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sushi_i_like_it_rawSaw this post over at Canon Rumors, a wishlist spec sheet for a Canon Mark III DSLR. One of the items listed is “RAW Video.” It’s something I hear parroted all the time by DSLR video shooters, “give us RAW video!” To that, I say…be careful what you wish for.

Ok…so you want uncompressed video? You want video that’s so “raw” and untainted that it requires huge capacity, expensive fast disk arrays just to play back your precious “RAW” video in realtime? “Uh…noooo…that sounds painful and costly.” Exactly.

C’mon guys, just what is “RAW Video?” Is it Uncompressed? Is it a high-bitrate ProRes or Cineform? Is it more color information? Is it a pristine HDMI or SDI spigot out of the camera? If you can’t define what it is, don’t just say “raw video.” It’s a meaningless term without explanation. I personally don’t really crave “raw” video from a DSLR, not if you mean “raw like a Red .R3D.” If I want it that raw, I’ll rent a Red or something similar.

Raw video means that you HAVE to process it. You HAVE to grade it. You HAVE to massage the pixels to make it look Not Raw. And all that massaging requires a lot of CPU processing. Time and CPU cycles that many folks just don’t have. If you are shooting a film with any sort of budget, you probably should consider shooting it in something very high quality or “raw” (or film). Gives you the most options in post and is insurance for all the crew man-hours you are paying for to make the film. But for many areas of production, it’s simply not necessary.

One of the key advantages for me with DSLR video is that the image looks Damn Good (TM) right out of the camera. Often I do only minor color correction/grading on my projects, and this is a very important thing for me when I’m on a tight post-production budget…and let’s face it…the reason I’d be shooting that project on DSLR in the first place is probably because of budget! I don’t want to add additional processing to my workflow, often it’s better to have something pre-baked and immediately usable. Which is why I believe that Red SHOULD be offering an in-camera solution for pre-baking a 1080p ProRes with a custom color matrix. But because they are so insistent on the resolution race (as they should be…you flog the horse that runs best for you), I don’t ever see that happening from Red. At least Red shooters have good HDMI and SDI spigots that they can add a recorder on if necessary.

Likewise, the $4,800 Panasonic AF100 offers a smart compromise to “raw” video. They include a robust, well-supported AVCHD codec, and HD SDI spigots for anyone that wants to tether a recorder and encode their own “raw” video. Tack on a KiPro, or maybe one of those (hopefully) forthcoming Ninja ProRes recorders, and you’ve got less compression, and more colorspace options to choose from. Likewise, ARRI was smart to build the Alexa around ProRes onboard. You can still go out to ARRI RAW, but most users seem to love the fact that they can bake out a ProRes and start editing NOW without all the contortions and hoop-jumping that “raw” video requires.

The whole point of the so-called “DSLR revolution” was that it democratized production and filmmaking, delivering amazing imaging tools at consumer prices. Which brings us full circle to my original point…I’m not so sure I want “raw” video in my DSLR. H.264 can be annoying, sure, but it’s incredibly efficient from a space standpoint. I can offload the cards very quickly. I can record to inexpensive media that can be purchased just about anywhere. Despite it’s limited color information, the image quality is surprisingly good, I like to call it Good Enough when shot carefully. If Canon solved the line-skipping moire issues on DSLRs, I’d be almost completely content with my DSLR for video purposes.

Given a choice between H.264 and a substantially more space-hogging codec on a DSLR, I would probably still choose H.264 most of the time. Which is why the only “raw video” I want Canon to add in the next DSLR is a proper HDMI output. That would give me all the “RAW” options I’d need, for the handful of times I’d have to use it.

Happy (Raw?) Shooting!

31 Responses to “Raw Video – Be Careful What You Wish For”  

  1. 1 Ajit

    Great point! Totally agree.

  2. 2 CB

    Canon is working with Cineform to possiblly standardize to their format, but Cineform is finically unstable, so the best option would be for Canon to just purchase Cineform.

  3. 3 Matthew Jeppsen


  4. 4 David Newman

    Nop! Just had the best year ever. We are going to have an awesome 2011.

  5. 5 Matthew Jeppsen

    That was my feeling as well David, the comment from CB seemed completely unsubstantiated. Thanks for chiming in.


  6. 6 Madhouse Muse

    I’ve heard “raw video” bandied about a lot as of late and wondered the same: why not shoot RED, then? You make a great point that productions which use DSLRs do so for budgetary reasons, so adding additional post-production on the back-end by shooting RAW wouldn’t make sense. Great post!

