TECHNOLOGY

Cinema RAW Light explained

Discover how Canon's Cinema RAW Light makes RAW more accessible through smaller file sizes and simplified processes – and see it at work on the EOS R5 C and EOS C200.
A ballet dancer in a flowing yellow dress and shawl poses atop a mountain overlooking a valley, with half the frame showing the Canon Log version, and the other the graded one.

Canon's Cinema RAW Light format, introduced with the release of the Canon EOS C200 and also available on the EOS C500 Mark II, EOS C300 Mark III, EOS R5 C and EOS C70 (via a firmware update), reduces file size without sacrificing image quality.

More and more filmmakers are seeing the light. That's Cinema RAW Light, the Canon-developed compact RAW file format that allows creatives to achieve results that are simply not possible with other codecs.

Filming in RAW gives you more options in post-production, but the file format has been hard to accommodate in the past. Canon Cinema RAW Light, first introduced with the release of the Canon EOS C200 video camera, makes using RAW faster and easier than ever.

RAW filming ensures optimum control over picture quality and enables creative and technical decisions to be made later in post-production. Previously, that flexibility had come at the price of large file sizes, making the storage and transfer of 4K RAW files on location and in the edit suite a challenge.

Canon's Cinema RAW Light format alleviates this problem, offering a significant reduction in file size without sacrificing image quality or grading and compositing headroom. Also featured on the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, Canon EOS C300 Mark III, Canon EOS R5 C and Canon EOS C70, the Cinema RAW Light 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.

"RAW scares a lot of people because they think it's hard to handle, but it's not," says advertising filmmaker Brett Danton, a convert to the Cinema RAW Light format. His thoughts are echoed by Ollie Kenchington, who runs an award-winning corporate film production agency and is one of the world's best-known colour grading experts. "From a colourist's point of view Cinema RAW Light is a fantastic codec to work with – there's just so much data inside of it. But it's also a very low CPU load codec, which means that it can play back very easily. Those two things are kind of the holy grail: lots and lots of data, but lightweight enough to edit with a laptop."

The Canon EOS C500 Mark II features a DIGIC DV 7 image processor, which enables Cinema RAW Light recording internally at 5.9K and at up to 2.1Gbps using CFexpress 2.0 Type B cards. Using the same cards, the Canon EOS C300 Mark III's internal recording works out at around 64 minutes of 12-bit or 10-bit DCI 4K at 1Gbps on a 512GB card.

The Canon EOS R5 C introduced three new Cinema RAW Light recording options, while a firmware upgrade released in March 2022 for the Canon EOS C70 enables filmmakers to use Cinema RAW Light to make the most of the camera's breakthrough DGO (Dual Gain Output) sensor. The EOS C300 Mark III also has a DGO sensor and supports the three modes of Cinema RAW Light.

Efficient RAW recording has also been expanded beyond Canon's Cinema EOS camera range, via a new compression method called RAW Light. This was introduced to the Canon EOS R5 and EOS-1D X Mark III in firmware update 1.3.0.

"RAW Light offers many of the benefits of shooting Cinema RAW Light, such as the smaller file size, higher bit depth and the ability to change things such as the Log curve in post," explains Canon Europe Product Specialist Aron Randhawa. "Post-production is more important now than it's ever been and Canon is really leading the way in offering users the very highest quality out of the imaging sensors of their cameras."

So how can you make the most of the creative opportunities that shooting in RAW offers? Here, Brett, Ollie and Aron reveal how easy it is to incorporate Cinema RAW Light into a standard shooting and grading workflow.

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Cinema RAW Light advantages

Canon Log 2 is designed to deliver up to 16+ stops of dynamic range, minimising the loss of detail in the darkest and brightest parts of the image. It provides 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 16+ stops of dynamic range to be achieved.

"Being able to shift between Canon Log 2 and 3 in post-production without any degradation is a big benefit of the Cinema RAW Light format," says Aron. "If you had bright outdoor scenes that were more suitable for Canon Log 3 and other low light or high contrast scenes that were more appropriate for Canon Log 2, you can simply switch those on the fly in post."

A Jaguar F-PACE 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.

The huge amount of information that's captured in Cinema RAW Light is a clear advantage over heavily compressed formats. "Cinema RAW Light enables cinematographers to take advantage of the full capability of the camera, creating a RAW file that conforms to known workflows, but with the added benefit of capturing internally to recording media," Aron says.

