ProRes RAW Demystified: Learn Workflow from Capture to Export

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ProRes RAW. Is it ProRes? Is it raw? What is ProRes even? How do I get it? Why do I want it? What do I do with it once I have it? Okay, okay! We heard you. ProRes RAW is an exciting and relatively new video format, but it brings with it an almost endless number of questions. I will start off by saying that it is well worth the effort since raw video can offer increased dynamic range and detail than standard formats. Also, you do have to be sure that every stage in your process supports ProRes RAW. If you follow along here, we will help get you from capture, through the edit, and, hopefully, to a finished video project.

ProRes RAW Explained

Before we get into the complicated meat of “What is ProRes RAW?” we are first going to break down a few key terms and concepts, especially since one of the more complex things to talk about in digital imaging is raw image data.

  • Digital cameras and image sensors capture data using an array of photosites (commonly referred to, incorrectly, as pixels).
  • The information recorded by the sensor is usually converted into a full-color image we can view on various devices.
  • Raw image data is captured and recorded prior to this transformation by the camera into a viewable image.
  • Some cameras can save this raw image data in a special file that can be read by advanced editing software (e.g. Adobe Photoshop).
  • The benefit of working with raw data is more control and information during the editing stage—a desired trait for professional photo and video workflows.
  • Raw files are generally larger than the compressed final images (e.g. JPEGs).

Next, let’s talk about your regular ol’ ProRes codec (short for “coder-decoder” and explain how a computer either writes or reads a file).

  • ProRes is a family of intermediate codecs developed by Apple.
  • Intermediate refers to its intended use in video editing—the intermediate stage between capture and finishing for a video project.
  • The compression, which is essentially how the computer organizes the data (bits) in the file, uses an intra-frame method.
  • Intra-frame means each individual frame is stored as its own image in the video file, as opposed to inter-frame, which only records the differences between one frame and its surrounding frames.
  • Intra-frame is easier for computers to read but results in larger file sizes while inter-frame is harder and slower to read but benefits from smaller files sizes.
  • Since intra-frame compression is easier for computers to read, it enables smoother editing in demanding applications, such as video-editing software.
  • There are plenty of codecs out there, but ProRes has become an industry standard in film and video. Much of the success is due to the use, historically, of the Mac platform and Final Cut Pro as one of the best options for video editing.
    • Multiple flavors of ProRes are available, including Proxy, 422 LT, 422, 422 HQ, 4444, and 4444 XQ. That order represents the level of compression with Proxy and 422 LT being the most compressed and 4444 and 4444 XQ being the least compressed.

Raw image data can only be captured if the camera system supports it. This data also has to be read by a specialized software, such as Adobe Photoshop or Premiere Pro, and then processed into an image that an everyday person would see as “normal.” To unpack this idea a bit more, a vast majority of imaging sensors relies on a color filter array to create full-color images. This means that each photosite is only responsible for a specific color, be it Red, Green, or Blue. When these colors are strategically organized, most commonly with the Bayer pattern of RGBG, software can look at the different red, green, blue (RGB) values and come up with (interpolate) its best guess for the actual color of each pixel.

The process of interpolating raw image data into a viewable image is an amazing, complex science known as demosaicing or, in the case of Bayer-pattern filters, debayering. For standard files, such as a compressed H.264 movie or JPEG image, the demosaicing occurs in the camera immediately following capture. With raw data, that step is delayed until you bring the files into post-production software. That means more processing will be handled by your computer, but that you have more control over the footage.

Here are the key points to know about ProRes RAW:

  • ProRes RAW applies the same principles of ProRes to the raw camera image data.
  • It applies compression that is near lossless.
  • ProRes adjusts compression to hit a target data rate (file size) while ProRes RAW adjusts the bit rate to hit a target quality.
    • Target quality means the data rate will fluctuate but will minimize the chances of artifacting with busy scenes.
  • By capturing raw sensor data, more detail and dynamic range can be preserved for editing.
  • File sizes can be kept lower than conventional codecs while still offering improved dynamic range and detail.
  • There are two compression levels: ProRes RAW and ProRes RAW HQ.
    • ProRes RAW offers data rates between that of ProRes 422 and ProRes 422 HQ, which are perhaps the most popular versions.
    • ProRes RAW HQ offers data rates between ProRes 422 HQ and ProRes 4444, popular choices for high-end film productions and advanced visual effects work.
  • ProRes RAW’s detail and dynamic range makes it ideal for HDR (high dynamic range) projects.

There is a ton more detail we can dive into when discussing raw video. This should provide enough of an understanding that you feel comfortable working with the format and knowing when to use it.

Capture

One thing to learn about ProRes RAW is that it is a capture format. That means that it can only be created if you have a video source capable of producing raw video and a compatible recorder. There are also a few cameras that can record ProRes RAW natively. You cannot recreate ProRes RAW later on in the process.

As the format was co-developed by Atomos, it should be no surprise that, currently, the only compatible recorders are from the brand. Please note that not all recorders will support all cameras.

