Blackmagic RAW Codec — Easier to use, Faster processing and Higher Quality Imaging

Blackmagic Design have released a codec (beta on September 14, 2018) called Blackmagic RAW, which aims to offer better performance and ease of use. It is also a modern update to video formats “that gives customers stunning images, incredible performance, cross platform support and a free developer SDK.” This also means support for more open standards that allow more flexibility with different platforms. It is also built with a more intelligent design that makes the codec aware of the camera and sensor used. It’s not just a simple container. This means the image data, along with unique characteristics of the camera’s image sensor, are encoded and saved into the Blackmagic RAW file. This results in better image quality with total control of settings like white balance, ISO, exposure, contrast, saturation, etc.

For post production, this fits well into Blackmagic’s product workflow which includes the URSA Mini Pro camera and Da Vinci Resolve NLE software. The purpose of update is to provide the best color data and dynamic range that is available from the file using an efficient part-camera driven de-mosaic process.

Blackmagic RAW fits well with post-production workflows that use URSA Mini Pro cameras and editing/coloring with Da Vinci Resolve.

According to Grant Petty CEO of Blackmagic Design:

“Blackmagic RAW is a modern codec we designed as a replacement for both RAW and video codecs, because we wanted it to be very easy to use, very fast and much higher quality.”

The codec is meant to be a replacement for current RAW and video codecs in order to provide an easier, faster and higher quality imaging format. This combines the benefits of shooting RAW video with the ease of use and smaller file sizes usually associated with compressed, gamma-encoded video files. The following are an explanation of the features available from this codec.

Speedier Processing and Ease of Use

The partial camera de-mosaic process provides hardware acceleration from the camera itself. That means Blackmagic RAW does not burden the editing software with more processing, so the result is incredibly faster playback and rendering. It can be used throughout post production for editing and color grading, all from a single file. Footage shot on camera are saved as one file, rather than a sequence of still images because this brings flexibility of handling, data transfer and processing of the files for a faster and simpler workflow.

Intelligent Design

Since it also understands the characteristics of the camera’s image sensor and color science, it gives more cinematic images and the quality is great for smaller file sizes. That is why it is not just a simple RAW container like CinemaDNG. Users have total control over RAW settings such as ISO, white balance, exposure, contrast, saturation and custom color spaces. It also includes extensive metadata support including user customizable sidecar metadata files, plus GPU and CPU accelerated processing, the Blackmagic Design Generation 4 Color Science, different encoding options for constant quality or constant bitrate among other features. G4 Color Science ensures that the image quality gets accurate skin tones and color reproduction. Its quality still retains a 12-bit color space even when the file has been compressed.

Modern Format and Powerful Metadata

Blackmagic RAW was designed to be a replacement for both video and RAW formats in workflow. This is better than video codecs because the images don’t suffer from the 4:2:2 video filtering. Normally, when video is compressed it is much more noticeable as image artifacts. The new updates allow users to choose between file size and quality when it comes to compression in order to have less noticeable artifacts. This is part of the constant quality or constant bit rate encoding options available in software. Constant quality provides the highest imaging quality using variable bitrate encoding but require larger file sizes. Constant bitrate encoding is used for the best possible images with file size consistency. This is used whenever the production demands change, in which there is room to trade between quality and file size.

An example of Blackmagic RAW metadata.

Blackmagic RAW can embed metadata into the file itself, as well as add sidecar files that means users can add their own metadata. An example of this would be when recording to Blackmagic RAW with camera settings. When you do RAW adjustments in DaVinci Resolve, you can save that into the sidecar file and all other software that reads the files will see those changes. What if you lose the sidecar file? Metadata is embedded within the file itself in case there is no sidecar file so the software can read that instead.

Open SDK Library

The Blackmagic RAW developer SDK (Software Developer’s Kit) automatically handles the embedded sensor profile metadata, along with Blackmagic Design color science for predictable and accurate image rendering that yields consistent color throughout the entire pipeline. It’s also easy to add Blackmagic RAW support into any software because it has been bundled with downstream software processing into a single software library that’s free for developers (as of this writing). The library for developers is available for Mac, Windows and Linux. This means all the complexity of using Blackmagic RAW will be handled, like reading sidecar files, setting RAW parameters and all the color science is included. Blackmagic RAW is meant to be open source so it will work on any platform. With an open SDK, developers can implement Blackmagic RAW into their software. Adobe and Apple can add the ability to use Blackmagic RAW for their NLE systems PR and FCP.

Here is what an expert thinks about the Blackmagic RAW codec:

“Blackmagic RAW could entirely change the workflow going from camera through post production,” said Kees Van Oostrum, Director of Photography and President of the American Society of Cinematographers. “A superb image quality, fine detail and incredibly small file sizes could possibly make Blackmagic RAW the go to format for filmmakers. It will be an important change for post because the editorial team can work with the camera original files, which are fast enough to use for everyday editing. That means less confusion in regards to creative choices I make at the camera. The images can now travel throughout the entire workflow because we’re shooting, editing and grading with the same files! Blackmagic RAW could be a game changer in the way films, television shows and commercials are made.”

What this means for filmmakers and editors

The “magic” to Blackmagic RAW is just how small it creates 12-bit RAW files. For example, a UHD Blackmagic RAW file shot in 12:1 compression has a data rate of just 32MB/s. (Source: Newsshooter)

Traditional RAW video typically produces very large files that requires lots of processing power to edit when compared to compressed formats. Blackmagic RAW addressed this problem by moving part of the de-mosaic process into the camera, which is able to provide hardware-based acceleration. By performing this process in-camera, editing software won’t need to work nearly as hard to decode the files. For post-production workflow, that makes it faster and easier to use than other codecs.

Further Reading:

https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/media/release/20180914-01

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Vincent Tabora

Editor HD-PRO, DevOps Trusterras (Cybersecurity, Blockchain, Software Development, Engineering, Photography, Technology)