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Cinema RAW Light explained

Canon’s new Cinema RAW Light format reduces file size without sacrificing image quality. © Canon

Filming in RAW gives you more options in post-production, but the file format has been hard to accommodate – until now. Professional photographers have long enjoyed the benefits of a RAW workflow, but filmmakers opting to record in RAW haven’t had it quite so easy. While RAW ensures optimum control over picture quality and enables creative and technical decisions to be made later in post, that flexibility comes at a price: large file size. The storage and transfer demands of 4K RAW, both on location and in the edit suite, are not inconsiderable.

Canon’s new Cinema RAW Light format alleviates this problem, offering a significant reduction in file size without sacrificing image quality or grading and compositing headroom. Featured on the Canon EOS C200, the new RAW format allows filmmakers to realise the widest dynamic range of the camera’s sensor in a file that’s approximately a third to a fifth of the size of a standard Cinema RAW file.

This breakthrough enables 4K internal recording to a high-speed CFast™ 2.0 card. In the case of the C200, that works out at around 15 minutes of 12bit or 10bit DCI 4K at 1Gbps on a 128GB card. It’s worth noting that only CFast™ 2.0 cards that support VPG-130 are recommended for use with Cinema RAW Light. Visit our support page for recommended cards.

Cinema RAW Light advantages

Canon Log is designed to deliver an 800% increase in dynamic range, minimising the loss of detail in the darkest and brightest parts of the image. It delivers a versatile base for grading, but Cinema RAW Light unlocks more options in post-production. Like Cinema RAW Light, Log footage starts out as raw sensor data but then the gamma curve and processing parameters are baked into it at the point of capture. This doesn’t happen with a Cinema RAW Light file (.CRM). In fact, it isn’t a movie file at all, it’s simply a container for all that raw sensor data, and it has to be unpacked, debayered and modified in software before being exported in a choice of formats appropriate for ingestion into popular post-production packages.

However, as the processing of a Cinema RAW Light file has to be finished in software rather than in-camera, a number of parameters can be adjusted long after the footage has been recorded. For example, brightness, white balance and sharpness can be fine-tuned in Canon’s Cinema RAW Development software. Also, a different colour space and gamma to those set on the camera at the time of shooting can be assigned to the exported file, for example, applying Log 2 (with compatible software) to enable the maximum 15-stops of dynamic range to be achieved.

The Jaguar F-PACE is parked alongside a lake, with half the frame showing the Canon Log version, and the other, the graded one.
The Cinema RAW Light format creates files approximately 1/3 to 1/5 the size of a Cinema RAW file, which is produced by cameras such as the Canon EOS C700, yet its editing features remain impressive. © Canon

The huge amount of information that’s captured in Cinema RAW Light is a clear advantage over heavily compressed formats. Shooting 4K at a bit depth of 10/12-bits at 1Gbps produces data-rich files that deliver high-quality results even after a substantial degree of manipulation in post. Cinema RAW Light enables you to achieve the look associated with RAW files at a fraction of their size, making a RAW workflow more accessible than ever before.

Cinema RAW Light features:

  • Compact and lightweight format (4K 4096 x 2160 active pixels / 1Gbps bitrate)
  • 10/12 bit RAW (4K/24, 25, 30P 12bit; 4K/50 or 60P 10bit)
  • 15 stops of dynamic range after development in Canon Raw Development, or other compatible software.
  • Accurate tone reproduction
  • Delivers the camera’s natural colour response

Cinema RAW Light workflows

Although Cinema RAW Light files can be processed in Cinema RAW Development, Canon has been working with its partners to ensure the format is supported natively by a range of popular non-linear editing systems (NLEs). Native RAW support enables the CRM files to be viewed, edited and graded in software without the need to create an intermediary file, saving both time and disk space. For example, Cinema RAW Light clips can be ingested directly into Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 14, as well as both Final Cut Pro X 10.4 from Apple Inc (using the Canon RAW Plugin for Final Cut Pro X) and Media Composer from Avid Technology (via the Canon RAW Plugin for Avid Media Access). With the launch of EDIUS Pro 9 in November 2017, Grass Valley also introduced the ability to decode CRM files in its 4K HDR editing software.