  7. 7 M.D. Neely

    Amen. The tools have been so democratized we have been distracted by less important things like resolution and RAW. Story, story, story. Then the right tools for the right job.

    It blows my mind to think what DSLRs have given us in terms of image quality and aesthetic in the last 1.5 years. So we should be thankful, as well as reasonable.

  8. 8 David Newman

    Anyone who has shoot with an SI-2K knows RAW video doesn’t necessarily mean more work in post. This image decoded from that camera is fully color developed to look pretty without additional work (if you want.) It is RAW video as all the image development is done during the decode, and can be turned off for gaining more details from shadows and highlights or whatever you need. It is also RAW is that it is the native sensor bayer format and resolution, encoded without debayering. At 2K / HD the compute requirements are not that great and multi-stream real-time on modern systems.

    So my definition of RAW is that some or all of the type camera image processing is done later, either within the decoder or in post, but always controllable. RAW doesn’t not have to be for bayer, as Viper/Genesis/Fxx is RAW in RGB, just with a good potential to control image development in post. Compressed or not.

    This is not RAW itself that is the issue, it is the resolutions for which the DSLRs natively shoot, that makes the wish a problem. Video at 5.6K (native Canon 5D) is not easy, developed or not (RAW or not.) You can try if for yourself today:

    There is a design mismatch between the optimal resolution for stills and the that of video. While 1080p/2K video is an acceptable target today, oversampling with higher resolution has it advantages (post re-framing, stereoscopic corrections, etc.) but 18-21MPixels is overkill for video. RAW video source resolution between 3-8MPixels would meet most needs, and completely doable in real-time on today’s systems, yet this would not be a DSLR (who is shooting sub-8MPixels stills these days,) this is where today’s Alexa and Red falls.

    DSLR video should not be RAW as it requires in-camera development, to scale from the sensor resolution, to a practical transmittable one, for compression and storage, or formatting for HDMI/HDSDI. But I do hope to see more lower cost RAW acquisition solution, just not in a DSLR body.

    David Newman
    CTO, CineForm

  9. 9 Bill

    I think we should be given the option between RAW Video or H264. If the solution for RAW Video is to buy a hard drive to connect to the camera that would be fine by me. I want the ability to grade my images just like I would a still in Lightroom. So Canon or Adobe or whoever needs to make some software for this. Let’s get on this.

  10. 10 Tulio

    Oh yes, and why not add HDR 3 stops up and down.
    The images of the H264 is actually quite good, ( when using neutral settings) the main problem the images from Canon DSLRs suffers is due to line skipping, if Canon could solve that, people would forgive them for the other minor problems.
    They could change CoDec for example, to sothing that requires less processing and more data rate transfer, like MJPEG or ProRes.

    At the moment the biggest shortcoming of H264 is in the editing, even though editing Sony EX1’s 35Mbps MPEG2 is quite easy on low end computers. So why not use that instead?, the hacked GH1 MJPEG is great to capture and edit as it uses very little processing, but at the moment the camera’s processor are busy enough bringing down all those extra megapixels to under 2K.
    If Canon could work on a 2K video sensor then the processor could be better used.
    But that is unlikely as they are in the Megapixel race to impress the average buyer.

  11. 11 Shaun Wilson

    Agreed, RAW is just going to create trouble. But they absolutely need to give us a codec other than H264. It’s too lossy, and is terrible to edit with. Getting direct access to the files in Avid via AMA is great, but I still transcode all my rushes to DNxHD36 before I bother trying to edit, H264 is just too slow.

    Something similar to Sony’s XDCAM would be great, as Tulio mentioned. Still has a great filesize/quality compromise, and you can actually start cutting with it straight away.

    But it’s a secondary issue for me – I just wish we could get a DSLR with decent audio & monitoring. Seriously, why can a $300 camcorder to a better job of these things? I just want a reasonable line in AND headphone jack, is it that hard? And why do I have to lose the on screen LCD if I want to monitor the vision externally as well? I’m sick of external hacks for these things.

    Two big but easy to fix issues that would be game changers. I’d happily put up with H264 a bit longer to get those.

  12. 12 Robert Ruffo

    I’m not sick of hearing about raw, because its’ very useful if you do serious work and know what you’re doing. No. The two words that make me truly sick to my stomach are “good enough”.

    Want to increase your day rate by about 10-20X? Stop saying those words and never hire anyone who does. The only only thing that is good enough is the very best possible.

  13. 13 Matthew Jeppsen

    If you’ll go back and re-read the post, you’ll notice that I agree RAW is useful. My point is that RAW and DSLRs don’t really mix and it’s an unrealistic wish when far more professional tools already exist that do RAW and so much more.

