Pros and Cons of AVCHD format over mp4?

Discussion in 'Digital Video' started by prvt.donut, Jan 27, 2012.

  1. prvt.donut macrumors 6502a


    Jan 1, 2008
    I am looking at the new Mirrorless cameras, the Sony NEX-C3 was just released, but the older NEX-5 is selling for the same price.

    Video-wise the difference is that the newer lower model NEX-C3 does 720p in mp4 format.

    The mid-range NEX-5 does full 1080i AVCHD.

    Both of these cameras will be great for me to play with, but am unsure of the problems I will face editing and storing AVCHD format.

    MP4 is handled incredibly simply with iphoto and imovie support.

    I have downloaded sample clips from and both cameras produce very similar quality.
  2. BillMidwest macrumors newbie

    May 25, 2011
    If you can spend an extra $100. go with the NEX-5N. You'll get AVCHD in 1080p if you use either the 60p/28M(PS), 24p/24M(FX) or 24p/17M(FH) setting. You still have a choice of using MP4 in either 1440x1080 or VGA modes.

    However the 24p/24M(FX) recording mode can only be saved to a Blu-ray disc; 24p/17M(FH) can be transferred to a standard DVD.

    I can't think of any negatives to using the highest image quality possible. I use Final Cut X and import AVCHD video directly from the 5N.

    The NEX is such a versatile, high quality camera you won't go wrong with any model. Note: The early versions of the 5N produce a clicking noise in the audio of video recordings. Sony acknowledged the problem and will repair it under warranty.
  3. floh macrumors 6502

    Nov 28, 2011
    Stuttgart, Germany
    When it comes to codecs, there isn't really a big difference, since AVCHD is nothing but a (slightly more restrictive) standard for H.264 (which is an mpeg4 compression), and MP4 is a container that contains an mpeg4 compressed stream.

    So the main difference is in the way that the video stream is stored. I have never used any of those cameras, but my camcorder stores an AVCHD-stream and additional info-files. This format you can not just copy-paste to your harddrive and directly work with in an editing program. It needs to be "imported from camera". In newer NLE software like FCPX, this is very fast and will just copy the stream into a usable .mov-container on your hard drive. However, in older versions of Final Cut, as well as in iMovie, the codec will not be used natively but be recoded to ProRes on import. This means that on one hand, your editing program will run faster and smoother since you are dealing with less compressed files, but on the other hand, the import will take some time and use a large amount of disk space.

    So, iMovie will be able to handle both videos without problems, but importing an AVCHD stream takes time and diskspace.

    Finally, let me tell you that I would not make this decision based on the codec. You will be fine with both. Rather think about whether you really need any of the feature that the N3 offers over the N5. If not, go with the N5 since it is technically more capable.
  4. Bdub12 macrumors regular

    Feb 23, 2011
    Fredericton NB Canada
    Can you import NEX 5N mp4s into iMovie on an iPad?

  5. cgbier macrumors 6502a

    Jun 6, 2011
    No. iPad's iMovie only works with video shot with said iPad.
  6. awair macrumors regular

    Sep 6, 2011
    I beg to differ...

    I would make a decision primarily based on codec and processing.

    I purchased a Canon AVCHD camera that had (reasonable) Windows software.

    I now have 80GB of raw AVCHD video, which when used on my Mac generates 800GB of iMovie data - before the editing starts.

    This renders the camera virtually unusable, unless I revert to a Windows VM!

    Most if the cameras in your price range will be of good quality, with results being mostly indistinguishable.

    You will however notice how easy (or not) it is to import, trim/edit and share your video.

    Good luck.

    The problem is caused by Apple converting AVCHD to its Intermediate Codec, before being able to use the video.

    I now have about four major (Mac) video software titles, none of which make it simple to import, view and share home videos.

    While I can get usable results quickly, the resulting download for other family members exceeds 3 months data allowance!
  7. Artful Dodger macrumors 68020

    Artful Dodger

    May 28, 2004
    In a false sense of reality...My Mind!
  8. awair macrumors regular

    Sep 6, 2011
    Wasn't suggesting "only consider the codec", but trying to stress the importance of workflow.

    I'm not looking for answers myself, but trying to help the OP (or similar searchers).