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.

"The big thing for me isn't so much that it's RAW per se, it's more the non-chroma subsampled image it delivers," says Ollie. "So you get the full RGB 4:4:4 colour information, which is really important for certain projects."

Cinema RAW Light features

  • Compact and lightweight format
  • Three data rate options introduced on the Canon EOS R5 C and Canon EOS C70: LT, ST and HQ
  • 10/12 bit RAW
  • Up to 16 stops of dynamic range after development in Canon Raw Development or other compatible software
  • Accurate tone reproduction
  • Delivers the camera's natural colour response

A Canon EOS R5 C camera with an external recorder attached.

In addition to Cinema RAW Light, the Canon EOS R5 C has an HDMI RAW output option. "This provides an 8K 10-bit RAW output that can be recorded in Apple ProRes using an Atomos Ninja V+ recorder, providing even further workflow possibilities," explains Canon Europe product specialist Aron Randhawa.

A pair of hands hold a Canon EOS R5 C, the recording format menu shown on its screen.

"Introducing Cinema RAW Light LT and HQ to the Canon EOS R5 C really does showcase the scalability of the format," enthuses Aron. "It's hard to imagine how many different types of workflows this range of options can cater for, depending on the resolution and frame rate requirements for a production. It doesn't matter what end of the RAW data scale you're on, you're benefiting from an image that isn't being subsampled and has an incredibly high bit depth of 12-bit."

Introducing 8K Cinema RAW Light

With the introduction of the Canon EOS R5 C, filmmakers are able to realise the benefits of a Cinema RAW Light workflow in a smaller camera and at 8K resolution. What's more, the EOS R5 C provides a choice of different Cinema RAW Light formats: HQ (High Quality), ST (Standard) and LT (Light). "All three are 12-bit RAW, with no chroma subsampling," says Aron. "The only difference is in the data rate."

As Aron explains, Canon has introduced three different versions of Cinema RAW Light in order to give filmmakers more flexibility. "For a lot of people, shooting 8K/25p RAW at 2.6Gbps in the original Canon EOS R5 was quite demanding. It's a lot of data to put on your CFexpress cards and then a lot for the computer to process, and in general the projects would get very large in terms of file size. But now we've introduced LT at 1070Mbps in the EOS R5 C, it's making it more accessible.

"The ST and HQ options are for people who don't want to compromise on image quality, and who have the professional workflows to deal with higher bit rates. This could be useful when cropping the image significantly or generating high-end visual effects. Overall, though, the difference in image quality between the three formats is fairly small and almost impossible to tell with the naked eye in a simple scene such as an interview scenario."

A film still showing four large standing stones in a field with the sun rising behind them.

Ollie Kenchington used the Canon EOS R5 C's 8K Cinema RAW Light ST to shoot a short film called Standing Stones at Avebury in Wiltshire, England. © Ollie Kenchington / korrofilms

A film still showing four large standing stones in a field with the sun rising behind them, with vivid colours after grading.

These two stills show Ollie's before/after grade. © Ollie Kenchington / korrofilms

Ollie agrees. "It feels like there's a little bit more clarity to ST when compared to LT, but it is very subtle and it really isn't something that I suspect a non-colourist would notice," he says. "I think if I was shooting a project where colour was paramount and we needed that full RGB, and maybe we were planning to apply some sharpening in post, over and above what you would normally do with developing RAW, then I think ST would be the route I would go down for certain projects. But LT is perfectly decent and if you're just after a really robust 4:4:4 codec that's full of colour information, and not just using extra data that you're not really going to benefit from, then LT is perfect."

It's worth noting that the HQ mode is available only when shooting in Super 35mm and not in Full Frame. That's simply because of the limitations of CFexpress 2.0 Type B media. "We can record up to 2.6Gbps onto those cards reliably, and we don't exceed that," explains Aron. "So we're able to unleash 8K 60p with Cinema RAW Light LT, and if you want to go to Cinema RAW Light ST for even more data then you can go up to 8K 30p. If you decide to raise the data rate with Cinema RAW Light HQ, then you'll be restricted to 5.9K and Super 35mm, but this still delivers an exceptional amount of detail for any professional 4K workflow."

A Canon EOS C70 camera on a wooden tabletop with a pen, notepad and other accessories blurred in the background.

