Converting that H.264 footage…

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MPEG Streamclip for Mac or Windows is a CHAMP at converting the H.264 footage! And it's FREE.

One of the most common questions that I get from people regarding the new breed of HD-DSLR cameras is “What’s your post-workflow?”

Truth be told – most of it is actually extremely straightforward.  It does get fancy when you try to do some high end stuff- but that workflow applies to maybe one percent of people – so here is the simple workflow:

Simply put – all you need to do is to convert the native footage from the Canon 5D / 7D / 1D MKIV from the AVC H.264 format to a format that your computer and software will support.

For me it’s simple given that I work with Final Cut Studio – I work with Apple’s ProRes codec.  What this means is that I simply convert the H.264 footage to the higher quality (and less compressed) ProRes format. (Avid supposedly supports the H.264 format natively according to some post houses that I’ve worked with – but I admit to not being an Avid or Adobe Premier expert by any means.)

Why do you need to do this?  Well simply put – most software does not support the editing of H.264 footage natively – some do.  Final Cut Pro doesn’t – you’ll find that it can crash every few minutes – or worst – every few seconds.   You’ll find that the video is extremely choppy – and that it can be close to impossible to do frame-accurate edits.   The reason is simple:  the computer has to decompress this (compressed) footage on the fly.  And that takes a lot of GPU (Graphic card) power.    Older MacBook Pros and even the top end Mac Pro tower with the most expensive graphics card can choke on this task… ironically you’ll find that the new MacBook Pros do much better than the top-end Mac Pros… and that’s just plain silly.  Why?  Well the MacBook Pros have a H.264 chip built onto their graphics card!   This helps play all of the iTunes m4v files (movie files) more smoothly.

So how do YOU do it?

Well, there are MANY ways to do this.   You can use Final Cut Studio’s Compressor software – I create droplets and drop my files onto them.  Very very easy.

Compressor "Droplets" allow you to simply drag and drop your Canon files onto the icons... the software does all of the rest.

I’ve also converted the file within Final Cut Pro using either the Batch Export feature – or even the media manager menu.

Compressor is good – and easy.  But some of you may not own Final Cut Studio… so what do you do?

Well I recommend you look into the utility that has quickly become my absolute favorite way of converting my footage:  Squared 5’s MPEG Streamclip. Not only is it extremely easy to use (see Chris Fenwick’s most excellent video tutorial here) but it’s also often faster than Compressor and is much cheaper…

Much cheaper!

It’s FREE.  And frankly I don’t know why.  Because I would gladly shell out $100 bucks or more for this app. It’s that good.

I’ve found that the app is extremely fast (faster than compressor!) – it allows me to point it to folders and it will ignore all of the THM files and CR2s in the folder – and off it goes.   You can pause it in the middle of a re-compression batch should you need to shut down your laptop or unplug your external hard drive.  Basically it’s a dream.

Lately I find myself using two codecs most often – Apple ProRes 422 has always been my gold standard, and recently w/ the new FCP Studio I find myself using Apple ProRes Proxy – to do quick edits on my laptop.

Obviously – the size of the de-compressed files will depend on what codec (fancy word for video format) that you chose.  ProRes 444 will be much bigger than ProRes 422 or ProRes Proxy obviously.  Apple details the sizes somewhere on the web if you’re real curious. (OK HERE it is…) and in even more detail HERE.

Basically – to keep it simple – if you’re just getting started – just follow Chris Fenwick’s tutorial above – or decompress you H.264 footage into ProRes 422.  And you’ll be all set to get going in all of this.  Remember to always keep the ORIGINAL footage somewhere safe in case some incredible new technology comes out years from now – but work off of the ProRes files from that point on.

Good luck!