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Tim Ford

Color Gradig non RAW Footage.

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Is it even possible to achieve a decent result when color grading non RAW footage. Is it a common thing to do to color grade non RAW footage? How much of what I see at the cinema is shot RAW?

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Quite a lot of the lower-budgeted movies shot on the Alexa record 2K ProRes 4444 Log-C instead of Arriraw. "The Theory of Everything" is one example. And almost all TV shows using the Alexa are recording 1080P ProRes Log-C. So sure, plenty of decent results...

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Just about everything I shoot on Alexa is recorded Pro-Res 444 Log-C. It has more than enough information for most uses. Really, the only thing you gain from shooting Raw over Pro-Res 444 Log-C on the Alexa is resolution.

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Yep, if you can shoot 12 bit 444 Pro Res, you are not only saving a great deal of space (Arri Raw is huge), but also time because you need to convert Arricode to Pro Res or DNX (the two industry standards)to edit.

 

With RED cameras, most people shoot Red Code instead of Pro Res, mainly because it looks better then the Pro Res output which is built into the cameras. Until RED records 12 bit Pro Res 444 XQ, this will be a small issue.

 

I personally shoot everything in Pro Res because I absolutely hate transcoding before I can watch anything. I'm in the middle of post hell because someone decided to shoot in a codec that's not native to my editor, so I had to transcode both shows, just because of codec issues. When you deal with raw, it's the same problem.

 

Now, most of the lower-end cameras, don't shoot 12 bit 444 Pro Res XQ. In that case, shooting RAW will be your only option to get the imagers quality out of the camera and into your computer.

 

Obviously, the camera's imager/processor makes the biggest difference when it comes to dynamic range and how it's colored in post. However, you really need to start with a 10 bit 4:2:2 i-Frame codec based file. Anything lower then that like 8 bit 4:2:0 or even 10 bit 4:2:0, will be harder to work with. I work on 10 bit 4:2:2 shows constantly and it's challenging to color compared to 12 bit 444 files, which are MUCH easier because there is so much more color space available and it doesn't degrade as much.

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Is it even possible to achieve a decent result when color grading non RAW footage. Is it a common thing to do to color grade non RAW footage? How much of what I see at the cinema is shot RAW?

Yes it is totally is possible to get great results in grading when not shooting raw. Good example Act of Valor shot by Shane Hurlbut ASC Shot majority of the film with 5Dmk II and it looks awesome! As Tyler and David mentioned above shooting the highest bit rate your camera allows will give you more room for you to push your image in the color grade. A big factor here is the color space. Depending on the camera you are shooting on. if it shoots 4:2:2 or 4:4:4 you can do a lot with the image in post. 4:2:0 as Tyler mentioned doesnt give you much room to grade the image.

 

If you can always shoot tests with whatever camera you are going to shoot with and take it into your color grading software you will use and see how far you can push the image based on the look you are trying to achieve. See when you notice the image falling apart, bad color rendition, noise etc. If your camera does not shoot 4:4:4 color space or high bit rate etc know its limitation and try to get as much of your look in camera as possible then you will be doing small adjustments in the color grade that your image can handle.

 

Hope this helps.

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From my limited knowledge of color grading and cinematography here are my thoughts on the subject -

 

1 - If you do end up shooting non-RAW you will not be able to key into your highlights or shadows as effectively as RAW allows, especially evident if you end up having something like baselight to grade on

 

2 - Log definetely needs a lot of grading, you cannot "re-make" your image as much as RAW but you need to balance your whites and blacks for sure. Also LOG takes on LUTS really very well which can be a good starting point for your grade. Thus a specific look for sure sure can be acheived on LOG but do NOT expect to save bad exposure in LOG as much as RAW will let you.

 

3 - Image capture, something like the 5 D is a disaster to grade however. You try and adjust your highlight and your entire image will end up taking on those new values. So yes 8 bit 5d footage has very limited scope when it comes to rescuing exposure and general flexibility.

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There's less of a difference grading 12-bit Arriraw from an Alexa compared to 12-bit 2K ProRes 4444 Log-C -- after all, you don't generally grade raw, you convert it into an RGB color image first, often into Log-C if Alexa footage, so the difference is mainly just a conversion to log done in camera and compressed to ProRes 4444, verses done in post to uncompressed RGB, plus the fact that Arriraw is 2.88K or 3.4K open gate so there is a little more resolution to work with combined with less compression, and fewer things baked into the image like sharpening. But the difference isn't significant nor is the ability to grade the image.

