Blackmagic Raw Eases the Load on Post-Production Software by Putting Some Processing Back in Camera

Blackmagic Design is making a bid to accelerate post-production workflow with today’s announcement of Blackmagic Raw, a new high-performance, open-format codec with 12-bit nonlinear color. It’s free (in beta) for users of Ursa Mini Pro cameras and Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

Raw formats typically improve final image quality by reserving critical color adjustments — particularly the demosaic process that reconstructs color from a sensor with a standard Bayer filter — for post-production, rather than baking them in as the file is recorded by the camera. Blackmagic’s innovation is that some part of the demosaic process now takes place inside the camera, reducing the demands on color-grading workstations. Moreover, media is stored in single files, which should ease media-management processes compared to the CinemaDNG format, which Blackmagic has employed for some time.

Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini Pro

Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini Pro

Blackmagic Raw is supported only by DaVinci Resolve v5.1  software, which was released today, but an SDK incorporating Blackmagic Design’s color science is available for Mac OS, Windows and Linux, so it seems likely that other NLEs and finishing software will eventually support the format. Blackmagic said the format is optimized for AVX- AVX2- and SSE4.1-enabled processors with multi-threaded and/or multi-core processing, and supports Apple Metal, Cuda and OpenCL GPU acceleration.

Several different levels of compression are offered. Constant-bitrate files, ensuring predictably consistent file sizes, can be created at four different levels of compression: 3:1. 5:1, 8:1 or 12:1. Two different variable bitrate encoding options are available, with Blackmagic Raw Q0 yielding the higher quality and Blackmagic Raw Q5 producing smaller files. The company said the Q0 and 3:1 options would be sufficient for “effects-heavy feature film and commercial work” and suggested that Q5 and 5:1 would be pitched toward episodic TV production and independent filmmaking.

Watch Blackmagic Design CEO Grant Petty introduce Blackmagic Raw in this promotional video.
Blackmagic Design

“It was pretty clear that we needed a new raw format, one that was easier than the older raw format but better quality than video formats,” said Blackmagic CEO Grant Petty in a video release announcing the new format. “The result is Blackmagic Raw. It’s a format that’s easier to use and much better quality than video formats, but it has all the benefits of raw recording. We want to try and open up raw recording to everyone.”

The biggest unanswered questions have to do with the “advanced demosaic algorithm” that has some raw processing taking place inside the camera — purists might argue that the resulting partially processed files are not “raw” by definition, but Blackmagic notes that, like other raw formats, Blackmagic Raw bypasses any reductions in color resolution that would be caused by 4:2:2 video filtering. Blackmagic’s own website suggests that “noise management, sensor profiling and new edge reconstruction algorithms” are applied inside the camera. Those images are saved into the Blackmagic Raw file, along with specific characteristics of the camera’s image sensor. Adjustments to ISO, white balance, exposure, contrast, saturation, etc., take place in post-production software.

Want to take the new codec for a spin? Blackmagic has uploaded four sample clips at its Blackmagic Raw web page, along with a streamlined Blackmagic Raw Player for Mac OS X. The format is enabled in-camera by downloading the Blackmagic Camera 6.0 Public Beta from Blackmagic’s pro camera support page. DaVinci Resolve 15.1 is available as a free download; DaVinci Resolve 15 Studio, with collaboration features and stereo 3D tools, is $299.

Blackmagic Design: