I'm doing a project where I'm using footage from a client that is .mp4 I have heard that mp4 is not the best quality, but I need to get going on using this footage for the project. There is an option to wait for a week or so to get all the footage in a higher quality format, but my question is this: how bad is mp4? Can't I just put it in Final Cut timeline and then render the footage to a higher quality? Not sure what to do.
Never edit MP4 with FCP. Adobe Premiere...sure. FCP...no. It WOULD be better to get the masters, yes. Mp4 is a compressed format, and you will notice the compression. Especially since you will have to convert it to ProRes before you start editing. Can't edit MP4 in FCP without a lot of rendering...and that is time consuming.
If you edit with the MP4, you'll need to compress it to a more FCP friendly format. Basic rule of thumb is garbage in garbage out. You won't be able to get a higher quality than the highest quality footage you started with. So look at those MP4s, the final product will look worse than those because you need to compress it. If you are happy with that quality you could re-compress and edit with it, but my guess is that you'll want to wait till you get the higher res stuff.
In one case, mp4 on the timeline is OK-- if you are simply assembling a string of clips with minimal editing intervention. In that case the constant rendering every time you touch a clip is less awful.
But honestly if you convert all the mp4 files to ProRes before editing, then edit, your final result may not terrible in comparison to if you had the original footage.
This depends on two things: the ultimate need of the result (is it for web or DVD?) and the the quality of the mp4 you now have (is it good? is it the same frame size as original and is that relevant?).
Are you delivering to a TV station? A movie theater screening? Those two examples would beg a workflow with the higher quality files.
Professional methods are not just traditions, they grow from practical experience and facts. That said, there is quite often a balance that must be struck between doing it the best and proper way and actually getting it done on time with acceptable quality-- as long as the quality outcome / schedule trade-off is agreed upon by you and your client.
You may be delivering for a situation where your current in-hand mp4 files are viable. Test the full workflow with a little segment. If usable, offer the option to your client as a way to meet a deadline.
Agree with all said here about the editability of mp4 in FC, but don't agree on what is said about quality.
We relate mp4 with cheap cameras, YouTube etc, but Mp4 is just a container and can hold even 10b Uncompressed 444. The 10b AVCI is just an mp4 flavor.
Just to say something while I drink my morning caffe.
Here's what I'd do: Convert the mp4s to ProRes and edit those ProRes versions. In a week, when better versions come in, unlink the ProRes versions you're using in FCP and relink it to the better versions.
This assumes that the high quality files you'll get in a week are exactly the same as the mp4s you currently have, save for the compression type. Clip length, frame size, and frame rate need to match exactly or it'll cause even more problems.
In terms of using mp4, Rafael summed it up nicely. It's just a container that can utilize a multitude of streams. Still, the most common mp4 codecs (MPEG-4, H.264) are great for final distribution, not really for use while editing. Now, if you've somehow managed to get an mp4 with, say, AVCIntra, well that's a totally different story. :)