 

The main problem with 8-bit log recordings isn't that they are always harder to color-correct -- after all, you have more dynamic range to work with compared to Rec.709, so more information in the shadows and highlights -- it's just that you still have the limitations of 4:2:0, you will have banding problems with smooth gradients, and you have a lot of compression. So the problem is that your color-correction can lead to artifacts as you push the image around. But on the other hand, you have less to work with in the first place with Rec.709 so you do less in the color-correction. Artifacts may happen less often, but if you had needed more shadow detail or highlight detail, it won't be there.

 

So it's not really that raw is superior to log, it's that 8-bit 4:2:0 with high compression is a poor recording format for post work.

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Even going from 12-bit Raw to 10-bit Prores 444 I find frustrating to grade. That bit depth makes such a huge difference in your ability to fine tune the look.

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Typically, Prores 422HQ is 10bit and Prores4444 is 12bit. There should not be a bit depth difference between the latter and 12bit raw. You still can argue that being able to set white balance, ISO, and debayer settings before transcoding raw files is a significant advantage versus grading log files. Though if you set white balance and ISO perfectly and nailed the exposure in-camera, then the advantage is minimal.

 

Now, if you are comparing 12bit log files to 16bit raw out of a camera like the F65, then that's another story.

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Typically, Prores 422HQ is 10bit and Prores4444 is 12bit. There should not be a bit depth difference between the latter and 12bit raw. You still can argue that being able to set white balance, ISO, and debayer settings before transcoding raw files is a significant advantage versus grading log files. Though if you set white balance and ISO perfectly and nailed the exposure in-camera, then the advantage is minimal.

 

Now, if you are comparing 12bit log files to 16bit raw out of a camera like the F65, then that's another story.

Must have been 422. It was the ProRes 10bit option on a Black Magic Pocket.

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Well, you'd expect a difference between 10-bit 422 ProRes log and 12-bit raw... But less of a difference between 12-bit 444 ProRes log and 12-bit raw.

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Typically, Prores 422HQ is 10bit and Prores4444 is 12bit. There should not be a bit depth difference between the latter and 12bit raw. You still can argue that being able to set white balance, ISO, and debayer settings before transcoding raw files is a significant advantage versus grading log files. Though if you set white balance and ISO perfectly and nailed the exposure in-camera, then the advantage is minimal.

Now, if you are comparing 12bit log files to 16bit raw out of a camera like the F65, then that's another story.

While the 4k 16-bit raw out of the Sonys is fantastic, I wouldn't consider it worlds above 12-bit log raw from the Alexa. Because although there's a definite resolution advantage, the Sonys are compressed at 3:1. And although that is a very mild compression, and barely ever noticeable. In extreme grades, where you're pushing colours or keying colours out to their absolute limits, there are times when compression artifacts can get in the way at a pixel-to-pixel level, and so you can sometimes run up against compression artifacts before you reach the limits of 12-bit log tonality.

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interestingly enough, almost all RAW footage I work with is shot for documentary projects, NOT fiction (drama, fantasy) movies. that makes lots of sense actually because in drama you need lots of takes and faster workflow but you usually have possibility to have much bigger lighting+grip budget and crew so you don't necessarily need that extra 5% the RAW can offer you. exception are the underwater and aerial shots, those are almost exclusively RAW always in all projects and in aerial stuff usually also hdr if available.

 

in documentaries (and small budget indie stuff btw!!) you meet extreme lighting conditions more regularly and have much smaller lighting package so it makes much sense to shoot raw even if you need more hdd space. depends on the budget of course, we are making stuff almost exclusively for cinema release so if making a small budget tv stuff one does not necessarily need that much control over the image. raw is also more expensive to online and color correct but the difference is not that huge

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I can't imagine shooting a documentary in Raw. I'm working on one right now shot in 4k MPEG 410Mbps and it's 22TB worth of media. If that were ALL raw, it would be upwards of 50TB. The cost and organizing of that much media is insane, literally insane.

 

Even at Pro Res HQ 220, which is where I shoot most of my doc work, the storage is crazy.

 

RAW also should be transcoded before editing. SO now your adding another layer of complexity to the project.

 

I generally want to come home from a shoot, copy the media and start editing right away.

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While the 4k 16-bit raw out of the Sonys is fantastic, I wouldn't consider it worlds above 12-bit log raw from the Alexa. Because although there's a definite resolution advantage, the Sonys are compressed at 3:1. And although that is a very mild compression, and barely ever noticeable. In extreme grades, where you're pushing colours or keying colours out to their absolute limits, there are times when compression artifacts can get in the way at a pixel-to-pixel level, and so you can sometimes run up against compression artifacts before you reach the limits of 12-bit log tonality.

