Constructing the best HDSLR workflow

Photo gotten off

As with everything else, a different camera requires a different workflow, different set-ups require a different workflow, different storytelling needs require a different workflow..and well, you get my drift. So I went around a few sites to gather what to me is considered a basic dslr workflow and to spice things up, what I'm going to do here is present to you a hdslr workflow with all the best equipments and software highly recomended by professionals. Let's make pretend, we have an endless stream of cash in the bucket just for post production. Get ready to access your wettest video post-production dreams my dear friends...

The Production: Every one reading this article wants to know how to do a post for hdslr right? So I assume it is safe to conclude that you're shooting with a hdslr for video and an external audio recorder for audio to combine both these to form a short narrative film right?
Photo gotten off

Essentially, this is what the generic workflow would looked like(...or at least, how I'd do it):
1) Transferring the footages to your external hard drive( through card reader or usb which will allow "picture style editor")
2) Conforming your footages to 24p and transcoding to an edit-friendly codec
3) Get another external hard drive to back-up your files
4) Opening up your NLE and synching the audio to video
5) Creative editing process begins
6) Color grading
7) Animation, effects,greenscreen etc
8) Export out
9) Output playback medium( DVD, HD DVD, Blu Ray, softcopy, youtube etc)

So you finished shooting your next big film project,(this line sounds cliche right?) and want to do a proper basic workflow that is a standard across all professionals dealing with motion picture. How do you go about doing it? Which Non Linear Editing(NLE) software should I use?

By the way, I have to mention that it is essential that in production, you:
1) Record your image in the 'neutral' setting in your picture profile as you wouldn't want the camera to decide your color scheme. Remember that you'd want to go into post production with a pristine image that captures the highest possible dynamic range without compressing your colors else you couldn't manouever much with your master footage.
2) When recording audio with an external audio recorder, remember to also record your audio signal into the camera itself so that it acts as a reference for Pluraleyes™to sync your audio and video together in post.
3) If you happen to have loads of cash, your dream would be to record pristine lossless image from your camera. Nikon and Canon dslrs compress your video to MJPEG and h264 respectively which is a liability in most if not all areas. These two codecs are not edit-friendly and are lossy codecs. There is a solution though as you can purchase a data field recorder in the form of Atomos Ninja™ as well as others so that it records in a lossless format and bypasses in-camera compression. Plus, it taps into the camera's hdmi or hd-sdi system. There are known issues though with Canon using these data field recorders as written in this article:
Screengrab of the Atomos Ninja as displayed on their website

4) Another thing that I would like to mention is that dslrs, sadly, doesnt like to record footages for a substantial amount of time, or to even leave it on is dangerous- for your image. Nikon dslrs have a bad habit of shutting off when the camera is left on for too long to avoid over-heating while the Canon dslrs will have noise introduced to it's imagery when the camera starts to over-heat. Not good for image at all.

Step #1: Transferring footage to external harddrive
Photo gotten off the seagate website:

Alright then, the ultimate first step is transferring your footages into an external harddrive that uses firewire800, USB 3.0(thunderbolt anyone? =]) or at the very least, a USB 2.0. Why? 'Cause you don't want delay going into your cuts when you're editing. In fact, I think it is essential that editors have a RAZOR™ mouse for what I like to call "precision editing". Fluid movement and speed is a need, but then again, that's a story for another day.

Before you do the transfer of the footages to your external harddrive, consider whether you'd want to:
a) use an SD card reader to transfer the footages. OR. b) Use the usb cable to connect camera to computer. This is important because i read an article that said one could do a 'color enhancement' called picture style editor when connecting a usb cable to connect camera to computer If you happen to edit your dslr footages in FCP, then perhaps you can take a look at this:

