Do You Shoot Your Footage in RAW? Here’s Why You Should

August 21st, 2017
Do You Shoot Your Footage in RAW? Here's Why You Should

In this guest post, Stewart Addison explains what shooting RAW really means, the different kinds of RAW, and when and how to implement a RAW workflow.

In case you missed it, Canon recently announced the C200, it’s first sub-$10,000 cinema camera to shoot RAW. As with every announcement for a RAW camera, folks on the Internet have been quick to point out how simply untenable RAW file sizes and workflows are for a large swathe of filmmakers. While it is true that shooting RAW is tricky, time consuming, and hard drive-filling, the benefits absolutely outweigh the costs. Even for quick-turnaround shooters, the precision, image-richness, and future-proofing RAW shooting options provide make it a must-have feature for anyone buying a cinema camera today.

What is “RAW”, really?

DaVinci Resolve – a free software from Blackmagic Design that can handle RAW.

Put simply, RAW footage is the plain, unprocessed, data from your camera sensor. To edit RAW footage as a moving image, it has to be processed in post with programs like Blackmagic Resolve, RED Cine-X Pro, ARRIRAW and in a limited capacity Adobe Premiere Pro. When shooting in other formats, the camera (or external recorder) will process what the sensor ingests into said format, losing sensor data in the process. With RAW, all of the data collected in the sensor is available to use in post.

Shooting in H.264 on a Canon 5D MKIII, for instance, compresses the file size to 1/18th of its uncompressed stream by only fully recording one full frame per half second, and taking in only visible changes to cover the other 13 frames (in 24fps) that aren’t being fully captured. Pair this with the baked-in picture profiles you recorded with and you’re left with very little data to play with in post. Any exposure fixes or color changes you need could prove difficult and might result in your image breaking down.

Even with a larger codec, those risks persist, though to a lesser degree. Uncompressed video, which processes the footage into video but doesn’t apply any block, wavelet, or temporal-based compression is a great way to get a lot of information, but you still lose bit-depth (color information). Uncompressed video usually comes in at 10-bit, giving you 1024 possible tonal values, whereas 12-bit RAW has 4,096 possible values.

Moreover, RAW data doesn’t bake in ISO and Kelvin (white balance) data, allowing you to change it in post. To sum up the RAW experience, I will call on a fantastic quote from Kurt Lancaster.

“To shoot RAW means to thicken the color of your images, making them more dense—a lot more data provides more headroom to push and pull footage in post, to correct errors made during shooting, as well as to shape the look and feel of your film.”

The advantages are plenty and aren’t nearly as costly as they seem.

Storage varies

RAW footage can take up a lot of storage… But there are solutions.

Yes, storage space fills up quickly when you shoot RAW. An hour of 16:9 ARRI Alexa ARRIRAW footage will eat up about 605 gigabytes, the URSA Mini Pro takes up about 648 gigabytes in 4.6k RAW (CinemaDNG RAW), and the C200 comes in at around 512 gigabytes per hour. It’s a lot, especially if you want to keep a backup or your RAW video. If storage is a problem, however, you have solutions.

When you shoot RAW, you make your major color/exposure changes before you process the footage, meaning that you can vastly condense your file sizes to fit your needs before anything is added to your hard drive. Your camera still needs hefty storage options, but backing up your footage to your computer becomes as friendly as you need it to be.

Canon EOS C200 body

The new Canon C200 features smaller files thanks to its Cinema RAW light format.

Moreover, you still have resolution and camera choices at your disposal. The C200 offers a Cinema RAW Light format that’s considered 3 to 5 times smaller than traditional RAW formats. But wait, there’s more!

Not all RAW cameras shoot truly uncompressed RAW, giving you additional options.

If 12-bit color depth covers what the human eye is able to see, and truly RAW sensor data comes in the form of uncompressed RAW files, then the standard for pure RAW output would be 12-bit uncompressed RAW files. The ARRI Alexa XT can internally record RAW data this way at the price of nearly one terabyte per hour of footage. If that sounds like a lot to you (yes, it’s a lot), there are other options.

RED cameras offer a variety of compression options.

RED approaches RAW differently. REDCODE RAW (.R3D files) uses a variable bitrate wavelet technique that can compress RAW files at various levels for smaller storage space, and has improved from 12-bit to 16-bit over the years. RED .R3D files have also been optimized for different workflows, allowing filmmakers to preview and work with footage at lower resolutions while retaining the information of the full resolution image.

