Saturday, 12 February 2011

Training Course Notes: Tapeless - Compact Flash Media

The Canon XF300 and XF305 record to compact flash cards. This tapeless workflow worries some people. But it shouldn’t. Yes, you will see some horror stories on forums telling tales of lost data. But, tape had its problems too. So here is a guide to working tapeless without tears.

I know compact flash and SD cards are pretty robust because I accidentally put one through a full wash cycle and tumble dryer. Yes, it did still work perfectly but I wouldn’t recommend you repeat the experiment. Certainly don’t try doing that with a tape.

But, no matter how robust Flash memory is, it does need to be taken care of. Here are a few things I’ve learnt using SD and Compact Flash.


Buy the right card.

Check in the camera operations manual as to what cards you can use. When recording video the speed at which the card writes the video data must be compatible. The XF300/305 camera can spit out 50Mbs make sure your card has a sustained write speed at least that fast – even better make sure it is faster. Most speeds quoted for cards are for burst speeds, which is relevant for stills photography, but not for video. Some manufacturers quote speeds that haven’t been borne out in independent testing, so always assume any claimed speeds are slower than promised. As you can see from the table below, SanDisk at a claimed 60MB/s has been shown to be faster for sustained video performance in Canon’s tests than Lexar at 90MB/s. If you have bought the a card that is too slow for what you want to do, there will be an error message that will say: BUFFER OVERFLOW. RECORDING HAS STOPPED.

These cards are recommended by Canon for the XF300 and XF305. Check their site for updates.

Canon tested CF cards (as of Jan 2011)

Think how much it will cost to re-shoot your video if you have a card problem. If you buy cheap cards or, even worse, counterfeit cards you will regret it – and counterfeit cards are a big problem, be particularly wary of buying anything on eBay or from dealers you don’t know.

Also try not to use very large capacity cards - don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If a whole card becomes corrupted you could lose a lot of work. Using smaller cards will ensure that if there is a problem you won’t lose too much.

16GB = 40 minutes of recording time = £66
32GB = 80 minutes of recording time = £127

I’d recommend 16GB cards for most shooting and 32 GB cards if you need to continuously record for more than an hour (for example at a press conference). A 32GB card will give a healthy 80 minute recording time at 1920x1080 50i, 50Mbps.

If you put a sticky label on a card you may find it difficult to eject it from the camera. I tried this and had to use tweezers to get an SD card out of a camera. Now I just use an indelible marker and label them CARD A, CARD B etc., or CARD 001, CARD 002.

SD and CF cards are smaller than tape and easy to lose, so I keep mine in a card holder. I bought them from Morris Photo. They are about as big as a DVCAM tape box and will easily fit in a back pocket. They cost less than £7 each.

Search for >> Delkin memory tote << on the site.

The SD holder will hold eight cards and the CF holder four. If the card is unused I leave it label side up in the holder. If it is used I turn it label side down.


Insert a card into the camera slot and close the protective door. If the door is not closed the camera will not recognise the Compact Flash card.

Insert the card carefully you do not want to bend the connection pins in the camera. If you have two cards put the other into slot B.

Press the MENU button and using the joystick:

  • Scroll down to the OTHER FUNCTIONS menu and select
  • Scroll down to INITIALIZATION and select
  • Choose CF A
  • The card will be formatted and everything on the card will be DELETED.
  • If you have two cards choose CF B and initialise that too.

The card is now ready for recording. If both cards are inserted the camera will fill one card then automatically record continuously on to the other.


When a clip is recorded it assigns each video file a 6-character name. The default starts at AA0001. However, you can change the letters and numbers to something more meaningful.

If it is a two-camera shoot you could call the cards AA for the A roll camera and BB for video shot on the B roll. Starting the numbers at 1000 for day one of a shoot and 2000 for day two of a shoot.

Press the MENU button and using the joystick:

  • Scroll to the OTHER FUNCTIONS menu and select using the joystick
  • Scroll to CLIPS and select
  • Scroll to TITLE PREFIX and change the letters and press SET
  • Scroll to NUMBER SETTING and change this too.

