Life would be so much simpler for us editors if everybody used the same codec, preferably ProRes. VirtualMXF from Hamburg Pro Media brings a little more friendliness to handling MXF files in non linear editors.
MXF or Material Exchange Format sounded like it was a good idea when it was proposed as a standard for the creation and interchange of media between cameras, NLE's and output devices. One big problem though, Final Cut Pro 7 hates mixing Long-GOP footage such as XDCAM with I-frame based ProRes for example. They way round this is to convert the files to ProRes although you can't do this via Log & Transfer on ingest. The whole process is messy and takes time but is preferable to constant crashing.
So what if you want to use MXF files directly without any conversion? Hamburg Pro Media has launced VirtualMXF, a €149 tool that enables the media to handled as if it was a Quicktime file, almost instantly. There is a free demo, but you have to request a trial.
"How does it work? After defining a "MXF Source", which can be a folder, a whole hard disc drive, an USB Stick or even a server volume, it automatically and immediately originates a new - virtual disk drive - on the Desktop in which all original MXF clips are virtualized as FCP X compatible Movies. Drag&Drop these movie files into FinalCutPro X or nearly any other Mac OS X Application for audio visual content"
We are far from experts on MXF or indeed XDCAM here at FCP.co. We get cameramen to shoot with KiPro Minis on the back of XDCAM cameras if possible so we can import ProRes media directly into FCP7 without waiting. We have found that the quicker you get your footage into ProRes the better.
So it looks like the workflow in FCP7 would be to copy the media off the cards or disc, let VirtualMXF make virtual copies and then import those files into FCP. If you wanted to go ProRes then a batch export could be initiated. The virtual copy of the original media would probably disappear if the card was unmounted.
In Final Cut Pro X things are slightly more elegant as it can natively handle AVC-intra, Canon XF MPEG-2 and most flavours of XDCAM. Once you have got the files off the media, you can start editing immediately, let FCPX convert the files into ProRes in the background and then automatically swap them out when done. Do you need VirtualMXF?
We think that this product has highlighted the need for Sony to write an ingest plugin for FCPX that will allow a mounted XDCAM disk to be seen and the files to be copied and transcoded. We already know this is in developmet for SR cards. VirtualMXF will have its place in the market, mainly for FCP7 users who shoot on XDCAM and have tight deadlines as sitting in front of the Sony Transfer software is not something you want to do under time pressure.
For some background reading on getting XDCAM & XDCAM EX into FCP7, take a look at Apple's document 'Working with Sony XDCAM Formats.'
We would like to hear from editors who have used VirtualMXF or who have specific workflows for MXF with Final Cut Pro 7 and FCPX. We're sure there might be better ways to avoid mixing codecs on the timeline.