ProRes, ProRes RAW featured image

ProRes is one of the most well-known and widely used video file formats. It combines extremely high image quality with small file sizes for efficient playback. ProRes RAW is the relatively new kid on the block and adds the power of RAW video to the benefits of the ProRes codec. If you aren’t sure what any of that means, don’t worry! This guide to ProRes and ProRes RAW will explain how the file formats work, the benefits they offer and when best to use them.

What is ProRes?

ProRes is a video file format, or “codec”, developed by Apple in 2007. The term codec simply comes from the shortening of two words: coder and decoder (co/dec). For more information on codecs check out the Videomaker guide What is a CODEC

At the time, the high data rate required by HD video meant that file formats used inter-frame compression. Inter-frame encoding reduces the data rate by saving a small number of complete video frames. For the intervening frames, only the differences from the complete frames are saved. However inter-frame codecs are less suited to editing, where the need to be able to cut on every frame is important.

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ProRes was created to enable high-quality, high-performance editing in Final Cut Pro. It is an intra-frame codec which means that every frame is saved. Compression is applied to the data within each frame to reduce the overall data rate. ProRes is also a 10-bit codec which means that it can display 4 times the range of colors and shades when compared to an 8-bit file format. This reduces color banding in areas of gradation in tone, such as a blue sky. To understand bit depth in more detail, read the Videomaker article Understanding Bit-depth and Color Rendition for Video

ProRes Formats

ProRes files will appear on your computer as .mov video files. The codec offers a range of different formats with different data rates and corresponding file sizes. For an explanation of the terms 4:4:4:4, 4:2:2 and chroma sampling please read the Videomaker article The Anatomy of Chroma Subsampling

The target data rates given are all for 1920 x 1080 video at 29.97 fps.

ProRes 4444 XQ

The highest-quality version of ProRes for 4:4:4:4 video sources. It includes an alpha channel for visual effects work. The codec supports up to 12 bits RGB channel and a 16-bit alpha channel. The target data rate is 500 Mbps.

ProRes 4444

An extremely high-quality format, again for 4:4:4:4 video with an alpha channel. The target data rate is 330 Mbps.

ProRes 422 HQ

This version of ProRes gives the same high level of image quality as ProRes 4444 but for 4:2:2 image sources. The codec will remain visually lossless even after multiple generations of decoding and re-encoding during post-production. The target data rate is 220 Mbps.

ProRes 422

Offers nearly all the benefits of ProRes 422 HQ but at only 66% of the data rate. As a result, ProRes 422 offers even better real-time editing performance. The target data is 147 Mbps.

ProRes 422 LT

This version of the codec has 70% of the data rate of ProRes 422 and 30% smaller file sizes. It has a target data rate of 102 Mbps.

ProRes Proxy

Still delivers full-resolution video but is even more highly compressed with a target data rate of 45 Mbps.

Graph showing the data rates of the ProRes formats compared against uncompressed video (source: Apple ProRes White Paper)
Graph comparing the data rates of the different ProRes formats to uncompressed video (source: Apple ProRes White Paper)

The graph above shows how small the file sizes are for ProRes when compared to uncompressed video.

What is RAW video?

Video images are composed of pixels. The color of each pixel is determined by three primary color values (red, green and blue). However, camera sensors are comprised of image capturing photosites which only capture a single primary color. The process of converting the sensor data into a viewable video image is known as debayering or demosaicing.  

With regular video formats, debayering happens in-camera, before the video file is recorded to your media. However RAW video codecs record the complete sensor data. The debayering process is then carried out by your video editing program.

Although RAW video files require a computer with more processing power, they have higher image quality and allow much greater flexibility in post-production. For example, settings such as white balance and ISO can be changed at the editing stage.

What is ProRes RAW

Apple introduced ProRes RAW in 2018. It applied the technology from the ProRes codecs to the recording of raw camera sensor data. Apple claims ProRes RAW offers superior performance for both playback and rendering when compared to RED or Canon RAW files.

ProRes RAW Formats

As with ProRes, ProRes RAW comes in different versions with different levels of compression and different resulting file sizes. However, ProRes RAW data rates can vary more than ProRes, depending on the image content.

ProRes RAW HQ

The data rates of ProRes RAW HQ fall between those of ProRes 422 HQ and ProRes 4444.

ProRes RAW

The data rates of ProRes RAW fall between those of ProRes 422 and ProRes 422 HQ.

Graph comparing the data rates of the ProRes RAW formats to ProRes video (source: Apple ProRes RAW White Paper)

ProRes – Uses

ProRes was developed for use in post-production. When it was introduced, ProRes was revolutionary as it provided no visible loss in image quality, even after multiple generations of encoding and decoding during a digital edit. It quickly became the industry standard for post-production.

Before long, camera manufacturers recognized the benefits of ProRes as an acquisition format. The Arri Alexa was the first camera to be able to record in ProRes recorder. Sony, Canon and Blackmagic now make cameras that can record ProRes internally. 

ProRes RAW – Uses

ProRes RAW is a codec for recording camera footage. However, at the time of writing, only the DJI Zenmuse X7 Camera can record ProRes RAW internally. Working with ProRes RAW, therefore, requires an external recorder such as those made by Atomos. This must be combined with a camera that can output a compatible RAW signal. The list of supported cameras is expanding and includes cameras from Canon, Panasonic, Sony and Fuji.

Windows or Mac?

Apple developed both ProRes and ProRes RAW for use with Final Cut Pro on Mac computers. It has since been widely adopted and ProRes can be played back and edited on both Mac and PC-based editing systems. However, on Windows computers, Premiere Pro is the only mainstream program that can export ProRes files.

The open-source program FFmpeg offers a reverse-engineered ProRes compatible export format on Windows. As an unauthorized implementation, it should not be relied upon in a professional environment.    

ProRes RAW compatibility with programs other than Final Cut Pro is limited when compared to the original ProRes format. On a Mac, Premiere Pro only supports import of ProRes RAW footage when the Metal renderer is selected. On a Windows system, the Apple ProRes RAW Decoder must be installed. Premiere Pro currently only offers exposure and color space control for ProRes RAW footage.

Advantages & Disadvantages

You may think that the control in post-production offered by RAW files means that ProRes RAW is always the best choice. Where the highest image quality is required, such as feature film production or high-end drama, then ProRes RAW is the way to go.

However, ProRes is still frequently used in production. It is a common acquisition format for television shows where the tight schedules benefit from the simpler post-production workflows of ProRes. Similarly, if you are handing over footage to a client for post-production then ProRes may be more suitable.

ProRes can be recorded in log as well as Rec709 formats suitable for grading. However, attributes such as white balance and ISO are burned in and cannot be changed unlike with ProRes RAW.

ProRes is widely available as a recording format in a number of cameras. However ProRes RAW needs an external recorder. As a solo shooter, this extra piece of kit may make your rig awkward to handle. It will also take longer to set up and manage during filming.

Processing ProRes RAW footage needs more computing power so ProRes may be more suitable if you need to edit on a laptop or have a less powerful editing system.

ProRes and ProRes RAW: high-quality codecs

ProRes and ProRes RAW are both high-quality codecs. Used appropriately they can help to ensure you capture great video images and have an efficient post-production workflow.

Pete Tomkies is a freelance cinematographer and camera operator from Manchester, UK. He also produces and directs short films as Duck66 Films. Pete's latest short Once Bitten... won 15 awards and was selected for 105 film festivals around the world.