Why I Don’t Care About Raw Video from the 5D


The 5DIII now has raw video, so what?

For me, it changes nothing. I have done the magic lantern thing with my T2i, it brought an impressive array of features to a budget camera. I don’t think it really made it a good enough tool to still bring onto sets though, in 2011 or now. It’s stable for a hack but it voids your warranty and didn’t raise the quality of the video enough to validate its inherent risk.

The cool thing is there are now several cameras under $10k that can shoot raw video, something unheard of just over a year ago. How times change. I still don’t use any of them and most my current projects are shot on RED (I’m not particularly a fan of their raw but it’s undeniable popular especially in music videos) or a non-raw camera. I must be trapped in 2012! No, I think the working industry isn’t trying to chase the latest craze and is focused on keeping the machine moving, nobody has time to learn a new camera when you already have a powerful well-equipped camera set to go. We get lost in the hype online when we play armchair camera designer.

As impressive as it is that we have raw video out of the 5D, I won’t be looking forward to getting footage from it. I’m sure it’ll look great but there is an inherent lack of professionalism when using hacked cameras (or on some sets, a DSLR is just not acceptable regardless). Sure, I’m with you in saying these cameras are being cut off at the knees by manufacturers protecting their high-end models, but you are paying for a support system, reliability, and a package that is recognized and respected in the industry. CF cards are being capped out with the data rate on raw and dropped frames or corruption is far more likely to happen as a result of offloading the buffer. Just unnecessary risks all around.

I am also just not a fan of raw. It’s incredibly powerful but entirely unnecessary when you do things right the first time. I’ve been vocal about my advocacy for 10-bit 4:2:2 codecs like ProRes and DNxHD on twitter for a while. They are strong enough compression to stand up under heavy manipulation and are lightweight so you don’t need to be running a dedicated editing workhorse or a ton of storage space. It’s getting more manageable as Moore’s Law carries us into more power and storage at an affordable price but I still view it as overkill in most environments even if it is manageable.

The fact that the most readily available options below $5000 are either raw or h264 variants is really frustrating for budget shooting. I hope for legitimate options between those extremes to be the next wave of advancements. That’s like picking between DVD and IMAX when all you need is a good home theatre and bluray.

While it’s exciting that we are finally getting the full power out of the 5D, I hope that it doesn’t set a precedence for hacking cameras and instead sets a precedence for manufacturers to deliver the better compression options in all cameras.

Jared Abrams is a cinematographer based in Hollywood, California. After many years as a professional camera assistant he switched over to still photography. About two years ago a new Canon camera changed the way the world sees both motion and still photography. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
  • http://www.rescuethecows.com/ Loren Nelson

    Interesting article and great take on something that is getting a little too much hype. I think people have been using some version of this argument since the 5D2 came out, but the same goes for hacked cameras…that they don’t belong in a professional environment. With a few exceptions, I tend to agree. That having been said, one of the more interesting movies I’ve seen lately, Upstream Color, was shot almost entirely on a hacked GH2.

    One positive that could come out of this (besides the best-case scenario you mentioned about camera manufacturers offering better compression options) is that it will serve as a gateway drug…people who didn’t have the ability (or interest) in shooting raw will decide they have to drop more money on their next camera to shoot it without hacking.

  • goforjared

    Great comment brother!

  • miseducation

    For my workflow, I do welcome it as an additional tool. We shoot 90% of our projects with a C300 and use our Mark III for Stills and the occasional b-camera angle. C-Log is more than capable of our dynamic range needs but it’s not perfect. Having a raw capable Mark III around for shots where having a little more dynamic range couldn’t hurt is a welcome tool.

    And like anybody who’s graduated to a dedicated video from a DSLR will attest to, there is an element of discretion in large crowds that we sometimes need for b-roll or using a location without permission. To have the option to shoot raw quality video with a DSLR form factor is another thing I’ll be glad to have in my toolkit.

    Lastly, it is an interesting stylistic option. Until RED’s dragon sensor is out and about, there is, as far as I know, no raw video option with as much low-light power as a 5D Mark III. You could shoot in a dark nightclub at 12,800 ISO and use raw to recover highlights and grade it to the dickens. While it is definitely not wise to rely on hacked raw footage as your only footage, there’s no denying it has the potential to capture images in a manner that hasn’t been seen yet.

