As part of today's free Adobe workshop on HDSLR feature film workflows (I'll update that post with a link to the archived presentation), one of the commenters brought to my attention a promising DSLR post-production plugin called 5DtoRGB. ((Sorry, whoever it was who commented about 5DtoRGB -- I lost the chat thread when my Flash plugin crashed for the dozenth time.)) I've called DSLR color-correction on a Mac a clustercuss, not just because of the 4:2:0 color space, but because of Quicktime gamma inconsistencies (often related to YUV to RGB conversion). Rarevision's 5DtoRGB plugin, currently in beta, just might be the solution to these problems.
Here's the word from Rarevision:
Many programs use QuickTime internally to perform YUV to RGB conversion which, according to our testing, does only a mediocre job... You're stuck with it if you've converted your footage with Final Cut Pro, Adobe After Effects, MPEG Streamclip or Canon's Movie Plugin-E1 for Final Cut Pro -- all of them use QuickTime to decompress H.264. 5DtoRGB takes a no-compromise approach to quality, ignoring any concerns about speed. 5DtoRGB bypasses QuickTime decoding altogether, works internally at 10 bits and uses double-precision floating point math for its YUV to RGB conversion. It also recognizes Canon's full range 8 bit YUV values (0-255), avoiding clipping and the resulting loss of picture information. The resulting files are the absolute highest quality you'll ever get out of the camera. In fact, you could argue that they're even better than the camera originals since they've undergone high quality chroma smoothing (which you can disable if you want, but you shouldn't).
Presumably this plugin will be much slower than Quicktime-based plugins, and would be overkill for quick jobs or content destined for the web. But for anyone interested in shooting a feature film -- or anything requiring heavy post work or color-correction -- 5DtoRGB just might be the ticket. I've downloaded the beta plugin but can't currently test it as I'm moving (and don't currently have access to my camera or hard drives) -- woe is me. Beyond that, the plugin requires a 64-bit processor, which I also don't have (yet). However, take a look at these blown-up frame grabs -- the first is from Canon's very convenient E1 EOS plugin (which presumably produces the same results as Magic Bullet Grinder, given they're both Quicktime-reliant), and the second is from 5DtoRGB:
Projected in a theater, or viewed on a good HDTV, this difference will definitely be noticeable. Not to mention the greater flexibility a 4:4:4 file will give you in post. There are all sorts of questions that spring to mind related to 5DtoRGB -- transcode time, plugin cost, storage needs, and what a sensible workflow would be (edit native h.264 files or transcoded ProRes files, treating them like proxy files, eventually swapping in the 5DtoRGB files?), but I'm exciting about the possibilities of squeezing the best possible quality out of the 5D for use on my forthcoming feature-length project.
If anyone's had a chance to work with the beta plugin, please share!