MacBook Pro 15″ Retina 2014 for FCPX

MacBook Pro 15” Retina Buyers remorse: I paid for extra GHz, should I have invested in a bigger SSD?

I’ve finally got my MacBook Pro 15″ 2014 BTO – I went for the 2.8 GHz processor which lead to a 12 day wait as it was shipped to the UK from Shanghai. Was it worth the wait? Did I get the best bang for the buck?

It replaces my Early 2011 MacBook Pro 17″ with 8GB RAM, which has been an excellent machine (with the £800 SSD option, quite frankly the most expensive Mac I’ve purchased), but it now has a dicky GPU and needs to be ‘baked’ now and then to reset it. That’s great as an ‘at-home’ machine, but not good ‘on location’. Hence the new machine.

According to the 64 bit Geekbench tests, the new 15″ MBP with 2.8 GHz processor is about 40% faster than the 2011 MBP17″, achieving GeekBench scores (and this is not a speed test, just a ‘run it and see’) of 3895/15215 over the MBP17″ 2866/10655. My previous upgrades have been stellar, but this was a bit, hmm – ‘okay’.

Lest we forget, my laptop is for editing first. However, it must also be my computer for everything else too.

I have been happy (ish) with a 500GB internal SSD that was super fast. I did no actual work on it (external SSD drives via Thunderbolt was the way to go), but apps did not ‘launch’ – they ‘decloaked’ – just appearing versus the wait and wait from an internal spinning hard drive. This was the big bonus – SSD for the system and apps is definitely the way to go. Do not consider anything less.

The biggest issue for us FCPX editors could be the lack of FW800 ports. I have >75 FW800 drives (mostly LaCie Quadras) and need to access their contents. So I used the BlackMagic Disk Speed Test app to measure performance ‘before and after’ – I already have a Belkin Thunderbolt dock to provide USB3 on my old MacBook, and I checked this out on the new MacBook too, as it could prove FW800.

So, the old MacBook Pro could do USB3 x3 ports on the Belkin Thunderbolt Dock. It could also do Firewire 800 and 1GB ethernet, whilst passing through the Thunderbolt connection to, say, my Black Magic UltraStudio Mini Monitor (HD-SDI output from Thunderbolt – yay!).

But what of the disk performance? The new MacBook Pro does USB3 natively (two ports) but can only do FW800 with a Thunderbolt adaptor, and that soaks up one valuable Thunderbolt port. No loop through. The Belkin does USB and FW800 – AND it has a Thunderbolt loop through.

Here’s my rough findings. These are not optimised results, they’re just what happens when I connect my various drives through the options I have available to me:

MBP15″ 2.8GHz (Read/Write)

  • Direct USB3 – 161W/165R
  • Dongled FW800 – 75W/72R (counterintuitive, but hey)
  • Belkin Dock FW800 – 68W/69R
  • Belkin Dock UBS3 – 94W/97R (that’s surprising)

but then two years ago I did similar tests on the OLD MBP17″ and…

  • Internal FW800 bus – 46W/44R
  • Internal USB2 bus – 32W/33R
  • Internal SSD eSATA – 88W/167R
  • CalDigit USB3 PCI ExpressCard – 96W/138R

So all my older FW800 drives happen to have USB3 interfaces, and I think I’ll be using THAT in the future. FW800 does appear to be dead in the water.

Okay, what these numbers do NOT say is the punch line. The internal SSD does the following – read and weep:

  • Internal SSD – 549W/726R

FCPX users, for the love of your favourite deity, invest in SSD not GHz. Partition your drive to two volumes – a working volume and a boot volume. The cost I had to bear for waiting for the extra GHz does not make a huge difference in the Geekbench scores. The difference of a 500GB scratch volume with those numbers is an immense kick up the backside cache.

Everything about the Mac OS, everything about the future of FCPX, is all about SSD. If you’re into mobile editing, if you’re into smaller projects with sub-10 minute timelines, invest in SSD, not GPU. I wish I’d doubled my SSD rather than get 15% more performance on the CPU.

Hot, dirty Macs

My somewhat senescent MacBook Pro 17” has been doing the ‘fainting goat’ thing recently. We’d be happily chugging away, then suddenly – freeze, black screen (or grey screen) of death – complete lock up. The screen’s backlight was still on (as shown by the glowing white Apple logo on the other side). Cycle the power, it would freeze on the grey screen after the Apple logo appears. But the grey screen was odd (not the moire from a bad iPhone snap – note the stripes!): strangescreen-2014-07-29-10-17.jpg If left for a few minutes (or longer), it would shut down. Powering up again brought everything back. If you held the power button down for >5 secs, it would power down but do the same thing. Hmmm. Clue.