    All of that said, I’m going to wait a few months before hacking my own Mark III. I think those of who make a living shooting video should look at Magic Lantern’s breakthrough as neither the solution to all our problems nor as an unprofessional tool we should never consider. It is simply another paintbrush, an untested, warranty-breaking paintbrush but still one capable of doing very exciting things.

    Thanks to the brave souls who will risk their cameras to polish a workflow that I very much look forward to having the opportunity to create with in a matter of months.

  • Pingback: Using Magic Lantern RAW on Your Canon - Is It Worth It? - Doddle

  • natums

    Definitely agree it is worth checking out and waiting is smart, I was trying to give the opposing argument to the unbridled hype around lately.

  • Richard

    I agree with you about hacking the camera and part of those reasons are why I never installed ML on mine. However I disagree about raw. Raw is the holy grail. It is true that you can get great results by shooting exactly the way you want to at the time but stuff happens. Sometimes you need a shot and have no time to do it the way you want or something changes from the time of the shoot to the time of editing. You can archive it and use it in a totally different project years later with a completely different look, and keep hi-quality. And as we all know mistakes happen and Raw can be your safety net if their is no other way to re shoot. I for one will also wait however and actually prefer to look at Black Magics line of cameras before thinking about hacking it and as I still haven’t got past those warnings “this could lead to you destroying your camera”. But I do think this could force Canons hand and that is good for everyone.

  • czyzczyz

    Change the title of the post to “Why I don’t care about much sharper, more detailed HD footage, without moire or aliasing”, and you’d be covering the other half of the picture.

    Dislike processing raw? Give this some time. The fact that Magic Lantern hackers have accessed the raw live view stream may mean they’ll be able to implement their own debayering and scaling routines on the digic processor, optimized for video.

    Warranty worries (possibly apocryphal, google turns up no actual instances of warranty coverage denied due to Magic Lantern) and any professional appearance issues related to using a hacked DSLR on a shoot aside (It used to be that there were appearance issues with the whole idea of using a DSLR on a set, regardless the firmware), this new Magic Lantern feature has the possibility of being very useful for some situations.

    I can’t think of any other camera that can record detailed 1080p with a VistaVision-sized sensor, nor any camera that records detailed 1080p with the 5Dmk3’s low-light performance. And the ultimate resolution possible with this hack will grow beyond 1080 as faster CF cards become available. There are reasons to care.

  • aombk

    cinema business is a dirty business with a lot of hacking involved. or at least it was before digital.
    cameras were not sealed black boxes that the operators knew nothing about their inner workings.

    i think you got it backwards. actually the professional approach IS the hacking approach.
    using sealed black boxes is the consumer approach.

    magic lantern just brings back the fun of camera operating (with professional results)

  • Brandon Johnson

    Well, if you have a RED of course you don’t care about RAW on the 5D. Why would you care unless it just irks you that all the “unprofessional” folks are catching up to those who judge the quality of a film by the cost of the equipment. Your post reeks of elitism in a profession that has more than enough already. Hopefully you’ll never have to lower your standards by editing footage from a sub-$5,000 camera but the funny thing is you’d probably never know unless they told you.

  • Joey

    Yea, your probably right, who needs 14 bit RAW from a camera you can readily get for under 1800… What a moron

  • Frank

    Was going to type a reply but this pretty much sums up all of my thoughts!

  • AR

    I remember many years ago that newspeople shot on direct positive stock
    such as Ektachrome. The only problem was that it had a limited dynamic
    range since the original was for viewing and therefore contrasty. Looked
    great but there was nothing you could do with it in post. It was
    replaced with low contrast negatives which had several more stops of
    range. The final positive prints were of course as punchy as the direct
    positive originals but tended to have more detail in the highlights and
    lowlights. Negatives were much like raw recordings of today and direct
    positive was much like the overcompressed stuff we use. Cameramen who
    shot ektachrome always said they didn’t need negatives since they always
    shot it right at the start. The smart DOP’s hedged their bets and went
    with negatives while the others dissapeared. Raw or high dynamic range
    encoding is the way to go. Incidently, Alexa uses ProRes and gets
    terrific range.