What File Format Should I Scan My Film To? | Gamma Ray Digital

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What File Format Should I Scan My Film To?

What File Format Should I Scan My Film To?

With a wide range of formats to scan your film to, deciding which is right for you can be tricky. Below is a breakdown of the most common formats, all of which we can provide as part of the base pricing with our 5k Scanner. That is, the scanner will create any of these formats without forcing us to render in a separate pass. That saves you money and lets us offer faster turnaround times!

DPX Image Sequences

This is the standard format for film scanning, and has been for many years. DPX is a still image format in which each frame of film is transferred to its own sequentially numbered image file. It's frame-rate independent, it's largely resolution-independent, and it's widely supported on high-end color correction, compositing, VFX, and compositing software. Because it's not tied to a proprietary video container format like Quicktime or AVI, it's more appropriate for archival use. DPX supports Linear or Logarithmic color space, as well as extensive metadata.

You can read more about DPX on Wikipedia

  • DPX: Pros
  • DPX: Cons
  • SMPTE Standard (268M-2003)
  • Widely Supported by high-end color correction, VFX and compositing systems
  • 10 or 16 bit color depth
  • Logarithmic (LOG) or Linear (LIN) color space
  • Flexible resolutions
  • Frame Rate Independent
  • Metadata Support
  • NOT widely supported by NLEs (Non-Linear Edit systems)
  • Massive File sizes
  • Very Fast Disk Array Requirements for playback
  • Unwieldy Data Management (tens of thousands of files, vs One file for container formats like Quicktime)

TIFF Image Sequences

Much like DPX, TIFF sequences consist of a series of sequentially numbered images, each containing a single scanned frame of film. This format is more popular in the animation world, where it has been supported for many years. TIFF sequences only support Linear color space, so they're more appropriate for film prints or reversal stock, than for negatives, where you would gain from Log encoding.

  • TIFF: Pros
  • TIFF: Cons
  • Uncompressed file format
  • Wide support in still image editing tools and animation software
  • 8 or 16 bit color depth
  • Flexible resolutions
  • Frame Rate Independent
  • NOT widely supported by NLEs (Non-Linear Edit systems)
  • Massive File sizes
  • Very Fast Disk Array Requirements for playback
  • Unwieldy Data Management (tens of thousands of files, vs One file for container formats like Quicktime)
  • Linear color space only

Quicktime

Unlike the image sequence formats above, Quicktime is a "container" format. It encapsulates motion picture information in the form of a data stream, wrapped inside of a file format that the Quicktime engine can read and display. Quicktime is installed on all Macs, and is available as a free download for Windows. There is limited support for it on Linux. It is a proprietary format, which means it's somewhat at the mercy of Apple's whims. That said, it has been around since the early 1990s and is the foundation for a substantial segment of the desktop post production world. Support for Quicktime is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

As a container format, Quicktime can hold all kinds of data, including text, audio, video, and still images. With video, even if there is no compression, there is always a "codec" (COmpressor/DECompressor) wrapped around the video data. In some cases, the codec has high levels of compression, such as H.264, which is used primarily for final delivery. In other cases, the video is "uncompressed" (which means different things in different contexts, but we won't get into that here).

One of the most popular codecs of the past 10 years is ProRes. This is an extremely high quality compressed codec that comes in a variety of flavors. We'll concentrate on the two highest quality formats: ProRes 422 (HQ) and ProRes 4444 (HQ). Both formats are compressed to different degrees. Both are capable of holding both video and audio data, and both are widely supported on desktop computer platforms.

Apple published an excellent white paper on the ProRes codec, which you can download here.

  • 422 HQ: Pros
  • 422 HQ: Cons
  • 4444 HQ: Pros
  • 4444 HQ: Cons
  • 10 bit color depth
  • Relatively small file size
  • Easy to play back on modest hardware
  • Can hold both audio and video
  • Broad range of resolutions from SD to 5k
  • Widely supported by desktop Editing, Color Correction, Compositing and VFX software
  • 4:2:2 color space (not ideal for negative film)
  • Windows support is mostly limited to playback, with few exceptions
  • Not an open standard
  • Linear color space only
  • Only works at pre-defined resolutions
  • 12 bit color depth
  • Designed to work with 4:4:4 color space
  • Relatively small file size
  • Easy to play back on modest hardware
  • Can hold both audio and video
  • Broad range of resolutions from SD to 5k
  • Widely supported by desktop Editing, Color Correction, Compositing and VFX software
  • Windows support is mostly limited to playback, with few exceptions
  • Not an open standard
  • Linear color space only
  • Only works at pre-defined resolutions