There are two levels of raw compression available in the F65, SR (3.6:1) and Lite (6:1). SR is fantastic, Lite is pretty good too, just noiser in low light. To me at least, the colors are quite different from Arriraw and it feels like there is more color separation and just more colors there. I haven't done scientific tests, but I am currently grading a project on which I shot F65 raw Lite/Ultra Primes as well as Arriraw/Master Primes (separate looks for story reasons), and the difference is striking.

 

I'm finding the raw Lite a bit noisier but easier to do extreme grades on. Not a perfect apples to apples comparison since I used Hollywood Black Magic diffusion on the F65 and shot clean with the Arriraw, but still interesting.

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I can't imagine shooting a documentary in Raw. I'm working on one right now shot in 4k MPEG 410Mbps and it's 22TB worth of media. If that were ALL raw, it would be upwards of 50TB. The cost and organizing of that much media is insane, literally insane.

 

Even at Pro Res HQ 220, which is where I shoot most of my doc work, the storage is crazy.

 

RAW also should be transcoded before editing. SO now your adding another layer of complexity to the project.

 

I generally want to come home from a shoot, copy the media and start editing right away.

 

yep, in the last nature documentary we did it was closer to 80TB or material and it wasn't even all shot in RAW, maybe about half of it when comparing footage length wise. there was lots of 50fps and 100fps material in 4k sony raw so it adds a bit to the lengths. we transcoded to fullhd proresLT for editing. transcoding and thus adding more complexity is actually easier than trying to work with that much of material in original format and is also cheaper because you don't need as huge amount of raid storage and insanely powerful computer for editing, well worth the extra work involved. you still need to correct manually the xml errors when doing online even if editing in RAW so it not that much more work to do the extra step. normal sata drives and LTO are cheap for material storage but very fast raid storage, not so much so it's best to edit as lightly as possible. we still needed about 30TB of raid storage for editing but that's much easier than 80TB especially when it does not need to be that fast because using only proreslt versions for editing :lol:

Edited by aapo lettinen

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:gulp:

 

Yea, that's a lot of storage!

 

So it's 80TB times 2 (since you need a backup) and 30TB times 2 as well. So you're talking 220TB of storage for one project!

 

Totally doable if you have months to sit around and copy/transcode stuff. LOL :D

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actually it is 80TB times THREE (two copies on hdd:s and one on LTO. insurance reasons y know B) ) and also the 30TB edit files have to be archived (one copy is enough for the offlines) so it is about 350TB total :lol:

Edited by aapo lettinen

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350Tb = The reason I don't shoot RAW and 4k. TO me, that's a non-starter, might as well shoot film. The time it takes to transcode everything is costly, the storage is costly, the labor to prep and manage the storage is costly and worst of all, if you have any glitch, even if it's small, resolving it is also costly.

 

One of the doc's I'm working on, also shot over the last 3 years, but it's all 1080p Pro Res HQ, so the total amount of storage is around 8TB so far. We're not done shooting, so maybe another 4TB when we're done? Still, it's a HUGE project that already has a theatrical deal (the director has great distribution connections) and it's a very cool story that people will want to see.

 

The average film I work on, either documentary or narrative, is between 10 - 24TB, with most of them being in the 10 - 15 range and only a few higher.

 

Of course, I'm working on what.. 2 feature doc's, 5 30 minute training videos and 1 narrative feature. Yea, I basically eat, sleep and work. Worst part is, three of those projects are deferred payment, they went through their primary editing budget already. So the only money I'm getting is for the training videos and I'm sharing that work with an assistant editor because it's so much. :sigh:

 

The life of a freelance editor kinda sucks. I miss the ol' days when I could wake up at the crack of whenever, wonder in to the office for 6hrs and go home to do whatever I wanted, stress free because there was a paycheck in my bank account every other friday. It's too bad the industry has collapsed in on itself and there is a bigger divide from the haves and have not's then there has been for a while. :(

 

I preyed for a good year this year and I got it. Too much work for one person to do, but still for some reason, not enough money.

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Freelance is a really rough world to survive in. It sounds like you make good money but with taxes and overhead you often just scrape by. The government does not make it easy, and most people paying freelancers balk at rates that would be reasonable when you consider cost of living, taxes, healthcare, union fees, legal fees etc.

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From reading American Cinematographer I would say that a substantial amount of films shot on raw still grade off of dpx files and an increasing number from open exr. Very few seem to do the grading from raw files themselves.

 

But that's just from reading AC for the past few years with a particular interest in the post workflows.

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Some of it depends on how they want to treat vfx like stabilization and shot resizing -- Fincher's projects do so much of that that everything has to be converted first to DPX files in log gamma and the color-correction work is done later. But in theory, one could grade directly from raw files first and then do all of that work later to the color-corrected files but then the editor would have to make sure all of those corrections were done since they wouldn't appear in the assembly using raw files.

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