How to Edit XAVC S Footage

XAVC S is basically H.264 rewrapped to be simpler to edit, as compared to AVCHD. That’s it, really.

Should you transcode?

There is no need to transcode XAVC S to Prores or DNxHD any other codec. Its quality is sufficient for most kinds of productions, even features. If you need extreme grading (like a lot of secondary corrections, masks, LUTs over grades, compositing etc.) then it might be preferable to transcode to TIFF, DPX or OpenEXR, depending on your preference.

What about Prores or DNxHD? We’ll deal with that in another lesson when we look at external recorders. I prefer to use them as acquisition formats, especially Prores. Of course, if you’re creating proxies, Prores Proxy is fine.

As mentioned in the previous module, I would never use any codec other than XAVC S. Not only is editing easier with XAVC S, it also offers the highest data rate and most robust video file to push in post production. The camera does allow dual recording, though I’m not sure why anyone would use that. Even if I wanted to create dailies on the fly, I’d prefer H.264 in 1080p. The pixel aspect ratio of MP4 makes it useless for this purpose – though you could use them if you don’t have a problem with it.

Here’s a list of NLEs that support XAVC S, AVCHD and MP4:

  • Adobe Premiere Pro CC 7.0 onwards
  • Apple Final Cut Pro X 10.0.x via the Sony PDZK-LT2 plugin
  • Avid Media Composer 7 via the third party plugin MediaReactor Workstation from Drastic Technologies, $495 (Sony PDZK-MA2 plugin only supports XAVC, not XAVC S)
  • Grass Valley Edius Pro 7
  • Sony Vegas Pro 12
  • Autodesk Smoke 2014 onwards
  • Editshare Lightworks Pro 11

No matter which NLE you choose, editing Sony A7s footage is a breeze. I use Adobe Premiere Pro, and all I do is drag and drop the footage (or Import…) and edit. Done. Nothing else required. Even on an iMac with an i5 processor and 8 GB RAM, I have never found any hiccups.

What drive setup to use?

You will never need more than one hard drive (no need for RAID 0) for real-time playback. Even a portable 2.5″ platter drive via USB 3.0 delivers 65 MB/s or about 10 streams of 50 Mbps XAVC in 1080p. However, depending on the kind of projects you do, you’ll need a better setup.

For 1080p work

If you are looking for a cheap but faster drive, I highly recommend the HGST Touro S 1 TB 7,200 rpm drive. It does about 120 MB/s. You can connect 2-4 of these via a USB 3.0 hub like the Transcend TS-HUB3K or similar (which also deliver external power to the drives so you don’t have to worry). If you want, you could RAID them via software RAID. No need for expensive systems at all!

For 4K/UHD

As far as 4K is concerned, the story is different. Prores HQ 4K runs about 110 MB/s. A fast 7,200 rpm drive will not cut it when you add titles, grades, etc. Therefore, real-time editing and playback demands RAID 0 (at least 3-4 drives) or an SSD via USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt.

If you’re doing small 5-15 minute projects (finished length), then four of the Touro S drives in RAID 0 should work fine. If you’re shooting longer projects like feature-length movies or documentaries, you need larger drives. In this case, I suggest the G-technology G-Speed 4-bay series in RAID 0. It goes up to 16 TB if you want it to. E.g., if you’re shooting a 90 minute movie with a shooting ratio of 20:1 you’ll need only 12 TB.

That’s all as far as editing XAVC S is concerned. It cannot get any simpler than H.264 and/or Prores!

Click on the link below to the next lesson or head over to the main menu (above). If you need help with something, feel free to send me an email. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.