Step #2: Conforming footage to 24p & transcoding 

Screengrab of the mpeg streamclip interface:
Once your footages have been transferred to an external harddrive, your next step in the production pipeline is to conform your footages to your desired framerate(if you haven't already done so in-camera, shame on you!). But I understand that some cameras don't have the option of recording in 24p. It's either that or that you'd want to conform your 50/60fps framerates to 24p so that you'd have an overcranked silky image, am I right? =]. Before that, I'd advise you that you first transcode your footages to an edit friendly format so you wouldn't have to grab a cuppa coffee everytime you add a transition or effect into your edit later on. If you haven't done so, please proceed to download MPEG streamclip™( From there, you can transcode your footages to edit friendly formats. Do note that, some people transcode their footages in lossless formats thinking that it'll help their image gain back information that is lost, but that is not true. I encode my footages in MPEGstreamclip to a lossless format because I don't want to face daunting render times when I'm editing later. For true lossless image recording, use an external data field recorder in the form of Atomos Ninja/Samurai or Convergent Design's Gemini 4:4:4 just to name a few. Anyways, just transcode your footages with the edit friendly codec of your choice.

Falling back on conforming frame rates for your footages, there are a few options you can do: (Do take note that since you're overcranking the frame rate, you should also turn up the shutter speed x2 of the frame rate you've set according to the 180 degree shutter rule

1) If you are using FCP, you can import your footages to a new project then highlight the footages which you'd set to 50/60fps then go to "view">"Open in CinemaTools™">"Conform"> Choose your frame rate. Voila!
2) For Adobe CS users, you can conform it straight from Premiere Pro without any issues. How blessed!
3) For Avid users, maybe this link can help you
4) For Sony Vegas users, maybe this video can help you out
Readers beware, changing the frame rate from MPEGstreamclip™ from 50/60p to 24p does not 'overcrank' the footage. What it does, is deduct 50%(more or less), so that the footage is 24p. What we want is a 50/60p footage playing in a 24p timeline.

Twixtor...many of us would drool at this name. Since we have no restrictions on cash here, I will elaborate on this wonderful plugin! here are some samples of what this plugin does:

So, before you hastily put your videos into twixtor to 'slow mo' it, there are a few things you should take note of. You'd want to record in a higher frame rate than 24p, because you are going to replay it back in that aforementioned frame rate. Also remember to conform it first! Another important thing I should mention is that, you should always put your shutter speed x2 of your recorded frame rate so that you don't have strobe issues with your 'twixtor-ed' footage. How I know? It's because I did so and my footages happen to look something like this:

~Note~ I haven't found this twixtor issue mentioned anywhere(but I'm sure there are some articles i've missed), so for the benefit of everyone I'm going to explain how my colleague helped me solve this phenomena:

The issue: When you slow down a clip with twixtor, the clip retains it's length which will result in the slow-mo footage to end prematurely.
The answer: create a seperate sequence>drop your footage into the sequence>duplicate it or increase the length of the footage(remember to calculate how long you'd want your slow-mo footage to be, e.g If I'm going to slow the clip down to 50% of the original clip in twixtor, i would duplicate the clip twice)> then i'd proceed to nest the sequence together> place the nested sequence in your main timeline> Apply twixtor

Step #3: Back up your files...again

After you've done with playing around with frame rate conforming, remember to have another backup of your files as you've made two big changes; Transcoding as well as conforming your footages. Prevention is better than cure they always say ;P

Step #4: Synching Audio & Video 

Photo gotten off from:
The next step is to open up your NLE system and start synching the audio to the video. Remember earlier when I told you to record audio in-camera in conjunction with your external audio recorder? This is to act as a reference to your synching, for those who use PluralEyes™, this is crucial. Also, for safety measure, I'd always make it a point to put a slate so it would be easier if I happen to end up synching audio and video by hand. Shown below is Philip Bloom's tutorial on using PluralEyes™ to sync audio and video with little fuss(for FCP users).
...And here's the link to download the software:
PluralEyes™ works on FCP, Premiere Pro and Vegas. There's also DualEyes™ which can compliment all other systems that PluralEyes™ doesn't support.

