As some of you may have already heard, a few days ago Apple announced ProRes RAW – the next evolution in their ProRes codec lineup. For years ProRes has been the industry standard acquisition and editing format, followed by Avid’s DNxHD.
A decade or so ago when ProRes first hit the scene, it was big news. Post-houses that were used to working with cumbersome Uncompressed HD files were now able to work with a format that was visually identical, but offered smaller file sizes and far more efficient editing. And of course, the codec eventually made it’s way onto countless cameras, software platforms, and external recorders.
Things have changed over the years though, and RAW recording – which was once a luxury reserved only for the highest end productions – is now common even on prosumer level gear. Cameras like the Blackmagic Pocket or Canon C200 have put RAW in the hands of the lower budget/indie filmmaker, which has been incredible, but also has created workflow challenges for many filmmakers and editors.
RAW poses many of the same issues that Uncompressed HD did all those years ago – namely huge files and clunky post-production workflows.
This is where Apple ProRes RAW comes in.
The basic idea behind the format is to allow filmmakers to maintain small file sizes without having to sacrifice the ability to color grade using RAW. This is truly a win-win, as many filmmakers have reverted back to shooting compressed formats on many projects, as RAW can often be overkill for smaller jobs. But ProRes RAW will allow filmmakers to keep their workflow exactly the same as if they were shooting compressed, but will open the door for the extremely flexible color grading RAW is known for.
When you look at the graph below, which shows relative file sizes next to Uncompressed 12-bit and classic ProRes flavors, things start to look really impressive –
For those of you that wan’t to learn more about how ProRes RAW works, check out Apple’s white paper here.
There have been many other compressed RAW formats over the years – such as RED’s variable .r3d file compression and 4:1 Cinema DNG on Blackmagic’s cameras – but ProRes RAW could have a far bigger impact. The reason being, Apple has the ability (and I would assume the intention) to standardize ProRes RAW across many camera and editing platforms. This is something we wouldn’t see from a company like RED for obvious reasons, as it’s in their interest to keep their technology proprietary.
So if ProRes RAW takes off the same way that the original ProRes lineup did, it will make a huge impact on both the production and post sides of the industry. For one, it may be the thing that finally brings RAW recording to DSLRs and other small form factor cameras, which is something many filmmakers would flip out over. Imagine shooting RAW on your GH5s instead of H264… That could be where we’re headed.
What I’m more curious about though, is how this will effect the post-production landscape. Years ago when Apple abandoned FCP 7 for FCP X and essentially threw the post world into disarray, many of us assumed one of the platforms – likely Premiere or Avid – would take over and become the new standard.
After all these years though, no one ever really came out on top. Sure, there are loads of Premiere users out there, but many (myself included) were turned off of the subscription model, and generally didn’t love the direction Adobe was headed with Premiere… There were always a lot of shiny features, but none seemed to work all that well. At least in my opinion…
The high end pros reverted back to Avid, unsurprisingly, and then Blackmagic came along with DaVinci Resolve for free, which shook things up even more. Ultimately, this left the market very fragmented.
Today, most editors I know use multiple platforms, and there certainly is no longer one “industry standard” choice for independent productions, as there once was in the FCP 7 days. That said, Apple ProRes RAW could change that.
From my vantage point, more and more filmmakers have been coming over to team FCP X over the years, often after feeling frustrated with Premiere Pro. Many of them end up sticking with FCP X after spending some time with it, and seeing just how robust, stable, and efficient Final Cut has actually become. I wouldn’t say that an overwhelming amount of people have joined the party just yet, but FCP X has certainly been gaining traction again.
But really, if there is ever going to be a reason for filmmakers to make the jump to FCP X it will be ProRes RAW. Keep in mind, I’m well aware that Apple likely has plans to open it up for the likes of Adobe, Blackmagic, and others to integrate it into their software too. But FCP X could still benefit massively for two reasons –
First, let’s start with the philosophical reason: It shows that Apple cares again. For years people were afraid to touch Apple with a ten foot pole as it felt they had abandoned the pro market and were simply going after iPhone sales. And while there may be truth to that, I don’t think it was ever Apple’s intention, at least not in the way that others believed it to be. I think Apple simply had a different vision for where the pro market was heading (smaller productions, fewer traditional post-houses), and wanted to make things more accessible.
With that in mind, I don’t personally believe Apple would be wrapped up in developments like ProRes RAW if they didn’t care at all. I believe this will be a sign – along with all the incredible FCP X updates over the past year or two – that they mean business. The new Mac Pro on the horizon doesn’t hurt matters for them either.
But the other variable to consider, is that ProRes RAW gives Apple the upper hand, technologically-speaking. Sure, ProRes RAW will likely be available on all the major editing platforms, but anyone that’s ever worked with RAW knows that every software will handles RAW files differently. My playback speed on an identical .r3d file is going to be different in FCP X, Premiere, and Resolve, and naturally ProRes RAW is going to favor FCP X.
How could it not? FCP X is literally built for ProRes and ProRes is built for FCP X. If Final Cut doesn’t have the best editing performance for ProRes RAW of anything else out there, I would be shocked. Although I’ll bet DaVinci Resolve will be right up there too.
Really what this means, potentially, is trouble for Adobe. For the last few years Premiere has had the opportunity to completely dominate the post-production editorial market, but it hasn’t. Yes, it picked up a ton of ex-FCP 7 users, but for the reasons already stated, it never fully took over.
Maybe that will never happen again. We may never see another time where a singular editing platform dominates the market like Final Cut Classic once did. But if anything is going to shake things up, it’s going to be ProRes RAW. Not because it’s the flashiest tool out there, or the most exciting to the average filmmaker right this second… But because it will become ingrained in everything we do, from acquisition to edit to final delivery.
What do you think? Let me know your first impressions of ProRes RAW in the comments below.