Talks to some Apple dealer and repair folks sounded bad – ‘Graphics chip has gone’, ‘New motherboard’, and ‘bring it in and we’ll soak test it for a week.’ Well, it was happening two to five times a week. Not awful. Worth limping along whilst I decided what new MacBook Pro to buy.

Well, not so fast. I rather like my MacBook Pro – it has a 1920×1200 screen so does HD previews very well. It has a PCIe slot that’s the right size for my SxS cards from the EX1s – very convenient – and it has FW800 on it (I have over 80 FW800 drives). I therefore wanted it to live a little longer, if only to be a nice backup to a newer machine.*

The weather has been hot recently, so I wondered if that was at fault. I installed Temperature Gauge from Tunabelly Software, and this told me an interesting story. During background render tasks, things were getting very hot indeed. CPUs and GPUs would reach 100 degrees Celsius, but more to the point, the fans were pretty much running full pelt as soon as the Mac had something (anything) to chew on.

Sadly, when the Mac did its fainting goat, it wiped the log file for Temperature Gauge (this issue now fixed in v4.4.2), but it was pretty obvious what was going on. The Mac was getting super hot, and was cutting out. It wouldn’t reboot properly until it had cooled down. It dawned on me that this machine is over three years old, and it’s never had the air filters cleaned. I put a date in the diary to take it to MacDaddy to have it sorted (and some extra RAM whilst we were at it).

Then the British weather intervened – the office was getting very warm. The Mac started fainting several times a day even with a desk fan blowing on it, and something really had to be done. So armed with my smallest Phillips screwdriver, a little paintbrush and a vacuum cleaner, I decided to DIY. 10 screws later, and we were in. Pretty obvious once the back was off. Before and after: fans-2014-07-29-10-17.jpg intakes-2014-07-29-10-17.jpgtray-2014-07-29-10-17.jpg So, very easy process – should have done it sooner, wasn’t as bad as suspected.

UPDATE: I’ve been advised by dear friend Marcus Durham that using a vacuum cleaner nozzle close to electronics is not such a wise thing – apparently the air flow can cause static electricity build-up which can fry delicate electronics. Hence the standard recommendation of using clean compressed air (he advises doing this outside). I stand corrected.

Since the cleaning, the fans are running at much more sedate speeds and less often. Of course, when a really big render or encode chugs through, it does warm up quite a bit – but no 100 Degree alarms, no 6000 RPM fans.

And no crashes. No faints. No ‘grey screen of death’ with Paul Smith stripes on it. The MacBook Pro rides again!

 

* And only today have I noticed Apple have refreshed their MacBook Pro line with double the RAM and a few more cycles per second for a little less money all round. Joy!

Ingesting P2 for FCPX – some alternatives

I’ve had some bad luck with MXF ingest to FCP, the Canon C300 variety needed a bit of voodoo. This weekend, I’m playing with images of Panasonic’s P2 media, copied onto an NTFS formatted USB3 drive.

FCPX couldn’t see anything. It knew there was a P2 card there, just didn’t see anything. Okay, moving on.

I’ve recently ditched Adobe Creative Cloud for being too expensive to maintain for an FCPX editor, but I still kept Adobe CS6 as there are some things (Audition, Encore, Photoshop and Illustrator) that I need – if not the latest versions thereof.

So, surprise, surprise, Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Prelude could both see the P2 card. I started a Transcode from the MXF files to ProRes 422.

If we skip the issues that cropped up trying to make that happen reliably, I also fired up Final Cut Pro 7 – which has a ‘Log and Transfer’ mode that also saw the P2 card images and willingly imported them whilst transcoding to ProRes.

And here’s the catch: FCP7 did 90 mins of P2 rushes in about 45 minutes. Adobe Prelude did the same in about 90 minutes.

So, we’d expect the Prelude transcodes to be better than the FCP7 transcodes – it took longer, the software is newer. Stands to reason, right?

The two versions look visually identical. Flipping between them, there’s no visible difference.

