Camera Formats for Video
Digital video cameras can shoot raw or compressed footage, although all but one DSLR cameras shoot in some kind of compressed format. This page outlines the distinctions between camera-original footage types.
When working with video from a video camera, the process is similar to a photography workflow. You can choose to work with cameras that store their video data in a raw format. These cameras are much more expensive and involve several extra steps during the post-production stage. Just like raw photos, however, the latitude in exposure and color manipulation is much greater.
More common is a rendered file workflow, where the camera data is processed within the camera and written as a compressed digital file. This is the common practice for DSLR video cameras as well as most traditional cameras on the market.
As of February 2012, it’s also possible to shoot with a DSLR in a new way. The Nikon D4 and D800 both offer the capability to output an uncompressed 1080 video signal through the HDMI port. This method requires the use of an expensive external recording device, however. So, while these cameras can both shoot uncompressed video, neither one can, by itself, record uncompressed video.
Raw files have some unique capabilities for digital video. They provide the highest quality as a capture format. They capture all the data the camera sensor can provide: the highest bit depth, the most color information and the highest dynamic range. In fact,many raw formats can even adjust the ISO after the footage has been shot.
REDCODE RAW (R3D)
REDCODE RAW (R3D) is a proprietary video file format owned by the RED Digital Cinema Camera Company. RED has created quite a stir in the high-end video and digital cinema circles for its extremely high image quality and flexibility through raw imagery.
This format is used as native recording format of the RED One 4K and is also used in the RED EPIC which can capture images at a 5K resolution (as well as high-dynamic range video). The format uses a slightly lossy compression for both audio and video contents.
The material is typically acquired to proprietary hard disk drives or high-speed CompactFlash cards. However, once it is transferred, it can be used on any computer with high-speed disk array. The files are often processed using software available from the company called REDCINE-X. However Adobe Premiere Pro can also use the files in their raw format. Other editing applications either do not support REDCODE RAW or rely on the user to convert to another file format first.
The ARRIRAW codec is used in digital cinema cameras produced by the ARRI Group. It is the native recording format of the ARRIFLEX D-21 and the ALEXA. The format is truly a digital negative that needs to be processed.
Third-party tools such as MetaFuze and Glue Tools allow some applications to work natively with the files. A more common workflow however is the ARRIRAW Converter or ARC. This application can view, process and convert ARRIRAW data in other post-production file formats.
Rendered file formats are defined as those formats that are created eitherin-camera or during the import stage. These files are typically ready-to-edit (although not every editing software package will support each format).
The QuickTime container format from Apple is the most commonly used file format for video files. This versatile format can use several different editing codecs. Popular choices include Apple ProRes, Apple Intermediate Codec, and Uncompressed.
Both Nikon and Canon use Quicktime containers with H.264 codecs to create their camera-original files on the most current cameras.Other manufacturers also use the QuickTime formats but with different codecs. These include Panasonic, Cineform, Avid and Sony.
The MPEG-4 format is a broad category of formats that are controlled by the ISO/IEC Moving Picture Experts Group. The format is used often for distribution of video content to web-enabled and portable media devices. It is also used by many consumer and prosumer based video cameras as a capture format. Often times, MPEG-4 files are wrapped in a QuickTime container (.mov) but they can also appear as .mp4 or .m4v files.
Material eXchange Format (MXF)
The MXF format is a popular wrapper format that supports several different codecs. The MXF format was designed for professional video cameras and has several technical benefits, including timecode and rich metadata support. It was designed to prevent future obsolescence by being broadly compatible. The idea behind MXF is to have a standard transport container for audio and video that is platform agnostic and essentially open source.
The MXF format is in use by Sony for their XDCAM cameras as well as Panasonic's DVCPRO P2 formats. Other manufacturers have recently adopted the format, including iKegami and Canon. Both Avid and Adobe offer native support for most MXF-based formats. Apple’s Final Cut Pro X is also integrating native support for many MXF formats.
Audio Video Interleave (AVI)
The Audio Video Interleave format is most commonly referred to as an AVI file. The format, first introduced by Microsoft in November 1992, is similar to QuickTime in that it is really just a container format that can use several different video codecs. The format has lost popularity in recent years, but is still supported. Many first-generation DSLR cameras from Nikon wrote AVI files.