According to RED, wavelet compression at 3:1 is mathematically lossless, while 5:1 and 8:1 are visually lossless. This compression can allow you to shoot RAW with smaller file sizes than shooting ProRes, which is some achievement. This isn’t a purist’s RAW recording, but for many the differences are negligible and they are overwhelmed by the benefits. As technology advances, more cameras will likely take the RED .R3D model, and many already have.

Sony’s CineAlta cinema cameras offer varying degrees of compressed RAW using external recorders, with the benefit being the ability to record at high frame rates and with high resolution. As noted above, the C200 takes a similar approach to compressed RAW with Cinema RAW Light. However, the first iteration of RAW for Canon’s cinema cameras, the one in the C500 and C700, is very different though.

Canon’s top of the line C700.

With the Canon C700 camera, Canon joins ARRI as having the closest to a purely RAW output, with 12-bit depth. The Canon C500 records 10-bit external instead of ARRI’s 12-bit (or Sony and RED’s 16-bit). Canon Cinema RAW (.RMF) files pridefully contain no processes applied to the data coming out of the image sensor. These are huge 4k files, bigger than 4:3 ARRIRAW at 2.8k. Cinema RAW Light (compressed RAW) looks like a different direction for Canon it remains to be seen whether the company maintains its RAW purity with its flagship line.

Finally, RAW recording isn’t all internal, shifting the gear up, external RAW recording adds cost to your bottom line. The C200 offers truly economical RAW options because it offers lower file sizes and records internally (as opposed to the C500, which requires an external recorder). The same goes for RED and post-Alexa classic ARRI cameras (internal RAW recording). Sony, on the other hand, only offers RAW via external recorder on its cameras. While that adds money and hassle to your bottom line, external recorders often provide the extra horsepower to add features otherwise unavailable internally, so they make sense for certain filmmakers.

The point is, RAW is not a singular, unfriendly, codec. Its benefits are available to filmmakers with varying needs and workflow priorities, you just have to do your homework first. Speaking of workflow priorities…

Not as much time as you think

It seems impossible to come across a review for a RAW camera that doesn’t mention how RAW isn’t an option for quick turnaround shooters. First of all, what is quick turnaround? Two days? One day? Six hours? Yes, I’ll concede that time-sensitive news coverage has little benefit for RAW video, but a lot of filmmakers who work in quick turnaround environments aren’t on such a short leash. RAW workflows are possible if you know what you’re doing, especially when shooting RED .R3D RAW which has native support in Adobe Premiere Pro, you can drag the .R3D files straight to the timeline.

First of all, each batch of RAW footage is not some new, unexplored, color playground. You can monitor through different LUTs and color spaces while shooting, and have them ready in your project settings for processing. With a little pre-production organization, you can know the look you’re going to get before you step on set and get the footage processing the minute your card has been filled up.

Working with a LUT on a Blackmagic Design Video Assist 4K.

No time for specialized settings for each new project? Find a color outcome you like and make it your default for every project. You not only get the rich images RAW provides, but you’ve also tuned the colors to your taste.

Finally, processing time doesn’t have to be lost time. I’ve found that, for most projects, a day of shooting would yield 2-3 hours of total processing time. That’s time that can be cut into chunks on-set if you have a DIT, or it’s time that can be spent while you’re busy with other obligations. If you’re organized, processing doesn’t have to drastically alter your completion time.

You don’t HAVE to shoot RAW

Unless you’re shooting on a Digital Bolex (R.I.P) or RED DSMC1 camera, your RAW-shooting camera has other recording options. When you get a project where RAW isn’t right for that project, don’t shoot with it! When you get a project where RAW is beneficial, you’ll be very glad to have all of that flexibility in post-production.

It’s worth it

With RAW, you not only get rich, beautiful colors and the ability to correct mistakes and adjust ISO and Kelvin (white balance) after the fact, you get creative freedom you aren’t afforded with any other codec. You can find the exact look you want without compromise and, if you change your mind, you can go back and reprocess that footage for an entirely different look later. RAW footage is the digital version of a film negative. Once you have that at your disposal, you definitely won’t want to go back.

How prevalent is RAW footage in your day-to-day work? What particular challenges do you find in working with it? Let us know in the comments below!

