There are inherent risks in working with digital media just like there are inherent risks in working with tape or film. However, there are steps you can take to mitigate that risk and to ensure that, if a problem arises, you’re prepared to work around it.
Before Your Shoot
The first thing to do is start with reliable media in the first place by only purchasing cards from established companies like Sandisk or Lexar. They might be a little more expensive, but they’re absolutely worth the investment. The few bucks you save by settling on that Discount House Brand SD card is going to seem a lot less significant when it crashes on you during a job.
Next, you’ll want to format all of your cards in-camera, ideally well before your shoot begins. Do this every time, whether the camera prompts you to or not, whether the cards are used or not, and whether you think you already did it or not. If the camera gives you the option to do a complete or secure format, take that option. Take the time to make sure that the cards are prepped for the camera they’re going to be working in so you don’t have to take that time during your shoot. On shoot days, the less you have to think about the better. Take note, too, about whether you need to unmount or “eject” the media from the camera before physically removing it. If so, make sure anyone handling the media knows to wait until it’s ejected before taking it out or turning the camera off. In our experience, most preventable card corruption happens because someone turned off the camera before the media was unmounted.
Finally, if you can, make sure you have enough media on hand to get you through at least a full shooting day without re-formatting any used cards. Sure, it’s hypothetically possible to dump footage off a card, format it, and use it again the same day, but that way lies madness. You’re asking for an accident if you’re juggling used and un-used cards in a hurry like that. Better to play it safe and spend the money to make sure you don’t have to clear any data until your shoot is over and you have time to double-check everything.
During Your Shoot
If your camera is capable of dual-recording the same data to two different card slots, I cannot more highly recommend taking advantage of that feature. You should also do everything you can to stay as organized as possible. Keep spent cards separate from empty cards, stick to a consistent file structure and naming convention on your backup drives, keep careful shot notes, etc.
If there’s one piece of information I want video customers to take away from this article, it’s this: offloading software is totally worth the investment and should be used every time you shoot anything. For those of you unfamiliar with offload software, it’s any application designed to make it easier for you to back up footage from one location or source to another. In case of accidents or corruption, it’s always best to keep all of your media on at least two different devices. At its simplest, this means dumping every filled card to two hard drives. Ideally (budget depending), you’d also be keeping the footage on your cards at least until the end of your shooting day. Maybe you want to take extra steps to ensure your footage is backed up safely, such as backing up to RAID arrays instead of single hard drives or even duplicating your backup drives to cloud storage. Offloading software helps simplify, automate, and verify all of these processes.
The most important thing all of these apps have in common, and a feature you’ll want to look for if you shop around for any other options is called “checksum verification.” The precise definition is a little too technical to get into here, but, put very simply, checksum verification is a process by which software uses one or more algorithms to determine that the file or files you’re duplicating are identical, down to the byte, to the original file or files. It’s by far the best way to ensure that entire volumes are copied without corruption, and, depending on your operating system and drive format, it may not be happening if you’re just copying using the finder or file navigator. Whatever application or method you choose, make sure checksum verification is a part of your workflow any time you’re moving or duplicating files.
After your shoot is over and you’ve safely transferred all of your files to external drives, it’s time to consider how you’ll store your media in the long
term. Different individuals and businesses will all approach storage in different ways because of their varying needs, workflows, and resources. There’s no one correct answer for everyone. However, there are a few rules of thumb.
First, just like during shooting, you’ll want to make sure all of your media is stored on multiple volumes. That way, if one of your drives goes down, you have a backup ready to go. Second, and somewhat unique to long-term storage, you should consider having those multiple volumes in different physical locations. If there’s, say, a fire in your office, it won’t matter how many drives you’ve backed up to if they’re all in the same place. These days this usually means backing up in the cloud, but I’ve worked at multiple production companies in the past that had drive backups stored at banks in safe deposit boxes. Finally, especially if you’re working with large amounts of data, I’d recommend a “working” drive separate from your archive. This is mainly a budgetary issue. Archive drives don’t need to be nearly as fast or durable as ones that you’re working on day-to-day.
The important point here is that these sorts of strategies are things you should be thinking about at every step of your production. How does your camera or codec choice affect your media needs? How are you going to ensure safe data backup in the field? How are you going to work with all of this footage in post in a way that’s both secure and efficient? Answering all of these questions ahead of time will keep your media safe and your clients happy.