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News & Insight

Codecs | Basics On What They Are, Why It Matters, & How To Understand Them

By Wendell Weithers on February 23rd 2017

Almost every camera on the market today shoots video but, video on every camera is not created equal. There are many factors that impact the quality of a finished video such as post production editing, a camera’s ISO performance, or the way a camera reproduces color, but there is a more fundamental reason why some video is superior to the rest and that is your video codec. If you’ve reached a point where you’re serious about producing higher quality video, you’ll need to understand what it is. This video provided by B&H is a good starting point for navigating the complex topic of codecs.

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What is a Codec?

‘Codec’ is a portmanteau from the words compressor and decompressor. The idea is to compress the audio and video signal information and record it into a more manageable file size, then decompress that information when you are ready to transfer, view, or edit it. Similar to the difference in capturing RAW versus Jpeg still images, different amounts of video compression impact the amount of data available in your file.

There are three important areas to consider with your video quality. The compression of the video you capture, the compression of the video as you edit it, and the compression of the file you export. Here are some key terms to get familiar with as you go.

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When Capturing Video Files – 1:13

Bit Depth determines the amount of color your cameras have the ability to recognize and record. A higher bit depth means capturing better color but is also gorges on your storage space.

Chroma Subsampling refers to whether or not you are capturing color in every pixel on your sensor. At the highest subsampling rate, you will capture color in each pixel, but at a lower rate. Some pixels disregard their color and take the color of the pixel next to it, and a higher subsampling rate means more information is captured and more media storage is used.

When editing Video Files – 3:49

Dealing with Intraframe versus Interframe is more complex but here are some rules to remember.

Intraframe – This form of compression is easier on on your machine and usually looks better.

Interframe – This form of compression is more demanding of your computer and more likely to slow down your editing flow.

Proxies are a more efficient means of editing large files by compressing them into smaller and thus, more manageable files.

When Delivering Video Files – 5:33

Average Bit Rate – the average amount of information per second your codec is allowed to use.  Again, the higher the bit rate, the higher quality, but this will produce a larger file.

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Hopefilly these terms will get you started on the path to better understanding capturing good video. As you advance, you will work through the advantages and disadvanges of each of these forms of  compression and choose which one will work best for your workflow and final product.

Wendell is based in Atlanta where he shoots events, portraits, and food photography. He also supports his wife Andrea as she runs their cake design business, Sweet Details.

Instagram: Wendellwphoto

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