You can also add other information, ie Metadata.

Press the MENU button and using the joystick:

  • Scroll to OTHER FUNCTIONS and select using the joystick
  • Scroll to SET METADATA and select
  • Scroll to COUNTRY CODE and change the letters and press SET
  • Scroll to ORGANISATION and change the letters and press SET
  • Scroll to USER CODE and change the letters and press SET


If you press the STATUS button and scroll to page 4 of 10 you can see how much has been recorded on to each card and how much recording time is available.

Tape was sometimes a little slow to start recording as it needed time to get up to speed. But when you hit the record button for a second time it pretty much stopped recording immediately.

Tapeless recording isn’t like that. The camera has an internal memory cache of 3 seconds. You can access these three seconds with the Pre Rec special recording function. It will ensure you have the 3 seconds BEFORE you’ve even hit the record button. So, if you are waiting for an event to happen I’d recommend you use this function – everyone will think you are psychic. There is probably no reason not to have Pre Rec on all the time.

Press the MENU button

  • Scroll to the OTHER FUNCTIONS menu and select using the joystick
  • Scroll to SPECIAL REC
  • Scroll to PRE REC and SET OK

When you stop recording the card access light will stay red for a little time and then turn green to let you know it is ready to start again. Even though you have pressed the REC button to stop recording the camera may still have some data left to write on the card. You do not want to interrupt the camera when it is doing this so…

If the card access light is RED:

  • Do NOT turn off the camera
  • Do NOT open the card slot doors
  • Do NOT try to record
  • Do NOT remove the card.

If you ignore the red light you could end up with corrupt files.


If your card has been corrupted, the display will say: DATA ON CF A/CF B NEEDS RECOVERING – ATTEMPT TO RECOVER?

To recover the data: Select YES using the joystick.

However, this procedure:

  • will delete clips shorter than 10 seconds in length
  • will delete 10 seconds from the end of clips
  • may not be totally successful.


You may not have the time or a spare pair of hands to import the video into a computer during a shoot. So, a quick way to backup is to use a device such as the Nexto DI or Hyperdrive Colorspace UDMA back-up drive. These are basically a shockproof hard drive in a rugged housing with built in preview monitor.


Compact Flash cards do not have a write protection tab to prevent someone accidentally deleting them. So, keep your cards safe.

Backing up the card is a good way to start. Copy the whole card – not just the bits you think you need. This is the most important thing to do when backing up or sharing video. If you back up your cards to a computer – do NOT transfer the video files (.MXF) only. Final Cut Pro definitely needs to see the whole file structure to do a Log and Transfer. I don’t use Avid or Premiere Pro – but I suspect they need those data files on the card too. I repeat…


Once you have the card backed up on a hard drive you are ready to import it into the editing software.

Do not try to edit from the card via a card reader. Most card readers use USB, which is too slow to transfer the data in real time for editing. Also if the power is interrupted to the USB you may corrupt the data on the card.

This may seem complicated, but you will get used to the new workflow. Yes, there may be problems with bad cards and corrupted data – but no media is perfect.

There are benefits to going tapeless…

Cameras should be more reliable as there are fewer moving parts (particularly so with solid state). Just eject a tape from a camera and look inside – there is a lot in there that can go wrong.

Humidity will render tape cameras useless and in some cases allows the tape to completely destroy the mechanism. Tapeless is more robust.

Thanks to the lack of moving parts in the XF300/XF305 cameras, your cost of ownership will be reduced There are no expensive head drums, no pinch rollers and no capstans to replace.

Tapes were generally a single use medium. Although I know some people did reuse/recycle their tapes. Compact Flash can be used several thousand times and so while they are expensive initially they are cost effective in the long run – although a tape sitting on a shelf can be its own archive, so you need to think about how you preserve the data on the card after you transfer it, whether on hard drives, Blu-ray discs, or other storage (including LTO tape). The maxim is that unless you have at least two copies of the data, you have no copy…


Hopefully you found these training notes helpful. But, if you need more help with your camera I offer one-to-one and group training.

Christina Fox