Pick a Card, Any Card

Much hay has been made about the removal and consolidation of the various ports of the old MacBook Pros to the USB-C-only setup of the newly announced MBPs. A ton of it presumes to know what “professionals” use and need, and some has been close, but most of it conflates photography with video professionals, and frankly, I’ve heard so many outdated assumptions that I felt I had to speak up. So here goes.

No one in video cares that the SD slot is going away. No one. NO ONE.[2]

Yes, it’s a bold statement, but here’s a very basic list of the types of storage used to record and deliver video to editors:

  • SD Cards (yay, I don’t need to use an adaptor 🙄)
  • microSD Cards (in fact, my latest two 4K cameras both use this format, so I get to use an SD adaptor)
  • SxS Cards (because Sony hates everyone)
  • RED Cards (which are a type of SSD, but they have a weird connector, because of course they do)
  • SSDs (via mSATA connections or sometimes eSATA)
  • AJA Pak Recording (yet another type using SSDs)
  • CF Cards (which most pro still cameras used at one point)
  • CF 2.0 Cards (because Blackmagic needed another type of storage for their pro cameras, maybe?)

The list goes on and on and on. There are USB 3.0 drives, or Thunderbolt Drives, and just a mind-boggling plethora of things we need to connect to our Macs to ingest footage and get to work.

While I love the idea of a wireless future, currently it’s impossible for us to do our jobs at all via any wireless solutions because even the fastest WiFi is not going to cut it for video.  For the foreseeable future, we’re going to need a way to connect these drives, and while we used to use a cable that had USB-A on one end, we will need some with USB-C on one end, and whatever madness on the other. No big deal.

Is the SD card really that useful for video editors like me? Currently I have a still camera, one video camera, and an audio recorder that use SD cards. So, yes it’s useful, but I also have two cameras that use SSDs, and two that use MicroSD cards[1], and they all need adapters of some kind, so it’s not useful enough to worry about its loss from my next machine. I’ll need to get an SD reader, and my CF reader doesn’t do CF 2.0, so I need a new one of those anyway, and the microSD cards need a reader, or I need the micro-to-standard-SD adaptor, that I have approximately 17 of littered about the office, of which I can generally find one when I need it, and that will be sorted. My SATA connector just needs a USB-B-to-USB-C cable and I’m good to go there. The readers I have for the RED, AJA and some other cameras, again, just need a B-to-C or a MicroUSB-to-USB-C or they can use the A-to-C adaptors.

As USB-C/Thunderbolt is delightfully fast, the fact that it’s an external adaptor for all my cameras instead of just most of my cameras is really a benefit. The adapters work and they aren’t that expensive.

But wait, don’t you want the HDMI port?

I honestly forgot my MacBook had one, and I bought the Thunderbolt-to-HDMI adaptor anyway. It honestly never occurs to me that it’s there.

But Apple’s making you buy new adaptors!

Yes, as soon as I get a new MacBook Pro I will need a stack of new adaptors to use with all my stuff. Yes, it’s a bit of money, but it’s not terrible overall, and guess what – I actually use my adaptors constantly and they do wear out. I need to get a new set every year or two anyway, so that’s on cycle for me. In fact, that Thunderbolt-to-HDMI wore out recently, and, again, forgetting that I have an HDMI port, I replaced the dongle immediately.

But what about the RAM?

What about it? It’s 16GB for heaven’s sake. Right now I edit 4K video, from cameras as light as the Phantom 4 drone and Osmo system from DJI, to the extreme density of the ProRes HQ files of the Blackmagic Design cameras, to RED raw and CinemaDNG using the 8GB ON. MY. FOUR. YEAR. OLD. LAPTOP.

The speeds when I’m working with the original media are abysmal, but they are on the Mac Pro (no shock there) and will be on the new MacBook Pros as well because if you’re cutting with multiple 4k streams, especially ProRes & CinemaDNG streams, the amount of data you’re trying to move can easily exceed the bandwidth inside the computer, let alone the RAM. To be quite honest, it’s just ignorant to work with uncompressed, original media like that, on almost any system available today. Create and use Proxy Media, and if you don’t know how, spend the $35 on Lynda.com and learn how. It’s good business anyway.

As for actual editing on a 15″ screen? Meh, it’s not bad.[4] I do it daily. It doesn’t feel cramped to me, but it probably took me a little bit to get used to it, honestly I don’t recall. The reason that I edit on a laptop is that I do a lot of field editing, it isn’t an option I can avoid – I have to do it, so I get it done. Even at my desk, tho, where I can easily attach a huge monitor, I don’t. I just edit away on my 15″ retina screen, no second display at all, with my trackpad of all things, and I’m probably faster than 90% of the pros out there. I scream through my edits, and I’ve had other editors watch me work and they are dumbfounded at what I do. I’m not the only one who works this way.

I do wish I could see my 4K projects in pixel-for-pixel perfection, but I’ve had exactly 2 projects be finalized in 4K. I can and do connect and play those back from 4K sources, usually a Roku[3], but sometimes from YouTube[5]

Having three 5K monitors floating in front of me, one with pixel perfect views of my canvas, another with my timeline, and the last with my coloring tools, will be awesome, but do I need them to get through my job? Nope. That I’ll have that option is awesome, but it’s not make or break for me. For those who can’t work with one small screen, these new MacBook Pros are beyond compelling, because almost every video editor these days does some road editing. Additionally, the touchbar, with its ability to let me go hands-on with my timeline is incredibly compelling to me.[6]

I know that I’m just one guy, in Montana of all places, but this is my livelihood. I do just fine with what I have, and I’m looking forward to getting a new MacBook Pro with the touchbar because I want the overall increase in speed and processing it offers, and because the ports are all cleaned up to just USB-C. In fact, that’s a huge win for me.