Canon EOS C70 firmware updates, which are free to download and install, include the addition of 4K Cinema RAW Light (CRL) recording. The downloads can be found within the product support section of the Canon website.

Canon EOS C70 Cinema RAW Light upgrade

In early 2022, the Canon EOS C70 became a Cinema RAW Light capable camera via a firmware upgrade.

"When it was launched, the EOS C70 was able to record in 4:2:2 10-bit XF-AVC or HEVC," Aron says. "One of the biggest requests that we've been hearing from EOS C70 shooters is the ability to shoot RAW, and it's now possible to do that thanks to the three different versions of Cinema RAW Light."

The EOS C70 records onto UHS-II SD cards rather than the CFexpress 2.0 Type B format used by the EOS R5 C and EOS C300 Mark III. However, you're still able to record 12-bit RAW files internally rather than to an external recorder.

"With Cinema RAW Light LT, you can record 4K up to 60 fps in 12-bit on the EOS C70, with ST giving you access to 4K up to 30 fps," Aron reveals. "When you go into HQ mode the image will be cropped to Super 16mm, providing 2K at up to 60fps.

"Cinema RAW Light is a huge benefit for this camera, because it's taking the capabilities of the DGO sensor to a whole new level. We are now getting 12-bit RAW capabilities, whereas before it was chroma subsampled to 4:2:2 10-bit. When you factor in the sensor's 16+ stops of dynamic range, I think a lot of people are going to appreciate all of that extra quality."

The compact size and RAW capabilities of the EOS C70 make it a versatile option for productions that require mobility and post-production flexibility. Filmmakers working on smaller productions or budgets can also benefit from the Cinema RAW Light format in the even more portable EOS R5 C.

"You can shoot RAW resolution from 3K all the way up to 8K in this camera, as well as being able to utilise Cinema RAW Light LT, ST and HQ," Aron says. "Some cameras, including the EOS C70, will only be able to scale as far as the media card speed will allow. So for example, on SD cards, Cinema RAW Light can record up to 645Mbps, but on the EOS R5 C we're now recording RAW formats as low as 138Mbps and as high as 2.6Gbps. So that's an incredibly broad range of scalability you have in terms of a 12-bit format."

Canon Log presets are shown on the back of the screen, ensuring a wider dynamic range is available in post-production.

Canon Log 3 applies 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

Cinema RAW Light workflows

Canon has worked with its partners to ensure that the Cinema RAW Light file format is supported natively by a range of popular non-linear editing systems (NLEs), meaning that CRM files can be viewed, edited and graded in software without the need to create an intermediary file, saving both time and disk space.

"In many ways RAW codecs are all the same and they all have similar workflows in post," says Ollie. "But certainly, in my experience, Cinema RAW Light is one of the easiest to play back on not particularly powerful computers.

"I'm always a bit surprised at how well it responds, given that it is a RAW codec. It almost feels like working with Apple ProRes 4444, which is a non-RAW full RGB codec. But you can, of course, change ISO and sharpening and noise reduction and lift gamma and gain, and all these other things that you can do as part of the first grade because it is a RAW format.

"The fact that there's an internal proxy recording workflow available in the Canon EOS C70 via a firmware update is also great. It solves an editing problem, because you're getting a half-resolution XF-AVC video file recorded with the same timecode and the same file name as the Cinema RAW Light file. So you can do all of your editing with the proxy and then just switch over to the Cinema RAW Light file when you're going to do all of your grading and noise reduction at the end."

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 Jaguar F-Pace SUV commercial, involving green screen, composite VFX and HDR finishing. © Canon

It is possible to capture extended dynamic range from the camera's sensor in all these formats using Canon Log gamma. 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 EOS C200, both the original Canon Log and Canon Log 3 can be applied in-camera. Canon Log 3 offers the most convenient blend of latitude and grading ease, providing a similar shadow response to the original Canon Log but with 14 stops of dynamic range.

Although the EOS 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 can deliver up to 16 stops of latitude on the output file.

Filmmaker Kevin Clerc stares intently at the back of a Canon EOS R5 C camera set up on a tripod.

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A lakeside scene with mountains in the background, with half the frame showing the Canon Log version, and the other the graded one.

Before – showing how Cinema RAW Light captured the mountainous scene for the Jaguar F-Pace commercial.

