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Editing a feature....question about best and most reliable external hard drives?

Scott Goldberg

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Trying to figure this out and maybe you guys can help: If I'm import let's say thirty 32 gig SD cards over a 1 year period of shooting, that's 960 gig's worth of media, MTS (AVCHD files) not to mention Final Cut Pro X events and Final Cut Pro X filters which also add to the events being bigger...


So my question is: What should my work flow be for doing feature? 


I'm thinking of getting a few reliable external hard drives... maybe three 1 tb drives, or two 2 tb drives? For the typical FS700 or C100 r C300 user, what has your choice been and what do you find most reliable? Links are appreciated. I'll be editing on a 16 Gig RAM iMac desktop system.


And I've seen reviews on SeaGate drives and how they just die for some people and for others they are great. That's a concern of mine.


Obviously when doing their first feature, one wants to be sure to effectively edit, store media as well as have reliable hard drives. So those are my concerns with doing the feature. Shooting it on a FS700 so the media files are quite big.




Second part of the question is:


Okay, so I will then have my media on my hard-drives. I'll open FCP X and import the files. Should I then save the FCP files on the timeline or on the external hard-drive?


A 90 minute feature with filters, color grading, titles, effects (I'm only use FCP X nothing else), music, transitions, is concerning to me and I want to be sure I do things right.


Feedback welcome.

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Ok you need at least a raid-5 for redundancy if you are making a feature. Don't cheap out and just buy single hard drives because in the end, you will either spend as much replacing failed ones or lose critical data.


If your iMac has thunderbolt get one of the Promise Pegasus raids you can buy on the apple store. They are fast enough for your needs and pretty cost effective for what you are doing. Then buy some single drives for transport, maybe a 2tb one for rushes backup and another 2tb one for everything else. Ideally get 2 of each and have two levels of redundancy for every backup.


If you have the money or can find a place that hires them, get an LTO4 or 5 to back up your rushes to either as you shoot or at the end of the shoot so that you have a verified tape that will last 30 years or so if all your drives fail.


Good luck,



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Scott is not obsessed with 'redundancy', in the very opposite he is trying hard to reduce the hard drive space his ever growing projects will eat. He even frequently asks if it is 'safe' to identify unwanted clips (fka 'footage') and delete them physically from the SD card and/or hard drive.


He didn't yet buy the idea, that FCP X - unlike other NLEs - only at the first stage needs all original media - which with AVCHD and a current understanding of what a 'big' media file is (quote: Shooting it on a FS700 so the media files are quite big) doesn't present a problem. The hard drive to backup his original SD cards (so that he can format them for further use) could be USB 2, the cheapest and slowest drives around, with which you can store the 15 hours of footage Scott plans to shoot (source: Technical specs of FS-700, 28 Mbps highest bitrate for HD, spread over 960 GByte, calculated with VideoSpecs Bitrate Pro, maybe Scott mixed up bits and bytes).


The drive may be that slow, because it is not what FCP X works with anyway. The smart way to import original files (directly from an SD card via card reader, from the connected camera, from a copy of the SD card on a hard drive or the recommended 'camera archive' of FCP X, in either case they remain AVCHD as 'x.mts') is to make a selection of what he actually intends to use. These imported clips are copied to FCP Xs event folder, and they come in different flavors, to be chosen in FCP Xs import preferences:


1. 'original media'. The term doesn't refer to the AVCHD on the card/backup volume. It refers to the codec, mpeg4. FCP X wraps the files during import 'in no time'* (*somewhat slower from a USB 2 connection, but that's the extent of it). After that, they appear as H.264 copies with the extension '.mov'. The copied clips have the same size as the AVCHD, but if Scott already imported, as he wrote earlier, only about thirty percent of the whole footage, these clips will take 320 GB. After that, the external HD can be ejected safely and remain in the drawer for the eventuality that the drive he assigned for the event (by first clicking on the volume's icon in the event browser prior to clicking 'new event', with the latter creating a 'log bin' for the clips about to be imported) goes bust. The speed of this event drive is crucial, internal SATA for MacPros, Thunderbolt for modern iMacs or Books, any older Macs at least Firewire. What happens if the event drive actually breaks? Well, if he stored the projects (timelines, the project files with diminutive file sizes) on a different volume (they must be assigned as well), he will have to reconnect the 'offline' files to the backup originals.