Canon Log presets are shown on the back of the screen, ensuring a wider dynamic range is available in post-production.
Canon Log 3 presets apply a logarithmic gamma curve to the image, meaning an image holds more tonal information you can dig out in post to deliver a wider dynamic range. © Canon

Canon Log gamma

In addition to recording Cinema RAW Light, the C200 also shoots 4K UHD (4:2:0 8-bit at 150Mbps) and Full HD in MP4. Being more compressed than CRM, an MP4 file can be saved onto low-cost SD cards, which are readily available from countless outlets. The versatility of MP4 is extended when Canon Log is applied in-camera; the resulting footage is low in contrast and saturation, but it holds more tonal information that can be utilised in post to deliver a wider dynamic range.

Currently, there are three Canon Log gamma curves, each of which offers a different degree of dynamic range expansion. On the C200, both the original Canon Log and the latest Canon Log 3 can be applied in-camera. Canon Log 3 offers the most convenient blend of latitude and grading ease, offering a similar shadow response to the original Canon Log but with 13 stops of dynamic range.

Although the C200 doesn’t record Canon Log 2 directly, it can be applied when a Cinema RAW Light file is processed with compatible software. Canon Log 2 is more demanding when it comes to exposure and grading, but it delivers the maximum 15 stops of latitude on the output file.

The C200 also includes a Wide DR setting, which gives 12 stops of dynamic range without the need for grading.

The rear of the Jaguar F-PACE during a shoot using the Canon EOS C200. Half the frame shows the Canon Log version, and the other, the graded one.
Cinema RAW Light was perfectly suited to fulfil the complex brief for the new Jaguar F-Pace SUV commercial, involving green screen, composite VFX and HDR finishing. © Canon

In the field

Director Brett Danton was among the first filmmakers to use Cinema RAW Light while recording this Jaguar F-PACE SUV commercial in New Zealand on pre-production C200s.

The production schedule required visits to multiple locations in a short space of time, meaning that a mobile setup and easy data management were priorities. It’s a combination for which the large amounts of data and smaller RAW file size offered by Cinema RAW Light are perfectly suited. The ability to record RAW internally to CFast™ 2.0 cards on the compact C200 provided the image quality and flexibility that Brett and his team needed, while the camera’s MP4 proxy files meant that offline edits could be made on location and reconformed to RAW when the team returned to the UK.

The shoot took place in a range of weather conditions, but it was essential that the colours of the vehicle were rendered accurately from shot to shot. The wide dynamic range and accurate reproduction afforded by Cinema RAW Light ensured that continuity was maintained between scenes recorded in full sun, rain, snow and fog. Other considerations included green screen and composite VFX, in addition to HDR finishing, all of which benefited from Cinema RAW Light’s wide colour space and bit depth.

An example of where Cinema RAW Light shines is in the opening shot of the commercial. The combination of high-contrast sunset scene and VFX stag required both an extensive dynamic range and a detailed file that would ensure no image degradation. Cinema RAW Light provided both, with Brett able to decide, in the comfort of the edit suite, whether Canon Log 2 or Canon Log 3 would produce more shadow detail.

A lakeside scene during the making of the new Jaguar F-PACE advert shot in Cinema RAW Light on the Canon EOS C200.
Before – showing how Cinema RAW Light captured the mountainous scene for the Jaguar F-Pace commercial. © Canon
A CGI stag stands alongside a lake surrounded by mountains in a still from the new Jaguar F-PACE commercial.
After – the same shot after the addition of a VFX stag and HDR finishing. © Canon

Recording detail in the interior of the dark car and the bright, snow-capped backdrop in a single shot posed its own dynamic range challenges. Brett points out that his colourist would normally need to do a two-pass grade for a scene like this – one for the interior and one for the exterior – and then comp in Flame, the 3D visual effects software. Shooting Cinema RAW Light gives you the option of manipulating the raw sensor data, refining the brightness and expanding the dynamic range of the output file before grading so that it can all be done in a single pass.

Obviously RAW won’t be needed in every situation, and even the additional processing required for Canon Log may be a step too far when the priority for clients is a fast turnaround. But when picture quality counts and HDR and VFX-heavy workflows are required, Cinema RAW Light provides the perfect base from which to work.


To find out more about the Canon EOS C200, which offers Cinema RAW Light, visit the product page.

Írta: Marcus Hawkins