We can take one version, import the second version and overlay it on the first version, then use the ‘Difference’ composite mode. It will highlight the difference between the two – supposedly identical – frames. What you get is a murky-black composition which tells you nothing. What you need to do is group the two together, then boost the contrast to buggery. One of the versions has a sort of ‘flicking’ nature. Maybe for a frame, maybe for a second or so. I lined up originals on top of each other to mark where the difference composite flicked, then examined each version with a waveform monitor. What you see is this:

Compare this frame:
unknown-2014-07-26-19-21.jpeg

With this frame:
unknown-2014-07-26-19-21.jpeg

You may have to do this side by side. It’s actually a big difference. Check out her hair.

The Adobe Media Encoder version has barely visible jumps in luminance. Barely visible on a monitor. but it’s about 1-2 IRE. The FCP7 Transcode versions do not. They are ‘cleaner’.

Yes, I obsess (!) about this – because I’m chromakeying the results, and ‘bumps’ in luminance can upset the keying settings.

So, I’d recommend FCP7 over Adobe for ingesting P2 cards for measurable speed and quality reasons. I wish FCPX would ingest P2 direct from disk, but my installation doesn’t work (it didn’t work with C300 for a while, until I found the fix).

So there you go. I know Adobe Media Encoder gets a good write-up, but in this case I have to hand it to FCP7. I wonder if I’m missing a secret folder for P2 ingest in FCPX?

Creative Cloud – a line item on our invoices?

Premiere Pro reads timecode, has a better chromakeyer than FCPX, and has a basic workflow that makes sense. There’s loads to love. But today, I have revoked my subscription to Creative Cloud, and am reverting to CS6. Why?

It turns out that I earn my income using FCPX. It’s the tool that effectively puts food in the mouths of my family and keeps a roof over our heads. The same can be said of Sony and Canon cameras, but by and large, I’m perceived as an editor, and an FCPX editor at that.

FCPX is very important to me, and changes to FCPX have a direct impact on my family. If I were a carpenter, and somebody changes the way my saws or hammers work, I am very interested in that and will abandon the ‘trend’ in favour of the ‘reliable’ in a heartbeat. I have Adobe software – Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere and After Effects – for a backup plan, for clients who are not Mac-based. I use it very infrequently.

Okay, so Illustrator is great for getting a logo out of a downloaded PDF from a company’s annual report. I can isolate it, scale it, then use Photoshop to rasterise it, and the screenshots I obtained, ready for animation. Whilst I like the new selection tools for cutting things out of a background, I don’t use it as much as a Motion Graphics artist would. I just need PhotoShop, Illustrator and AfterEffects as special ‘Swiss Army Knife’ tools. That’s just CS6. Maybe even 5.5.

One exception is Audition – my audio editor of choice, far better than SoundTrack Pro, immediately usable unlike Logic et al. Can’t do without that – if only to apply my Izotope plug-ins for voice-overs and interviews, and repair bad location audio. But I digress.

So Adobe are closing the doors on the ‘grandfather’ deals – folks who signed up to Creative Cloud early on at a 50% discount. CC is now established, those deals are gone.

I have been told ‘if you don’t get value from the Creative Cloud deal, you’re either not working or use other software’.

Boggle!? (note the use of the interrobang)

I am a freelance video editor. I need to work with the right tool for the right job. I need to remain up to date with my skills. My main editor is FCPX because of the kind of work I do – short form (1-5 minute). I use Premiere Pro for paid work 4-6 times a year because it does Time Of Day code, and it’s the editor of choice for a couple of clients – if they hire me to deliver a final programme, we work in FCPX. If they want to edit it further, I work in Premiere Pro so they can take it further.

So, I own CS6. I will have to pay £47 per month to be ready to edit stuff for those four Premiere Pro clients. That’s £564 per annum, and I will see less value from that than I do from – for example – an additional prime lens for my C100, or a budget for good plug-ins for my existing software.

So, here’s the solution: Edit software as a line item.

If you require me – a freelance video editor/director – to edit in Adobe Premiere CC, I will add £77 as a line item to my invoice to cover the cost of the latest version of the software. It’s a line item. Adobe have raised the cost of ownership for people who are NOT exclusively Adobe based, and that cost must be passed on, otherwise I am subsidising Adobe. I, a freelance artisan editor/director, am subsidising a global conglomerate organisation that cares not for my business or my success.

