Transferring, Viewing, Transcoding
First things first: if your computer has a firewire port, buy a firewire CF reader (assuming your camera shoots on CF cards). Firewire-based readers are far faster than their USB counterparts, and this simple purchase will save you a lot of time in offloading the sizable movie files. Once you’ve copied the files over to your external drive, you might discover that your computer can’t play back the files smoothly. These are high-resolution, highly compressed files — and while the compression does a good job of keeping file size down, it also means you need a sizable computer to decode them. While you may be able to playback the native files without any stuttering if you have a recent and/or expensive desktop — or if your camera uses an inferior MotionJPEG codec (as do all Nikon DSLRs to date) — if the files play more smoothly on your camera’s LCD than they do on your desktop, try downloading the latest version of VLC (PC and Mac), and follow these instructions to configure it for playback.
The h.264 files that Canon DSLRs shoot aren’t well suited for editing, what with their 4:2:0 chroma subsampling and processor-intensive, interframe codec (the same goes for the files spawned by Panasonic and Nikon DSLRs). You’ll want to transcode the clips into a format that will play smoothly and maintain quality during color correction. If you’re going to be editing in Final Cut Pro, download Canon’s EOS Movie Plugin-E1 for Final Cut Pro. The E1 plugin adds timecode to your footage, transcodes footage as quickly as possible, and brings the clips in using FCP’s native Log & Transfer function. On most reasonable Macs, the ProRes clips are laptop editable in real-time (with the FCP viewer zoomed to 50% or less at Medium quality, my four year-old laptop can edit the 1080p transcodes from an external USB 2.0 hard drive in real-time).
If you’re not editing in FCP, you can use MPEG Streamclip, a cross-platform freeware utility, to transcode footage. Note that Premiere Pro CS4 on a Mac, in my experience, is unable to adequately handle any flavor of Canon DSLR footage, so for Mac users I recommend Final Cut; on the PC, users report good experiences with Vegas, and the Windows version of Premiere Pro CS4 will also edit Cineform files. If you’re going with a PC-based NLE, Cineform Neo Scene is a good transcoding/editing plugin (note the software costs $129 (or $99 at B&H). Here are some Neo Scene workflow tips.