    As to terminology that churns stomachs, “Good Enough” means suiting the tool to the task. It does not mean that the tool is well-suited to every task. By definition, “the very best possible” is tied to budget as well, Robert.

    For a student filmmaker, sometimes the very best possible means shooting their first film on an HV20. For Steven Spielberg, it means shooting on 35mm film. Both are equally suited to their intended application.

    I guess we have different approaches, but I’ve found a good way to increase my day rate is to choose an appropriate tool for the task at hand, and in line with the required budgetary constraints. Potato, patatoe


  14. 14 Robert Ruffo

    Fair enough Matthew- but sometimes the best solution is not really more expensive, it’s just more clever.

    I have said this a million times, and I will say it again – I have nothing in the slightest against students or non-rich people and understand that budget is a valid constraint.

    My problem is with working professionals with reasonable budgets who cut the wrong corners because their standards are too low.

  15. 15 Matt Youngblood

    In recent weeks, I’ve read a lot about a lower-resolution CMOS sensor for video that would minimize downsampling issues and maximize low-light performance. Are any companies actually developing a solution like this? Screw stills.

  16. 16 Keith

    Do people really want genuine RAW video? A continuous stream of 24 21MP images per second? What’s that, 600MB/s? What media will you be using for that? What interface? Which DSLR are you expecting to handle that without catching fire?

    “That’s ridiculous” should be enough of a response when someone suggests they want RAW video from their DSLR.

    For those wanting more humble improvements, like better audio, the issue is that Canon can’t announce a 5D mkIII that costs significantly more than the mkII or Nikon D700. Small improvements in on-board audio hardware can be made, but I think expecting anything more drastic is going to lead to disappointment.

  17. 17 Sam Morgan Moore

    As a stills photographer for my main income (and therefore totally used to raw as a ‘critical’ part of the workflow) I would suggest what we want is..

    -ability to match colours – ie do colour temperature on a good monitor in the office not in the field

    – some latitude in exposure – ie to pull back skies or boost mids by multilayering

    If such latitude is available from a more robust codec than H264 or Sony XD and a RAW style post interface was created then maybe we dont need pure raw

    As a stills photographer I blend frames (hdr) as part of my standard workflow – because is lowers lighting requirement on set therefore increases speed and therefore slashes budget

    I cannot explain what usable 1200 and Raw have done to professional stills in terms of bringing down lighting costs and shooting times – lots lots lots

    As a stills photographer I can also suggest that RAW the file from something like a nikon D1 or D100 (yep the 2001 cameras ) 4 and 6mp have a latitude and quality that destroy the file from my Ex1

    I think RAW 22mp would be insane 4 – 6 – 8 mp RAW not insane

    Of course my stills cam shoots Raw and a variation of jpgs at the same time

    This gives an instant file for work under deadline, a safety net on that deadline work (go to the raw only when you messed up exposure) AND a fine file for archive

    As for post production times a basic conversion would be fine on the computer if the workflow was right

    already im dong the prores conversions either on a laptop during the shooting day or overnight

    a chugging computer does not hurt – sitting at it while it chugs hurts – badly

    So of course we want RAW

    Sure I like a headphone jack and two mic inputs first please !

    My dream is a Decent FF DSLR that shoots RAW in S35 crop mode (while displaying the FF35 to see the mic boom) onto some sort of external recorder, that recorder would probably handle the sound too

    So RAW and modular please – has anyone thought of that ? – I think so


  18. 18 Sam Morgan Moore

    another thought – my 6mp D100 (2001) used to take 40 seconds to write one raw file, my 2005 D3 can do 8FPS at 13mp

    It just doesnt ‘seem’ (to the non techie) to be that much of a leap to think that 25fps at 6mp would be that hard in 2011

  19. 19 Andrew Howe

    I agree with everything you say. I think the term RAW gets used rather indiscriminately.

    If we look to the stills world there are some other factors to take into account too. RAW is not only proprietary to the manufacturer, it is proprietary to the model. If you buy the latest and greatest kit you have to keep your finger crossed that the likes of Adobe and Apple support it in their next update or you are stuck with the tool provided with the manufacturer. Something along the lines of CinemaDNG would help but DSLR manufacturers are not known for flocking to single standards.

    However, I suppose its worth noting that most photographers use RAW if they can as fast memory became more affordable and ingest tools matured.

  20. 20 Andrew Reid

    It would seem possible but there are major heat and memory implications for shooting RAW for long periods, with a DSLR like the D3 RAW tends to happen in short bursts and not constantly at 25fps.

