What Are RAW Video Files and How Are They Used?

Demystifying RAW Video Files

If you’ve worked with a video production company, you may have heard or seen the term ‘RAW video files’ used in communications. But unless you have worked in video production, you may not be 100% sure what this actually refers to.

So to clear up any confusion that surrounds RAW files, we are going to explain what they are, how they’re used to enhancing video production outputs and what you can expect to receive from your video production company if you request them.

What are RAW files in video production?

Let’s start with a definition: RAW stands for ‘Raw Audiovisual Workflow’; however, RAW files may also be referred to as ‘source footage’. These files represent the purest form of footage captured by the camera sensor. Unlike ready-to-use video formats, such as MP4 which compress and process the footage, RAW files retain all the original information captured by the camera’s sensor, providing greater flexibility for post-production editing. RAW files are essentially the digital equivalent of a film negative, preserving the maximum amount of data for professional editing and adjustments.

However, this means RAW files are not ready to use. The footage hasn’t been enhanced in any way – no colour correction, audio enhancement, editing or removal of unusable content. So if you’re hoping to receive these files to repurpose into a social media clip or another video, you might be shocked when you receive a long list of files that aren’t ordered according to the storyboard and that don’t have the same look or feel as the final video output you’ve already received. Read on to understand why this is the case.

Why RAW files matter in video production

The beauty of RAW files lies in their potential. When our cameras capture footage in RAW format, they’re essentially capturing every detail of the scene in its unadulterated state. We usually shoot using Sony cameras in S-Log, which is a log curve specially optimised for digital motion picture cameras to maximise the information that the camera sensor records and transmits. In doing so, it maximises our creative post-production control and flexibility so we can mould your video exactly according to your brief.

RAW files contribute to a superior finished product for several reasons. Firstly, they preserve the original colour data, including information about the intensity of light and colour at each pixel. This information is often irreversibly lost in compressed ready-to-use formats in a bid to reduce the file size, which goes some way to explain why RAW files are pretty large! The benefit of this is the ability to represent colours and shades across the full colour spectrum leading to smoother colour gradients and a more accurate reproduction of fine details.

For editors, this provides virtually limitless editing possibilities and the flexibility to manipulate colours precisely to create a specific mood or visual style. Whether you want to enhance the warmth of a sunset, create a cool, blue-toned atmosphere, or emphasise specific hues, RAW files allow for these nuanced adjustments. This level of control ensures that your video not only aligns with your creative vision but also evokes the intended emotions, making your narrative not just visually appealing, but emotionally resonant.

Another reason we use RAW files is to maintain consistency across shots. We’re likely to utilise a multi-camera set up, and we may even be shooting at different times of the day, or over a couple of days. This can lead to diverse lighting conditions and an incoherent visual style. RAW files, with their detailed colour information, enable editors to match colours seamlessly across various shots. This consistency ensures that your video appears cohesive, even if it involves diverse locations, lighting conditions, or camera setups.


When to request your RAW files & what to expect when you receive them

Now we’ve covered what RAW files are and why they are important, you might be left wondering in what instances you would want to request your RAW files.

If you have your own post-production team, and you just want us to film content and capture the audio, you’ll want to provide your editing team with the RAW files. More commonly, however, we are asked for the RAW footage so that it can be repurposed in the future, either by an internal post-production editing team or to send back to us to edit.

In either case, it is important to reiterate what you’ll find when you receive your RAW files:

  • Colour: Because RAW footage has not undergone any post-production editing, it has not been colour-graded or corrected, meaning it can look flat and a bit dull or lifeless. This is by design, as it grants the editor maximum control of the end result.
  • Audio: Similarly, to ensure your video has the highest audio quality and clarity, we may use a separate audio recording device as well as the camera audio. This means your RAW video files will not have the audio you’re expecting, it’ll either be located in a separate file ready for post-production editing and synchronising or will require post-production to select the correct camera audio channel for you.
  • Order: Your files may not be ordered as per the storyboard. If we used a multi-camera set-up, you’ll receive all the files from one camera, followed by the next and it will be everything we shot with no cutting or trimming or removal of unusable content.
  • File names: Your RAW video files will be contained in MXF files, which can be played for viewing using a VLC player. This means their titles will look something like ‘A001C001_231018QP.MXF’ instead of scenes or other recognisable aspects of your storyboard.
  • Size: We alluded to the fact RAW footage files can be pretty large. Indeed because of the size of the files, we can’t keep hold of them forever. Once the video project is signed off and closed, we clear the data from our cameras and audio devices. If you request your RAW files, we will often have to send them to you on a physical hard drive. Alternatively, we may be able to host them for a period of time, but again, we will need to purchase additional storage in order to do this due to the size of the files. Because of this, we may need to charge an additional fee.

Demystifying RAW files: conclusion

We hope we’ve cleared up a few misconceptions about RAW files and helped to clarify their importance in quality video production.

To reiterate, RAW files are the unprocessed camera outputs that our videographers have captured on the shoot. It is important that you request your RAW files if you’d like to repurpose the content we have captured for you in the future, either with your own post-production team or sending it back to us for our team to edit.

If this isn’t going to be the case for you, then it is probably not worth the effort or expense of holding on to these files, but as always, we’re happy to help and answer any other questions you might have in order to decide whether you need your RAW footage, or not.

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