Supercharge Your Speed and Creativity with ProRes RAW

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Raw for all! This appears to be the goal of Apple ProRes RAW, an easy-to-use yet data-rich capture format that aims to revolutionize the post-production landscape, promising the speed and performance of ProRes (a beloved editing codec), with unbeatable quality in the form of pristine data straight off the camera’s sensor. In this article and the accompanying video, you will find out how it can work for you and what you need to get started.

A Bit About Raw

We can’t discuss the advantages of ProRes RAW without talking about what raw video is in the first place, as well as the potential drawbacks of this format. Still photographers probably know what is going on here, because raw capture has long been a function of DSLRs and other high-end cameras. Essentially, the camera is saving the data being read straight from the sensor, without (or at least not usually) performing any edits to the data. This means that when you pull it up on your computer, your files contain the maximum possible amount of information. Need to salvage some nearly blown highlights? Done. Want to pull the detail out of your shadows dramatically? You are set. How about keeping your lens’s unique vignetting or distortion for creative effect? All good. The original data is preserved for you to make all the decisions later.

We are long past the days where having a 1GB SD card was astounding, so the biggest issue with raw stills is no longer as much of a problem, that being the relative size of a raw image. A broad generalization is that a lossless, compressed raw file will take up about 1MB per megapixel. So a 24MP image will require 24MB of storage. A comparative JPEG may only use about 8-10MB at very high quality, and even less with compression. Not a problem if all you are doing is taking a few photos and editing a couple of dozen. Video, however, requires a couple of dozen—literally 24—images every second. I imagine you see the issue.

Another fact about raw is that when you open the image in your chosen editing software, it is the computer that now has the responsibility of decoding and demosaicing that data, usually in a Bayer pattern, into something you see as a real full-color image. This requires some power in the machine. Editing a few images at a time is easy, but needing to edit 24 fps in real time is very taxing on even the most powerful computers. Also, many raw formats require each image file and audio to be stored separately, which can cause nightmares for data management. You will then usually need to make proxies (think JPEG, but for video) to work on the files with any speed.

Advantages of raw video are that the original sensor data is preserved, allowing the editor or colorist to push and pull the image to its absolute limits and ensure that the final product is the best it can possibly be. Disadvantages are that raw video requires a ton of storage space and a computer that can very quickly read and analyze all that information.

What about ProRes RAW?

ProRes RAW, co-developed by Apple and Atomos, aims to fix both the data and processing problems normally encountered with raw video. It delivers 12-bit raw data at a rate of 80-140 MB/s. The key here is that ProRes RAW has a quality target, instead of a data target. This means that if more data is needed, ProRes RAW will adapt to include as much as possible and will get smaller with less demanding recordings. Your hard drives will thank you.

The previously mentioned rate refers to ProRes RAW HQ, which is the best you can get. Standard ProRes RAW manages to deliver nearly the same quality, using compression, to reach a rate of 40-100 MB/s. This is for 4K footage at 24 fps, so keep in mind things will change as the resolution and frame rate fluctuate. This is a fraction of the data rate of uncompressed 12-bit raw video, which normally sits at upward of 300 MB/s. And, to consider the ProRes aspect of ProRes RAW, standard ProRes RAW has rate that sits between 422 and 422 HQ while HQ is between 422 HQ and 444. Impressive. To do this, ProRes RAW efficiently packs the sensor information, or Bayer data, of each R, G, and B pixel instead of demosaicing the image and creating RGB values at each pixel site.

Another benefit is that ProRes RAW wraps all the image data, audio, and metadata into a single file, making it easy to organize and manage in large projects. Since it just works in Final Cut Pro X, you won’t even need to transcode and then have another batch of files to keep an eye on. You can drop it in and get going. This is important, with so many cameras offering different log gammas or profiles to use. In Final Cut Pro X, you can easily select or have the RAW to Log Conversion setting automatically set up to further speed your workflow.

By maintaining low data rates and then leveraging the efficiency and brilliance of Final Cut Pro X, combined with macOS, ProRes RAW offers performance nearly matching that of other ProRes formats. With a top-end iMac Pro, this means you can be working with multiple streams simultaneously, in real time. With Better Performance setup, this means eight ProRes RAW HQ 4K streams at once, compared to three Canon Cinema RAW Light streams simultaneously or just one REDCODE RAW 5:1 stream. Unfortunately, I do have to mention that ProRes RAW is only supported in FCP X at the moment, which is perhaps its only drawback if your workflow requires other software. However, implementation is optimized to provide this level of performance.

The Tools

It probably goes without saying, but you need a camera that can output raw data if you want ProRes RAW. Some cameras can record it internally, such as the DJI Inspire 2 with Zenmuse X7; however, most will require the use of an external recorder. Fortunately, Atomos worked with Apple to implement ProRes RAW and offers immediate support with the Shogun Inferno and Sumo 19. Via the SDI inputs, both these monitors/recorders can handle high-resolution and high-frame-rate recording from compatible cameras. This includes 5.7K footage from the Panasonic EVA1 and high-speed DCI 4K at 60 fps from the Sony FS5 II.

Atomos Sumo 19" HDR/High Brightness Monitor Recorder

Because you get an ultra-wide dynamic range and have plenty of latitude to play with, ProRes RAW is a near-perfect capture format for HDR productions. Using FCP X with a Mac computer, you can add a device such as the AJI IO 4K Plus to output a 4K HDR image to a monitor, for accurate grading. Finally, don’t forget you need a Mac computer. Professionals will appreciate the power in the iMac Pro and MacBook Pro though, for smaller projects, the efficiency of the software and ProRes RAW make the Mac mini and standard iMac very viable tools, as well.

AJA Io 4K Plus Professional Video I/O for Thunderbolt 3

For more information, be sure to check out our dedicated page about ProRes RAW and be sure to ask any questions in the box below!

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