In a nutshell, Apple ProRes is a video codec that was invented to streamline the postproduction workflow. When transcoding large uncompressed HD files that can eat up hard drive storage to a ProRes codec (i.e., HDCAM 4:4:4)—or highly compressed, complex codecs (i.e., H.264, AVCHD)—an editor can now work with full-frame, 10-bit, 4:2:2 high-def video, with files that are smaller than standard-def files. The first two ProRes codecs—ProRes 422 and ProRes 422 (HQ)—were released with Final Cut Studio 2 in 2007. The three new codecs Apple added to its suite are ProRes 4444, ProRes 422 (LT) and ProRes 422 (Proxy).
The addition of these new codecs was the result of new HD cameras and technology—from high-end professional cameras like the Sony F35 and ARRIFLEX D-21 to the latest video DSLRs such as the Canon EOS 7D. With the arrival of new cameras every year, the number of codecs has increased.
“We started to get these formats that were increasing codec complexity that were great acquisition codecs, but not that good for editorial purposes,” says Apple’s Director of Pro Video Product Marketing, Richard Townhill. “At the same time, we were talking to editors who wanted to work at the highest possible quality, which was uncompressed. Many of the new cameras—from HDV to XDCAM EX—had a color sampling weakness when it came to dealing with multiple layers of compositing. Even though the formats are optimized for native editing, if you want to do any layering or multigenerational work, you start to lose color data due to the color subsampling of those codecs. ProRes offers a very high-quality, visually lossless codec with very modest data rates designed and heavily optimized for editorial workflow.”
Although working with ProRes may make your postproduction workflow more efficient, in many situations, it’s not always essential. For example, if you’re shooting with a Panasonic camcorder capturing DVCPRO, Townhill recommends that you edit natively with DVCPRO.
As a result of the large number of Sony EX1 and EX3 users, one of the most popular codecs of the moment is XDCAM EX.
“DVCPRO is a really great codec, and you probably would not get that much of an advantage by transcoding it to ProRes,” he explains. “We’re very much in favor of native editing. ProRes is designed to be just another tool in your shed.”