What’s Important in a Recording Format? (Camera Lesson 10)

Summary: Ryan covers the key specs you should pay attention to when considering a recording format: codec, color sampling, bit rate, and bit depth.

Length: 9:07 minutes

Video Lesson

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With all of the recording formats and external recorders out there, how do you know which one is the best fit? In this video I’ll cover the technical info you should be aware of so that you can choose the best format for your specific project.


Anatomy of Recording Formats: Container Type (Camera Lesson 10)

So let’s start by taking a look at the anatomy of a video file. The first part of a video file is its container type. There are a ton of container types out there, and the easiest way to see what the container type is is to look at the extension, which is the last three letters of the file. Some extensions that you might run across are MOV, AVI, MP4, and MXF, among many others. Unfortunately you can’t tell a lot about a video file based solely on the container. That is because the container is only a wrapper that houses all of the video information for that file. The information within that file can be arranged in any number of ways. So let’s take a look at those individual parts.


Codec (Camera Lesson 10)

The term codec is short for compressor/decompressor. It defines how the video data is compressed to the media card and then later read, or decompressed, by the computer system to play the video. So the codec defines the way that information is stored within the container. Some examples of codecs are H264, ProRes, Raw, JPEG, and M-PEG4.…

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Your Guide To High Speed, Part 4: Common Lighting Problems
Your Guide To High Speed, Part 3: Camera Operation & Workflow
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10 replies
  1. samneff
    samneff says:

    Hi Ryan,
    Quick correction! The video and transcript currently state 16-bit = 4,096 values when actually 12-bit = 4,096. 16-bit = 65,536 values. Cheers!

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      These are different ways to break an image down into the luminance and color components.

      With graphic design and video monitors, you’ll see RGB (red, green, blue). Since changing brightness in RGB is tricky, some instead use YCbCr (luminance, blue, red) since it designates the luminance channel separately. At times people use YUV interchangeably with YCbCr (possibly since it’s easier to say), however YUV is really only for analog PAL and analog NTSC, while YCbCr is for digital.

      When dealing with component video cables you might have seen the letters YPbPr (luminance, blue minus luminance, red minus luminance). Well YPbPr is the analog signal from a YCbCr digital media, such as your Blu-ray player.

      Here are two great articles about these topics:
      Adobe: What Is YUV?
      Color Formats

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      Shooting green screen and blue screen so that you can composite an image is generally called “chroma key compositing.” This is often (sometimes confusingly) shortened to simply “keying.” In the lesson, when we refer to “pulling a clean key,” it means that the green or blue screen is cleanly removed from the image. Specific to the example in the lesson, color sampling at 4:2:0 results in colors that aren’t as specific as 4:4:4 and 4:2:2 since 4:2:0 has less information. As a result the green screen or blue screen chroma key will blend with the subject and be harder to remove.

  2. recurringdream
    recurringdream says:

    Good overview but I think the section on bit depth is misleading – there’s a difference between an 8-bit image (256 colors total) and an image with 8 bits per RGB channel (which equates to 24 bits per pixel). In the videography world, when people talk about an 8-bit image, they mean 8 bits per channel, or 24 bits per pixel. Or 10 or 12 bits per channel for higher end cameras, equating to a 30 or 36-bit-per-pixel image.

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      You are correct. It the example in this lesson, 8-bit, 10-bit, 16-bit, and 24-bit are TOTALS. We should have been more clear. Thanks for pointing this out.

  3. zakriaalzubidi
    zakriaalzubidi says:

    what type of camera that can shoot in 24 bit depth ?
    I find the arri alexa xt camera can just shoot until 12bit

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      Interesting question, one which required me to do a bit of digging. Ends up that the idea of 24-bit — often used in still photography — is using a different way of measuring bit-depth than with digital video. Check out this article about bit-depth from Creative Cloud User for more on the topic.


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