A CGI stag stands alongside a lake surrounded by mountains in a still from the Jaguar F-PACE commercial.

After – the same shot after the addition of a VFX stag and HDR finishing.

In the field

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 Canon EOS C200 cameras.

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 EOS 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.

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.

A person in a coat and hat stands in front of a car and points with their arm up, a Canon camera setup in the foreground.

Shooting Cinema RAW Light

Because there's no need for external recording units, the shooting process is largely the same as with a compressed codec, although Brett exposes differently in Cinema RAW Light. "With RAW, I'm looking to gather as much information as possible rather than trying to expose for a predetermined look. We decide on the look in post," he says.

"If you're working to finish in HDR, you don't want to blow out highlights. If you've got a subject with a lot of contrast, you've still got to decide where you want the shadow area to sit. Ideally with RAW, you want to lift the shadows a little and not have them sit on the very bottom, because that's where noise can come in. I use my waveform to check I haven't blown highlights in the brightest part of the image, then see if that puts a lot of important stuff into the dark area. Then I might clip the highlight a little more."

Ollie encourages filmmakers to always shoot a colour chart and to get the white balance right on every shot. "People might think getting exposure and colour right doesn't matter with RAW, but it's useful information," he says.

A key advantage of filming in Cinema RAW Light is that the file sizes are small enough to edit. Brett still generates proxy files – an exact copy of your footage in a smaller file size – but mostly uses them for clients to view on set. "When the Canon EOS C200 came out, we did a proxy workflow and edited those files," he says. "Now I only use proxies to upload as rushes with a LUT dropped on, so clients can have a look."

Computer screens and monitors set up for a video editing workflow.

In the past, filmmakers have avoided working with RAW footage because the large file sizes are difficult to handle, but filming in Cinema RAW Light produces smaller files that are much easier to incorporate into a shooting and grading workflow. © Ollie Kenchington

A close-up of a woman's face.

Ollie loves the flexibility the codec gives him when it comes to adjusting colour space and gamma. © Ollie Kenchington

Improved computing capabilities

To make the most of shooting in Cinema RAW Light you need extra storage, higher resolution screens and powerful hardware, but technology in areas such as memory, storage, computer graphics and processing is improving all the time. "CFast and CFexpress memory cards are incredibly robust and fast so everything downloads really quickly," says Brett. "It's best to keep the software and files on two different fast drives. I store the RAW footage on a fast SSD Thunderbolt 3 external drive and use an SSD with my laptop. If the footage won't play back smoothly, it's usually the external drive that's causing the bottleneck."

"You can scrub through it very simply, which is kind of incredible really," adds Ollie. "We've got a file that's full of colour information, it's really rich with data, and yet it's lightweight enough to cut together and work with – even on a laptop. There aren't going to be many systems that struggle. When I was doing a demonstration with the Canon DP-V3120 [a 31-inch 4K HDR professional reference display], which is an incredible monitor, the whole thing was being driven by my 16-inch MacBook Pro. It's quite staggering to think that we can work with these files on a laptop. It opens up all kinds of options."

A Canon EOS C300 Mark III is pictured against a dark background with tubes of bright white light around it.

The Canon EOS C300 Mark III is capable of recording Cinema RAW Light in 4K at up to 1Gbps. It is a Netflix approved camera alongside the Canon EOS C500 Mark II and EOS C70 (and others) with Netflix specifying Cinema RAW Light as the preferred recording format for these three cameras. © Brett Danton

Editing workflow

Canon's Cinema RAW Development software can be used to convert Cinema RAW Light files into a codec that's readable by a range of non-linear editing systems (NLEs). Footage can also be dropped straight into Adobe Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve and plugins ensure compatibility with Final Cut Pro X 10.4 from Apple (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).

"In terms of cutting and editing, and the grading tools you use for colouring, Cinema RAW Light is no different from any other file," says Ollie. "There is no specific workflow. The different software presents the RAW tools slightly differently. The RAW image doesn't have a gamma applied, so you can make it Rec.709, Canon Log 3, Log 2 or Log."

All these options could be confusing for the less experienced filmmaker – especially when mixing footage from different cameras – but that's when you see the benefit of an all-Canon Cinema RAW Light workflow, adds Brett. "You've got the same flavour of RAW across multiple Canon cameras, so you've got consistency and you know you can match those files together."

Marcus Hawkins & Adam Duckworth

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