Save time and money with the Firestore FS-3 Hard Disk capture device.By Douglas Spotted Eagle

Time is money and money is time. How many hours have you spent in the past years ingesting tape? Wouldn’t it be a bonus if you could not only stop capturing, but simply start editing the moment the shoot was over? Never have to use another tape again?

Strike a match to your capture deck and burn on with the Firestore FS3 hard drive tape replacement device. (OK, so I’ve got flames on the brain. Read on to discover why….

The Firestore FS3 mounted to the Canon XL1. Note the clear 1394 cable wrapped around the MA200.

Buying Time

Ingesting tape is a thankless and tedious job. Even if you are an ardent logger of information, it still isn’t much better than a kick in the pants to sit and capture tape while you could be doing something more self-indulgent, such as having ice cream, washing the car, taking the night off, or going out to dinner. Capturing directly to hard drive saves enormous amounts of time, as we’ve recently discovered in our quest for the fastest workflow for some of our fast turnaround projects. With Firestore’s DTE, or Direct To Edit mode, you can start editing directly from the hard drive used to capture.

Loading On the Camera:

Focus Enhancement sent me an Anton Bauer Dionic, a Canon MA200 shoulder mount that has a mount for the Bauer battery, and a Bauer charger for the Dionic. In my excitement to work with this new device, I didn’t even read the owners manual, I just grabbed my XL1 and started to assemble. I’m not too good with manuals anyway.

The package assembled in about 5 minutes. After having the battery charge for a few hours, I was set to start shooting. I first took this out on a shoot of a fire department battling a small blaze in the hills above my home. I wanted to see if the running and bouncing would affect the capture of the Firestore itself. After bouncing around, running like a madman in the midst of the shoot, being near heat (yes, you must wear Nomex even when you’re 20 yards away from the flames) I took the Firestore back to the studio, extracted the FSHDD-1 hard drive, and connected it to my computer. Nary a dropped frame in this rugged environment. I was pretty happy to see that I didn’t need to rely on tape at all, and happy to note how the Firestore managed itself, and I’d still not read the owners manual.

The FS-3 performed well «under fire.»

How Does it Work?

There are two components to the Firestore system; the body and the hard drive. The body mounts to the Canon (or any other cam with a Bauer or Sony IDX battery mount) via the MA 200 battery mount. The battery then mounts to the back of the FS3 unit. In the case of the Canon, the shoulder mount then provides power to the XL1/XL2 via the battery seat with a short auxiliary cable. Audio feeds also are provided via the shoulder mount.

The FS3 comes with a short 6 pin to 6 pin cable with right angled connectors to connect the camera to the FS3. This was useless with the XL1, since the XL1 uses a 4 pin Firewire/1394 connector. A right angle connector for the XL1 would be tremendously appreciated, since Canon has the 1394 connector sitting just behind the Record button on the handgrip, making it likely that a loose 1394 cable could be knocked out with the operators thumb hitting the Record button. (This is not an issue with the new Canon XL2, the 1394 connector has been relocated to the back of the camera)

Since the FS3 didn’t come with a usable cable, I provided my own. I used a 36″ cable that came with my Sony VAIO. I simply wrapped the excess cable around the MA200 to keep it out of my way.

The next component is the hard drive itself. This small, slim drive is encased in an alloy housing, and while it appears fairly tough, Firestore admonishes users to not drop it.

The hard drive has two 6-pin connectors on the bottom, one of which is used to connect to the inside of the Firestore body. The hard drive features a light to let you know when the drive is connected, and an on/off switch at the bottom.

The Firestore may be powered either via the supplied AC Adaptor or the battery pack on the back.

Drive Modes:

Three different operating modes offer a great deal of flexibility.

The FS3 has three different drive modes; Local, AV/C, and Syncro-Slave. Local mode requires users to start and stop recording by pressing buttons on the FS3. This proved to be extremely unwieldy, as the control buttons aren’t very large, and sit next to your right ear if you are shooting from the shoulder. For tripod-mounted shoots, this is no problem.

I shot in Syncro Slave mode, which allowed me to start/stop recording when I hit the record button on my XL1. This required of course, that I have a tape in the XL1 so that correct signals were sent to the FS3 device. The FS 3 device kept right up with tape, as expected. Even when tape ran out, the FS3 kept right on running. When I did finally change out tape, I had my first error with the FS3. I hadn’t specified bins in my recording setup, so when I inserted the second tape, the FS3 reported a disk error. Cycling the power on the FS3 fixed that problem in no time flat. (After reading the owners manual later, I understood my problem. Media organization will take on new importance when shooting directly to hard drive)

All in all, I shot 5.3 hours with the FS3, and was thrilled at being able to take the drive directly from the FS3 unit and connect it to my system and start editing.


With all the different NLE systems out there, it’s important to be able to natively access all forms of codecs in the shooting stage if you want to be able to start editing from the FSHDD1 hard drive. The FS3 is readily capable of satisfying even the most esoteric wont.