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Joshua Ausley
Joshua Ausley
GuestAugust 21st, 2017

I’ve had requests to shoot interviews and live events in RAW. Just about the dumbest things I’ve ever been asked to do.

Clayton Moore
MemberAugust 22nd, 2017

ROFL!!

 Thomas Diehl
Thomas Diehl
MemberAugust 21st, 2017

I think Canon Raw Light on the C200 is 4K DCI only. Would be nice to have a 2k or HD – option for RAW? Maybe if you record externally? Has anybody tested this yet?

Jonathan Clifford Bergqvist
MemberAugust 21st, 2017

Unfortunately, according to newsshooter: “The Cinema RAW Light files can only be recorded in 4KDCI and not in UHD, 2KDCI or HD resolutions.”

 Thomas Diehl
Thomas Diehl
MemberAugust 22nd, 2017

ok, the author of this article does not seem to know that.
Would have been very nice though.

Jonathan Clifford Bergqvist
MemberAugust 22nd, 2017

Indeed it would! :)

Knut Hansen
Knut Hansen
GuestAugust 21st, 2017

RAW is decent. But unless you got a RED (Redcode makes sense in some ways, compared to DNG and so on) and a shipload of Redmags (for reminders, they´re like all your life´s savings for 256gb) you´re done. Soooo… screw all that paperwork. Put out nice stuff (y)

Ben J
Ben J
MemberAugust 21st, 2017

I’m a bit puzzled by this. I’m sure the author knows better than me, but he suggests that RAW needn’t fill up hard drives because you only ingest transcoded footage, but later suggests you might want to reprocess old RAW files. These files have to sit somewhere.

I’m sure a cinema workflow often requires/expects RAW, but my impression of C5D, judging by the staff writers and main features, is that it’s weighted more towards doc and corporate video production. Given the greatly reduced shooting time and huge storage requirements, I’m not sure it’s right to say that RAW benefits greatly outweighs the challenges.

The RAW from my BMPCC looks great… the ProRes HQ or even 422 from the same camera also look great. In terms of value for most clients, the differences seem rather small. But I commend anyone who cares about their craft!

 Salim Madjd
Salim Madjd
MemberAugust 21st, 2017

I wish this article had more depth to it. 1 – either people reading this are coming from photography background and understand the value of RAW, in that case, to say you should shoot in raw when you can, it’s a bit too obvious to be useful. Or, 2 – readers do not have the photography background and need to better understand the true value of RAW with actually screen grab of the raw footage vs camera-processed. Even with photographers who shoot raw this comparison could be very useful.

Mase Daniel
Mase Daniel
GuestAugust 21st, 2017

This article was sponsored by Canon and BM. As always ?

cinema5D
cinema5D
GuestAugust 22nd, 2017

We don’t do sponsored articles, as always

Branden Neal
Branden Neal
GuestAugust 24th, 2017

If you have money to buy a camera for RAW of course you will use it…. wth…. “if you own shoes, here is why you should wear them”. Genius work….

Mase Daniel
Mase Daniel
GuestAugust 24th, 2017

Branden Neal I have this camera and use the raw pretty rarely, lol.

Stefan Tasic
Stefan Tasic
GuestAugust 21st, 2017

This article completely disregards that the need for RAW largely depends on the type of content you are shooting. Also depends on how much money you earn from your work. What platform are you creating the videos for? Do you know how to grade the footage or are you paying somebody to do it? Can your clients see the difference between a 8bit 4:2:0 clip and RAW?
Shooting RAW is great, but also very expensive and often unnecessary.

sam broggs
sam broggs
MemberAugust 21st, 2017

If you don’t know how to expose and how to do a white balance: Don’t worry, just shoot raw and fix it in post! :)

 Anton Doiron
Anton Doiron
MemberAugust 22nd, 2017

Ha! That’s me! With the BMCC you over expose and pull it down to minimize noise but setting the white balance gets me sometimes. I end up eyeballing it because I don’t have to set it when filming. I’ll be outside shooting at 4000k when it should be 5600 but it is nice to be able to change it in post.

 Anton Doiron
Anton Doiron
MemberAugust 22nd, 2017

There are some inaccuracies in this article.

the C200 is not the first camera to shoot Raw under $10,000. BlackMagic makes cameras that shoot raw for around $3000 (BMCC) or less with the pocket cinema camera at around $1000.

