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What Are Codecs and Why Are They Important?

When diving into the photography world, one of the first things you come across is deciding whether to shoot raw or JPEG. Typically, the answer to that is very simple: shoot in raw every time you can, only shoot JPEG for specific reasons. What about when you start shooting video? Codecs were basically magic to me before I finally understood how they functioned. 

Codecs, short for coder-decoder, are simply a process to interpret video data in different ways and are loosely used to describe how video is compressed and decompressed. They are necessary to enable the recording of such high-resolution video because of the technological limitations of bandwidth on most cameras and restrictions in storage. Essentially, it's about taking very large streams of data and compressing (or decompressing) them into much more manageable sizes for storage and processing within the camera and computer.

You have likely come across terms such as H.264, MOV, MPG, ALL-I, ProRes 422, etc. The list is endless. David Kong created this very in-depth explanation of what codecs actually do and why they matter. Within the video, he explains a multitude of subjects including types of codecs, bit rates, chroma subsampling, compression, and raw.  Did you know that uncompressed footage is different than raw footage? This came as a big surprise to me when I stumbled upon this video and is one reason I definitely recommend checking it out!

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Stephen Kampff's picture

I know this video is a little dated now, but I still use it to educate people. Worked wonders in a university class a couple times!

Alex Armitage's picture

Outside of missing a few newer specifics like .h265, it hasn't changed all that much.

Marius Pettersen's picture

I can also recommend this article from David; if you want to know more about codecs and post-processing video.

Alex Armitage's picture

I love this article! Actually planned on using it in the future but breaking it down a bit considering it's such a wealth of information.