Importing AVCHD Video into FCPX

avchd_treeA few weeks ago I was editing my first AVCHD project in FCPX (I’ve edited AVCHD projects in legacy versions of FCP, but not yet in FCPX), and I’ll be darned if I didn’t have a heck of a time finding definitive information about the proper procedure for importing AVCHD video into Final Cut Pro X. As many of you probably know, AVCHD is a proprietary video format developed by Sony and Panasonic that is used in a number of cameras (e.g. the Canon’s C100, Sony’s FS100, the Panasonic’ GH2 to name a few). What makes it such a pain to use is that cameras that use it create this complex file structure in which the video is buried. It’s not like what you see on a traditional DSLRS which have .MOV files you can copy over. It’s a drag.

In Final Cut 7, once you had the special AVCHD plugin installed, you could import AVCHD footage via Log and Transfer. Apparently in earlier versions of FCPX you couldn’t do this. So when I was on a shoot a couple of weeks ago with the C100, I got to a point where I needed to reformat one of the cards. All my footage was double-backed up, but I didn’t want to format the card until I was confident FCPX wouldn’t need the actual card to import.

The Definitive Answer

Thankfully, FCPX can import AVCHD footage from a hard drive, but you need to make sure you preserve the original file structure. Copy the whole card just as it is, onto your drive. Then from within the FCPX import window, navigate to the folder, and voila, you’ll see the video clips and be able to import then as normal (They’ll be converted to H.264 .MOV files and copied to the “Original Media” folder.) You’ll notice that you won’t have the option to uncheck “Copy Media to Events Folder.” That’s because FCPX reads the archive as if it were a card. That means in essence you will be duplicating your footage. This was a pain for me because typically I just reference footage, so as to conserve disk space. (Technically, I guess once imported I could  delete the original folder since I’ll always have a back up anyway.

Here are the AVCHD .mts video files as they appear in the Finder. You cannot copy over just the MTS files.

AVCHD MTS files in Finder.
AVCHD MTS files in Finder. Click for larger image.

Here are how those files look in the FCPX import window. Now you can see the videos.

AVCHD files in FCPX import window.
AVCHD files in FCPX import window. Click for larger image.

You’ll notice that the names of the clips are just chronological numbering (e.g. Clip #1, Clip #2, etc.) When imported into FCPX, they are renamed internally based on the year and date (e.g. 2013-05-3).

But, I could bypass FCPX import conversion altogether…

Importing vs. Transcoding (or Rewrapping)

One benefit of importing this way is that FCPX will import all the metadata as well. Another benefit is that while’s it’s importing and converting the footage, you can start editing. This is great if you’re editing a project that has to be completed the same day you shot it. But if you do have more time on your hands, you might consider transcoding the footage using a program like ClipWrap. ClipWrap can either rewrap the footage with a codec FCPX recognizes (a faster process) or transcode it completely. Rewrapping or transcoding to a format like ProRes has it’s benefits too. Depending on your system, speed of your hard drives, etc, you may find editing ProRes footage faster and smoother than H.264 footage. Another benefit of transcoding first is that if you do prefer to use references to footage vs. copying to the Events folder, this method will allow that.

Have you edited AVCHD footage with FCPX? What other tips and suggestions can you offer?

25 thoughts on “Importing AVCHD Video into FCPX

    1. There are no “gymnastics” on FCPX. It’s probably ideal you can ingest just the .m2ts files. But I wouldn’t call keeping the file structure in tact “gymnastics.” 🙂

  1. Thanks for your publication. I have configured my workflow with Sony cameras and FCPX. For data use an external hard drive LaCie 6TB Thundervolt.
    For now use the path indicated by the manufacturer, which is what you describe. Soon give you the jump to external recorders that record directly in RAW or proress, so in summary:
    1. – For midrange work, AVCHD
    2. – For more profesioneles projects, RAW or ProResss.

    1. You could do that too. But FCPX transcodes to ProRes 422 when you do it that way. I’m already not crazy about having to take up extra space by copying the footage to the event (when normally I reference raw or transcoded footage). Last thing I want to do is take up even MORE space by transcoding the copied footage to ProRes422. Especially since I’ve had no issues editing h.264 footage in FCPX.

  2. I guess that “workaround” doesn’t seem like a total pain in the arse to a FCP user, legacy or X, and I guess said user would operate under the misconception that AVCHD is somehoe difficult, but articles like this make me truly grateful that I’m able to work with Premiere,,,

    1. Thanks for the comment Mark. Premier is a great product, no doubt. FCPX isn’t for everybody. I’m assuming based on your comment that in premiere you can import MTS files without having to maintain the original file structure. If that’s the case, great.

