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Premiere Pro and QuickTime and Nikon, OH MY!

This post is going to get a little techy and geeky – I want to take a minute and explain the relationship between Premiere Pro and QuickTime for a minute. I feel it’s important to understand it, so that you’ll also understand why it’s sometimes necessary to change file extensions on some .MOV files in order to get them to play properly in Premiere Pro. This mostly seems to affect Nikon owners, but can be a workaround for certain other types of cameras as well.

Premiere Pro actually has its own built-in system for decoding files, and Adobe works with the camera manufacturers and codec owners to ensure that the majority of cameras and codecs are supported directly.

For certain codecs, like H.264, there are a number of wrappers for the file – an H.264 file can come in a QuickTime .MOV file, an .AVI file, or an .MP4 file.

In the case of a QuickTime .MOV file, Premiere Pro will generally let QuickTime handle the decoding of the file, unless there’s metadata in the file header that suggests otherwise. If there’s nothing in the header, it just hands off the file to QuickTime, and the performance is reliant on QuickTime for decode and playback. This is required for a number of codecs, since there are many QuickTime codecs that only exist inside of the QuickTime framework. (ProRes, for example.) And, the performance can be very good with QuickTime files. However, it’s not the case with certain codecs. For example, decoding H.264 files with  QuickTime can sometimes cause less-than-ideal performance in Premiere Pro. Some of the QuickTime codecs are really more optimized for viewing and playback, rather than editing.

In the case of Canon DSLR files, there’s something in the file header. Premiere Pro can recognize that the clips came from a Canon camera, and bypass QuickTime. This enables Premiere Pro to have smooth playback of DSLR files, and get better dynamic range from the clips. Premiere will use its own built-in decoder, which is optimized for editing, and respects the extended color used by the Canon cameras.

For this reason, it’s sometimes necessary to force Premiere Pro to bypass QuickTime for a certain set of files. I tend to see this the most with certain types of Nikon DSLR cameras. For whatever reason, Premiere Pro cannot detect what camera these .MOV files come from, and it just hands off the decoding of the files to QuickTime, usually with less-than-stellar results.

For this reason, when I see a problem with a .MOV file performing badly within Premiere Pro, I first determine the codec used. If it’s some type of MPEG/H.264 derivative, I rename the file extension manually in Finder or Windows to .MPG. This will force Premiere Pro to use the built-in MPEG decoders to decode the file, and will usually help playback/performance a great deal.

If you run into this problem, and deduce it’s from an H.264 file in a .MOV wrapper, you can use Adobe Bridge to batch rename files very quickly, and without re-encoding the files. All bridge does is change the 3-letter extension of the existing files, so it can plough through hundreds of files in minutes.

In Bridge, select all the files you wish to rename, and go to Tools – Batch Rename. Then, set up the Batch renaming tool something like this:



    This just revolutionized my editing life. The difference in playback quality is amazing. My i7-2600k, 8GB of RAM and 1GB MPE GPU could barely even play my Nikon DSLR video files in the timeline. I thought that my system just wasn’t up to snuff.

    After this change things are smooth as butter. Wow. Just wow.

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