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I have a Canon 60D, which obviously uses the h264 codec for capturing. I am using Adobe Premiere and After Effects -- and I've already seen how both can handle h264 footage natively (Thank you Jason Levine). However, I've also seen footage that has been transcoded to an intermediate codec for editing (as opposed to a capturing codec). This footage, to me, looks like it runs smoother in Premiere and After Effects than allowing the footage to run natively. Unfortunately, these videos always fail to mention the name of the particular intermediate codec being used. So finally we arrive to my question:

What is a good intermediate codec to transcode h264 footage to, before running it on Premiere or After Effects?

I would appreciate a thoughtful answer to this question from someone who uses the Canon 60D (5D and 7D user input is also welcome) in a PC based Adobe workflow that incorporates Premiere and AE.

Thank you.

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2 Answers

Intermediate codecs are intra-frame. That means that each frame is compressed alone. The movie is like lot of JPGs in one file. When you move the play-head, After Effects just needs to load the requested frame.

H264 has lot of different formats in it, but most of them compress some frames like JPG, (they are called keyframes) and for the few other frames, it encodes just the difference relative to previous keyframe (movement, zoom, or other differences).

You may have seen the common bug in decoding an MPEG movie when a flashy green or purple stain spreads across the screen, until the stream reaches the next keyframe. Using this kind of codec in After Effects makes it less reactive because it is harder to get one precise frame. After effect must decode the previous keyframe and all the frames up to the one it really wants.

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I've never noticed any codecs that run smoother in After Effects or Premiere. One thing I have noticed about Premiere is that if you don't have your source media in your main project folder (designated when you start the project), it lags. I assume the RAM gets overly taxed by searching all over the place to round up the referenced files. I haven't seen any documentation about this but have run extensive tests to prove it. I migrated recently from FCP.

Based on what you said, it sounds like you want to compress your footage before working with it in AE or Premiere. I think this is a bad idea. Your camera has already compressed it (using the h.264 codec). If you absolutely have to use another codec, I would go with:

quicktime animation quicktime jpeg2000

They are uncompressed or the least compressed to my knowledge.

As I'm sure you know, when working with AE and Premiere, you want your raw material to be the highest quality possible and only compress it when you export your final project. For example you want to use AIFF (or something comparable) and not mp3 for audio. If you compress it before working with it in AE or PRE and then export it, you're compressing it twice and throwing away data twice. This will kill your quality.

Another factor may be your memory settings in the apps preferences.

Another possibility, if you're using an external scratch disk, make sure it's not USB. This will cause lag.

Finally, your graphics card and RAM need to be pretty hefty for a pleasant experience.

I run an imac with a 2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 with 16 GB of RAM and a great ATI Radeon HD 4850 512 MB graphics card. It pretty much flies with any codec I use.

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