2. 'optimized media', same, but with about four times the file sizes, intermediates.


3. 'proxy media'. Only slightly smaller than AVCHD, but fastest to edit. Always need to be reconnected to the original media before onlining!


EDIT: The wise way to organize media in FCP X is to think of projects as sequences of about 10 minutes duration. Each should have a corresponding event. Though one can use clips from all events, things can look confusing on bigger features. What one should worry about is the work space's appearance, the real estate on your display's surface, not so much the storage. My two cents.


Safety and redundancy could be guaranteed by making a Timemachine actualization at any coffee break (can be a USB 2 drive as well).

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The topic of this thread is "best and most reliable external hard drives". Let me tell you - there is no such as a reliable hard drive. Whatever brand (there's only Western Digital and Seagate left in the 3.5" rotating platters business) you pick, you might get a bad drive that will die immediately, after a few weeks/months or so...


Best solution for reliability is like soupkitchen said to run disks in RAID. RAID-5 is alright, but personally I'd go for RAID-1 in your case - this means you can run the RAID with 2 hard disks - and everything that is written to the RAID volume gets written to both hard drives. It is less likely that both of the hard disks die at the same time, so you gain a bit of reliability this way. 


Cheapest solution for this is to use a USB 2 or Firewire enclosure. You could also go for a small 2-bay NAS.

Make sure to stay away from any enclosure that only does RAID-0 - this will only increase the risk for failure.


Another cheap solution, is that OS X actually has software raid built-in, so you could actually hook up two external hard disks to your Mac and setup software RAID in OS X.


Since you are asking this question, I guess that you aren't too experienced when it comes to managing disks / raids etc. In those cases, a NAS would most likely be the easiest hardware to setup for you. Two good brands to have a look at are Qnap and Synology.


These are generic advice for keeping data alive on disks. I see Axel suggests a workflow that will keep redundancy in files as well through work disk + project disk. Probably OK as well. Had it been my own very important data that I didn't want to disappear, I had used work disk + backup on RAID though.. The question about hard disks is not IF they break, but about WHEN.

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I suppose both of you edit with Premiere. 


With AVCHD (but not i.e. with 5D clips, which are Quicktime-wrapped already) you have a copy in FCP X without choice. Make sure the copies are on an independent hard drive. One hard drive can (and will) fail, but two at the same time?


Render files (for preview purposes) are dispensable, you just need events (your footage, the original recordings) and projects (your work, hours, days, weeks). With the first living on two separate drives, you just need a backup of the second. The way to make an archive of your project (FCP X knows no 'safe as', only auto-safe) is to duplicate the project with a new name. You are then asked where you want to save this duplicated project. This could be another hard drive, or two. It could be a 128 MB USB stick (or two). You could send it as an E-mail attachment to yourself. Just to see how big project files actually are, I took 10 of mine (under 10 minutes each, reason above, project in FCP X is more or less the same as a sequence in Premiere) and hit 'info': 7,7 MB, and I use 'compounding' a lot.

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I'll say it again. If you are doing a feature, you need to have redundancy. If you don't and you lose footage, don't come crying on here. Raid 5 or higher, don't cheap out.


A time machine backup to a slow drive is still just another drive, and if it's a cheap slow usb2 drive it is more likely to fail.


Anyway, that's my 2 cents. Good luck.

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A Thunderbolt Raid for an iMac is of course not cheap, but perhaps the most sophisticated solution. As described above, for original media, perhaps the much bigger optimized media and a good portion of render files, you end up with a lot of redundant data. With roughly 1 TB footage, I would figure 10 TB to be sufficient. 

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