Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Panasonic's P2 Card and the Format Error!

Hopefully you'll never see this:

The error message blinks which is why it looks faded here.

It's a FORMAT ERROR! (I think it actually reads "FORMAT ERR!") which can occur very rarely on P2 cards for seemingly no reason. Recently we had one while on location.

What happened was someone forgot a standard USB cable to load in footage from an HVX200 camera to a Hard Drive - I've had extremely bad luck with going directly from the camera to a hard drive in the past so I avoid it at almost all costs now - and since we were on location with pretty much nothing around us in the way of stores and rummaging around through everyone's bags and equipment cases looking for a USB cable I decided to load in the footage via Firewire.

Now this camera and another we've been using have had Firewire issues in the past. Namely extremely slow and getting slower over time Firewire transfers. Resetting the cameras and restoring the Firmware seems to have no effect. USB xfers are multiple times faster than Firewire at this point so I've been going with USB regularly, often and without issue when there's no card reader available.

So, finding a Firewire cable and setting the camera to be a Firewire device and hooking everything up I began the copy from camera to laptop. While slow -as expected- it was going and I told everyone to take a coffee break while it copied over.

About 400MBs into the copy there was a Finder Read/Write error, I didn't have permission for something or other and it konked out. I suspect it was something to do with the "LASTCLIP.TXT" file which is locked by default.

So I tried to unmount the camera with no response and ended up just power cycling it since it was completely unresponsive and the Finder on the laptop couldn't unmount it even after waiting 5+ mins.

Powering it back on I saw the dreaded "FORMAT ERROR!" in red on the screen.

Now this is a very rare error and unfortunately there's not much you can do about it on location. Some people have had luck with a few power cycles and mounts and unmounts, others have had luck with Disk Utility repairing it but I wasn't one of them. I'm reluctant to have the Mac do anything to the cards but we were desperate and the director said go ahead so I tried a few repairs with the Terminal and Disk Repair but nothing seemed to help.

We ended up calling and overnighting the card to Panasonic who was able to recover the footage in their labs. They copied the footage back to the same card of ours and shipped it back to us. Panasonic was amazing, fast and helpful.

So the bottom line solution for us, upon seeing FORMAT ERROR! was to just ship the card to Panasonic and have them recover the footage.

My new rules for loading footage from a P2 card when you have to use the camera as a reader is to:

1. Lock the card with the write protect switch before mounting it on the Mac.
2. NEVER use Firewire. USB only from now on.

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