I don’t get the value from the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription because I don’t have enough clients who DO get the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Most of my clients don’t give a fig which edit solution I use. At £24 per month (grandfathered-in rate) Adobe CC was an expense I could swallow. At £48 per month, I need to draw a line. Maybe your line is different. I need to invest in many things – hardware, software, storage, archive, backup – and to have a £50 hit per month on something that doesn’t deliver that value, it has to be chopped. Nothing personal, just business.

Adobe doesn’t care about freelancers who major in other platforms (FCPX or Avid). This isn’t hyperbole, just a business situation. There are more people that Adobe want to court who will pay, than there are ‘special cases’ like the freelance market. The Creative Cloud makes it a little more hard line, is all.

The Creative Cloud let me down a few times when I REALLY needed it. My confidence in it has been trashed. Maybe Adobe can work out a system where ‘limited use’ users can keep abreast of the current edition and use the Suite on paying jobs for a top-up fee. Maybe that’s what the £77 per moth ad-hoc rate is all about.

Either way, it’s a line item on my invoices.

MovieSlate – the editor’s friend

I’ve finally managed to get MovieSlate to work as a Corporate Video tool that actually adds value to the edit, rather than as a bit of ‘decoration’.

It seems I’ve been doing a wave of 2-camera shoots recently, mostly interviews on PMW-EX1s. A simple hand clap or even a bit of lip sync on ‘plosives’ (vocalising consonants such as ‘p’ and ‘b’) is often all you’d ever need to bring the two shots into synchronisation.

The idea of using a clapperboard could be seen as a little ‘effete’ and pretentious. In fact, I’d tried a few iPhone/iPad versions and found that the visual and audio cues were out of sync anyway. So I have, sadly, scoffed at them for too long.

But, a while back, I was editing some 3-camera interviews shot by a colleague, and he’d used an iPad slating app that actually did something really useful. It blipped a few text fields just before the slate – only 2-3 frames per field of text, but it quite clearly labelled the interviewee. Wowzers! The idea of shot logs, production notes and so on seems to have faded into obscurity and as a Corporate Video editor, often all I get is a hard drive with obscure rushes on it.

I’ve seen this done, but the blipvert text dump was of Things I Did Not Need To Know – director, DoP name, production name, camera type and so on. What I wanted to know was ‘who is this, how is the name spelled, what do I put in the lower third caption’. The sort of info I often have to trawl Linked-in for at 3:00 in the morning just to check spellings or find a shorter job title.

So I dusted off my copy of MovieSlate and dug around its interface, trying to get it to behave the way I wanted to. There are LOTS of options buried in MovieSlate and they’re not all where you’d expect to find them. In fact, trying to bash things into shape and work out what should go where took the best part of an afternoon – but now we’ve got through a few jobs working with MovieSlate, I’m going to be using it whenever I can.

Removing my ‘editor’ hat and now thinking as a ‘shooter’, I’m really keen to deliver rushes to an editor/client stating that CH1: is the lavalier, CH2: is the 416 on a boom – I’ve had some stuff edited where the two tracks were treated as stereo. And I’ll label my 1-mic, 2-channel (CH2 -18dB lower) too. A seasoned editor would work all this out just by looking at it, but some folks can miss out on the particular whys and wherefores.

So, here’s a little review of MovieSlate – created because I find trying to explain something as if teaching helps solidify my experience of it.

Chromakey lighting – the basics

Alex Gollner and I were shooting some interviews in Berlin this week, and I inadvertently captured the last bit of our setting up which makes a neat little illustration of chromakey lighting. Our brief was to capture the corporate interviews that would fit a ‘white background’ look, but could also get rebranded, so we shot using a chromakey setup. 06 final key
This may surprise you, but that’s the result from the XDCAM-EX recording. It’s 4:2:0 and recorded internally at 8 bit to SDHC. It’s because the FCPX keyer is a ‘hybrid’ keyer that uses both colour and luminance info to create the key, but it can only work its magic if your source material is good. What does good look like?

