Tip #078: For Best Quality, Export a Master File

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #078: For Best Quality, Export a Master File

Larry Jordan – https://LarryJordan.com

“Highest quality” doesn’t always mean matching your camera format.

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If you are in a hurry, export what you need to post and get on with your life.

However, one lesson I’ve learned over the years is that there’s never “just one version” of any project. Copies using different codecs and compression always need to be made. My recommendation is to ALWAYS export a master file of any project and archive that, so that when copies need to be made, you don’t need to reopen a project, reconnect media, re-render effects and re-export. A master file saves all that wasted time.

But, what is a master file? In terms of editing, it means exporting a video that matches your project settings. There’s no reason to export a different format, because the highest quality you can export is that which is the same as the project settings.

For example, exporting an H.264 project as ProRes 4444 will generate a larger file, but not higher quality.

This is why I recommend transcoding highly-compressed camera master files into a higher-quality intermediate codec before starting editing. Transcoding won’t improve the quality of what you shot, but it can improve the quality of transitions, effects and color grading; and, thus, the entire project prior to export.

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6 replies
  1. Blair Smith
    Blair Smith says:


    Where can I find some more detailed information relating to; “transcoding highly-compressed camera master files into a higher-quality intermediate codec before starting editing”?


  2. Tod Hopkins
    Tod Hopkins says:

    While I agree that one should always make a master, you should not base your master format entirely on your camera original format. This is particularly true if, like me, your programs are not all camera original. All major NLE’s expand timelines into an uncompressed space for 32-bit-plus processing. While it is generally true that a compressed image expanded into uncompressed space and then recompressed to the same codec does not lose “quality,” this is only true if no processing occurs while the image is in its uncompressed state. Unless your timeline is entirely devoid of titles, graphics, effects, color correction, et al, visual information is being added as you edit. If you want to capture every enhancement you’ve made, the master quality that you chose matters. It should be appropriate to your workflow quality, not your camera original quality.

    In addition, a master format should be consistent, predictable, and widely supported, accommodating the full scope of your work (or your employer’s) over time. It should not change from edit to edit. It should also be an industry standard format that is easily exchanged with others, recognized by a broad range of applications, and durable over time in an archive.

    • Larry Jordan
      Larry Jordan says:


      I am not sure about how FCP X – or Premiere for that matter – internally process video. Your first paragraph raises an interesting point that I need to research more fully.

      However, I fully agree with your second paragraph. Consistency and accessibility are excellent attributes in choosing an intermediate codec.


  3. David Vogt
    David Vogt says:

    Is this really the way it works with FCPX effects? I think what happens to the quality of effects processing is dependent on the output CODEC used to make the master file. The h264 image will be used for the base processing, but the result will be a hybrid where the combined effect will be at prores quality if that is the output codec choice. I have experimented quite a bit performing input conversions to prores before editing, and outputting to prores I see no difference between transcoded prores input or h264 input in the resulting prores output

    • Larry Jordan
      Larry Jordan says:


      My understanding, which could be wrong, is that FCP X processes files to match the codec choice for the project. (However, the comment from Tod Hopkins expands on this further.) Again, my understanding is that exporting will not create image quality higher than the codec choice of the project.

      However, you and Tod raise interesting questions. I’ll see if I can learn more.



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