Video Compression: Shrinking File Sizes

Codecs can be a huge black box when you're starting out with video, but ultimately they boil down fairly simply into a few somewhat interchangeable parts.

The main balance you're looking to strike is Quality vs Size. Often times higher quality means bigger size and vice versa, but with the right selection, there are some tools with which you can balance high quality with small file size.

Some programs like FCPX will just give you set of options: "Master File" or "Apple 1080p" and these are perfectly fine, they tend to be just simplified terms for what's actually happening. The flip side of this is that there is a dizzying list of different file types, codecs, audio types, and it seems to be that each one of them has multiple different names. For example: H.264 is the current popular choice for codec, it's also known as "AVC", "AV1", "VC-1", "MPEG-4", "MPEG4 Part 10", and "MPEG4 AVC".

This isn't meant to complicate things, but rather as a way to explain why exporting a file type and codec out of Final Cut Pro X is going to look so drastically different than exporting one out of Adobe Premiere.

Here are some of the tools you might use to transcode footage:

What to pay attention to

The root of a video codec comes down to 3 main choices: File Type, Codec, and Audio Format. This is made even more simple because 95% of the time you can ignore what the Audio format is because it has relatively small impact on your file size.

Codecs tend to come in a series of variations, a few of these will be listed below, but the most popular version will be what I refer to them as.

Here's a quick guide to a few of the more popular file types and codecs:

File Type


This list is massively simplified list. If you're using an Adobe or Black Magic program, you'll be faced with a dizzying array of options. Just keep in mind the few above and you should be in good shape.