If you happen to have problems with PluralEyes™ or that you don't think your footages are substantial enough to be used with PluralEyes™, perhaps you can go with the other option; hands-on audio/video synchronizing. This is when your audio recorded in-camera is useful(as well as your clapperboard). take note that there's a known phenomena called "Audio drift" which is when you sync the audio and video at the start of the clip but towards the end of the clip, the syncing varies slightly. This is caused by some dslrs, more commonly the 5D MK II recording footage in true 30p"...which doesn't conform to the industry standard 29.97 fps"(Koo,, A way to solve this issue is to, once again conform your footages to the sequence settings of your respective NLEs, 24fps to 23.98 fps, 30fps to 29.97 fps, 60 fps to 59.94 fps just to give you a heads up. In your NLE software, just show the audio waveforms from both your external audio and in-camera audio and match them up. This should help.
*For FCP users, I found this on

Step #5: Creative Editing process begins

Photo gotten off from:
 Okay, here's step comes the fun part...Editing! All i want to say is this, before you have some fun, check to make sure all of what's discussed above is done to avoid issues. As a guideline, here's my set-up information by the time I reach this step:
1) Sequence settings: 23.98 fps(in most if not all NLEs, it will display as 24p regardless it's true 23.98fps)
2) Audio and Video synched seemlessly( with the in-camera audio trimmed off)
3) I'd have a folder of 23.98p footages and 50p footages for which, the latter, I'd have already conform to 23.98p.
4) My codec in which I'd have transcoded in would be Apple Pro Res 422.
5) I'm editing straight from my external hard drive with a firewire800 port(remember to always reset where your scratchdisk is located, especially when you're editing a couple of projects from different external harddrives)
6) I'd have created a "side-sequence" containing all of the shots that have gone through "conforming" and "twixtor-ing"
7) I have to, have to say this...To make editing pleasant, make it a habit to name your clips and put them in bins if you have to. I can't stress how important it is to keep your media organized. Also, it makes it easier to find files. In general, I'd group my photos, music, footages, slow-mo footages, effects seperately.

Now, you are ready to enter the world of fun...Enjoy!

Step #6: Color Grading

Photo gotten off from:
Color grading, is an exhilirating time in the production pipeline for me, personally. And since we've established that we have a never-endless stream of cash in hand, I'm going to introduce the big names in post color grading with softwares such as RedGiant's "Magic Bullet Suite"(Oooooh!), BlackMagic Designs' "Da Vinci Resolve/Lite"(Aaaaahhh!), Final Cut Studios' "Color"(woahhh~), Synthetic Apertures' "Color Finesse"(Haarrrghh!) and The Grading Sweet! *faints*. Note~ color grading should best be applied after picture lock. Just saying ;P
Da Vinci resolve(The lite version was released a few months ago)
Magic Bullet Suite(Catch their promo video for Suite 11, "Plot Device"

Oh and, by the way, you don't need to have a joy-ball control panel or any third party hardware to do all those amazing works. One thing I feel is a must though, is a tv monitor that is hooked up with your NLE so that it shows the correct color representation when you do your grading. Whenever possible, do not forego this! why? 'cause a computer doesn't reproduce color signals like a tv does and If your final output is to a TV, you'd have a chance of your color grading not being represented correctly as how you viewed it from your computer screen. Apart from that is the fact that your interlaced lines would look ok on the tv but not on your computer(I used to make a mistake of deinterlacing my videos when I output to DVD thinking that it looks crappy when interlaced. When watching it back on the tv, it looks like the video has dropped in resolution). Anyways, back to the topic. Once I've gotten my tv monitor set-up, I'd do a monitor calibration. Click on this link for step-by-step tv calibration

There's also in-built color grading controls that can be applied from within your NLE without spending a cent more. These effect/controls/preset however are pretty much basic and won't give you options to go do advanced color grading. Typically, If I know I have to review a project with m clients several times, I'd just go ahead with 3-way color correcting(which is a preset effect in most NLEs i believe) until the client and I "lock" the video. Only then, would I call the client to have them sit with me as I color grade the project using a third party software.

