The CinemaDNG Workflow (Part One): Camera to Editing

There are many CinemaDNG workflows out there, and my intention is not to complicate matters, but to simplify them.

This simple guide is written for the first-time user of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera or any camera that records in CinemaDNG. I will be referring to the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera and DaVinci Resolve for the purposes of illustration.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

Blackmagic Cinema Camera

CinemaDNG in camera

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera (henceforth BMCC) can record to the following:

  • CinemaDNG
  • Prores
  • DNxHD

By recording in CinemaDNG, you are also recording in a true, uncompressed, RAW format that will need to be debayered. To know how RAW works, read Deconstructing RAW.

Other than FCP-X, there isn’t any NLE that can import and edit in CinemaDNG or DNG natively. Even in the case of FCP-X, the choices are so limited you wouldn’t really benefit from editing native. The true power of shooting in a RAW format is the flexibility you get in manipulating the image. Take that away, and you lose the only advantage of RAW.

It basically boils down to how much flexibility you want. E.g. –

  • Reasonable flexibility – keep the images RAW until the edit is complete, and grade RAW images. Edit using proxies. Your ‘LUT’ is Rec. 709, because you don’t have time or the budget to tag a laptop or dailies specialist/DIT along.
  • Maximum flexibility – you will still grade in RAW, but will have also created a 3D LUT on set because you want the look ‘locked in’. It still gives you the choice of changing in post, and is the best of all worlds.
  • Least flexibility – you will record in RAW, and use a LUT on set, but will transcode to a high-quality intermediary codec like Prores or DNxHD for online editing.

It is important to know your workflow before you start recording on set.

If you are going to edit on a basic system which has an sRGB (all computers) or Rec. 709 screen (broadcast monitor, consumer HDTV), you will be okay with the first option. If you are on a cinema workflow, intended for a DCI P3 projector, you will appreciate the second option. If you can’t afford or don’t have the time for color correction in post production, you’ll prefer option three.

As far as option one is concerned, when you record CinemaDNG in camera, you can also output a video feed via SDI and set the ‘Dynamic Range’ to ‘Video’ (which is Rec. 709). This information will be stored as metadata along with your files, and DaVinci Resolve can use it to generate quick dailies, proxies or intermediaries. You will be able to see how the end video might look like (somewhat, depending on the quality of the external monitor).

To know more about choosing the right monitor, read the Master Guide to Rigging the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera.

The two ways of dealing with CinemaDNG

It must be quite obvious that there are only two ways of dealing with CinemaDNG:

  • Proxy workflow – Convert to proxies, with the intention of finishing with the original RAW files.
  • Intermediary workflow – Convert to high-quality intermediaries, which will be used to finish your project.

The third possibility might be the ability to edit natively in CinemaDNG, but we don’t have that option yet. The major difference between the above two workflows is that:

  • The first option will force you to spend more time in post production, in color correction.
  • The second option will force you to spend more time either in production, creating the right look (3D LUT) in camera; or at the time of ingest (same task).

All things considered, I prefer the first option. I also prefer the maximum flexibility option outlined earlier. The question is, then, how can we streamline these tasks into an efficient and simple workflow?

Using DaVinci Resolve as an ingest and transcoding tool

If you are new to DaVinci Resolve and round-tripping, I recommend you read the following before proceeding:

As mentioned earlier, there are two ways to go about this:

  • Rec. 709 (Reasonable or Least flexibility)
  • 3D LUT (Reasonable or Maximum flexibility)

Let’s look at them both.

Rec. 709 workflow

If you have set the display or video output feed to ‘Video’ (Rec. 709), and have used that to ‘bake’ your look on set, you can use that to work quickly in Resolve. Go to the MediaHub view in Resolve.

Import the CinemaDNG sequence. Right click a clip and choose Edit CinemaDNG Codec Settings…. You’ll get something like this:

CinemaDNG Codec Settings

You have four options under ‘Decode Using’:

  • CinemaDNG Default – leave this
  • Camera Metadata – Choosing this will preserve the settings you’ve used in camera to ‘bake’ your look.
  • Project – leave this
  • Clip – Choosing this will allow you to change your RAW settings and give you total control.

For Rec. 709, you’ll choose ‘Camera Metadata’, as shown above. If you have calibrated your monitor correctly (assuming it is Rec. 709 and not sRGB), you should be able to see what you’ve seen in camera. From here you can move to the Deliver view to transcode. We’ll deal with this in a bit.

3D LUT workflow

With a 3D LUT, you will have a computer/laptop running DaVinci Resolve, and a professional broadcast monitor set up correctly, on set. Before you record your take, you will spend some time creating a custom look for each scene or sequence, and then save that preset for later.

To do this, you must have imported your clips into Resolve. Then you go to the Color view. Choose Camera Raw (camera icon) to get the same settings as you got earlier:

DNG BMD Film Options

Instead of choosing ‘Camera Metadata’ you’ll choose ‘Clip’. Under Color Space, choose ‘BMD Film’. Your footage will now take on the ‘RAW washed out look’, which is what you want.

You can change the ‘White Balance’, ‘Tint’ and ‘Exposure’ settings (under Clip Decoder Settings) to come close to what you want. If you aren’t satisfied, you can use the extensive color toolset in Resolve to color correct your footage. When you’re satisfied, you can right click the footage and choose Generate 3D LUT.

Save the LUT with a name that you will remember next year. To apply this LUT to subsequent shots or sequences, right click the footage and choose your LUT under 3D LUT:

DNG Applying a LUT

The more control you want, the greater the number of LUTs you’ll create. You must only go into this in great detail if you are using the Intermediary workflow. You must get it right so your high-quality intermediary codecs will look their best.

If you’re into a Proxy workflow, don’t waste too much time here. In fact, it might be better to just stick to the Rec. 709 workflow. This will eliminate the need for an expensive broadcast monitor and a laptop/computer on set.


Once your footage is primed, it is time to transcode it. This is the inevitable ugly step in the entire CinemaDNG workflow. Luckily, Blackmagic Design has kept it relatively simple for us.

Go to the Deliver view and choose ‘Export to Final Cut Pro’ under Presets. This will take you directly to a Prores workflow. If you prefer another codec, then you can choose ‘None’.

  • For proxies, I recommend Prores 422 (LT).
  • For high-quality intermediaries, I recommend Prores 422 (HQ).
  • For heavy VFX work, I recommend exporting those clips as TIFF or DPX sequences.

You’re done! All you need to do is ensure the filenames are intact (for proxies).

In Part Two we’ll see how to edit this footage and then bring it back into Resolve for grading and finishing.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

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