First job is to ensure that the background is evenly lit, with no spill onto the subject. Evenness and correct exposure is very important to get a good quality result. The green should be around 50IRE-55IRE on a waveform monitor: 01 bgd lit, no light on subject Here, the Waveform Monitor shows the green background nudging towards the 60IRE line, but the key feature is that it’s flat (evenly lit) and the line is thin (not much variance from top to bottom).chromakey_wfm Next up, I used a daylight dichroic filter in my Dedo DLH4 backlight to give a cool effect, befitting a white background. Not too much to burn it out, just enough to ‘lift and separate': 02 add backlight I didn’t feel that was enough, so I moved it a foot or so to the camera’s right. This made it more of a 3/4 back or ‘kicker’, catching Alex’s cheek. 03 move to threequarter back or kick Next, I added a very soft fill. It needed to be more of a ‘wash’ of light and something that could be carefully balanced with the key to provide the right level of ‘ambient’ lighting for a light background. If the fill were low, it would produce a high contrast look better suited to a dark background. We’re shooting for white, so another Dedo DLH4 was beamed into a big white reflector: 04 add fill Finally, I used a soft key – a small Dedo softbox with egg-crate – above head height. I really don’t like taking the key down to eye level as it looks unnatural. I don’t go too high, otherwise we lose the ‘tings’ in the eyes – the reflection of the light source in the iris that makes the interviewee look ‘alive’. 05 add soft key Once in Final Cut Pro X, it’s basically a case of dropping the Keyer plug-in onto the clip. I’ve nudged up the light wrap to create a little false flare around the edges, which introduces another little problem but really helps sell the shot. I’ve reframed accordingly. 06 final key

Conclusion:

Light your chromakey background first. Make sure it’s even and exposed correctly. Your subject should be untouched by the chromakey background lamps, and far enough away from the setup to avoid ‘spill’. Now you can light your subject with a thought to what background it will be used on. Lower contrast for bright backgrounds, higher contrast for dark backgrounds (just a rule of thumb). Update – our dear friend Sean Ebsworth Barnes was shooting stills on the same event and found us doing strange things -

MXF to FCPX not working? A possible fix

Ingesting C300 rushes using the Canon FCPX plug-in
Ingesting-C300-rushes-using-the-Canon-FCPX-plug-in
Canon provide a free plug-in to enable the C300’s MXF files to import directly into FCPX without the need to transcode to ProRes. Many users report that they have no problems with the installation and it ‘just works’. However, other users with similar setups report that they cannot import C300 rushes in FCPX, though it works through Log and Capture in FCP7, additionally Adobe Premiere successfully imports C300 MXF. Only FCPX seems affected, and for a limted subset of FCPX users.

C300 rushes don’t work
C300-rushes-don-t-work

Here’s the typical scenario: having run the xpfm211 installer. FCPX sees the folder structure, even the MXF files themselves, but does not recognise either. This is as far as some users get. For some reason, the installer has completed successfully, we are seeing files, but nothing imports. De-installing and re-installing brings the user back to this situation. Very frustrating.

After installing
After-installingTrying to track the activity of the installer, we see two new plug-ins highlighted in the MIO/RAD/Plugins folder – CanonE1.RADPlug and CanonXF.RADPlug. The latter would appear to be the ‘magic smoke’ for the MXF format. However, this isn’t working. There’s a second empty RADPlugins folder below – should the plugins be in there?
Moving the plugins
Moving-the-pluginsWhilst it may seem a bit ‘cargo cult’ to shift the contents from a RAD/Plugins heirachy to a RADPlugins, it was worth a shot. No, it didn’t work.
Comparing folders with a working configuration
Comparing-folders-with-a-working-configurationHere’s where it got interesting. I was able to confer with another editor who had a system that did import MXF successfully. The key difference was that he had a CanonXF64.RADPlug folder – not an XF, an XF64. I could not find a similar folder, nor could I make the installer create one. In the end, he just sent me a copy of that folder, and I dragged and dropped it into the same folder I had.
C300 rushes now appear normally
C300-rushes-now-appear-normallyAnd it worked! It’s pretty obvious because you can see the clips, but also note that the MXF folder heirachy has gone, replaced simply with the usual list of clips on a card or archive.
The Secret Sauce of C300 Import
The-Secret-Sauce-of-C300-ImportSo this folder appears to be the missing link. Depending on your system, the installer either creates this folder, or it doesn’t. Both of us had the XDCAMFormat.RADPlugin, removing both did not make my installer create this file, the only way was to use somebody elses copy. It would be useful to provide this folder as a download to those who need it, but license agreements seem to forbid this sort of activity – probably for good reason.
It comes down to an issue with the installer, which isn’t written by Canon staff, and so it’s difficult to work out who to alert to the situation. However, as seen here, access to the CanonXF64.RADplug folder cures the problem for now.