~Note~ gives you tips on choosing your color scheme. Very valuable to have since I didn't have any color-theory background. Most hit movies you see have color palettes that are recommended on

Step #7: Applying Effects, Animation & Greenscreen

Gotten off from the movie: Sin City(2005)
Having done color grading, we'd move on to doing the Effects, Animation and Greenscreen. I won't go on too much about this though as this is most often another department's workload, but for the indie filmmaker, you'd have to do this by yourself if you're super restricted budget-wise.

Let's start off with greenscreen. Why greenscreen first you say? 'cause you're suppose to do this step in the editing process(step no. 5). My bad. Anyways, you'd need to key-out your green/blue from the background as your objective. I'm sure most if not all NLEs have the "chroma-key" feature in it's array of effects & presets. You can either key out natively from your NLE or find a compositing software to do an advanced chroma key for you in the mould of Adobe's After Effects(yay!). Other software that can help include Blender™(Get Blender here!), HitFilm Standard™(HitFilm standard features) or Nuke™(Get Nuke here!).

Next up: Animation and Effects. Aha! Rarely do we see movies nowadays with no effects. The opening credits itself screams out effects and animation, so does the end credits if you don't happen to have animation in your movie. Or you could be a Dogme 95 enthusiast, I don't know. I doubt any dogme enthusiast would even be reading this post ;D Forgive me. You can do your effects with the abovementioned compositing softwares for relatively simple effects like this:
A TV spot done by me while working in Pixsync, Singapore( done up in After Effects)

For more comprehensive 3D animation, you'd need a different set of software and tools(Maya, ZBrush, 3Ds Max etc) and I would need a different column for that post, so we'll just leave it to another day. Besides, I'm not any good in 3D animation, so I would be the worst consultant.=[

Step #8: Exporting out

Screen grab from the export tab in Final Cut Pro
Ok. Step no. 8 on this workflow: Exporting out. Once after you've applied your visual effects/animation to your edited masterpiece, you can proceed to export it out. I'd always export out my final piece in the native codec that I set my sequence settings in which is "Export Quicktime Movie" from FCP. I think it is important that one exports out his master copy with the highest resolution possible. Then I'd save it to my external harddrive and then use MPEGstreamclip to compress it to a lossy codec depending on which output medium I'd want to display the video to. DVD or Youtube(online) is always the question on my mind.

Step #9: Output Playback Medium

Which brings me into my last checkpoint in this workflow. Generically, for DVD, i'd run Roxio's Toast Titanium to convert my video to DVD. I'd just drag my master copy into 'Toast' and let it do the burning to DVD, HD DVD, Blu ray or DATA disc. One could also use software such as FCS' Compressor and DVDstudiopro for a more elaborate DVD set-up with a personal touch like adding subtitles, chapters, extra features. But if there's no customization needed, then 'Toast' would be fine. There are also other DVD output software such as Imtoo, DVD Wizard Pro etc. For more on how DVDs work, Click this link!

If I'd want my video to premiere on the world wide web, I'd do all my settings in MPEGstreamclip™ itself as I'd have the choice of controlling how big my files would be since different sites require different codecs and cap size on the video. Also, I'd chose to de-interlace my project. I usually do up a few copies of the master, each one for a specific website like youtube or vimeo etc.

Screengrab of the short by redgiant:
That's it! All done. All these steps can be jumbled up if the need arises, but this is what most other people would go through. Do take note that television output is not listed here, because it needs a different requirement. If I had covered television as another one of the output medium here, I'd have to add in afew other steps or perhaps completely re-think the whole workflow. Some of the steps include telecine, Dbeta conversion, broadcast safe rules etc. But that's for another day. I hope this post is helpful. Have fun making your blockbuster! ;0]

P.S. photos in here are not mine.


1 comment:

  1. Interesting read my friend. Soon to be Fadly Bloom


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