    • Ninja V (Supports Most Current Cameras)
    • Shogun Inferno (Limited Compatibility)
    • Shogun 7 (Limited Compatibility)
    • Sumo 19 (Limited Compatibility)
    • Neon + 4K Master Control Unit
    • Neon + 8K Master Control Unit
Atomos NEON 55" 4K HDR Monitor/Recorder
Atomos NEON 55" 4K HDR Monitor/Recorder

Now you’ll just need to either make sure your camera system can support it and that you have the necessary firmware installed. Here are the cameras able to export raw video that can be read by an Atomos recorder and saved in ProRes RAW:

Technically, cameras can record internally in ProRes RAW if the company develops the capabilities. As of now, only one camera system allows it.

DJI Zenmuse X7 Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal
DJI Zenmuse X7 Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal

After you make sure your equipment is ready to roll, you’ll need to make a decision between ProRes RAW and ProRes RAW HQ. The only difference between the two is the level of compression, with standard ProRes RAW being a bit more compressed than HQ. Practically speaking, most users will likely never see any artifacting with either format, but if you need the absolute highest quality for your production or are working with professional cinema cameras capable of high bit-depth recording, HQ is a safer option that retains more data.

Editing, Part 1: Finding an NLE and Computer

After you record your footage and save the files onto your computer or hard drive, your next step will be to start editing it in your NLE. Right now, ProRes RAW has limited support, with the absolute best option being Final Cut Pro X. The reason for this is that Apple has taken extra care to ensure that software and hardware integration between FCP X and macOS is extremely tight, allowing for extremely fast processing speeds. Results presented by Apple show off just how huge this advantage is, allowing for a greater than 10x improvement when working with ProRes RAW versus proprietary raw formats, such as Canon Cinema RAW Light or REDCODE RAW 5:1.

Relatively speaking, ProRes RAW is a new format. It was launched in 2018 and Apple is still working with other companies to add support for the format. Fortunately, as of late May 2020, Adobe has added support for ProRes RAW in the extremely popular Premiere Pro CC and its related After Effects, Media Encoder, and Premiere Rush applications.

Here’s how to make it work on Mac computers using Premiere Pro:

  • Be running macOS Mojave 10.14.5 or later
  • Install Apple’s Pro Video Formats 2.1.1 or later
  • In Premiere Pro, make sure the Metal renderer is selected
  • File > Project Settings... > General > Renderer: Mercury Playback Engine GPU Acceleration (Metal) - Recommended

Here’s how to use ProRes RAW on Windows computers with Premiere Pro:

  • Have an NVIDIA graphics card with 4GB or more memory
  • Install ProRes RAW Decoder from Apple
  • Select the CUDA renderer is selected
    • File > Project Settings > General > Renderer: Mercury Playback Engine GPU Acceleration (CUDA) - Recommended

To recap, the following software are possible options for editing ProRes RAW footage.

One thing to note about using Adobe Premiere Pro with ProRes RAW is that you will have limited controls, at the moment this means just a single Exposure option. You will still have access to all the raw data, meaning you will absolutely benefit from ProRes RAW in Adobe programs.

The next thing to consider is your computer. As we said earlier, if you opt to use Final Cut Pro X, you will need a Mac. Anything with sufficient power for your standard video-editing workflow should do just fine—just make sure it has a dedicated graphics card to handle the workload and you can manage most projects in 4K or lower resolution.

If you want the best, I think you should take a look at the current Mac Pro. Beyond the fact that it is, objectively, the most powerful machine in Apple’s stable, it has one optional component that can put your ProRes RAW project into overdrive: the Afterburner Card. This dedicated accelerator card takes the processing of decoding ProRes and ProRes RAW footage off the GPU and CPU, allowing those to run full speed. This combination will provide you with an exceptionally fast editing setup—think real-time editing with multiple 4K streams, each with its own distinct effects. Definitely something to consider if you are a professional.

Windows users will have a bit more leeway when it comes to building a machine that works best for Adobe Premiere Pro CC, but keep in mind that you will need a current NVIDIA graphics card with 4GB memory or more.

Editing, Part 2: Working with ProRes RAW

For a majority of this part, we are going to focus on using Final Cut Pro X, since it is the best NLE choice for editing ProRes RAW footage. Premiere Pro only offers limited controls. For now, there is only one option for Exposure, since it applies its own conversion, though you can still take advantage of many of the format’s benefits in Adobe’s software.

Starting off with Final Cut you have to decide what workflow you are going to choose. Apple offers three methods.

  • Using Log Conversion with Built-In Camera LUTs
  • Using Log Conversion with Custom LUT Effects
  • Grading Directly

One last note is the ProRes RAW is an optimal format choice for HDR productions. If you want to realize the true potential of your footage, it is recommended you explore HDR grading and finishing, though ProRes RAW is an excellent choice for SDR, as well, since it retains so much information.

Option 1: Using Log Conversion with Built-In Camera LUTs

Log, or logarithmic, gamma functions are becoming ever more common on cameras. Without raw as an option, log gammas create an image that appears to be extremely flat, or with little contrast. This helps preserve dynamic range when using compressed video formats for recording. With ProRes RAW you don’t need to record a flat image to get maximum dynamic range since the information is saved in the file.

