Pick The Right Version of ProRes

Posted on by Sudd

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.

PRORES PROXY

ProRes Proxy is designed for small file sizes and very efficient editing. It is not designed for great image quality. This is because it only displays every other pixel on every other row. (This is called “quarter-resolution.)

ProRes Proxy is the best choice for:

The only time I regularly use ProRes Proxy is multicam editing and I never output proxy files. I always output either optimized or camera native to get the best image quality possible.

Apple suggests using ProRes Proxy files for archiving. While Proxy files are smaller than any other ProRes format, they are still far larger than H.264. And, at the same bit rate, H.264 has higher image quality. I tend not to use ProRes Proxy for archiving.

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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27 Responses to Pick The Right Version of ProRes

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  1. Lee Berger says:

    Great article Larry. I did not know about about Proxy’s 1/4 resolution. I’ve never used it. I do sometimes use LT for acquisition. I recently purchased an Atomos Ninja Blade to extend the capabilities of my AVCHD and HDV camcorders. LT is a good compromise at 80 to 100 Mb/sec and 422 color sampling it far exceeds AVCHD and HDV. To me it’s comparable to DVCPro HD. Any misconceptions in my reasoning? I edit in Premiere CC and usually choose ProRes 422 for renders. For those of you not familiar with the Atomos product line, Ninja Blade is an external recorder that accepts HDMI signals (up to 10-bit, 422) and records three flavors of ProRes (LT, ProRes 422, and HQ). Avid DNxHD is also available as a paid option.

    • Lee:

      Your reasoning is sound. If you aren’t doing a lot of effects, LT should be fine.

      Larry

    • Joe says:

      I see no mention on apple’s site that prores proxy is quarter resolution, just says the data rate is lower. Where is the official information that states it is quarter resolution?

      • Joe says:

        Updating my question. I see now about quarter. I think it’s a bit misleading. I’ve seen people posted that you aren’t getting a full 1920 x 1080 which I thought was odd for them to say. That is not true. You are getting that frame size but re-sampled to the compression. After a research answered my own question.

      • Larry says:

        Joe:

        This is an excellent question. I’ve been told, in the past, that ProRes Proxy is 1/4 the resolution of ProRes 422. However, as you point out, in the latest ProRes white paper from Apple, they state that it is highly compressed, smaller file size, offline quality, but not lower resolution.

        I’m reaching out to Apple to learn more specifically about this and will report back when I learn more.

        Larry

  2. Richard Setzer says:

    Great info Larry! But what about the scanning resolution of 35mm/16mm film for use in a project? I’m preparing a documentary that relies primarily on existing 16mm color reversal film and have been struggling with the best format/resolution to have it scanned (at Fotokem)–any advice?
    Thanks!

    • Richard:

      This depends upon your film scanner. If you can create RGB files, use ProRes 4444. If you can’t, use ProRes 422 HQ.

      35mm film is generally considered to have a 2K resolution. I would scan the 16 mm at 1080p.

      Larry

  3. Scott A. McDonald says:

    Thanks for the expanded article on ProRes Larry!
    I use a Canon Vixia hf G10 camera with AVCHD native files. I have been using ProRes 422 as the share Master File in output for archiving from FCPX. The file sizes are huge and filling up my hard drives. I would like to have the same size and quality as the camera native files for archiving. Would I be getting that by setting up a slightly higher than camera native bit rate and file size using compressor to make a QT movie for archiving? Would I be losing image quality by doing this and if so, would I be losing very much in quality for archiving a finished movie? Would it be lower quality than the ProRes 422?
    Than you for your help on this.

    • Scott:

      Rather than compress down to the camera format, I would recommend using ProRes LT to save disk space. This retains bit depth and a high data rate and does the least potential damage to image quality.

      Larry

      • Kevin says:

        I use the LT version for the Canon HF G10 and it is fine as long as the source recording is the highest, MXF on the camera is what it is called I believe.
        Comparing 422 and 422 LT versions of the G10 files seem like LT is more than fine in the final video.

        • Larry says:

          Kevin:

          LT saves storage space and uses less bandwidth. If it works for your distribution, such as the web, it is a good choice. However, many high-end distributors will want either ProRes 422 or ProRes 422 HQ.

