennan says: "The key thing with tapeless is early collaboration. These days, we are in touch with producers six to eight weeks before production starts to discuss how a project will be handled." There are clear benefits to tapeless, enthuses Brennan. "Ingest into the edit is much quicker than tape - and if you ever ask anyone for a production horror story, it generally involves a tape stuck in a camera or a tapehead misaligned. You don't get these problems with memory card or disc-based recording." But there's a lot more to think about in terms of IT management, he warns. "It's prompted the emergence of an important new crew member: the digital imaging technician - usually a technology-savvy camera operator - whose role is to look after the data."

If you need to mix different cameras, go for ones in the same family - such as Sony's XDCAM HD (pictured far right) and XDCAM EX which work well together, he says. One issue that often crops up with producers is the cost of memory cards - which can be £800 each for a 32GB card capable of recording 100 minutes. It's for this reason that some producers are reluctant to go tapeless with smaller cameras. "Production managers are worried that junior members of staff might lose the media and an expensive card - a bit of a contrast to losing a £3 DV tape," explains Brennan.

Scrapheap Challenge series producer Dominic Bowles' latest tapeless project is Dave's Car Pool, shot on six in-car minicams, each with three memory cards. "Tapeless is the way TV production is going, but you have to be organised. On Car Pool, we have tree cards per minicam: one in the camera recording, one in case of emergencies and the third at post house Clear Cut being backed up and recycled;' says Bowles.

"Clear Cut was very keen on agreeing a clear, robust file-labelling system - so that file-based media can be located when needed." With tapeless, clear, logical, complete and consistent metadata is paramount. Wildlife cameraman Wruwick Sloss - whose most recent work was shooting a BBC Natural History Unit series on Africa on a Panasonic P2 Varicam - warns that tapeless cameras have to be teed up in advance of shooting. "They can have quite a long boot time, which means you have to be ready in advance. You can turn on a camera and jab at the record button but it won't record immediately because it will still be initialising."

DO'S AND DON'TS TAPELESS

Do's

  • Plan your workflow early with a post house or hire company
  • Keep your software versions up to date
  • Back up your data on location
  • Consider the appointment of a dedicated digital imaging technician to be responsible for managing the flow of files
  • Agree the format for metadata before you start
  • Remember that editing systems and software systems in general weren't designed to be compatible
  • Consult your workforce on the design of a new tapeless workflow
  • Consider how your file-based media will be archived
  • Work out a library system that ensures you only keep what you need

Don'ts

  • Assume big files will travel from A to B in zero time - they don't.
  • Overcomplicate tapeless by mixing different acquisition formats. Keep it simple.
  • Overshoot on file-based media as it will soak up editing time
Leica, Blackmagicdesign, Sony, ARRI, Canon, ZEISS, TLS, Panasonic

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