Pick The Right Version of ProRes

Posted on by Sudd

[ Updated: Nov. 19, 2020, with more details on proxy files. ]

Here’s a question I get almost every day: “I’m shooting [insert name of video format] what version of ProRes is best for my project.”

ProRes is an excellent codec for editing and finishing. It is 10-bit, which means it provides 1,024 shades of gray or shades of each color per pixel. It has a high bit-rate, which means it retains excellent image resolution. However, there are six versions of ProRes, each of which vary in bit rate (and file size). In order of bit rate and potentially image quality, these are:

Which one is best for your project? Based on my research, conversations and experience, here’s what I recommend.

NOTE: From an audio point of view, all six versions of ProRes have the same excellent, uncompressed audio quality.

[UPDATED] PRORES PROXY

ProRes Proxy is designed to create small file sizes providing very efficient editing. It is not optimized for image quality. ProRes Proxy files CAN be full frame (i.e. the same frame size as the original file). However as implemented by Apple, proxy files are 1/2 the resolution of the master file to reduce file size. So, a master file of 1920 x 1080, creates a proxy file of 960 x 540.

With FCP X 10.4.9 and later versions, we can now choose proxy files that are 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 the resolution of the master file using either H.264 or ProRes Proxy. Smaller files have reduced quality, but are ideal when media needs to be shared between remote editors.

ProRes Proxy is the best choice for:

The proxy file resolution may be reduced, but FCP X is designed to display it at the same frame size as the original file. This allows Transform and Cropping effects, among others, to be applied to a proxy file, yet still translate perfectly when switched back to the master file.

NOTE: Here’s a tutorial on the new Final Cut Pro X proxy workflow in version 10.4.9.

PRORES 422 LT

ProRes 422 LT is a format that I don’t use at all. While it has good image quality because it includes every pixel in the image, I find it too hard to create, given how other ProRes options are integrated with Final Cut Pro X.

I definitely don’t recommend setting render files to ProRes LT. Higher bit rate versions are a much better choice.

If I were to archive a standard-definition video project, I’d consider this format. I probably wouldn’t use it, but it would be worth considering. Why consider it? Because ProRes 422 LT generates the smallest file size of all the high-quality ProRes formats.

PRORES 422

This is the default and workhorse video format for all optimized media in Final Cut Pro X. It is an excellent balance between image quality and editing efficiency.

ProRes 422 is the best choice for:

The trade-off for using ProRes 422 is that the files are large; about 1 GB per minute. However, when I’m editing, I want the best image quality with the fastest performance. I’ll compress the master file down into something small for distribution after all the editing is done.

PRORES 422 HQ

This is the best format to use when your camera actually records ProRes 422 HQ. File sizes are bigger, however, about 1.5 GB per minute.

The only difference between ProRes 422 and ProRes 422 HQ is the data rate. And, unless you are using really good lenses with really good lighting, you won’t see a difference between ProRes 422 and 422 HQ.

What you will see is that your hard disks are filling up faster than normal.

PRORES 4444

The difference between the 422 family and the 4444 family is how they deal with color. Image resolution is the same between the two. 422 color sampling creates one color value for every two pixels. 4444 color sampling provides a color sample for each pixel.

The reason you don’t need this higher-quality color sampling for video is that almost all video cameras use 422 color sampling, which means that you don’t improve your color by converting camera images to 4444; you just move it into a larger color space.

ProRes 4444 is the best choice for:

PRORES 4444 XQ

This is the newest member of the ProRes family. It is a very specialized, high-quality format that is designed for cameras more than post.

ProRes 4444 XQ is best for:

If your camera doesn’t shoot this format, converting your files into this format won’t get you anything.

Here’s an article I’ve written on this codec that explains things in more detail.

SUMMARY

In short, here’s what I recommend:

Following these guidelines can decrease your stress and your hard disk requirements, without damaging your image quality


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42 Responses to Pick The Right Version of ProRes

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  1. Simon Yates says:

    Larry,

    I shoot with a Canon SLR, which outputs H.264 in .mov container. If I choose to use pro res 422, should I convert them in compressor first and then import? What is the proper way to convert .mov files for editing?

    Thanks,
    Simon

    • Larry says:

      Simon:

      If you are using the footage for only one project, let FCP X convert it during import. If you plan to use it in multiple libraries, converting in Compressor before importing into FCP X will save you time.

      Larry

  2. Eric Goetz says:

    Great summary. I’ll add that if you’re working with an audio post-house or composer, they’ll often ask for a workprint of your locked picture in ProRes 422 LT format, since it’s lower bitrate than the other ProRes formats (and H.264 doesn’t easily support random access if they are scrolling around with a jog wheel).

  3. cjordan says:

    Best ProRes for Optimum Audio?

  4. Robert Withers says:

    Thanks, Larry. Very interesting and informative. But this does not mention Catalina and the 64-bit situation. There is a lot of confusion about whether archived Pro-Res files will be accessible under Catalina IN 64-BIT SOFTWARE THAT IS NOT FCPX. It seems Cataline will not run 32-bit software. This relates to new computer purchases and library archives, among other issues.
    Can you offer any guidance?

  5. Jan says:

    Thanks Larry, This will safe me time every time I have to choose. A very clear and simple explanation. Even I think I understood 😉

  6. Martin Vu says:

    Why are pro res files bigger? if by definition they are smaller files that retain more information than why does it take more memory to edit and why are they bigger files when you export?

    • Larry says:

      Martin:

      ProRes files are “smaller” than uncompressed media. But, because ProRes is optimized for editing using I-frame compression, the files are larger than, say, H.264, which uses a different compression structure called GOP. They don’t, however, take more memory, which is allocated principally based on frame size, not codec.

      Larry

  7. Very nice summary, Larry. Thanks. I noticed you mention the alpha channel in one of your replies to a question. Folks should know that 4444 versions of ProRes include an alpha channel. That’s the reason I occasionally use ProRes 4444.

  8. HI, When I import H264 phone shot files optimised’ in FCP4X – should they automatically get transcoded to Pro Res 422 files? In the browser they still seem to be listed as H264s in the codec column?

    Chris Rawlence

    • Larry says:

      Chris:

      If you clicked “Optimize media” in the media import window, they are transcoded into ProRes 422. The browser lists the camera master codec, not the transcoded version.

      A great way to tell if you are using camera native or transcoded media is to select the clip, then look at the bottom of the Info Inspector. The green button indicates whether a particular format exists. Learn more reading this article:

      https://larryjordan.com/articles/fcpx-when-to-optimize-media/

      Larry

  9. Ryan Osmond says:

    Very Helpful, Thank you!

  10. Alex says:

    Hi
    Nice article, but I have a doubt about the proxy info you give.
    Where in the ProRes documentation does it state that ProRes proxy only displays every other pixel on every other row?
    Thanks

    • Larry says:

      Alex:

      I understand your confusion – my article is unclear. ProRes Proxy CAN be full frame (i.e. the same frame size as the original file). However as first implemented by Apple, proxy files are 1/2 the resolution of the master file to reduce file size. So, a master file of 1920 x 1080, creates a proxy file of 960 x 540.

      With the 10.4.9 and later versions of Final Cut, we can now choose proxy files that are 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 the resolution of the master file using either H.264 or ProRes Proxy.

      When I wrote this article, I understood the concept of reduced resolution, but did not express it clearly. I’m sorry for the confusion.

      Here’s an excellent white paper from Apple on ProRes that provides far more technical details:
      https://www.apple.com/final-cut-pro/docs/Apple_ProRes_White_Paper.pdf

      Larry

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