Today's stock footage takes up a lot more hard drive space than it used to, especially when shot in higher resolutions like 4K. This makes selecting the right video format even more important, since your videos need to strike a good balance between quality and practicality. There's no one-size-fits-all solution for every videographer, but it helps to consider your camera and subject matter.
For example, if you're shooting with a high-end 4K digital camera, you'll want to select a codec that takes advantage of that incredible visual detail. On the other hand, if you're producing stock footage with a smartphone, you probably don't need to waste storage space on the highest quality codecs. Below, we've outlined a few of the best video formats for stock footage, their unique pros and cons, and who they're best suited for.
Over the last few years, H.264 has become a reliable standard for video uploads — especially if you're using budget or mid-range equipment. For the average videographer who wants to start a side business with stock footage, H.264 offers more manageable file sizes than the high-end codecs. To achieve this, the codec does compromise video quality a bit, and the extra compression makes it more CPU intensive when editing on a non-linear timeline.
If you're planning on doing serious color correction, H.264's colorspace isn't as detailed as PhotoRes or PhotoJPEG. In the grand scheme of things, however, H.264 is still a solid option because most editing software and media players support it, and it's the default codec for many prosumer devices. Social media platforms like Facebook even transcode video files to H.264 by default! If you're launching a stock footage operation, H.264 is a great place to start.
At the opposite end of the codec spectrum, the ProRes codec family is an ideal choice when shooting stock footage with professional equipment. File sizes are significantly larger than H.264, but that's because you're getting a much richer colorspace, support for the highest bitrates (with ProRes 4444 XQ, you can have up to 12 bits per image channel), and each video frame is compressed separately.
Depending on your needs, there are a variety of ProRes versions that offer different levels of compression. ProRes 4444 XQ has the highest data rate (approximately 500 Mbps), but there is also ProRes 422 HQ (220 Mbps), ProRes 422 (147 Mbps), ProRes 422 LT (102 Mbps), and ProRes 422 Proxy (45 Mbps). You'll need to buy special conversion software like Compressor (Mac) or Miraizon (Windows/Mac) to create ProRes files.
Finally, PhotoJPEG offers a happy balance between H.264's practicality and ProRes' outstanding resolution, with a medium amount of video compression. For prosumers and aspiring professionals, PhotoJPEG is generally more respected than H.264 when it comes to submitting stock footage, and all stock agencies support it. The codec's color space is also excellent for most applications, with support for 4:4:4 and below. It's also a great choice if you're creating stock graphics or animations, as it will display your illustrated work with rich detail.
On the other hand, PhotoJPEG files are still noticeably larger than H.264, which can be problematic when dealing with a huge video archive. It's also an 8-bit codec, so even if you use a 4:4:4 colors pace, there might be some faint banding in the coloration. All in all, there's no perfect video format, but if you consider your personal camera setup and resolution needs, you'll find a codec that does the job.