To get the most out of RAW files doesn’t necessarily mean having a lot of technical knowelege. Know the basics and about a few problem areas you can solve most problems that arise in the workflow.

The two most common camera systems used for higher end commercial production these days are Arri and RED. Both have the capability to capture data in RAW file format. What does this mean? It means, capturing all the sensor data before it’s been processed and had image settings baked in. Provided you have exposed properly, you will have an extreme amount of laititude in color grading your final image. But it also means, if you don’t understand the process you can wind up not getting at all what you want.

People new to working with either one of these formats may find it frustrating and infact may want to shun the workflow because a lack of understanding by someone, somewhere in the pipeline caused a compromise in the image quality. However, both systems provide an equal if not better opportunity to capture excellent footage than film. However, there are a few choke points that can lead to problems down the line.

On set monitoring. The best way to approach shooting RAW on a medium to modest budget is to think about back in the days of shooting film. Make sure your getting a good exposure well composed. The raw camera output is not going to necessarily reflect what your final image will look like. This requires employing and trusting a competent cinematographer.

On set you will see a 1080 stream of what the camera is caputring and potnentially show you whatever settings are applied in camera. In this situation, to accurately determine what it will look like in post, the footage will have to be looked at on set on a computer with color grading software. This will be done on any good production during the media back-up process.

On high-budget sets, it’s possible to provide feeds to monitoring stations that have baked in settings (LUTs) so that you can get a better appoximation of what the captured image is intended to look like. You’ll even have a true Digital Imagining Technician to show the creative team proper looks and a close approximation of what the final product will look like downstream.

The important takeaway here is that these systems were developed to mimic film and the process of capturing data with them should be treated similarly and not like caputuring a live TV show. Ask lot of questions and ask to see some image processing if you don’t see what you’re looking for on set.

File ingestion to post. In the post process, it’s possible to use proxies, trascode or edit naitively. If you’re transcoding it’s imporant to do so without baking in the wrong exposure data or color balance which can be ruin an otherwise pristine image in the post process. Many Avid editors work with 1080 DNxHD proxies which don’t retain the same resolution or color information of the native files. Make sure these files don’t follow you to the finishing suite.

Poor workflow between eidtor and finisher. Back in the film days, there was no question whether the colorist would work with the negative but in some workflows now, the colorist will be handed transcodes, or worse low-res proxies, making it impossible for them to get the most out of the image. Make sure your colorist or finisher is given all the tools they need to make the most of your project.

Follow these guidelines and ask a lot of questions and you’re on your way to getting the most out of the RAW workflow.