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Avoiding Footage Loss - Tactics for Storing and Recovering Data

By David Zimmerman, CEO of LC Technology

Months of planning and work can go into a filmmaking scene. There's the set design, lighting, location scouting, and many other facets that all need to work in concert to pull off a great shoot. With all of the care and attention put into the production, there should be more directed towards the actual product. If the footage data is damaged, corrupted, or incomplete, then all of the efforts going into a shoot were wasted. 

High-end cameras are not foolproof, and occasionally errors occur that disrupt the data. And people are certainly not foolproof, as they sometimes make unwise decisions about storing and protecting data. Thankfully, there are some best practices production teams and filmmakers can follow to best protect valuable footage.  

Understand the Mechanics of High-End Cameras

Every high-end camera writes data in a different way with its own formatting and process rules. This writing is done to various types of cards, including CFast, SD, Micro SD, or the Sony proprietary SxS, which are high-capacity cards needed to manage all of the data. These types of cameras sync together audio and video since they're created as separate files. While this produces stunning imagery and quality sound, it does introduce complexity, especially when compared to older cameras that created single streaming files. Issues sometimes do happen with all of this complexity because corruption can occur, and then accessing the footage is nearly impossible without outside assistance. 

Improve Storage Card Management

High-capacity cards can sometimes glitch on their own, although they're quite reliable and can handle a decent amount of usage. The cause of glitches is often user error. For example, if the camera operator is filming a scene and ejects the card right after the scene ends and they cease filming. This move doesn't give the camera enough time to properly write the files and route them properly to the card. The result? Errors and corruption in the file data. The cinematographer needs to wait a few seconds until the activity LED light turns off before ejecting the card to ensure proper formatting and to avoid crushing loss. 

Cards can also be damaged if they're moved back and forth between different cameras, especially different brands as each type has its own formatting and mixing them can cause errors. And of course the cards must be kept away from static electricity, humidity changes, dirt, and any liquids, otherwise they might not record correctly and they can damage the actual camera.

Build a Data Storage Formal Plan

A busy production crew will have a plan and schedule for nearly every step of the process, from pre-planning to lighting. However, most of them will not have formal plans for the proper storage and management of their vital footage. A formal plan means accountability and transparency for the entire team. Everyone knows their role in protecting data from loss. The plan should outline all of the current footage held by the group, including its actual stored location, who can access the footage, and ways in which the protection can be improved.

A team might have some footage stored on old cards, some on external hard drives, and even more on an old DropBox account. A core part of the plan should detail how data storage should be centralized. Ideally, the team can collect all of the footage and place it on the cloud so it's easily protected. The cloud also offers access management and accessibility through any internet connection. Organizing the data and selecting a central location might take some time, but it's a worthwhile endeavor to protect the group's most valuable asset. 

Insist on Data Backups

Cinematographers that use storage cards as long-term solutions are exposing their footage to eventual loss. Cards are small and easy to lose, and they're inherently delicate when exposed to the elements. Once cards are full, the production team should then move all of the footage to a trusted cloud provider that was selected in the planning phase. Transferring all of that data can take a day, but it's essential for longer-term management of the footage. The cards should not typically be reused, and instead held in a safe or other secure area to serve as a backup. And teams should consider using multiple cloud providers to create multiple backups and protection. 

Consider Recovery - As a Last Resort

Glitches and mistakes do happen, so if a high-res card becomes inoperable and you can't read the data, then don't' despair. Recovering the footage is still possible if you employ the services of a specialized data recovery firm. The best recovery companies will have experience with multiple types of cameras, including the Nikon D500, Sony 7R II, Panasonic DMC GH4, Fuji XT-1, and various others, and know how to retrieve data from multiple cards. They'll also undertake different tactics depending on the cause of the data loss, for example whether it was due to water exposure or simply electronic-based errors. Top firms will also have security protocols in place so they don't expose your footage before it's ready. 

Footage is the most valuable asset for a filmmaker. Without quality error-free footage, there is no "product" to sell or showcase. Footage should be afforded every protection available. Filmmakers and producers should put in place formal data management plans, redundant backups, and have a recovery firm on speed dial as last resort.


David Zimmerman has been in the hardware/software industry for over 30 years, specifically in the data recovery software market for over 20 years. During this period, he has been involved in the creation; marketing and support of the earlier drive recovery software products to enter the PC market and successfully marketed them both nationally and internationally. His company makes data recovery products for most of his competitors. His experience in the market has made him uniquely familiar with the data recovery business.

LC Technology International, Inc. (http://www.LC-Tech.com) is a global leader in data recovery, file system utilities and data security technology. Clients include original equipment manufacturers, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, corporate security specialists and IT consultants, among others. Available worldwide and published in more than 24 different languages, LC Technology products are available direct or through several major manufacturers of flash memory products. Founded in 1997, LC Technology is based in Clearwater, Florida.

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