Video Professionals: the 5 Recipes for Disaster

Warning: Reading this post can reduce your chances of using our Video Repair Service this year tenfold.

For a Video Professional with a hard-earned reputation, it’s a really bad day when you have to explain to a customer that you won’t be able to deliver the job.

At Aero Quartet, we are dealing with disaster every day, and we have been rescuing people for 5 years now. We have done root cause analysis and distilled that knowledge into 5 main causes, that we share with you.

Basically, almost every customer has one or more of those 5 problems:

1. Leave your Summer Intern in Charge

On any camera, you’re never more than 2 clicks away from formatting the card. On any production workflow, you’re never more than 2 clicks away from changing this special setting that will silently cause the loss of days of work.

Even routine operations like copying files from card to computer can silently fail. Seasoned professionals will always verify that copied footage is correctly ingested by editing software. Interns will probably not.

With new hires or inexperienced interns, we recommend a very close supervision (Trust, but Verify) and to avoid critical tasks altogether. There’s always some B-Roll, documentation or chores to get them started.

2. Buy Cheap Gear

Cheap is not bad per se, but always remember that the chain will break on its weakest link.
Would you compromise a $50,000 system by using cheap cards or hard disks to save $50 or $100? You shouldn’t.

Price is usually a good proxy for quality.
If product A costs 2x as much as product B and has the same specifications, start asking yourself where cost savings may have gone. The Devil is in the details:

  • A power supply shall last forever and withstand grid incidences handsomely.
  • An enclosure shall be mechanically strong while preventing electronics from over-heating
  • Top-quality connectors shall withstand 5000 connection cycles
  • Hard-disks shall be server-grade in terms of speed and reliability

You take them for granted, but Product B probably has one or more weak components.

3. Work at the Limit

In any system, failure rate will skyrocket when you come close to the design and operating limits.
If your priority is reliability, you should always use over-dimensioned parts. Boat engines run only at 10% of their maximum power, at very low rpm, but they do so for decades, requiring very low maintenance.

A few examples:

Cards and Disks Speed

If camera manufacturer specifies minimum Class 6 SDHC card, buy quality and margin by purchasing Class 10 SDHC cards.
If you need 100 Mbit/s writing speed on your disk, buy a disk with 2x as much writing speed.

Storage Capacity

Failure often occurs when you run out of disk or card capacity, or when you get close to it. In addition, this make recovery much more difficult, if not impossible, due to fragmentation. Our advice: Always have 25% of storage capacity available (ideally: 50%)


Electronic systems are extremely sensitive to temperature. Storing your cameras exposed to sunlight or intense heat sources, or having your NAS, server or computers in a poorly refrigerated cabinet, is not really a good idea.

Working at the limits sounds cools, but that’s not what you want for your business.

4. Tolerate Problems

That’s a really bad habit that ends up causing unrecoverable situations. Zero tolerance with problems.
Intermittent problems are the worse ones, because you can live with them. Or at least you believe you can.

At the first signal of failure, be it a disk reading error, a connector reliability, or software hanging or crashing, please stop. That’s your opportunity to avoid major problems. Troubleshoot, replace or quarantine the defective element. That’s for you own good.

Always have one spare hard disk ready to kick in if your RAID5 warns you or if you have the slightest doubt about a production disk.
For software, keep it simple. Problems often come from using non-standard or complex features. Do you really need this plug-in? Is Magic Lantern really my friend?

Special Mention to Canon EOS 2011 epidemic failure: Some people still haven’t upgraded their firmware to fix it. Unacceptable.

5. Backups are for the Wimpies

This one is obvious. So obvious that it’s still the top offender…

And don’t forget that one thing is worse than not doing backups:
Backups that don’t work when you need them.

A backup routine can easily become broken, in the sense that you start changing your workflow but you don’t adapt your backup to it, and that you don’t verify that you can recover your work environment out of your backup.

Keep it simple and automated, and verify it:
Every time you set-up a new equipment (storage, computer), do the set-up out of the backup, not out of the production equipment. By doing so, you detect possible shortcomings and validate your backup.

Have a nice year without disaster!