The Digital Delivery Conundrum

With film, it was simple. You shoot the job, process the film, then place the transparencies in a FedEx box or hand them to a messenger for delivery to your client. They open the box and send you a check for the unpaid balance on the invoice. Life was simple, even if it didn’t always seem like it at the time.

Starting with the ability to scan transparencies and process the images in your studio prior to delivery, things began to change. Questions about sending the original transparencies or just the scans and in what format should they be sent muddied the traditional business model. Photo CDs emerged, and issues of digital formats added to confusion on both sides of the job. SyQuest drives filled FedEx trucks, as photographers and clients frantically phoned one another about what computer peripherals the other had for making the digital copies.

Things didn’t really settle down until high-speed Internet connections became ubiquitous. There was a period when digital files weren’t so huge and one could reasonably upload a job to an FTP site where the client could have the images within minutes. Services like WeTransfer and Dropbox have made this model available to those without dedicated FTPs such that there was a period of relative calm, where image transfer was almost as simple as it was when the film era reigned.

Two key factors can upset this calm. Ever-increasing files sizes from higher-resolution cameras combined with a client’s desire to see all of the outtakes can put a strain on cloud-based transfers. The other factor is video and, particularly, 4K video. When you’re called upon to deliver projects that consist of a lot of very large uncompressed files as well as video, you’re going to be thinking back to the future and shipping physical hard drives.

This isn’t really new. Pro video shooters have been relying on sending their drives for years. Also, photographers who are fortunate to live in areas where high-speed Internet isn’t readily available have done this, as well. The main challenge had always been selecting the appropriate drive to send.

Advances in ruggedized, compact drives make the process of delivering jobs this way a relatively painless affair. Solid-state drives are even better, but they can be considerably more expensive.

Our colleagues at HDVideoPro magazine interviewed Alex Buono of the Saturday Night Live filmmaking crew about how they move video files around New York on an incredibly compressed shooting and editing schedule. Buono uses G-Technology drives to send to his editor. The high-capacity drives are robust, fast enough for video and available with Thunderbolt connections. G-Technology’s G-DRIVE mobile and G-DRIVE ev lines are well suited to location work and shipping to clients. SSD and spinning models are available.

Sony has a line of ruggedized compact drives that are also gaining traction in the marketplace. The Sony PSZ drives have USB 3.0 and FireWire 800 connectivity, and they’re available as SSD and HDD in capacities up to 1 TB.

Western Digital, LaCie and others also make various compact drives that can be safely shipped or messengered across town or around the world. Until the cloud and Internet connectivity leapfrog cameras once again, sending your files to clients on a dedicated delivery drive is going to be a standard option for all of us.

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