    My workflow idea may differ from yours, but I don't intend to sit in front of the machine while it 'cross converts'. The point about the intermediate codec is that it uses 10x the disk space.

    Take a typical event, you take an hour's footage, say 10+ GB. You need 100GB free to work with this.

    You also need 4x the time to edit (I believe that's the commonly quoted guide), not the I have the patience...

    Based on these considerations, I don't think that enough priority is placed on workflow, which infers codec compatibility and software.

    Sure there is a difference between a $100 camera and a $500 one, but between two $500 cameras most of us won't appreciate the difference.

    Just my opinion...
  9. floh macrumors 6502

    Nov 28, 2011
    Stuttgart, Germany
    I still think, this does not come down to "making the camera decision based on the codec", but you would rather have to think about what software you use...

    iMovie (and Final Cut Pro 7, and many other NLEs) will convert all your footage to the Apple Intermediate Codec (respectively some other editing codec) and therefore need a lot of disk space. But it will do so no matter if you import from AVCHD or MP4 containers. Both Sony cameras use H.264 as compression codec, and if your editing software can not handle it natively, it will convert it to some huge files.

    Those huge files on the other hand are sometimes very usable and what you want. If you do advanced frame-precise, effects-heavy or multicam editing and you have a fast paced workflow, then you will surely discover that H.264, awesome as it may be, is not an editing codec. Things will get painfully slow. On the other hand, if you just want to trim some clips and put them together without much being done to them, and you want to save the transcoding time and disk space, you can use the original codec.

    Mac software that I know has both options is for example Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere. Both programs are able to edit H.264 natively without converting, independent of whether the original footage was in an AVCHD or an MP4 container. iMovie is not able to and will therefore convert to AIC, also independent of the camera's container.

    Just to clear that up for future readers.
  10. Richardthe4th macrumors regular

    Jan 4, 2008
    Below Sealevel
    This sounds (if I understand correctly) like you export the 'big' AIC files (or ProRes or DNxHD or ...). But you don't have to, they are only to edit. You can export/share smaller formats, for example convert to H264 again.

    The big files are only to ease the editing. Afterwards you can delete them if you want to (keep the source material of course).
  11. ToBeFair macrumors newbie

    Sep 28, 2011
    Hi there. For anyone searching, here are the results of my research and corresponding advice back to Sony...

    Thanks, your comments looked correct but did not solve my problem. You may be interested to know after much testing and research, I was able to ascertain that some of the camera's AVCHD settings iMovie cannot see at all (only some, which made it even harder to figure out!). Plus, if you have recorded movie clips in more than one format to the memory card (MP4 or any one of the AVCHD's), iMovie cannot see any of the AVCHD's.
    Bottom line - forgo the benefits of AVCHD on the Sony NEX-5N and just use MP4 until Apple makes it easier.
  12. Menneisyys2 macrumors 603

    Jun 7, 2011
    1, What about just copying the AVCHD dir structure to the HDD and importing from there? I'm dead sure iMovie will then be able to import it.

    2, AVCHD has a LOT of advantages over MP4 (M4V/MOV):

    - timecode for each frame
    - GPS data for each individual frame as is done in, say, the Panasonic ZS20 (and other GPS-enabled Pana P&S cameras), which stores this data for each non-keyframe (see )
    - GPS AND compass data in each keyframe (as Sony does, see )

    In MP4, this all is impossible, at least in a standardized way - there you can only record the geo / time data of the first frame and need to do some non-standardized tricks (e.g., recording time / geodata as mp4-compliant 3gpp text streams - as is done, BTW, by some Pana AVCHD cameras, in addition to using the above-mentioned frame-level data encoding. They use CC's for time encoding).

    - over 4GB recording support for FAT32 and other, max filesize-wise, restricted memcard file systems. This isn't standardized with MOV and similar containers either. While some MP4 (non-AVCHD) cameras (e.g., the Crocolis HD Extreme Cam) can record over 4GB, they split the files during recording in a non-standard way.
  13. De Rocca macrumors member

    Apr 28, 2010
    In Imovie , if you want to import the AVCHD that is stored in different recording formats directly from camera, it will not recognise all of them. If you first do "Import > Camera archive" to a local disk, than it will see all different recordings. Of course you need to do this extra step first...

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