      FWIW, for me this slight annoyance in importing AVCHD footage is small and insignificant when put up against the other features and capabilities of FCPX.

      1. I would totally agree with you Ron. One caveat though. I found it really useful to transcode footage I would be using for multicam as it is much much smoother than using the original h.264 IMHO. BUT importing AVCHD is really a small annoyance

        1. You’re correct my friend. I found the smoothness of FCPX and h.264 can be improved with beefed up RAM. I don’t even transcode anymore to save the time.

  3. Final Cut Pro X can not only import AVCHD from an HD with no problem as you say, but since from the first version you could create an archive of the camera card (the always needed backup of your media -that too many editors forget to do) directly in Final Cut Pro itself and the archive would be an exact replica of your card.

    The process is described here:

    Additionally, recent OS X updates (did not notice if it was 10.8.3 or 10.8.4) made so that both the “Private” and the “AVCHD” folders are listed in the finder as packages rather than folders (packages look as files, even if they are not), so even copying that single item via the finder will still give you a working backup for Final Cut Pro import.

  4. I can’t copy my “private” folder to my HD. It says “The Finder can’t complete the operation b/c some data in “CSHINFO.LST” can’t be read or written (Error code -36). I checked the folder permissions and I do in fact have Read/Write privs, so I have no clue what to do. Can’t find anything online about it either. I’m using a Sony Vixia M500.

    1. OK, scratch that last comment. I verified and repaired my SD card w/ Disk Utility and it corrected it and let me copy the contents of my SD card to my HD….but….when I navigate to that directory in FCPX, it still doesn’t see the clips…

        1. I posted my first comment about having issues w/ this to begin with b/c up until today, I’ve always just inserted my SD card into my MacBookPro, opened FCPX and it would recognize the files automatically then import them and convert to .MOV. For some reason today, it didn’t work which is why I started researching what the heck was going on. Spent a couple hours reading forums and ended up here. But yes, I had copied the file structure exactly and it still didn’t work. At that point, I reformatted my SD card, shot a test video and all is back to normal and FCPX is recognizing the AVCHD files on my SD card. No clue what happened….but I’m over it at this point. Thx though for the reply.

  5. Thanks, great article. Can you recommend a process when the original card structure is not existing anymore? Migrated from Windows to Mac and basically have the Sony PMB folder. Converting with clipwrap kills the Date meta data of each clip 😦

  6. It seems to me that we are still in the stone age when all these things should have been thoroughly dealt with. We act like we are very advanced but still really primitive.
    Avchd, mts and e.t.c. are still here and are not going away yet, so why not just the developers of the cameras themselves and the developers of editing programs deal with these things instead of individuals like I see here and all over the net trying to clean another person’s unfinished work.

    it’s just a world of crazy people. the people who manufacture these things don’t use them otherwise. and those who really use them are not quite into manufacturing.

    There we are!. But the first one I blame is “Apple” themselves and the day may come when another more opened minded company will push them to the side. Sony Vegas, Premier, and e.t.c. could just edit mts and many other formats with ease. why not Apple or atleast new cameras start coming towards one or two industry standard wrapper codec video formats. just like in the audio world Wav Aiff and Mp3…. and aiff is almost over. just wav and mp3.

    Lord have mercy on us.! I have spent going to 24 hours finding how to import my avchd footages from a GH 3 into final cut pro x….. and still reading all these is pretty annoying…..

    Lord have mercy….. is all I can say.

    1. It is a pain Danny. But as it’s really not all the complicated as long as you keep the file structure from the card in tact. I just imported AVCHD footage this week. Point FCPX to the folder when importing and import like any other format.

      FCPX is still a young program. The way it deals with AVCHD is a minor pain compared to the many great benefits, IMHO.

      It is frustrating sometimes the way Apple handles other formats it refuses to recognize. But their platforms are now powerful and prolific enough they CAN turn an industry. When Steve Jobs refused to support Flash I thought he was crazy. No way even Apple could ignore Flash. Now look. Flash is quickly dying in favor or HTML5. A credit a large part of that to Apple. I wouldn’t discount their ability to turn the tide on AVCHD as a popular codec.

  7. I don’t understand why FCPX doesn’t automatically transcode to ProRes upon import. If you pop in a card from a DSLR with h.264 footage on it, import into FCPX and tell it to “create optimized media”, it will convert it to ProRes. But the same doesn’t happen with an AVCHD card; instead you get H.264. ??? I must be missing something. Please guys, tell me what it is! 🙂

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