New camera and recorder combinations like the Sony A7 SIII paired with the Atomos Ninja V allow for low-cost RAW video recording. How do you know if shooting RAW video is right for you and your project?
I see many posts, questions and articles about shooting RAW video. I’ve even viewed a few YouTube videos that were recently posted about shooting RAW video with the Sony A7 SIII mirrorless and the Atomos Ninja V. Atomos, working along with manufacturers, has ingeniously figured out a way to transport a camera RAW non-DeBayered signal to the Ninja V recorder via HDMI, a standard that had no specification for the transport of said signals. This being HDVideoPro, of course, we like to “nerd out” and discuss the relative merits of BRAW versus ProRes RAW, 16 bit versus 12 bit RAW and other such technical topics. In applying that knowledge to your own shoots, I thought there might be some value in stepping back from the technology just a bit to examine whether or not you should be shooting RAW video in 2021.
We recently updated AbelCine’s Andy Shipsides’ article on what RAW video actually is and how it relates to shooting Log video and applying LUTs to the footage as well. If you haven’t already read it, I suggest check it out. Once you’ve read through Andy’s article, you should definitely understand what RAW video is, why it exists, and the relative advantages and disadvantages of the format.
I wanted to particularly focus on mirrorless cameras that have recently been released from Nikon, Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic. Few mirrorless shooters have experience in shooting RAW video because up until recently, mirrorless cameras simply weren’t capable of shooting RAW video. Now that Atomos has enabled a sizable amount of mirrorless cameras to shoot RAW, it becomes more of an issue of should you shoot your projects in RAW. If you have a background in still photography, the ability to shoot RAW stills has been around for quite a few years and the advantages of shooting RAW stills over JPEGs or other highly compressed images are easily understood. RAW video brings its own unique set of issues and considerations to the table though.
Shooting RAW Video Vs. Non-RAW: Issues to Consider
- File Size
When shooting RAW video, because you’re shooting footage rather than stills, the size of the files, even ones that are fairly compressed using efficient RAW formats like ProRes RAW or Blackmagic RAW, requires that you watch your storage capacity on your shooting media and your backup storage quite closely. Larger file sizes are the price you must pay to be able to adjust recording parameters like white balance, ISO and other settings after you’ve shot the footage. Especially on long-form projects, hours of RAW video can bring a production pipeline to a grinding halt simply because of large file sizes.
- Noise Reduction
Most mirrorless cameras offer some sort of internal noise reduction. In some cameras, you can reduce or turn off the noise reduction, but typically, most internal codecs utilize various types of noise reduction. Of course, the lower light you shoot in and the more prominent the areas of dark in your compositions are, the more noise will be visible. RAW recordings don’t include noise reduction, although you can add noise reduction in the post process, but it’s often render and time intensive, especially if your project is long or has long scenes that need third-party noise reduction.
- Camera/Optics Optimization
Many cameras and lens systems use communication between lens and camera body to trigger automatic correction for lens aberrations like pin cushioning, barreling, vignette compensation that offset darkened corners in your frame with certain lenses and lighting situations. Many cameras also include Chromatic Aberration compensation, where the camera communicates with the lens and compensates for purple fringing on certain lenses when shooting high-contrast, fine-detail edges. Basically, when you shoot in RAW, all of these camera body and lens compensations are bypassed so you have to just live with the defects or try to solve them in post-production, which can be time-consuming and a hassle.
- Fundamental Format Incompatibility
RAW formats are somewhat proprietary. A few RAW formats are trying to appeal to multiple camera and editing software packages, but there are still issues that may or may not affect you. For instance, if you shoot with the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Pro 6K, that camera records in Blackmagic’s proprietary RAW format, BRAW, which works perfectly with Blackmagic’s Resolve editing software. If you use Apple’s Final Cut Pro to edit with though, essentially FCP X cannot deal with BRAW at all. The Pocket 6K Pro can shoot ProRes, which FCP X uses as its default codec, so that’s fine. But you’re then locked out from the additional flexibility and functionality of RAW when shooting the Pocket 6K Pro. Same issue if you purchase a Sony A7 SIII and an Atomos Ninja V and want to shoot RAW. ProRes RAW will work great with FCP X, but Resolve doesn’t accept ProRes RAW. These are just two examples of incompatibility issues between RAW formats and editing software, but there are many more.
- Client Workflows
If some or all of your business involves shooting and handing off-camera masters to your clients, for instance, PR firms, ad agencies, studios and broadcasters, RAW is generally not needed or wanted, and typically, unless you can speak with the editor or post supervisor for the client, post may not even know what RAW format you have shot with. Generally, in my experience, never shoot RAW for clients unless they specifically request it. I have two clients who love for me to shoot RAW for all of their green screen shoots. They find the high resolution of RAW to make keying and compositing a breeze. I’ve seen colleagues hand off RAW to clients, though, and the client doesn’t really understand what RAW video is and how to handle it in post. Often, clients simply don’t have the time, media storage and knowledge on how to integrate RAW footage into an existing non-RAW workflow.
Should You Shoot Your Projects In RAW In 2021?
There are many parameters that you must take into consideration when deciding between shooting your camera’s internal codec or shooting in RAW. I’ve outlined just a few of those issues in this article. I like to think about the following when I’m trying to decide if shooting a project in RAW or a more universally accepted codec is best for a shoot:
- Is having the absolute best quality possible important for this project?
- Who will edit this project? Will it be me, who’ll know going in which format it was shot on and what the limitations and advantages are of that format? Or will it be handed off to another editor who may or may not be able to successfully integrate RAW into an existing workflow?
- How much footage will this shoot and the project require? The more footage needed, the less likely RAW will be the right choice for the project.
- Will the project be brightly lit with high key lighting or more likely to utilize moody lighting with many shadows and areas of darkness? The more areas of darkness there are in the images, the more likely that render and time-intensive noise reduction will need to be applied in post.
There really is no cut-and-dried answer to the question of if you should be shooting RAW. Hopefully, this article has given you some useful criteria to ask yourself as you are in pre-production and determining which recording format will be most suitable for your project. As processing power increases and media costs continue to drop, shooting RAW video will likely become less of a big deal soon. I bought my first RAW-capable camera in 2017, but in the ensuing three and half years since then, the decision on if I should shoot RAW or not hasn’t become much easier or simpler. Camera media came down in cost and went up in capacity, but those files that seemed large and burdensome in 2017 still seem to be large and burdensome in 2021.
RAW video is an impressive technological achievement and provides the highest quality video possible. In 2021, though, RAW video is still only for certain users and projects.