Color correcting DSLR footage on a Mac is a clustercuss
In Zacuto‘s most recent DSLR/film comparison, one of the commenters noted that upconverting to ProRes gave much better results (than editing native h.264 footage) in post. While ProRes is definitely a better codec (in terms of color space and compression), the clip showed as a reference seemed to exhibit a perpetually-annoying gamma shift bug that applies to a lot of DSLR shooters — more specifically, anyone editing h.264 video on a Mac. When I shot some stuff on my 5D for Focus Features, I noticed that the clips looked desaturated and flat in Quicktime 7, and supersaturated and contrasty in Quicktime X (Quicktime X ships with Snow Leopard, and Quicktime 7 is an optional install). Jerome Stern at MotionLife corroborates this experience, decrying the lack of consistency when it comes to viewing and editing h.264 footage on a Mac:
Will somebody please remind me again why ProRes footage can’t play nice with RGB, or why exporting to H.264 still results in a gamma shift? There’s nothing that I’ve seen in Snow Leopard, with it’s new system-wide gamma switch to 2.2, that seems to have done anything to remedy these issues. I suppose I’m grateful that Macs and PCs finally share the same default gamma levels, but trying to navigate through the myriad of remaining unresolved color issues can be maddening.
Jerome goes on to show that the exact same clips look different whether they’re being viewed in Quicktime 7, Quicktime X (now know simply as Quicktime Player), Final Cut Pro, After Effects, and more. This makes it impossible to determine the correct “master,” which makes color correction on a Mac, as they say in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, a “clustercuss.” Jerome goes on to conclude:
My advice, for whatever it’s worth, is not to color correct until the client has approved the final cut. Then, once the picture is locked, get out of YUV. Export your ProRes timeline to an RGB codec such as Sheer’s 8-bit RGB, or, if you’re more courageous, use Media Manager to export the actual edited clips, and then batch convert those from within MPEG Streamclip to Sheer.
This is a terrible solution! Not through any fault of Jerome’s, but simply because this is a totally unreasonable workflow for hardware and software components that share “Pro” monikers (MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, Final Cut Pro, and Quicktime Pro (aka 7)). Check out the full version of his post if you’re interested in the ins and outs, and please share here if you’ve come up with a reliable color correction workflow!
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