Sony RX100 – Tips for UW Video Part 1- File Formats

When the new SONY DSC-RX100 was released early June many people were really excited as this camera featured a 1″ sensor at its heart.

Scott at Underwater Photography guide posted a raving review from which I was left salivating

Later on backscatter selected the RX100 as the best advanced camera of the year read more here however one statement left me concerned in the Pro and Cons section: No way to execute custom white balance in movie mode, must jump to photo mode

This sounded quite uneventful considering that we are almost used to one push custom white balance on most mid level compacts.

Maybe those guys looked at the Sony entirely from a still perspective and did not make much of the features or lack of thereof that this Sony has, anyway I have now bought the camera itself and I am facing a few issues and dilemmas.

Let’s take a close look at those one by one and start this issue with…


SONY has decided to adopt the new high specs AVCHD formats for this camera, I will from now on refer to 50p or 50i to indicate 50 progressive or 50 interlaced frames as this is the PAL standard. This would be 60p or 60i for NTSC US and Japanese users.

The AVCHD format had initially a 1080/50i and a 1080/24p format and a bunch of lower resolution formats, later on a 1080/50p format has been added with an increased bit-rate of 28 Mbps instead of the original 24.

Now you would normally assume that Sony would have chosen to support all those formats and instead has decided just for the 1080/50i and 1080/50p. The universal 1080/24p format that is compatible with both PAL and NTSC is not supported on the RX100. Why has Sony made this decision is a mystery.

The make things worse today interlaced display do not exist anymore and most of the non linear video editor convert interlaced footage in progressive otherwise you can’t actually edit the clips. Not only that very few software programs actually accept the new 1080/50p format, with the notable exception of Sony software that even at low level supports those formats. Adobe premier is another one, but the whole set of Apple software including iMovie and Final Cut Pro don’t know what to do with those files. Let alone the fact that no devices except powerful computers can actually play those files well.

The RX100 offers an MP4 format at 1440×1080 rectangular pixels with a 16:9 aspect ratio as a reminiscence of HDV. This format is however easily digestible by the majority of NLE on the market. So we would feel rather tempted to use it.

The question is how do we set our RX100 to capture underwater video?

The answer is actually at the highest possible setting that is 1080/50p. There are several reasons for this.

  1. The human eye is very sensitive to resolution. So the MP4 1440×1080 format goes out of the window
  2. We can still change the frame rate in editing phase to make the file a more normal 1080/25p
  3. There is not a huge difference in memory card use between the 24 Mbps of the highest interlaced mode and the 1080/50p
  4. It is easier to edit progressive frames without conversion
  5. Progressive footage does not introduce artifacts as  interlaced does

On a negative note the fact that we are saving AVCHD streams means goodbye back ups on our tablets or mobiles so plenty of memory cards with us during our trips.

The next challenge will be to import the AVCHD streams into our movie editor. As mentioned earlier the 1080/50p format is not recognized by many entry level programs so some will not even see those files.

Other programs will try and convert it, this option has to be disabled and the files imported as they are without any changes to preserve quality.

So what do we do if our software refuses to process the 1080/50p files in our AVCHD streams?

A number of help tools come handy unfortunately the freeware one are mostly on windows and I have not managed to produce anything that works yet with Wine for Mac. On Mac there are two tools iVI that costs $9.99 and ClipWrap more expensive both functional and will produce an M4V or MOV that can be processed with iMovie or other tools that would have previously rejected the file you go figure!!!

8 thoughts on “Sony RX100 – Tips for UW Video Part 1- File Formats”

  1. Hey there, thanks for mentioning our article, and for pointing out this workflow difficulty with the RX100 – it’s a very good point. Unfortunately, many compacts in our review suffer the same issue of using the AVCHD codec so we didn’t call it out specifically, but it has indeed been somewhat of a drag until recently.

    The software that you mention – Clipwrap – is an excellent solution. We’ve used this app to process AVCHD clips that were downloaded with Lightroom so they could be edited in FCP X. While it’s great that Lightroom 4 can download and preview AVCHD footage, it unfortunately breaks the folder structure making the clips unrecognizable by FCP X. Clipwrap solves this problem, in addition to making the footage usable in other entry level editing programs.

    My videos that were featured in the article were both edited using Premiere Pro which is able to work with AVCHD directly, no clip wrapping or transcoding required. It is for this reason that I’ve pretty much switched my entire workflow over to Adobe. It just saves so much time to be able to start working with clips without any intermediary steps. I wish other software would follow Adobe’s lead. Thanks again for the article.

  2. Hi There
    I guess my point is that Adobe Premiere Pro is a software that here in UK is priced at £810 which is more than the price of the RX100. Clipwrap works but it is also fairly expensive at £34.99 but iVI is affordable at £6.99.
    I am about to test final cut pro I think that there is a workaround by just using the SD memory card instead of connecting the camera however the RX100 is not in the list of supported cameras of FCPX whilst it is in the list for iMovie but only for 50i.
    I am doing some tests with free software like TsMuxer and Subler but the files that come out play with quicktime but get rejected by iMovie….!

  3. one point about backup to tablets, or more specifically to iPad. It’s possible with a jailbroken iPad. You maybe against it but it just let you maximize the usability of the tablet. I can use a powered usb hub and control from iPad to copy directly from a SD card to a portable HDD. I can even play the mts files on the iPad, albeit not smoothly but even my iMac can’t play the high def video from the RX100 smoothly. I have no need to bring a laptop on my trip anymore unless I really need to edit video on the spot.

    1. I think you are making a valid point here and I am not the person who is going to tell RX100 users what is best to do with their iPads 😉
      I use the iPad memory card adapter to back up my Canon and Sanyo, and also to preview the clips and dump the obvious ugly ones. The sanyo produces 60 fps MP4 that the iPad plays fine as they are encoded in AVCLC mode specifically designed for portable devices. However this adapter does not support AVCHD and only backs up the Mp4 and stills of the RX100 which is a pity. Besides the H264 streams of the RX100 are encoded with CABAC entropy encoding which is great for storage saving purposes but makes it impossible to play the files on any tablet currently on the market.
      A portable device capable of backing up SD cards does not cost much but you can’t preview the files, a device able to view AVCHD and back up SD card costs much more so if there are ways to make iPads or other tablets work at lower cost it may be worth trying.
      Thanks for your contribution and look forward to more valuable comments

  4. well a recent ruling keep jailbreaking iPhone as legal but not so for iPad, so I’m not going to teach an illegal act too!

    Maybe the new Microsoft tablets will serve the purpose…

  5. Great article. I wish I had seen it before I bought the RX100, as the white balance issue is a significant challenge for underwater use.

    But you are correct about the workaround. I have successfully imported 50i video from an SD card directly to FCP without attaching the camera. Haven’t tried on iMovie, but I suspect the same should be true.

  6. Late to the conversation, but the latest version of iMovie (2013) does native AVCHD editing without the need to convert to an intermediate format.

    1. That is true however iMovie 2013 is dreadful and offers no way to control the export in quicktime format producing huge files. If you want to stretch iMovie to the full potential is better to stay on the old versions at least this is what I will do

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