An example of an image captured with a log gamma profile. To the eye it looks like a low contrast (flat), slightly desaturated image.

However, many post-production workflows have adapted to using log gamma profiles for color correction and grading. By making your ProRes RAW footage match the look of a video shot with a log gamma by using a log conversion in Final Cut Pro X, you can use many of the same techniques of an existing editing workflow while still benefitting from all the advantages of raw video.

ProRes RAW can have metadata tags that will tell the computer and software what camera was used and allow Final Cut to automatically apply a conversion. There are built-in looks for Canon Log 2, Panasonic V-Log, and Sony S-Log3, for example.

With both Log Conversation and Camera LUT turned on you get an approximate look at what the final image looks like without having to manually apply a grade.

Beyond that, there is a Camera LUT option, which can use tone mapping to bring the footage into the color space of the project, generally either SDR (Rec. 709) or HDR (Rec. 2020 PG or HLG). This can also be automated based on the metadata.

Once you make sure that is all set up properly you can move on and do whatever basic color-correction and grading you want as normal. Being automated allows you to get started quickly.

Option 2: Using Log Conversion with Custom LUT Effects

This method starts in a similar place to option one. First, you’ll keep the same Raw to Log Conversion options, which may be automatically applied. One thing you’ll likely have to do if things are automated is turn off the Camera LUT. That’s simple, just set the option in the information panel to “None.” Since no tone mapping is applied, you are working with the full dynamic range of the footage.

When Camera LUT is set to “None” you get to see the ProRes RAW footage as a log-style image. This gives you the ability to use the same color grading techniques and custom LUTs as you would on conventional log footage.

From here you can go can use your standard color tools and edit the footage as you would normally. For a Custom LUT, you will then need to add a Custom LUT effect. Then, in the video inspector you can go to the effect and select your own 3D LUT to use.

Option 3: Grading Directly

Going back to the start, you will want to set both RAW to Log Conversion and Camera LUT to “None.” Now you are looking at as close to the raw footage as possible. It probably looks a bit overexposed since the software isn’t doing anything to bring it into your working space, but the data is there. Adjust it with your color correction tools and you can reveal all the details you need. This is more work but gives you much more control.

Not using a conversion or LUT is the most interesting starting place since the footage looks “wrong.” However, it shows you the raw values and is extremely editable to whatever final product you want.

Final Notes

ProRes RAW is an interesting new tool for filmmakers of every level. Apple has made raw video much more accessible through its integration with Final Cut Pro X and Mac devices. Now, with expanded camera support and additional NLEs, like Premiere, being able to work with the footage I suspect it will become even more popular. It is another incredibly powerful option for filmmakers to consider for their next project once they take the time to learn and understand it.

An example of a final image created from a ProRes RAW file as demonstrated above. This doesn’t show off the true potential of a true HDR workflow with additional dynamic range and saturation.

If you have any more questions about the ProRes RAW workflow please feel free to leave a Comment, below, or get in touch with our knowledgeable sales staff.

5 Comments

Is there a Raw to Log Conversion LUT for Premiere Pro? I just preordered the A7sIII but i have a windows computer, and i can't edit the metadata like with Final Cut Pro, so I need de Raw to Log Conversion LUT

Not yet. Premiere Pro still has very limited controls when it comes to ProRes RAW. It is possible that Sony (or more likely a third party) will develop a LUT shortly after the camera officially releases at the end of September.

Hey Shawn! I'm in a similar situation except I'm shooting with a Nikon Z6 and using Premiere Pro. I jumped into a couple shoots using ProRes RAW when Premiere announced their support for it. But I'm now suffering for it on the post production side. I installed the Beta version of Premiere which also gives me a color space option instead of just exposure within the ProRes RAW master tab. But I'm still trying to learn how to get the image colored correctly through this. Could I talk to you or someone else who is knowledgeable on the subject about how to attack this color grade/ProRes RAW workflow?

Hi Cole,

First, thanks for pointing out the Color Space controls now in Premiere Pro, that is exactly what we were looking for!

Second, now if I understand correctly you have the ProRes RAW footage, choose the color space (assuming Rec.2020/N-Log for a Z6), and then are unsure how to get to a finished product?

If this is the case then it is actually more a question of performing a basic color grade from log. One great place to start is to download Nikon's N-Log 3D LUT (available here: https://downloadcenter.nikonimglib.com/en/products/493/Z_6.html) and apply that to your footage up front. That should get you close to a viewable image and then you can apply smaller changes. Does that help? Or are you looking for more?

Hey Eder! I'm in the same boat and if you have Adobe Creative Cloud, you can download the Beta version of Premiere Pro (v14.6 I believe) for free and it has a "color space" option within the ProRes RAW Master tab along with the exposure option. The color space seems to have what I think may be some RAW to Log options. Although, I just downloaded it today and I'm still figuring it out myself.

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