An HDR Workflow in Final Cut Pro X

Posted on by Larry

workflowHDR (High-Dynamic Range) video is the newest hot topic in media creation. It features both pixels that are brighter than what we are used into in HD and with a richer level of saturation.

Recently, Adobe released a version of Premiere Pro that supports editing HDR directly in Premiere. This got me thinking about whether we can do the same thing in Final Cut Pro X.

The answer is that we can, this article describes how.

HDR media is fairly easy to shoot, provided we use at least a 10-bit codec and record in either RAW or Log-C formats.

The challenge is in editing. Why? Because we don’t yet have a consistent standard – nor affordable monitors – that allow us to view HDR material. While OS X is capable of handling HDR material, all current computer monitors are not and FCP X does not support displaying HDR material.

NOTE: In the past, I’ve written that OS X is not capable of handling HDR material. This is incorrect. At NAB, I learned that the problem is not OS X, but computer monitors.

However, all is not lost. We can take lessons we learned in the past and apply them to this new technology. Let me illustrate: when we shoot a project, we often need to create multiple versions of the same project:

Then, each of these versions needs to be compressed into multiple formats for various distribution channels. Yes, it’s a mess.

At the high-end of the market, post houses specializing in HDR color grading use $20,000 monitors from Sony and others connected by cards from either AJA or Blackmagic Design to DaVinci Resolve for the final color pass. They then output a specific HDR version that meets the HDR standards set by the distributor. There are currently about six, which include:


If you need both a standard HD and an HDR version of your program, create optimized media during import. (You’ll find this choice on the right side of the Media Import window.) If you only want to create an HDR version, you can reduce your storage needs by only creating proxy files. In either case, there’s no need to edit the actual camera native files, which tend to be very big.

However, it is essential that you retain all the original camera source files, as you’ll see in a minute.

NOTE: Remember to change the View setting in the top right corner of the Viewer from Optimized/Original to Proxy to see the proxy files you just created.

The key point to keep in mind is that HDR is finalized in the color grade, NOT the edit. So FCP X allows us to easily create an HD version, an HDR version, or both for final output.

For the HD version, edit and output the HD project using optimized media, the same as always. However, for HDR, after the edit is complete, output an XML of your media (File > Export XML). XML allows us to easily relink our project directly to the higher-quality camera native media.

NOTE: You should also export a small reference movie of your finished edit so that the folks doing the color grade can precisely match your edits. You don’t need to switch to proxy media to output a video as a reference, expecially if you didn’t create proxy files in the first place. Instead, just take the final version and export as H.264. This will create a small “reference” movie to serve as a guide for the final color grade.

Send the XML, the reference movie and the original camera source material to the post house doing the color grading and have them conform the XML to the camera native (i.e. high-bit depth) files by relinking the files.

NOTE: The XML from FCP X should directly translate in Blackmagic Design’s Resolve and current Autodesk apps. Older apps or ones that don’t support the FCP X XML will need an EDL which you can get using EDL-X, from XMiL.

Once the media is relinked, the color grade can progress normally using all the color fidelity and richness provided in the source media and displayed on an HDR monitor.

The benefit to this approach is that we don’t need expensive HDR-quality monitors – especially in today’s world of constantly changing specs – or deep knowledge of color codecs to create an HDR master.

The downside is that we need to budget for an HDR color pass, which will be more expensive than a simple HD color grade. However, for most projects, the only reason to do an HDR version is because the client is willing to pay for it.

NOTE: Keep in mind that, when working with HDR, you’ll need to do at least two color grades: one for HDR and one for SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) for everyone that doesn’t have an HDR TV set.


Until the standards for HDR solidify and settle down, it does not make sense for smaller shops to invest in HDR monitors. It does make sense, however, to start shooting high-bit-depth material to protect our projects and clients. And edit it in such a fashion that we can extract an HDR version whenever the client decides they want to pay for it.

Now, when you are ready to step up to HDR, FCP X can handle the whole process for you.

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11 Responses to An HDR Workflow in Final Cut Pro X

  1. Rob says:

    Please post a video online about this. Lots will find this useful.
    Thank you Larry for posting this.

  2. Darcy says:

    I’m having trouble taking the rich colour of HDR & converting it into an HD output that looks good. A session on outputting to multiple products would be helpful. (Output to HD & HDR)

    • Larry says:


      This is a good question, but impossible to show in a webinar – or even online. Remember that what makes an HDR image is:
      * More pixels – 4K and above
      * More color – greater color saturation
      * Brighter pixels – brightness levels greater than 100%

      NONE of those three are supported in HD media. HD is limited to 1920×1080, less saturated colors and pixels which are 4 to 10 times DIMMER than HDR. So, you can’t match images. That’s why HDR was invented.

      You can use an HDR master to make an HD master look better than shooting HD directly, but they will never look the same.


  3. Hi Larry, some of my shots in my film need colour correcting using HDR. The clouds in the sky now magically appear using HDR. Shot on EVA 1 5.7 k editing on FCPx.
    The indie feature film is low budget, so I don’t think we will be releasing in HDR.
    Can I get away with using a iMac monitor calibrated?
    Thanks for being there!


    • Larry says:


      HDR video in an HD (Rec. 709) project CAN be graded on your computer monitor because you are creating video that your monitor can display.

      HDR video in an HDR (Rec. 2020) project can NOT because a computer monitor can not properly display the necessary range of HDR video.


  4. Peter Hitchcock says:

    Thanks for the reply Larry. HDR TV’s along with Streaming services are probably going to want HDR 2020 I guess.
    I’m making a low budget feature. Hmmm…wonder if I could first try Rec 709 and see if it’s worth spending more money.

    • Larry says:


      You have several options. MOST important, though, is to contact potential streaming services and find out what they want for deliverables. At the very least, you’d be more informed as you start planning your project.

      Second, shooting Log or Raw files for a Rec. 709 project does not require a new monitor – though it may require more storage. Also, this is a known workflow where the color grade can be done easily on a desktop system. As well, shooting 4K for a Rec. 709 project is also straight-forward, though, again, requires more storage.

      The trick is creating an HDR project – THAT is a lot harder.

      As with all things, test some footage to see what you are getting into.


  5. not quite the right thread, but im losing my mind with FCPX and HLG. i bring in the sony HLG and then check the box (info panel) for forcing into a 709 space. it looks great – for a little while… but i am having an issue where the change does not ‘stick’. i’ll bring in an interview to the timeline, it looks great – i export or something, come back 10 minutes later and its back to the blown out HLG. is this a known bug? happens with optimized media and proxies and i can not figure out how to get beyond this (the 709 workaround is also apparently a one hit wonder, once done it can not be undone or changed)… please help if possible. thank you!

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