Transcoding: Should You Be Doing It, or Are You Wasting Your Time?
Post production is a tricky business. With all of the codecs, software options, and workflows available to us, it's hard to know if we're being as efficient as we can be.
One subject that seems to confuse people more than most is that of transcoding. In the past, transcoding was almost always used as an intermediary step before the edit because NLEs like FCP7 and Avid didn't perform particularly well without their specifically-tailored mezzanine codecs (ProRes and DNxHD). However, in the past couple of years, each of the major editing platforms has taken on the ability to natively edit footage from a whole range of cameras and capture formats, which begs the question, is transcoding still a necessary step for most of us to take in our post production workflows?
The answer to that question is actually more complicated than you might think, and there quite a few things that need to be taken into consideration before making the choice of whether to transcode or not. Luckily, our friends over at Videomaker just put out a helpful excerpt from their post-production course that should shed light on the process.
There are few things to note here. First and foremost, I would not recommend using the Premiere Pro proxy workflow outlined towards the end of this video unless your editing system is really old and decrepit. Why? Most modern NLEs (and Avid too, finally) have a feature which lets you playback your sequences at lower resolutions, which is essentially a built-in way to boost perceived performance while still working with native high-resolution media. In other words, lowering playback resolution eliminates the need for proxies on most systems.
There is one major exception to that rule, however, and it's when your capture format is RAW. Although it is possible to edit natively with certain types of RAW files, you lose much of the flexibility that comes from shooting RAW when you use that workflow. Otherwise, creating proxies and relinking to the original media when you're ready to color correct and master is the best solution.
Ultimately, transcoding your original media to intermediate codecs like ProRes or DNxHD can still save you loads of time in the long run if you're shooting to codecs like high-bitrate h.264 or the new h.265, which is currently only available as a capture format on the new Samsung NX1. These and a few other codecs can be notoriously difficult to work with regardless of resolution, and they'll slow down your editing machines considerably. If that's the case with any particular codec that you regularly use, transcoding to an intermediate might just be the best option in the long run.
What are your thoughts on transcoding, and what role does it play in your post production workflows?