Converting AVCHD from Canon Vixia HG21 to viewable file/disk

Hi there

I need to convert AVCHD files from an old Canon HG21 onto an iMAC from 2013.
iMAC has a 3.5Ghz i7 with only 8GB (can afford to upgrade if necessary) and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M 4096 MB.

Currently only have iMovie 10 but again can upgrade if necessary or purchase other software if better.

Ideally i'd like them in a viewable file as well as burned onto disk and then saved in original format for future use. I have about 2.5TB free storage and backup of same. Not much experience with iMovie but I'm a fast learner so any help would be appreciated.

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Clarification Request
Can you go into a bit more detail?

Would it be best to edit post conversion or pre and which editing tool would you use?

How is it best to save the AVCHD file?

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Not yet.

As to your questions, you have to test each method to see which is best (post or pre conversion.)
The editing tool you use may dictate if conversion is necessary.

If anyone asks me which video editor for the apple to use it's Final Cut Pro.

The question "How is it best to save the AVCHD file?" is poorly worded. You may be asking if it's best to save it on DVD, memory stick, HDD, SSD or something about encoding. I can't guess what you intended to ask here.

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To save the AVCHD file on a hard drive can I save within Final Cut Pro or do I need to convert?

How is it best to save the AVCHD file on a Mac Hard drive so that it is possible to edit in the future if needed?

Is it possible to burn on DVD using Final Cut Pro or do you need other conversion software?

I hope this is clearer if not, then let me know what I've left. Thanks for all your help so far I'll go and investigate Final Cut Pro!

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This from Apple,

Final Cut Pro does not have native editing support for AVCHD footage. You can use the Log and Transfer window to transcode AVCHD footage to an Apple ProRes codec or the Apple Intermediate Codec during transfer. ... Important: You cannot export footage back to the AVCHD format from Final Cut Pro.

More at

However, at first glance, that seems to be contradicted by: which states that FCP supports:
Apple Animation codec.
Apple Intermediate codec.
Apple ProRes (all versions)
AVCHD (including AVCCAM, AVCHD Lite, and NXCAM)
AVC-ULTRA (including AVC-LongG, AVC-Intra Class 50/100/200/4:4:4, and AVC-Intra LT)
DV (including DVCAM, DVCPRO, and DVCPRO50)


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Example included

Partial process flow:

Capture video to camcorder.
Connect camcorder to Mac (or remove SD flash memory and insert to Mac).
Create video project folder on Drive 1. Create video project folder on Drive 2. (do not use internal start-up hard drive).
Locate AVCHD file in camcorder or flash memory card.
Copy the AVCHD file to the video project folder on Drive 1. Repeat for drive 2.
Launch iMovie or Final Cut Pro.
Create a new library. Create a new project.
Import the AVCHD file contents to the new project. Both FCP and iMovie create an application specific "media document" that transcodes and decompresses the formerly AVCHD-compressed file into a format that can be edited.

If this is what you call a "conversion", then there is nothing special for you to do. The act of getting the video into the video editor causes the video editor to do that processing so the video is in a format that can be edited. There is no video editor that can "edit AVCHD-compressed video, natively" of which I am aware. All the video editors I've used process the video into an editable format as that video is pulled into the editor.

The current version of FCP has a "burn to DVD" option. Remember: DVD (VOB-compressed video) is standard definition video only. It will be pretty clear, widescreen, video playable on a normal DVD... but standard definition. If you need high definition, then you will need to export to Blue Ray and use a Blue Ray burner connected to the Mac.

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As with any data file,

it is best to have the original file in at least two places.

In the case of video editing, having the video project files on an external drive is best... ideally, having the AVHD file on two different drives is a great idea.

If the hard rive with the AVCHD file fails, you still have it on that other drive.

In my case:
Drive 2 has a folder with the name of the video project. The AVCHD file is copied here.

Drive 1 has a folder with the name of the video project. The AVCHD file is copied here as are any other files used during post-production including JPEGs, PDF's, various logos, scripts, etc. that I know I can easily replace/rebuild in case of drive failure.

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Wait? Just needs to be viewable? I can fix that.

Go get VLC Player and it should play. Done?

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If you want to try conversion, compressions.

Nod to HANDBRAKE. Free, widely documented, powerful.

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My reply is a little late.

I would have responded sooner had this been posed to the Camcorders forum.

It will be useful to know what OS is running on your iMac, but since you are using iMovie 10 you should be OK.

