Apple’s ProRes RAW

Our technical column ‘New Gear’ sees an overview of Apple’s ProRes RAW by Tom Waugh

More and more cameras are coming out these days with an option for RAW capture, even <$10k systems. On lower production budgets, the extra benefit of RAW hasn’t necessary been worth the large data rate on set, or post-production hassle. Faster computers and larger storage helped this situation in recent years but for a lot of small productions, RAW has been a luxury. Apple recently introduced their new codec which they hope will change this, ProRes RAW.

They say it brings the flexibility of RAW (more latitude/less compression) with the speed of ProRes (simpler editing workflow/less data/much shorter render and export times). There are two variants, the lower bitrate Prores RAW and a higher bit rate Prores RAW HQ. The only description that Apple provide of the quality difference is, “Compression-related visible artefacts are very unlikely with Apple ProRes RAW, and extremely unlikely with Apple ProRes RAW HQ.

Currently there are only two recorders that can capture ProRes RAW; the Atomos Shogun Inferno (7” LCD) and the Atomos Sumo (19” LCD). In most situations you’re not going to use a 19” recorder tethered to your camera, so we used the 7” Shogun Inferno for this overview.

Cameras from Panasonic, Sony and Canon that support RAW output over SDI (EVA-1, FS5, C300 MK2, and others) can be used with the Atomos to capture Prores RAW or CinemaDNG RAW. DJI Inspire drones have been supporting CinemaDNG RAW recording with their X5R, X5S and X7 camera systems and announced the X7 camera will allow onboard ProRes RAW recording with a soon to be released firmware update.

To test out the new codec, Panasonic Australia kindly lent me their new compact EVA-1 cinema camera. It outputs 10 bit RAW, up to 5.7K resolution. With this camera in the cropped 4K DCI sensor mode, the Atomos Inferno is capable of recording Prores RAW up to 60p, CinemaDNG RAW up to 30p and standard Prores and Avid DNxHR up to 60p. A firmware update, coming very soon for the Atomos, will allow capture of the full sensor 5.7K RAW up to 30p in Prores RAW but no 5.7K capture in CinemaDNG RAW due to the data rate. As you can see by all the future firmware updates, it’s all very new!

Prores RAW HQ is around half the data of CinemaDNG on the Atomos, which is nice for both you and your editor! Data rates do vary though as Prores RAW is variable bit rate, meaning high detail scenes will use more data to maintain picture quality.

Prores RAW contains all of the sensor and metadata in a single .MOV file structure rather than CinemaDNG which records every single frame as a separate image file. The .MOV has the benefit of much faster file transfer and simpler workflow but does mean any corruption could potentially corrupt the whole file.

Before you go jumping on board, currently ProRes RAW is only viewable and editable in Final Cut Pro X (10.4.1). If your edit workflow uses anything else, you will have to consider CinemaDNG as your RAW capture option. CinemaDNG isn’t supported by Final Cut Pro X so it really is about which editing program you use at this stage.

Importing ProRes RAW into Final Cut Pro X was as easy as standard ProRes files and full resolution playback was perfectly smooth on a Mac Pro system.

In Final Cut Pro X you have a choice of the RAW to Log conversion (choice of camera manufacturers or ‘none’), choice of Camera LUT (standard manufacturers LUTs, your own custom LUT or ‘none’) and then the standard FCP colour grading tools of which ‘Colour Wheels’ proved the most useful for manipulating the RAW footage for maximising dynamic range.

Comparatively Adobe Premiere Pro CC handled the CinemaDNG import easily and full resolution playback was no issue either. I could change RAW exposure, white balance and tint controls but not anywhere near the level of control available in the Da Vinci Resolve grading software with the same CinemaDNG RAW file.

In conclusion, ProRes RAW is an exciting step forward for cinematographers because it attempts to standardise a RAW codec, but it currently only has very limited range of cameras and one editing platform. 

It will get very interesting when cameras start having on board ProRes RAW recording and other editing platforms are able to support it as well… who will be next to jump on board?

Tom Waugh works for Ignite Digi and is the Chairman of the ACS Technical Committee.

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