raw camera file icons

Help! Can’t view video files on my hard drive.

Q. Help!  I hired a video crew and told them to put the video files on a portable drive for me.  I see folders but nothing that looks like a video.  I can’t get any files to open.  What am I doing wrong?

Digital video has a very big downside.  Professional grade cameras record in what is referred to as a raw camera format.  Raw format is a professional-level uncompressed data file – uncompressed in that it contains detailed data on the files and images.  These files can be very large, averaging 1GB per minute of HD video footage shot.  Raw camera files were never intended for the public, but they are EXACTLY what you want if you’re handing your footage to a professional editor.  The purpose in this format is to give an editor the highest resolution possible and with limitless options on how to customize the actual footage in post-production.  Some camera manufacturers, such as Sony and Panasonic do offer free downloadable viewers so that you actually CAN view the raw files in all their glory.

Why can’t you play these files with programs such as QuickTime or Windows Media Player?  Without getting too technical, QuickTime and Windows Media Player are designed to play compressed files such as .mov and mp4.  In order to view raw camera files in one of these viewers, the files have to be converted into a compressed video file.

There are only two ways to achieve this and both involve additional time and possibly additional cost to you.  There are professional recording monitors available that can record compressed files simultaneously while the videographer is shooting.  These devices can be very pricey and therefore are not typically included in a camera operators gear.  It also adds one more responsibility to a videographer’s day, as now your camera person is setting up and monitoring TWO devices.   The second method is for the camera operator to pull the files into an editing or conversion program and convert the files to a viewable format.  But not every cameraman is an editor and therefore this is not a required or expected part of the operator’s responsibilities.  Compressing files is also not a single process.  Any professional operator will want a backup copy of ALL files.  So now rather than simply compressing files and handing them off to you, the videographer is now creating a copy as well.  In all, this process can add hours to a day, and that means possible overtime rates that you will have to pay.

So back to the original question, what now?  If you have an editor friend or contact, he can quickly establish if the files are good (intact).  If you don’t know an editor, then you have two options.  Option 1: Call the video company and ask them to convert the files for you.  This will cost additional.  Option 2:  Check to see if there may be a downloadable reader for the files.  Keep in mind that these are only readers and not editing programs.  Anyone other than a professional editor will also need a reader to view the files.

The files you have should be fine and easy enough for any professional editor to open.  In the future, when hiring a videographer or video company, tell them in your first call that you want the raw camera files AND compressed .mov or .mp4 files.  Be sure to request this BEFORE the shoot day in order to assure that the operator has the capability to convert the files AND that you are aware up front if it will entail any additional cost.