In Part One we looked at how DaVinci Resolve, Adobe Camera Raw (via After Effects) and RAW Therapee did with 8-bit Rec. 709 settings while still in RAW mode.
The test, though not very practical, is exactly the kind of mistake most raw shooters get into. It’s like getting a Labrador and then restricting it to your apartment. Everyone knows that raw gives more latitude. But it’s what you have to do to extract that latitude that really makes the difference. What’s the point in shooting raw and then immediately transcoding that into Prores HQ for an online edit?
There’s a good reason by Blackmagic cinema cameras have a Prores mode (which thankfully, the Alexa has too). It’s good enough for 90% of video work, just as JPEGs are good enough for 90% of photography work. There’s a good enough reason why most monitors are 8-bit and Rec. 709. If you’re really interested in knowing this stuff, start by reading Driving Miss Digital, but I’m going to stop here and get on with our comparison.
The film mode gets you the best dynamic range. The greater dynamic range can be carried forward into post processing by controlling the bit depth and color space.
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has a custom curve that gives the film mode its unique look. We saw what it looked like in the first set of images in Part One. The problem with Adobe Camera Raw and RAW Therapee is that they don’t have access to this exact curve, and its relation to the camera’s exposure values. So, the information is in the file, but you always have to start with either Rec. 709 or auto levels.
However, you’re not going to stick to the desaturated flat image that many mistakenly think is the ‘raw look’. You’re going to apply a color space and gamma to it anyway. You have to. In Resolve, this process might involve using a LUT (which, ideally, you should have done prior to shooting). If you’re not using Resolve at all, you can create your own profiles in either ACR or RAW Therapee and apply them when you’ve got your footage in the can.
The following is my attempt to get ACR and RAW Therapee to just look like the flat image you get in Resolve, if only to prove it’s all there!
If these images were presented blind, how many of us could tell the difference? Compare these two to the original flat film mode from Resolve, and you’ll see that all the information is still there, and no voodoo has taken place. If at all you do see differences, trust me, it’s due to my laziness.
Where we really need to focus our attention, though, is noise and sharpening.
Noise performance and sharpening
It’s when you get closer and study the footage 1:1 (or at 100%) that you begin to see the differences between the raw processors. How do our candidates fare? Here’s a 200% blow-up:
It is quite clear that Resolve has the better noise reduction, but which also translates into color noise. Both ACR and RAW Therapee have powerful noise-reduction tools that could give you the same look. However, we must remember that we’re not dealing with still images. Video image processing never has that kind of luxury with time.
Noise reduction also has the disadvantage of reducing sharpness, which you must then compensate with sharpening. Avoid. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the second image for sharpening (all three have been sharpened in Photoshop to keep things fair):
Note: RAW Therapee has had no noise reduction applied, while the others have. That’s why it looks like a mosquito swarm.
After having analyzed all of the images and compared the three, I must say Resolve stands out as offering the sharpest image with the least noise, every time. I would have to spend countless hours trying to match the other two, and that is time better spent. Here’s how they stack up:
- Resolve – clearly the winner.
- RAW Therapee – better than After Effects by default.
- Adobe Camera RAW – it is definitely the slowest workflow. However, I feel it has a better noise-reduction algorithm. But who’s got the time?
As a side note, the noise levels in the shadow regions on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera are a bit too high. If you’re shooting raw, it is probably a good idea to expose to the right.
Resolve and ACR offer only one debayering algorithm. RAW Therapee offers nine algorithms, and a host of other features that, if you master, will make you old real fast. Kidding aside, if you ever have RAW footage that no other application can fix, try RAW Therapee.
Finally, we come to the workflow. I’m not going to go into detail, as I’ve already covered workflows in these articles:
- DaVinci Resolve crash course
- Adobe After Effects import guide
- How to control bit depth and color space in Adobe After Effects
Resolve 10 simply has the easiest CinemaDNG workflow. Import, edit on a timeline, and export to proxies or whatever. When you’re done editing, reimport back with XML and you have a solid workflow. The only thing that can change this status quo is Adobe’s native support (arrival imminent). If this support is anything like Adobe’s support for Red R3D files and its color space, then the equations are bound to change.
RAW Therapee is easily the worst for video, though it has a powerful batch processing tool that can work for small projects. For really large projects, avoid it. Sometimes, with large number of images, RAW Therapee crashes. Because it doesn’t have the budget the other big boys have, the software is not entirely optimized for the latest computers. Effects are the slowest to process.
I’m going to give this one to Resolve.
My impressions on color
I’m not a colorist, and my impressions on color are inaccurate at best. RAW really gives you the power to change color information at will, and video isn’t that demanding anyway. Ultimately, most videos shot on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera are bound to be viewed in Rec. 709 or sRGB.
I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you. Only RAW Therapee sticks out as not having color grading options tuned for motion, like power windows, for example.
So, which is the best raw processor for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera?
No prizes for guessing this one. It’s DaVinci Resolve, by many orders of magnitude. It is fine-tuned to offer the best experience with Blackmagic Design’s cinema cameras, and that’s all that matters. With Resolve 10, the workflow is even more streamlined.
All said and done, Raw is not a pleasant workflow. It’s the nature of the beast. Adobe’s native support of CinemaDNG isn’t going to change this reality, any more than it did change how Red footage was processed. Don’t forget, Premiere Pro is 10-bit, while color grading applications should ideally be in 32-bit float. People still use Redcine-X Pro, and people will continue to use Resolve.
For those who don’t like raw, stick to Prores. The footage from Prores is film-like as it is. I really can’t see how Blackmagic Design could have made our lives any more exciting. A few years ago, everyone wanted the film look. Now we have it, in the blink of an eye, at insanely low price points.
The only two major tests I’ve haven’t made are for motion artifacts and skin tones. When you finally get your hands on more raw footage from the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, be sure to conduct your own tests. Noise characteristics are more prominent in motion. Now all we have to do is wait and see what Adobe brings to the table.