[ 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 potential 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, default 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 codecs. Smaller files have reduced image 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.
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 smaller 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.
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 422 family is 10-bit. The 4444 family is 12-bit. More bits equals a more precise range of colors and grayscale values.
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 more for cameras than post.
ProRes 4444 XQ is best for:
If your camera doesn’t shoot ProRes 4444 XQ, converting your files into this format won’t get you anything.
Here’s an article I’ve written that explains this codec in more detail.
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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