Everyone’s favourite mad genius Chris Hocking has been hard at work recently, and if you ever work with Blackmagic footage, you’re in for a treat. Two new complementary tools will now allow you to work with BRAW footage natively on the Final Cut Pro timeline, without transcoding, and also to stabilise that footage using gyro data from the camera itself.
Before we dig into both these tools, it’s worth a quick dive into the backstory of raw codecs.
The raw codec landscape
At a base level, a raw codec promises to record even more of the image data than Apple’s own ProRes can, giving colourists even more freedom to make exposure and white balance adjustments in post-production. If you’ve ever pushed a raw still image a long way in Lightroom, you’ll understand the appeal.
Raw first became popular in the video world on RED cameras. Supported as far back as the classic Final Cut Pro, the REDCODE plug-ins let you adjust white balance just as easily as you could with a raw photo, but it took a long time for any other manufacturers to offer their own raw options. Partly that’s because computers needed to get a lot faster, but largely it’s because RED owns a number of patents to do with raw encoding, and actively defends them. Other companies have had to work around RED’s patents to enter the market at all.
While the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera did offer raw recording alongside ProRes, it was only possible as a cDNG image sequence. While this works, it’s slow, makes huge files, and is more work to deal with than regular single-file video formats. As the makers of DaVinci Resolve, Blackmagic wanted a better raw option, and released Blackmagic RAW in 2018. On modern Blackmagic cameras, both BRAW and ProRes offer many different data rates and options, but BRAW can offer lower data rates, as well as the option for constant quality rather than a constant data rate.
The BRAW codec performs part of the process (de-bayering or de-mosaicing) in-camera, which could be for performance reasons, a legal sidestep to avoid RED’s patents, or both. By some definitions, this process makes it “not truly raw” any more, but as it still allows for ISO, white balance and tint controls in the edit, most people don’t care. I suspect the lawyers do, though.
Apple do offer their own raw codec, ProRes RAW, released just before Blackmagic RAW, which avoids legal issues by a different route — not recording on the camera itself. Today, ProRes RAW is almost exclusively available on external Atomos recording devices; it was removed from the DJI Ronin 4D after being promised, and RED sued Nikon after they added two flavours of internal raw recording to their Z9 flagship. That trial is now set for January 2024, so we’ve got a while to wait before this legal situation becomes a little clearer.
Whether it’s to do with the legal uncertainties or not, no one raw codec is universally compatible with all NLEs, and choosing to use a RAW codec brings some limitations on which NLEs you can use. For whatever reason (technical, performance, speed, politics) Apple and Blackmagic have, so far, not chosen to implement each other’s raw codecs in their respective NLEs.
It doesn’t seem to be due to any major disagreements; Apple frequently promote DaVinci Resolve, and the two companies have even worked together on eGPUs in recent years. Clearly, Apple and Blackmagic have a working professional relationship, and that’s not going away any time soon.
But hey — we don’t need Apple to do it when the implementation details are freely available, right? We just need Chris Hocking.
Welcome to BRAW Toolbox
Until now, Blackmagic RAW footage needed to be transcoded before you could use it with Final Cut Pro, either in DaVinci Resolve, or with a third-party app like Color Finale Transcoder or Editready. If you’re happy to use a proxy workflow and finish in Resolve, no problem, but you couldn’t use those original full-fat BRAW files directly in FCP. Now you can.
BRAW Toolbox is now available on the App Store as an FCP Workflow Extension. After installation, which requires you to push a few more buttons to install some motion templates, metadata views and LUTs that are included with the app.
Launching the workflow extension shows a new window that allows you to import your BRAW files through a dialog or by drag-and-drop from the Finder. With a clip selected in the list, you can view and change all the camera’s metadata, including ISO, Exposure, Color Temperature, Tint, and so on. If you choose Blackmagic Design Custom from the Gamma drop-down menu, you’ll also be able to access a suite of custom gamma controls for deeper control over saturation, contrast, midpoint, and several other options. You can tweak all these settings, copy and paste parameters between clips, and create presets to use as a starting point for all your clips if you wish.
When you’re happy, click the Prepare BRAW Files button in the bottom right corner, then follow the provided instructions to drag the neighbouring green button to one of your FCP Libraries. A new event will be created, presenting all your BRAW media as synchronised clips (or multicam clips, if you prefer) and any anamorphic clips will be correctly interpreted.
How does it work? Inside each synced or multicam clip clip, an effect acts as an intermediary, decoding the BRAW media. That same effect can also provide access to all the same camera metadata and colour controls that are available in BRAW Toolbox, so you can continue to tweak after you’ve made the jump across to FCP. These properties are accessible in the Inspector as you’d expect, so you can keyframe them too — something Resolve can’t do. Full custom metadata is shown in a new BRAW Toolbox metadata view, too, even if it started out in a sidecar file.
Performance seems just fine to me, and I can play 6K clips in an 8K timeline without dropping frames on my 16” M1 Max MacBook Pro. SDR and HDR workflows are supported, and if you’d like to finish in Resolve down the line, you can use a built-in Toolbox command to convert your exported XML file to one that will work directly with Resolve.
There’s one more piece of the puzzle. If your camera was not on a tripod, you’ll need…
One feature that most cameras build in (but which Blackmagic leaves until post-production) is stabilisation. Blackmagic cameras use a gyroscope to record their movements, but the footage isn’t stabilised at the time of recording. Instead, the gyro data is used by DaVinci Resolve to counter any movements the camera made.
For anyone not using Resolve, you can, of course, use the built-in Stabilize feature, but this doesn’t use the gyroscope data from the camera — it just analyses what it sees in the image. If you’d prefer to use that gyro data, you can use the open-source Gyroflow app to import that gyro data, then use it to stabilise the video footage directly.
The Gyroflow app can marry up gyro data from Blackmagic, GoPro, Insta360 and Sony cameras, as well as third party gyro data with other cameras. Note that in most cases, if you use the manufacturer’s recommended workflow apps (like Sony’s Catalyst) then this gyro data may well be found and used, but if you can’t or won’t use those apps, Gyroflow fills the niche. Open the clip, add the gyro data, export a new, stable file.
Gyroflow Toolbox makes this process much easier for FCP editors by skipping the export part of the workflow. Instead, you’ll marry up the footage with the gyro data in Gyroflow and save a project file. In FCP, use the Gyroflow Toolbox effect to link in the project, and the stabilisation will be applied directly. Another space-saving handy tool, and for US$5, a bargain if you need it.
BRAW Toolbox solves a big problem for a lot of Blackmagic shooters, and lets you record footage at lower data rates than ProRes while retaining key raw image controls in FCP. At US$80 it’ll pay for itself in time and storage space pretty quickly, but it’s on sale for US$40 for the first week, so grab it now.
Gyroflow Toolbox is useful to more than just Blackmagic camera owners, but they’re probably the ones with the most to gain. Be sure to grab the free Gyroflow app first, test it out, and make sure the workflow works for you. If it does, US$5 is an easy win.
A huge thanks to Chris Hocking for his continuing work on these apps and on CommandPost. Cheers!