The Canopus, Matrox, Quicktime, and AVID codecs are all included in the Firestore, as are the Pinnacle codecs, Types 1 and 2 .avi file formats, and raw DV formats, so you should be able to access whatever you wish. I shot footage in Canopus, Avi 2, and Quicktime formats so that I could test this unit in a couple different NLE’s. Sony Vegas opened up all three formats flawlessly, my Edius system accessed the Canopus format quite nicely, and Final Cut Pro had no issue editing straight from the drive’s Quicktime media either. As new codecs or opportunities come on line, the Firestore is completely updateable via the web. In fact, in the period of time from when Firestore sent me the unit for review and when I got to a shoot I could use it on, Firestore had released updates. Updating the system was as fast as downloading an 800k BIN file, unzipping and renaming it, and then using the Setup option on the FS3 to update its operating system.

When used with Sony Vegas, I did discover one small issue. Sony Vegas creates .sfk (waveform graphics files) for every audio file inserted to the Vegas timeline. The .sfk files are stored in the location from which the files were obtained. Editing directly from the timeline in Vegas with the FSHDD1 meant that the .sfk files were stored on the FSHDD1 drive. This created some confusion within the FS3 when I re-inserted the FSHDD1 into the FS3 unit. Once I removed the FSHDD1, reconnected to the computer, and removed the .sfk files, all went well, so don’t plan on using this system to store your MP3 files when you’re not shooting. It seems pretty clear that the FS3 isn’t capable of understanding unknown file types.

For giggles, I also connected the FS3 to my Philips LDK 700 cam, using a Canopus A to D converter. While this won’t work in the field, it worked quite well in the studio. (The LDK doesn’t have a 1394 output)

It was nice to be able to transfer the FS-3 to my bigger cameras as well.

Other notables:

One feature in the manual that I didn’t try out, is the Retro-Disk mode. This allows users to have the FS3 recording while the camera is in Standby mode. It records 1 minute clips, with the cached recording being turned off when the actual recording is engaged. I see this as being HUGELY valuable for interviewers or wedding videographers. Imagine being able to tell an interviewee that the «camera is off» and the cam won’t have a tally light indicator, but they’re still being recorded. What a great tool for catching those «off-the-record» moments!

The FS3 is also a digital VTR, in that you can playback or review any shots you wish, without worrying about timecode issues like you do when you rewind and preview tape. This is particularly useful if you’re not a shooter that makes sure you have pre and post roll on your tape. In fact, you can set custom timecodes within the FS3 as well, which was hugely useful to me in the editing stage.

We used the FS-3 to preview and check our shots in this shoot for the State of Utah. It saved us concern over breaking timecode, and gave us instant indexing of clips captured.

Burn on, Baby!

In summation, this is one of the most trick n’ slick tools I’ve come across in recent time. The unit mounted to the camera only adds a couple of pounds of overall weight, my XL weighed in around 13 lbs or so with the added device. Personally, I like the heft. I’ve been using a Dolgin mount for my XL1 anyway, and like the weight thrown to the back.

If you figure what you shoot in tape, it would take approximately 400 tapes to amortize the cost of the FS3 unit. If you figure your time is worth $20.00 an hour, it would take less than 3 weeks to show a profit from owning an FS3. Couple tape and time, less than 2 weeks of work would pay for this device. Of course, if you add the MA200 and a Bauer pack, the cost goes up, but overall, «time is money» and if you no longer have to capture and can start editing, it’s time you still get to bill the client for while in fact, you’re not capturing, you’re editing instead. In fact, you’ve just bought your client more editing time for the budget they may have established for the overall project, and that’s really what clients want to see; better end product. Spend that extra time compositing, designing, or playing golf, but it still boils down to more time. Talk about quick turnarounds for those wedding guys that shoot the morning ceremony and need to have an edit put together by the evening for a reception!

To be fair, since both these shoots were for clients, I ran tape in the background for reasons of safety, as the FS3 was unknown to me. However, after getting to know it, I’m quite comfortable trusting future shoots to this device without the safety net of tape in the background. Interestingly enough, the footage of the fire showed dropouts on the tape, but not on the FS3. I suspect that was due to a flareup of a fire directly in front of me, and I turned and ran like a bat out of the hot place.

The FS3 is a great device for professionals looking for more time in the day, terrific for serious hobbyists, and great for the corporate shooter as well. It is indeed expensive, roughly the same cost as a pro-sumer camera and about a quarter the cost of a professional camera. But, it’s a professional tool. And, it will save you a tremendous amount of time. And time seems to be something we all could use a little more of, right?

MSRP: $1995.00

Comes packaged with:

  • FS-3 enclosure
  • FSHDD1 drive
  • 12″ six to six pin Firewire cable
  • Powersupply
  • Owners manual

For more information on Canon click here or on Anton Bauer click here.