Also he mentions that most of the color adjustments are made before the footage touches your hard drive. You still have to transfer the RAW files to some kind of storage array. Yes, technically you could grade them straight off the SSD or SD card then dump the raw files but this is bad because you loose the ability to go back and fine tune or change your initial grade after your edit.

I’m a filmmaker and I use RAW. It’s wonderful to have all that flexibility. I recently graded some compressed footage from a Sony 4K pro-sumer camera and I was amazed at the lack of information and crappy blown out highlights. RAW gives you so much latitude and beautiful results.

I agree with some of the comments, RAW is probably best for long term single projects like features than regular commercial work.

Here’s my Workflow:

-Shoot in RAW with my BlackMagic Cinema Camera onto SSD drives
-copy files into my FreeNAS arrays. I make new ones as needed with new hard drives and used computers. This keeps it cheap.
-copy files to my off-site backup drives (helpful if there is a fire or NAS failure)
-plug the NAS into my grading computer running Davinci Resolve
-use the BMD film color space settings for each clip applying a 3DLUT for rec709 at the end node and adjust the RAW values then use the color correction tools
-save using the source filenames as a compressed h264 for use in the editor
-copy to my editing computer
-edit
-when done editing, export full or partial sequences into Resolve where it matches the files up with the originals and lets you spend many months grading the final result.

I’m not too sure what workflow to use with my special effects shots. I may export to DPX then work with those and bring them back into the edit.

 Robert Anthony
Robert Anthony
MemberAugust 22nd, 2017

There is an inaccuracy in your post.

Cinema 5D doesn’t claim the Canon C200 is the first camera to shoot RAW for under $10,000. They do accurately state that it’s Canon’s first sub 10K Cinema Camera to shoot RAW.

“Canon recently announced the C200, it’s first sub-$10,000 cinema camera to shoot RAW.”

Tim Naylor
MemberAugust 22nd, 2017

This article seems naive at best. The writer states 605gigs and 512 gigs per hour for Arri Raw and Canon c200 respectively, then later goes on to tout the C200 raw lite as a big savings in data. What am I missing? According to his numbers that’s only about 18% difference.

Also, he claims Sony only has raw externally. He’s dead wrong. Both the F5/55 record raw internally. Adding the raw module to those cameras essentially extends the body which in all practical terms is an internal raw solution as opposed to shooting to a recorder six as Odyssey or Atomos.

But to claim raw’s viability outweigh its cons ignore reality. One of the main reasons the Alexa wiped the floor with Red upon its release was the Clog in Pro Rez. Episodic and High end commercials embraced this and still do. The extra labor and data costs were not worth it and the quality of Clog at 2k were better than RCD files at 4 to 6k.

The article fails to comprehend that not all raw is the same. I shot some comprehensive tests of Sony Raw, Red Dragon Raw and Arri Clog A, B and C tests. The were graded at NYC’s top correction facility, Company 3 and screened on a 20 foot screen to producers and directors for a feature I was shooting. No one knew which footage came from what camera. Unanimously they all picked the Clog from the Alexa.

So before picking the codec pick the camera. The extra money spent renting a more expensive camera is more that made up from having to avoid the data and labor costs of transcode and back up. The differences in well exposed log bs Raw are too marginal to make up for the differences in costs. Yet this writer acts is if he hit upon something new where as productions from broadcast, HBO, Amazon and more have analyzed this to death. They’ve all looked at the raw question and costs/benefits analysis and come to a similar conclusion.

Tim Naylor
MemberAugust 22nd, 2017

I find this article highly suspect considering it advocates a camera that the writer or anyone else has used, the C200. To make sweeping proclamations of a camera’s raw benefits without having used it and considering there are camera’s that shoot log better than most other camera’s raw (Arri vs the rest), tells me this article is best ignored.

Ben J
Ben J
MemberAugust 22nd, 2017

Agreed. Worth highlighting that he owns a rental company.

 Fahnon Bennett
Fahnon Bennett
MemberAugust 24th, 2017

This’s isn’t necessarily true. Not only has Cinema5D reviewed this camera, but it’s already shipping. I have one sitting next to me right now,

Alister Chapman
MemberAugust 22nd, 2017

To record a wide dynamic range such as 14 stops with 10 bit raw requires a lot of signal processing before the raw can be output. Either the addition of log gamma or some other heavy duty number crunching has to be done to get from the linear sensor data to only 10 bits (unless the dynamic range is woefully small). It’s also very common to bake in the white balance RGB gain when recording raw. i don’t know whether Canon will be baking in the WB, but they must be processing the image to make it fit in only 10 bits. Arri use log gamma to fit 14+ stops into only 12 bits.

