Choosing the Best Video Codecs

Editing a video begins with camera capture (shooting the video). This involves one class of file formats, and the objective is to retain the highest quality possible. The other class of file formats is a product that is great and ready for consumption. In this case, the aim is compression while retaining as much quality as is feasible. An editor needs to be competent in working with both classes of file formats.

We first need to understand what is meant by codecs before we can determine how to choose the best ones for our needs. The word codec is made up of two words: firstly, compression and secondly, decompression. A video file that hasn’t been compressed is too big to send. When it reaches its destination, it is decompressed. Don’t confuse .MOV and .MP4 with codecs. What they are is file extensions or containers. Think of them as the boxes in which codec is packed and shipped.

The Quality of Compressed Videos

It is more efficient for codecs to condense the size of your video. This allows it to move smoothly through the pipeline. This video demonstrates why compression is necessary with easy-to-follow supporting visuals.

But some people are concerned that making a video small enough to ‘ship’ may affect the quality of the video negatively.  Fortunately, codecs in the top range are good enough for the original and the compressed file to be virtually indistinguishable. Quality loss will be minimal provided your export is aligned to the frame size, bit rate, and resolution of the original.

Nevertheless, if you opt for an incorrect codec, it will be that much harder to edit the footage from your video. You will also want to make sure that you have the right hardware and software for editing. Click here for a range of laptops to suit your needs.

Most Common Codec Types

RAW codec is also known as a digital negative. From here, editing will involve changing the settings for contrast, highlight roll-off, white balance, etc. A frequently asked question is ‘Is it better to shoot photos in RAW or JPEG?’ The data captured by the camera is uncompressed. Images are still in a ‘raw’ state and need to be ‘cooked’ or processed to reveal their true potential.

Mezzanine codecs are a post-production class of file formats. They are selected to keep the quality of the image but provide improved playback. Footage must first be transcoded. Post-production experts and broadcasters tend to use mezzanine codecs.

Compression codecs (e.g., H.264 and H.265) have smaller file sizes than the other two codecs. They are difficult to edit and result in uneven playback.

Choosing a Codec

Three aspects need to be looked at when selecting a codex: ease of editing, smallest file size, or best quality. Unfortunately, editors have to choose two out of the three and be satisfied with that. It’s simply a matter of what your priorities are: highest quality, smallest file size, or ease of editing.

For ease of editing and high quality, a mezzanine codec is best. If it is quality you want with tinier file size, compressed codec is the way to go. Lastly, for ease of editing and small file size, go with RAW codec.

The right codec will simplify the editing phase and produce a better result.

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