    I think the future lies not in RAW but in better compression. If we were all shooting 14bit 4-4-4 in a nice neat compressed package, it’d have much more potential for grading and colour correction.

    That information / data has to go somewhere, but compression does not necessarily mean throwing it away, it means getting smart about how you store it.

    To me RAW seems more like a throw-back to a time when compression technology wasn’t very well developed. The gap between RAW and non-RAW image quality will narrow hopefully to the point where the difference isn’t worth noting.

  21. 21 Sam Morgan Moore

    Im sure you are right, im not a codec techie and dont want to be

    This week I shot a stills brochure with 100 balls of wool, 100 mildly varying and subtle colours

    If the client gets customer returns due to bad colour my ass will be on the line

    As this jobs like this move to video we need to be able to match files to colour cards shot under the same lighting

    thats a job for a good monitor in the office, not something to do on a 4-7 inch monitor on location (in the sun) in a hurry while client and stylist tap their feet and drink skinnies

    I dont care HOW that happens, just want it to happen

  22. 22 Daniel Lowe

    This all good discussion, I hope more manufacturers come in and read this thread. I think what most people want is some control over the alpha channel, highlight and shadows, although I’m sure some people really do want that high pixel resolution on every frame.

    I do a lot of time-lapse cinematography using both Canon 5dmk2/7D, I have noticed the difference in color between my RAW stills and the h.284 output.. but the color is still pretty good as the output options are not great unless you’re able to display your work in on HDTV or with an HD projector… which, at this time is not common among small theaters and film festivals; the primary outlet of HD-SLR films…

    At this time I’m married to working on a PC and what I’d really like is a proRes equivalent on the PC, or perhaps an upconversion format that’s totally *standard* across all platforms. I’ve heard very good things about working with green screen video in proRes and it frustrates me to think this will never come to the PC, even with AfterEffects.

    I have not had AfterEffects very long, still learning, so if there’s a upconversion I can do on the PC, like Cineform, clue me in here to the options available. I’ve looked into Avid codecs in the past but that was before the latest AE/CS5 release.

  23. 23 Matthew Jeppsen

    @Daniel Lowe I think the codec you are probably looking for is Cineform. There are differences, and Cineform has interesting features that ProRes lacks, but you could say in broad terms that Cineform is a ProRes equivalent/replacement on the PC side (and is cross-platform as well).


  24. 24 Andrew Reid

    I echo that I want the end product, but I don’t care how it happens, as long as the recording format isn’t a pain in the ass.

    RAW video is a pain in the ass.

  25. 25 Andrew Reid

    By end product I mean what RAW is capable of giving us.

    But for me it’s got to be a balance between efficient compression and image quality.

    For others, it depends on the job what kind of balance they need.

  26. 26 Matthew Jeppsen

    Tools like Lightroom and fast processors have taken the pain out of the RAW stills workflow.

    The Redcode codec and it’s supporting toolset (and new tools like Adobe Premiere CS5) are making major inroads towards a simplified and less painful RAW-like motion workflow…but we’re not there yet in my opinion. It’s still way to slow, way too painful.

    Till it’s “Lightroom Easy,” I personally don’t want “RAW video” cluttering up my DSLR and el-cheapo video tools. It will only slow me down…and I can always rent/buy/borrow/steal a big boy camera if the job requires a more RAW-ish codec.


  27. 27 Ed

    I just want the unrestricted recording time. No more 12min limitation please! =)

  28. 28 Kevin

    What’s wrong with a 284GB stereo losslessly compressed multi-layer openEXR image sequence of my brothers birthday party with on-camera computed depth and normal maps!?

    All kidding aside, It would be nice to have it as an option for those who know when and how to use it.

    But there are more important things that should get implemented first!


  29. 29 Kim Hill

    Not sure that I understand the premise of this post.

    I don’t think anyone would suggest making raw the sole video recording format, any more than dSLRs force you to use raw for all still photos.

    So what’s the problem with having raw as an option? Certainly, if the cost of implementing raw capture is prohibitive, that would be a good reason. But I see no reason to scoff at raw capture at a conceptual level.

  30. 30 Gaurav Prabhu

    To the point. Most of people won’t ever need so much of flexibility. The current DSLR’s provide good quality video anyway even though it being in compressed format. If one needs a better quality video then it makes sense to go for a video camera instead of DSLR. DSLR’s at the end of the day are good at photography & video is just an addon.

  31. 31 eco_bach

    Granted, H.264 is a powerful and very useful codec, but I wish it were possible on my 7D to tweak the codec for optimum settings depending on the shooting conditions and desired result. I for one would be willing to sacrifice small files size for an improved- less compressed IQ.

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