You create proxy files for a number of good reasons. Maybe your machine is just not powerful enough to edit your 4K drone footage very smoothly. Perhaps you have to create a portable version of your show. Maybe you are collaborating with others and they need copies of your files.
Regardless of the reason, you need to make a choice.
Most Editors Avoid H.264 for Proxies
Most editors prefer to use Cineform, DNxHD/HR, or ProRes formats for their proxy files in Premiere Pro.
So why not H.264? The hard truth is that H.264 is terrible to edit with. Period. So when you're creating proxies for being easier on your machine, why throw one of the hardest codecs to decode as your proxy format? It doesn't make sense.
The case for H.264 Proxies
A case where H.264 proxies sort of makes sense to me is when you have a large amount of footage and a small amount of storage and you need a very "portable" version of your project. If you're in this position, make sure your storage is very, very fast portable storage or you're going to be back where you started from with a badly performing timeline.
Why Use Intraframe Formats?
Cineform, DNxHD/HR, and ProRes are all cross platform, visually lossless, professional quality "mezzanine" (some editors refer to them as "intermediate") codecs. These formats are referred to as intraframe formats, not interframe formats. Explanation: Intra-frame vs Inter-frame Compression Intraframe formats are equally great, though some have their preferences for formats, quality choices, and frame sizes. NLE software from any manufacturer (Premiere Pro included) will have much better performance during playback with these intermediate formats. That's why they're great choices for both transcodes and proxies.
What are Interframe Formats?
Interframe "Long GOP" codecs (.mov or .mp4 wrapped H.264 or H.265, typically) are the dominant consumer format. You likely handle them every day. Consider that mobile phones, DSLR/Mirrorless cameras, drones, VR cameras, screen captures, webcams, and more all use these formats. Because these formats create such a highly compressed video file, they are exceedingly difficult for your computer to handle, especially regarding playback and file handling. This fact doesn't appear to be changing any time soon.
Transcodes instead of Proxies?
From my perspective, having transcodes (simple copies) to Cineform, etc. is an even better scenario than proxies for some because you have the benefit of much better playback performance, and you can use smart rendering to make your Cineform exports lightning fast. Fixing mistakes on watch down can be easily repaired and a re-export takes a fraction of the time a H.264 export would take. 4K ProRes transcodes might playback just fine on your computer (especially at lower resolutions) so you may not need the performance proxies can give you.
That said, if your system is just not powerful enough to play back transcodes with performance and/or fractional resolution to your liking, simply create proxies. It goes without saying that you should test all of this before wasting time and storage in creating a full set of transcoded files.
By the way, if any of the transcoded files play back with difficulty, you can always create individual proxies for those files as you are editing.
Both Transcodes and Proxies?
The best scenario, I think, is to have both proxies and transcodes—but that's a personal preference. I love having the ability to have super awesome playback performance (using intraframe proxies at HD frame size) with the added benefit of being able to pull off a smart rendered export. Perhaps I should buy stock in high speed storage companies.
Storage Note: Transcodes and Proxies
You do indeed use a lot of storage up with source files, transcodes, proxies, preview files, etc. At least with transcodes and proxies, you can safely delete them when the project is complete. My advice is to always have a lot of high speed storage prepared in your studio for just these purposes.
So what format will you choose? Let me know in the comments below. Please also let me know if you have tips, ideas, or advice.
What's your choice in format for proxies? Let us know.
Personally, when I use proxies I take the included Cineform ones. They work beautifully. If they're at times larger than the H.264 originals for space on disc. But they can be deleted at the end of the project as you can make them again if you revisit that project.
The t-code/smart-rendering you do can also be a slick process. Proxies and t-codes take a bit of time to make, and some storage whilst working ... but the working time is vastly improved. So it seems worthwhile to plan the time. And of course, MediaEncoder can work over-night without charging overtime ...
I've been making proxies using h.264 purely because I can share the online with my clients via our web browser / cloud... they are quick to download for remote editors too. Timelines can be sticy though so I might tak your recommentdation to make both proxies and transcodes. By the way, if you are reasonably clever in Macos Automator, you can get FFMPEG to create all of this for you automatically when you drop new content on your drive. Then you just attach as needed in Premiere. Creating them in Premiere requires way too many steps! Thanks for your article.
I have to disagree with you. Now that I have my preset setup I just turn on ingest, when I make the project and as soon as I drop any clip in Media Encoder opens on it's own, proxies it and pauses when I'm using intensive cpu on premiere and then attaches it automatically. So rly just drop it in my project and it's done and attached.
I seldom use proxies as my camera shoots intraframe. My machine can handle the 4K footage natively.
But if I do need proxies I would choose Prores. Smaller file compaired to CF. And Prores seems to run a tad more smoothly then CF.
me, I'm a creature of habit and having spent the last 20 no make that 30 years in apple land, I'm used to prores (not that prores was available back in the day). I'm mainly working on a windows machine now, but prores is still available and prores proxy gives me the visual quality and ease of playback I need and I have clients that are on mac so that makes it easier also. Seems safer to me just to make my proxies with the same pixel dimensions as my camera original although I know I don't need to and haven't had any issues with 4 angle multicamera shows with 4K proxies .
For all the whining that goes on in this forum, for me Premiere is a great piece of software that I can adapt to my workflow needs which are constantly changing. and of course the people who contribute so much to this forum (and you know who you are) are an enormous help.