          Larry

  4. Voytek says:

    Larry,
    Isn’t it that proxy files are just mirrors of original files (or so called ‘optimized” files) but only have lower sizes and lower quality to help editing but not to ruin your final work? When the process is finished, the output file is being created from the original (optimized) files according to the ‘cuts script’ made on a timeline with proxy ones. Am I wrong thinking?
    Voytek

    • Larry says:

      Voytek:

      Well, maybe…

      A proxy file is a “copy” (I prefer that to “mirror) of your camera native file, but at 1/4 resolution. This lower resolution, along with a slower data rate, creates smaller ProRes files on your hard disk.

      The output format, however, depends upon your Quality setting. If you are displaying proxy files in your project, you will output proxy files. If you are displaying camera native or optimized files, you will output those.

      Here’s an article that explains this in detail:

      http://www.larryjordan.biz/fcpx-101-performance-preferences/

      Larry

      • Voytek says:

        OK. It is clear now, that once working with proxy files one has to switch back to original/optimized files when the editing job is finished. This necessity of hand switch was not obvious to me. Thanks.

  5. Pingback: Choose the Version of ProRes Best Suited to Your Project | 4K Shooters

  6. david says:

    Nice breakdown! I have a question. I received a PRORES HQ file at 5 gigs and made minor edits in After Effects. I exported the clip and behold it’s 15 gigs using the PRORES HQ codec. I don’t think I can render it to make the size smaller… right? Shouldn’t it be the same size?

    • Larry says:

      David:

      Assuming that you exported the same format, it should be roughly the same size. However, changing the frame size, frame rate or codec will increase the size. My guess is that After Effects exported a ProRes 4444 clip with an alpha channel – which is its default setting – rather than ProRes 422 HQ.

      Larry

  7. Martin says:

    Larry,
    I’m editing a stopmotion animation based on jpeg, 8 bit still pictures. I exported the still image sequences into ProRes 422 video files to be able to edit in Premiere as a video project.
    Now we will start color correction in a post-production house and I wonder if the ProRes422 files contain all the information needed for post-processing, or if I should better do a new export of still image sequences to generate ProRes 422 HQ video files and do post on these?
    Since the original material is 8 bit jpeg (pictures taken with a Canon DSLR camera) I think just ProRes422 will be more than enough, but what’s your recommendation? Thanks

  8. Dave Krevalin says:

    It was my understanding that proxy files are used for faster editing and also so your not messing with the original files. Then when you output at h.264 or ProRes 422 final cut uses the information to render the original file completely (optimizing), and then outlining a high quality video. Your saying that isn’t the case that outputting from proxy files is a low quality? If so how do you edit with proxy files and then switch to optimized or original media to render your final output?

  9. zarac says:

    Recently I found out one key difference (for me, at least) between 422 and 422HQ.
    When converting shots taken with Canon C100 mkII to ProRes 422, superwhites are cut off and lost. I tested this with several encoders (Adobe Meida Encoder being my default one) and with several different conversion settings.
    When I convert the same file to ProRes 422HQ, superwhites are in tact.
    I am coloring with Davinci Resolve 14 and that is where I was checking for proper white levels while testing.
    I couldn’t find any documentation about this cutoff on Apple website, but my findings are quite conclusive.

  10. erikgraham says:

    Hey Larry, if you do happen by this comment section, I’d like to lob in a request for an update to this piece. It seems to me that this article is still 100% accurate in 2018, but surely something has changed since 2015. I mean, you even have 10bit / h.265 cameras making their way into the consumer space. For example the new Mavic Pro, and the Parrot Anafi (10bit HDR mode), not to mention pro consumer cameras. So, is ProRes 422 enough? Do we need HQ? Also you have Apple ProRes RAW and BlackMagic RAW. Not to mention HDR content slowly filtering into the consumer space (wider gamut computer displays, HDR ready 4K TVs for less than $400). So how does HDR change things. Anyway, I’m rambling a bit. Bottom line, it sure would be nice if you pushed out a shiny new re-release of this artIcle.

    • Larry says:

      Erik:

      HDR is still an evolving spec. ProRes 422 will support HDR, because of its 10-bit foundation. However, shooting RAW – in any camera format – gives you more color options and FCP X can edit RAW files natively.

      For video shot using either H.264 or H.265, ProRes 422 is more than adequate – that hasn’t changed.

      I’m hoping to get my hands on a camera that shoots RAW images for a longer period of time, at which point, I’ll write up a separate article on working with HDR and RAW files. For now, this article by James Duke will be helpful:

      https://larryjordan.com/articles/working-with-hdr-media-in-apple-final-cut-pro-x/

      Larry

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