How to Edit Sony a7S III H.265 Footage

H.265 is making a strong showing lately with camera after camera offering it to get even smaller files sizes, better image quality, or both. Compared to the classic H.264, H.265/HEVC offers tons more efficiency and therefore can deliver the same or better image quality in a smaller package. This is due to how the compression algorithm works and I can confirm it does have its advantages. It also has its problems.

Josh Morgan of Momentum Productions is working with the Sony a7S III and it has a few new codecs labeled XAVC HS that make use of H.265 compression to deliver greater efficiency without bloating the files. He also explains why you might run into problems if you start using it and how to actually edit with it in your NLE.

Getting into the basics of the tech behind H.265 he explains that greater compression, especially high-quality compression, requires more of the hardware.

You have to do more processing and computing in order to uncompress this footage as you play it, and it can mean a lot more processing than something like H.264 considering just how much more compressed H.265 can be.

Some computers will just immediately choke up with H.265 and there’s nothing you can do. However, Morgan is here to explain proxy files and how to create a proxy workflow so you can use the new format without killing your PC.

Proxy files are essentially lower-quality copies of your raw footage that the software uses for quickly rendering previews in your display. They are also usually smaller resolutions to cut down on size and processing even more.

Using Final Cut Pro X, it is very simple. Load in your clips to the project and if you already have stuff in the timeline there is a quick way to just view it in the file browser to get the controls you need. Once you have your clip(s) in the browser you right click and select “Transcode Media.”

From there you’ll see a couple of check boxes, including one that says “Create proxy media.” By default H.264 is the codec and that’ll do just fine for most times. However, for advanced color grading or times when you want a better image to work with you should select ProRes Proxy.

Below those settings is an option for Frame Size. Considering this is 4K and most of the time you’ll be viewing it on a screen with less than 4K resolution or in a smaller window within that screen this is a great way to help speed up editing. 4K footage is likely fine at 50%, but if you are still struggling you can select a smaller size.

Checking Background Tasks in FCPX you can see the transcoding is in progress. Once that is complete you should see an instant improvement. Everything should play back smoothly. If not you might have another bottleneck in your configuration.

You can batch process as well. Just select all the clips you want to transcode and follow the same steps. Another useful tool is in the View options of your preview window.

Under the MEDIA PLAYBACK section you can choose Proxy Only and that will show you only the clips that have proxies made. This can help you find the clips you still need to transcode.

Proxies are nowhere near the same quality as the originals, so you’ll have to be careful in color grading and other advanced edits. When Morgan brings out the exposure tools on a Color Board you can very clearly see banding once he starts moving things around. By switching back to Optimized/Original in the View options of the playback window you can go back to the original footage to do more critical work.

Proxies are your friend! Seriously, you likely don’t need a new computer just yet even if you bought a new camera. And even if you have a new computer this setup can dramatically speed up editing as you won’t encounter as many slowdowns if you decide to try out an effect or two.

Do you use proxies?

[source: Momentum Productions]

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