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Canon 5D3 raw

We’re always searching for ways to maximize our production value. Often this means we’re willing to put in a heck of a lot more time and effort to get the results we’re looking for, because the cheaper way is never the faster way.

This is of course the case with raw. We all wanted it, obsessed over it, drooled over it – until of course we realized what a hard drive eating machine it was. And now we’re dealing with the backlash of everyone asking the same question. Now that we got it, do we need it?

On Indiefilmer we like to talk about our philosophy of use. No longer is it simply about the tool but how and why we use it. When I look at raw with the same lens, I’m proposing this, don’t give up on raw because of the additional time or effort or lack of hard drive space. Have a look at this philosophy.

If you’ve ever used a stills camera, you understand why we wanted raw in the first place. Sharpness, dynamic range and all the creative control in post you could ask for. When I shot raw, I was for the first time using creativity to discover the image. As David Fincher once said, “I actually believe that anybody, who thinks that their dailies look amazing doesn’t understand the power of cinema; doesn’t understand what cinema is capable of.”

If you’re looking at the images coming straight out of your camera, and thinking they’re amazing, you’re missing out on at least half the creative process.

Philosophy:

To me, raw on the 5D3 brings us very close to the way film was treated. You have a negative. You can either process it quickly or you can take your time, experimenting with different effects to see what it is you’re really after. And once it’s processed, you can move on to the next step in the process, the edit.

When you’re on a shoot, things get hectic. With raw you’re postponing some of those decisions to a time when you have better judgement, sitting in an arm chair back at the office, without the rush.

Here’s a radical thought. It’s no longer forbidden to delete master clips. Think about it. You have a project, there isn’t enough money to buy hard drives for raw. Your two options are to, 1) shoot highly compressed H.264 or 2) shoot raw, convert it to ProRes HQ and delete the masters. Is it really so crazy? You may not have the master file, but you still end up with much stronger codec than you would have if you shot compressed to begin with. Plus you have the opportunity to perfect the images in between. Maybe wait for a less than critical project, but give it a shot. See what you think.

Regardless of the approach you take, I’ve adopted two ways of processing my digital negatives, and use one over the other depending on the style of look I’m going after as well as the schedule I’m working under.

Lightroom

So you start with your clips coming in off mag. In this case we’ve got MLV files, that are turned into Cinema DNG’s with MLV Mystic.

MLV mystic

Once everything’s converted I delete the MLV files – won’t be needing those again. Open Lightroom and import the first image sequence. It helps to keep track of clips by creating collections of each image sequence. For editing the sequence, I pick one frame and slide through my library of presets and watch the preview update and select a look based on impulse. From there I can make fine adjustments such as lifting shadows or adjusting curves from there. Because Lightroom is designed for stills and not motion pictures their grain doesn’t change per frame, so if the given preset you’re using has film grain applied, be sure to dial it down to zero.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 10.00.56 PMWhen I’m happy with the given look, select all and click the sync button. All frames in the sequence will update.

With all frames still selected, go to file – export. At the top of the dialogue box, I like to check “put in sub folder” and I call this LR for Lightroom. I find it’s convenient to keep track of the cinema DNG files i’ve duplicated, as Mac’s Finder isn’t smart enough to show the changes in the metadata that Lightroom has affected. A little further down under file settings I switch the quality from JPEG to ORIGINAL. Kind of an important step. And then click export.

Once I’ve applied the look to the entire sequence I export the sequence back out using the “as original” feature. If you preview the files coming out of Lightroom in Finder, you will see that the preset is non-existent, but don’t be fooled. When you load the sequence into Adobe After Effects, the settings are still applied and will carry over. You can now export out your image sequences in your preferred flavor of ProRes. Personally I enjoy the HQ setting, but if you want to maximize your ability to color correct later on, I have found the ProRes 4444 setting to be almost identical to working with the original masters at a quarter of the size.

If speed is an issue, I go straight into Resolve. You can get a free version of resolve directly from Blackmagic Design in case you’ve been living in a cave somewhere. Download the lite version and import your sequences. Just as with Lighroom, my primary goal here is to process the footage and spit it right back out for editing.

I’ve found Hunter Hampton’s process to yield the very best results and if you haven’t already checked it out, I would recommend heading over there to get the low down. While processing and using his LUT that he has so generously offered, my primary focus is on two things: exposure, and white balance. When I’m satisfied with both of those, I export out the entire shoot to ProRes HQ. I double check that everything has export properly, and then, delete the master files.

Now let’s be clear. I have never done this process of deleting the masters on mission critical projects. There have been more than one occasions where going back to the original raw was an option for a high level job, and really improved a shot where I hadn’t taken the proper time on the first go ’round. The real point I’m making here is to be open to using raw even if you’re using it as an intermediate.

DaVinci Resolve

Blackmagic Design give away their lite version of Resolve for free, so you really have no excuse for not downloading it and learning it thoroughly. I will agree that the interface can be daunting, so if you’re not up for digging through YouTube for help, both Denver Riddle’s site Color Grading Central and FXPHD’s DaVinci training with Warren Eagles seem to be a great way to get a full grasp on the software.

In my raw philosophy I use DaVinci Resolve for workflows that require faster processing or larger amounts of footage. I’ve found Hunter Hampton’s 5D3 LUT to be the very best look for the camera, and if you’re not familiar, take a look at the video. He’s modified a LOG C to REC-709 LUT in Resolve that is based on the Arri Alexa color science and tweaked it to be better suited for the 5D3.

With your footage imported, and placed on a timeline, you’re going to be focusing most of your attention on the raw camera tab.

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 8.32.23 PM

I usually do these first settings by batch. Make sure to switch the “decode using” to “clip” and then “color space” to “BMD Film”. This places the clips into LOG space (for a good primer on LOG vs. Linear read this). Right click on the clip and then select 3D LUT to use your chosen LUT.

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 8.41.18 PM

The next two things I focus on are really easy to overlook, but are often the main reason for me to be shooting raw. First is exposure slider. If there is any need for changing exposure, now is the time to do it. I find with the 5D3 raw footage, I can get away with a one stop boost before it starts to really show. Also if your footage is bright but flat, try LOWERING the exposure. This can often surprise me.

After exposure, I almost always adjust the white balance. Even though I leave white balance on auto while I shoot, the camera can easily be a little off, and by setting the drop down for white balance to custom you can slide one way or the other until you get the warmness or coolness you’re looking for.

If you haven’t tried it, the tracker in Resolve is incredible and using it to automate power windows is just incredible. Because as viewers our eyes will naturally gravitate towards whatever is brightest and whatever is sharpest, I like to also do selective sharpening in key areas as well.

With all of that done, the only thing left to do is send the timeline to the “deliver” tab. By default it is set to one clip. I always switch this to individual source clips, then choose what flavor of ProRes I want, and finally export back to my project folder.

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