Raw does have a “baked in ISO” you can’t change the sensitivity of the camera in post. The gain/sensitivity is set when you shoot, you can’t change that later. But raw is normally more able to deal with footage shot brighter or darker than the base levels, although it will be intersting to see just how flexible 10 bit raw will be. There are good reasons why most cameras that shoot raw are at least 12 bit.

 Philip Coltart
Philip Coltart
MemberAugust 23rd, 2017

LIES! They say Canon is the first sub $10K camera to shoot RAW? I have been shooting 4K RAW on the BlackMagic 4K Production Camera for over two years now. If you’re not sponsored by Canon then get these facts straight. BM is the best value per dollar for RAW capture. Period.

 Robert Anthony
Robert Anthony
MemberAugust 24th, 2017

Holy crap, doesn’t anyone know how to read anymore!

Philip, are you as ignorant as your flaming comment? Perhaps you should get your facts straight before you go blasting off.

The article does NOT state that Canon is the first sub $10K camera to shoot RAW. It simply states that it’s Canon’s first sub 10K cinema camera to shoot RAW.

“Canon recently announced the C200, it’s first sub-$10,000 cinema camera to shoot RAW.”

Tim Naylor
MemberAugust 23rd, 2017

An article about the pros and cons of RAW is a worthy endeavor but the lack of research, errors and omissions and any in depth analysis makes me wonder how this was published. Just a cursory fact check would expose that the c200 is not the first sub 10k raw camera and that Sony has been doing internal Raw with the F55/5 with the R5 module. Then the cheerleading for a camera that the author has yet to use in the field while owning a rental company smells of conflict of interest and perhaps a large order of c200’s. When he presents raw lite as a viable space saving alternative but gives us numbers that only show 18% saving I have to wonder if the author fact checked his own writing or is just trying to hard to sell us his incoming fleet of c200’s?

 Zarick Berger
Zarick Berger
MemberAugust 23rd, 2017

Canon Raw light is actually about 2/3 the size of the same footage processed into a pores 444 file. So it makes a lot of sense to just backup these files on a disc and use the HD mp4 proxi-files for editing. This way you have the best of both worlds. No transcode, acceptable storage, easy editing, superb colouring using the Raw files and a pretty straightforward workflow.

Christopher Dobey
MemberAugust 26th, 2017

Thank you for this article, as RAW is a very misunderstood topic in the video world. Why RAW is at least better understood in the still photography world I believe comes down to storage costs, but it amazes me how most people agree that RAW is necessary with stills but completely over kill with video. Working on a project that will be presented in 10-bit HDR10, 12-bit RAW is totally necessary considering the only other 12-bit option is ProRes 4444 which ends up being a higher bitrate than 4:1 RAW. As always the ‘you can’t tell the difference’ argument comes up in which the response will be that RAW simply gives more flexibility in post. But of course this being the comment section, everyone here always nails exposure and white balance with 100% accuracy every time they shoot right? ;)

 Frank Nadeau
Frank Nadeau
MemberAugust 29th, 2017

Something is always missing in those explanation about why you should shoot in RAW or not. The BAYER factor … , RAW is the only way to record the reality of the camera, any other codec or recording option is decoding view of BAYER matrix. So if you shot something you are considering important and you want that shot to be the most possible future proof (don’t know if you will do HDR or BT2020, or better color space in the future) RAW it the only way to get all this information. Even better who knows if somebody in the future will find a better way to decode the Bayer matrix to get more information.

You can read about the ProRES 444 on Alister’s Chapman blog and you will discover that 4:4:4 color does’t really exist on any of the video camera you are using if it is not from a real 3 CCDs sensor (http://www.alisterchapman.com/tag/sensor/) . At some point it is better to record RAW than storing your information in 444. 4:4:4 is really good on the other side to store VFX and computer generated color and pixel because there is no BAYER decoding.

On my old FS700 I have no choice to use the RAW output to get the maximum of this system. Yes I’m using sometime the ProRES codec to save space. But since I always transfer my footage using Lossless compression (equivalent to ZIP) and supported by most of the Video editing software, you get most of the time half the original size.

And for file size … if again your footage are very important, ACES workflow is even better but … now you will see very large size …

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