We assume you can see the AVCHD video file on the HG21.

1a) Connect the HG21's USB port to the Mac's USB port. Power up the HG21. This should put the HG21 into USB mode. If not, use the HG21's option menu to put it into USB mode. This should mount the storage in the HG21 to the Mac's desktop.

1b) Alternatively, take the SD card out of the HG21 and put it in the iMac's SD card reader. The flash memory card will mount to the Mac's desktop.

If your Mac does not have a built-in SD card reader, use an external SD card reader. I have a 20-in-1 reader that connects using a USB cable - I think it was $6 at Fry's.

Whether 1 or 1b, locate the AVCHD file and copy it to the Mac's hard drive. After copying, drag the SD card to the trash to dismount that volume and remove the card from the card reader.

2) Define "viewable file". Assuming the iMac's operating system is relatively current, that means QuickTime will also be current. Work with the file that was copied to the Mac's hard drive. When you double-click on the AVCHD-compressed video file, QuickTime should launch. A window that looks a bit like an open folder will open. There will be thumbnails of all the video clips in that AVCHD file. If you double click a video clip, that clip will open in a window and can be played back - it is a "viewable file" on the iMac.

Quit - then reopen that AVCHD file. All the video clips in the window again. This time, single click on a video clip to select it. At the command line under "File", I think, you can export that single clip to a stand-alone, QuickTime (MOV) file.

Double click that MOV file for playback. This is a "viewable file", no longer AVCHD compressed. In theory, can be played back on a Windows computer with a current version of QuickTime or other current media player that can deal with uncompressed HD video in a MOV file.

The AVCHD comprised file copied from the camcorder to the Mac is the original file and handy for back-up. The uncompressed standalone MOV file is suitable for use in any video editor capable of dealing with h.264 format MOV video files (whether Mac or Windows.

3) Using iMovie 10.x or Final Cut Pro:
Using the AVCHD file: Launch iMovie. Import the video. Under File, Import, navigate to the AVCHD file and select it.
Using the standalone MOV file: Launch iMovie. Drag the MOV file to the Library. You can use Import if you want.

4) If you want to convert the video using something other than QuickTime, HandBrake and MPEG StreamClip are both open source and cross-platform (macOS & Windows).

5) Please define "better" relative to a video editing app. iMovie comes with all Macs. It is considered a "basic" editor, but is robust in its feature set. Final Cut Pro has a similar look/feel but is "pro grade". Color-grading and a bunch of other features aside, the most useful features I use are multiple video and audio tracks stacked in the timeline, "scaling" and positioning.

In iMovie (as with Windows MovieMaker), the timeline can deal with one video file at the same time. Yes, there can be multiple video files (or JPEG or PDF, etc) throughout the entire duration of a video project, but you can't "stack" the files. For example, lets say you have three cameras running at the same time of a car being driven. Camera 1 is on the car facing forward. Camera 2 is in the car pointed at the driver and camera 3 is at the end of a street following the car as it approaches. Using iMovie, it is challenging (but very possible) to synch the different cameras, then cut to the different camera views. (It is entirely possible that iMovie has added multiple simultaneous cameras as a feature - I have not used it extensively, recently, so I could be incorrect on this paragraph.)

With Final Cut Pro, you can "stack" the video... using the 3-camera example from the last paragraph, using FCP, all three videos can be in the same video window at the same time... After importing the videos to the Library, drag them to the timeline. In the timeline, synch them, scale them to ~40% then position them in the video window so all three are visible simultaneously. Adjust positions, audio, scaling, etc...

If you certain specific functionality, tell us what that is so we know why an editor is "better" for what you need.

Macintosh computers have been dealing with AVCHD files for *many* years. My first experience with AVCHD files from a Canon camcorder (an HF R-something) imported for editing on a Mac dates back to around 2008... and have been using Macs for a few years before that.

My set up:
iMac 21.5 inch from Late 2012.
8 gig RAM.
External drives (USB and firewire) for video project storage.
Used to use iMovie; Currently use Final Cut Pro.
macOS Sierra (10.12.6)
QuickTime Player (10.4)
iMovie (10.1.6)
MPEG StreamClip (1.9.3bCool
HandBrake 0.10.2 x86_64

I have used various Canon camcorders in the past (XC10, HF-R and HG-series). My current gear is Sony-centric (HDR-AX2000; PXW-Z150, Sony HDR-AS30v).

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