Do You Need the S1H ProRes RAW for Online Content?

Over the last few years, RAW has become the new buzzword for low-budget filmmakers, quite like 4K was back in 2014/2015. As a result, we’re starting to see RAW included in smaller camera bodies. Or, alternatively, if at the price point RAW isn’t offered, we’re seeing externally recorded RAW included like the Nikon Z7 or Sigma FP.

However, as many would lead you to believe, you don’t need RAW for everything, especially if you’re creating non-commercial YouTube content such as a travel video, tutorials, or generic content. This may ring particularly true for Apple’s ProRes RAW, a format that is now obtainable from the S1H. 

Sometimes, it can feel like you haven’t truly unlocked a camera’s potential if it doesn’t do everything it can possibly do. I felt like that when I had the GH5 and was initially without the v-log upgrade. If you own the S1H or perhaps the newly released S5, and feel like you need the ProRes RAW format, let me explain that as an owner of the S1H and the Atomos V, it’s not always practical to travel down the path of RAW for casual projects.

5.9K 12-bit RAW

In 2019, Panasonic announced the S1H, a focused filmmaking variant of the S1, LUMIX’s new full-frame L-mount series. And, shortly after the announcement, LUMIX and Atomos jointly announced that the S1H would soon be able to externally record 5.9K 12-bit ProRes RAW. Scheduled for early 2020, then later pushed back to the middle of the turbulent year, the RAW firmware was released to a favorable response from S1H users.

However, contrary to the likes of Blackmagic RAW coming from a Pocket Cinema Camera, the ProRes S1H RAW is slightly different and requires a tedious post-production workflow, depending on what NLE you use.

As noted, this is an externally recorded format only. The highest internal format on the S1H is 6K [5952×3968] (3:2) 23.98p, 200Mbps (4:2:0 10-bit LongGOP), with a v-log profile at 13-14 stops of dynamic range. That, in itself, is fantastic for most online content. In fact, it may be overkill.

When coupled with an Atomos device, 12-bit RAW video data can be output over HDMI, In doing so, you open up the following formats:

  • Full-frame, RAW 5.9K (5888×3312), 29.97p/25p/23.98p, 16:9, 12-bit
  • Super 35mm, RAW 4K (4128×2176), 59.94p/50p/29.97p/25p/23.98p, 17:9, 12-bit
  • Super 35mm, RAW anamorphic, 3.5K (3536×2656), 50p/29.97p/25p/23.98p, 4:3, 12-bit

Unlike the GH4 or the GH5 that requires a purchased license for the use of v-log, there’s no firmware purchase necessary. However, of course, you do need to purchase an Atomos device, external media storage, and a battery compatible with the Atomos. If you purchase a second-hand budget-friendly model—like the Atomos Ninja V—you may be looking at an additional purchase of $400-$500 when you also acquire the media and battery.

12-bit color and RAW media. Amazing. But, it can become quite diminishing when you bring this footage into your NLE.

NLE Woes

ProRes RAW is a new development. As such, there’s been a lack of adaptability, or at the very least, both camera manufacturers and software publishers have been slow to bring the format onboard. Because of this, post-production may become a hindrance depending on what software you’re using.

It’s an Apple codec, so in Final Cut Pro it’s going to be as easy as transferring the data from the SSD for direct import from media to timeline. Other NLEs have only just caught up (or are still lagging). Even then, we still don’t see the full functionality of RAW.

At the start of the year, Apple released an update that allows ProRes RAW playback for Windows. Later into the year, Adobe also announced cross-platform support for ProRes RAW in After Effects and Premiere Pro. But, to the dismay of many, we don’t get the full functionality of RAW found in BRAW or R3D.

In Premiere Pro, you’re unable to adjust the ISO and white balance, which is somewhat detrimental to the notion of filming in RAW. You can now do this in Final Cut Pro, but not Premiere Pro or Resolve. As such, you’d first need to run the files through Final Cut Pro to alter any initial white balance adjustments—this already sounds like a headache.

Therefore, if you’re using Premiere Pro to edit ProRes RAW, you’re essentially only working with the greater capability of recovering detail and the 12-bit color space. As Jordan from DPReview noted in his video covering ProRes RAW, “I don’t really see it so much as RAW video. I see it as a super log file with lots and lots of room for adjustments in the grade.”

That’s a valid statement. You’re not obtaining more dynamic range with the S1H with ProRes RAW, but there’s just that extra bit of wiggle room when it comes to post-production. You’ll also notice finer detail and color rendering with greater precision. But, for YouTube, where fifty percent are watching a 720p stream on their phone—it’s just not worth it.

Over the past two years, we’ve seen DaVinci Resolve come into the game and sweep several editors onto their platform. However, Resolve doesn’t even accommodate ProRes RAW, so you’d have to fully transcode the files before you could even think about editing in Resolve. Again, a headache. 

For anything that isn’t remotely to do with YouTube content, such as a commercial, a music video, or a short film, the extra flexibility with the 12-bit image and making the additional conversion trips are going to be worth it. But, for day to day content, the S1H image is as good.

Counter Points

Like any great story, there are also positives to the detriments. First, the 12-bit color space offers ample room for post grading. In my documentary, Remnants of the Coast, pay attention to the shot from 1:17 to 1:40. If you look closely, you can see video banding with the colors in the sky. It’s not as bad as it would’ve been at 8-bit, but even in 10-bit, you can still see the footage slightly fall apart if you pay close enough attention. At 12-bit color depth—the bit depth included with ProRes RAW—you’re going to be able to keep these colors in check when grading.

Additionally, the ProRes format is extremely friendly when it comes to editing. The format is loosely compressed as it is, and as a result, your GPU isn’t going to kick into overtime when you’re working with the files. While I had no intention of filming or delivering my project in 6K, after initial 6K tests, it became quickly apparent that my computer was not fond of H.264 6K media. Even the C4K files had to have optimized media generated for fluid editing. With ProRes RAW, you’ll be editing more efficiently than the native S1H files, but at the cost of file size.

If you have a machine that’s fairly souped-up but struggles with 4K 10-bit H.264 footage filmed at the highest data rate, you’re more than likely going to get better editing performance with the 6K 12-bit ProRes media file—as backwards as that may seem. However, you’ll (of course) have to deal with the post issues listed above.

Final Notes

Additionally, the ProRes RAW format also alters how the S1H operates. Upon switching to the ProRes RAW format, the LCD and viewfinder are disabled on the S1H. Additionally, you can only view and playback the footage in v-log on the Atomos when in the RAW format, although there is a custom LUT that you can use for a view assist.

Likewise, the notion of acquiring an external device does diminish the overall aspect of a minimalist setup. In addition, I’ve found the zoom doesn’t feel as sharp in comparison to the punch-in zoom on the S1H LCD. If you’re using an electronic lens, then it might not be too big of a deal as you can latch on to the focus automatically. For myself, I use vintage Nikkor glass. I’d like to see the subject with utmost clarity, yet with MF assist disabled, it makes acquiring that 100 percent focus that extra bit difficult.

Yes, RAW is a fantastic tool. Yes, ProRes RAW is a fantastic addition to the S1H, which makes its imagery even greater. But no, you don’t need to run through the circus of getting this format editable when creating casual content.

For more tips and tricks on tools of the trade, check out these articles:

Cover image via Panasonic.

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