Compression & recording formats
With so many compression formats and recording options available, you should choose a camera offering the post-production workflow that’s most well-suited for your projects.
Most cameras apply a constant bit-rate compression algorithm, so your file size is reduced while it’s recorded to a memory card or hard drive. As such, the unprocessed data, as interpreted by a camera’s sensor, loses some information when being converted into a viewable video file. Obviously, the goal is to reduce the size of a video file while maintaining the integrity of the image. But some cameras are better at that than others. So, do some solid internet research into how your camera compresses and captures video. Compressed files may be easier to export from a memory card to your computer for editing, but you can lose key visual information that degrades your image quality.
Some cameras can record in a RAW format. RAW footage is simply that: the camera’s sensor data before any image processing happens. As Andy Shipsides explains on AbelCine, “In a video signal that we can see on a monitor, each pixel contains full color and brightness information; video can tell each pixel on a monitor how bright to be and what color. This means that RAW isn’t video. RAW has to be converted to video for viewing and use.”
When shooting RAW, video processing information is not baked into an image — no ISO, no white balance, and no color adjustments. So, you’re offered some extreme latitude to make those adjustments in post-production before you convert RAW files into viewable video files. However, as you may expect, this can be quite laborious! It takes a great deal of time, computer-processing power, and hard drive space.
It might be more manageable to shoot on cameras that offer a Log C recording mode. Unlike RAW, Log C is in an actual video format that flattens and desaturates your image when viewed on a monitor. This maximizes the tonal range of your camera’s sensor, leading to a higher quality image and more options when you’re color correcting. Both RAW and Log C are different ways to do the same thing, but understanding which format a camera employs will inform your purchasing decision, and save you headaches in the edit.
If you’re thinking, “But wait Chris, I thought we were talking about visuals! Who cares about audio?” I’m only going to say this once: YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT AUDIO.
Unless you are recording non-sync audio to an external recorder, you’re going to have to consider sound quality right alongside image quality. Especially for run-and-gun setups on documentary shoots, you will need a camera body with inputs for dynamic microphones to handle high-quality audio. Trust me, you’ll kick yourself later if you don’t. For this, I recommend the Digital Bolex, a modern update of the classic 16mm camera. It comes equipped with two-channel phantom-powered XLR inputs and the ability to record audio at 24-bit/96kHz AIFF — an uncompressed and virtually lossless audio format. Very impressive!
p>Next up: final tips for making sense of it all