Shooting the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in 4K raw (or how to edit and grade on a laptop).

I was recently invited to talk about 4K at a Sony event in Myanmar. Rather than just standing up and talking I always like to use practical demonstrations of the things I am talking about. So for this particular workshop I decided to go to one of the local landmarks the day before the event, shoot it in 4K, edit that footage and then grade it in order to produce a short 4K film. The object being to prove that Sony’s 4K raw is not something to be afraid of. It’s actually quite manageable to work with, even with just a laptop.

Having just flown in to Myanmar from a workshop in Vietnam, I was travelling light in order to keep my excess baggage charges to a minimum and to avoid too much aggravation at customs. In total I had about 35kg of luggage including enough clothes for two weeks on the road.

My very minimal equipment for this mini project comprised of a Sony PMW-F5 camera with AXS-R5 recorder. I used an MTF FZ to Nikon lens adapter and a Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 DSLR lens. The tripod was the excellent Miller Solo with a Compass 15 head. Power came from a couple of Lith 150Wh batteries. A really basic shooting kit but one that can produce remarkably good results. The weakest part of the kit is the lens, I really could have done with a wider lens and the Sigma is prone to flare, so I’m open to suggestions for a better budget zoom lens.

The shoot was surprisingly easy. I’ve heard many stories of Myanmar (Burma) being a closed country, but I had no issues shooting at the temple or around the city of Yangon other than curious onlookers as a large camera like the F5 is a rare sight for the locals.

I shot in 4K raw, I love the post production flexibility that the raw footage brings. In order to keep image noise to a minimum and also to keep exposure easy I used a MLUT  (Lut 2) and 640 EI ISO. I know that when I shoot at 640 EI and use 100% zebras that I can expose nice and bright in the viewfinder and just keep an eye out for zebras just starting to appear. With the F5 at 640 EI, 100% zebras will show just a little before clipping, so as long as you only have the very tiniest amount of zebra on your brightest highlights your exposure will be fine, nice and bright but not clipped.

During the day I spent a couple of hours at the temple and then another hour at the temple in the evening. In the YouTube video you will also see a time-lapse shot. This was done after the workshop and was not included in the original edit.

Once back at the hotel the first stage was to transfer everything from the AXS card to a hard drive. For my travel shoots I use Seagate 2TB USB 3 drives. These are 3.5″ drives so require mains power, 2.5″ drives are not really fast enough for 4K raw editing. My hotel bedroom had one power socket on one side of the room and another on the other side of the room. So with the AXS-CR1 card reader plugged into one and the hard drive into the other I had to sit on the floor in the middle of the room with my laptop running on it’s battery while I transferred the files, about an hours worth of clips. This took about 40 minutes.

Once the clips were on the hard drive I could begin the edit. I could have used the XDCAM HD files from the camera as proxies for the edit, but I find it just as easy to use the raw files. My laptop is an off-the-shelf 15″ Retina MacBook Pro with 8GB of ram. I use Adobe Premiere CC with Sony’s raw plugin for the edit. One thing I have found necessary is to re-boot the computer before editing the raw files. I find Premiere more stable if I do this.

Set playback resolution to 1/4
Set playback resolution to 1/4

To edit Sony’s 4K raw I use one of the Sony 4K raw presets that get installed when you add the Sony raw plugin. The other thing I have to do is to drop the resolution of the clip viewer and timeline viewer windows to 1/4. This really isn’t a big deal as 1/4 of 4K is HD and when just using the laptops screen I’m not viewing the small viewer windows at a very high resolution anyway. Editing the 4K raw is smooth and painless. Dissolves and effects can be a little jumpy as you try to pull 2 streams of 4K of the single hard drive, but for cuts only or a simple edit it’s really not a problem.

Once I’m happy with the picture cut I export an AAF file from Adobe Premiere. I then close Premiere and start DaVinci Resolve. I use the full paid version as I often want to export in 4K. The free Lite version will happily edit and grade Sony’s 4K raw, but you can only export at up to HD resolution.

Initially I set my project setting to HD as this gives smoother playback. I then open the AAF file that I saved in Premiere. Resolve will ask for a location to search for the clips, so just navigate to the parent folder of the directory where your clips are stored and click “search”. After a short wait your Premiere edit will open in a timeline in Resolve. Now you can go to the “Color” room in Resolve to grade your footage. If your using a low power system like a laptop you may want to go to the project settings and under the raw settings, choose “Sony Raw” and set the De-Bayer to half or quarter. This will help make playback smoother and faster but sacrifices a little image quality. Don’t worry though, we can force Resolve to do a full resolution De-Bayer when we are ready to export the graded clips.

I’m not going to teach you how to grade here. I’m not a colourist, fortunately resolve is pretty straight forward and I can now quickly create a look, save that look and apply it to multiple clips and then go back and tweak and refine the grade where needed, perhaps adding secondary corrections here and there. For the Shwe Dagon video there were only a couple of shots where I used secondaries, these included shots with dark interiors. The overall grade was pretty straight forward.

Once I was happy with the look of the shots I went to the project settings and changed the project resolution back to 4K.  I then used the “deliver” room in Resolve to export the clips. To keep life simple I exported the grade as individual clips with the same file names as the original clips using 4K ProRes HQ to a new folder on my USB 3 hard drive. I also check the “force full resolution debayer” check box to make sure that the quality of the renders is as good as it can be. Rendering the files from Resolve on my MacBook is not a real time process. I get around 5 frames per second, so a minute of footage takes about 5 or 6 minutes. The Shwe Dagon video is a little over 4 minutes so rendering out the graded shots took about half an hour.

Once the render in resolve is completed I then exit Resolve and go back to Premiere. In between I re-boot the laptop. Back in the original edit project I simply import the resolve render files and swap the raw clips in the timeline with the graded clips. I then add any titles or other effects in Premiere before finally exporting the finished piece in the codecs I need using Adobe’s media encoder. For YouTube I export the clips as 4K .mp4 files with a bit rate of 50-75Mb/s.

It really is possible to edit and grade Sony’s 4K raw on a laptop. It’s not particularly painful to do. I wouldn’t want to do a long or complex project this way, but for short simple projects it’s really not a big deal. If you get a BlackMagic thunderbolt MiniMonitor box you can use any HDMI equipped TV as an external monitor. Sony’s 4K raw is easy to work with, the biggest headache is simply the size of the files. At 500GB per hour at 24/25fps there’s a lot of data to manage, but this is no more than uncompressed RGB HD. In the office I have a workstation with a pair of NVIDIA GTX570 graphics cards, these graphics cards give me enough video processing power to work with 4K raw at full resolution in real time.



4 thoughts on “Shooting the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in 4K raw (or how to edit and grade on a laptop).”

  1. Thank you so much for this article, I’m a film student and owner of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and I have a 15inch macbook pro and I was wondering if I could edit my 2k footage on my macbook pro.

    1. If you go to YouTube and select the quality “Original” you should be seeing the 4K version. But with lots of YouTube compression.

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