I would use the native files to edit with, faster workflow aswell, no need to transcode before hand. Premiere is fine to work with most native formats.
If you are on a Mac avoid Cineform like the plague. It crashes constantly with CS5. I was in contact with the developers a while back and it seems they havent made any progress fixing it so that it works on the Mac with Adobe CS5.
I understand that Premiere will work with the H.264 camera files, however I have been looking at transcodng them for two reasons. First of all, I am running a intel core 2 duo machine where the payback is rough (new one coming by the end of spring). Seconfly, I have read in several places that decompressing the camera files to a ProRes 4:2:2 or even 4:4:4 yields better results when color grading.
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Since I often am dragging my CTI over my Sequence timeline, I get far better response using i-frame (ProRes) over LongGOP (H.264). It's physics. It's the law.
Depending on how much footage in your project, it can be faster in the long run to transcode to an i-frame codec rather than editing native. For long form work, I recommend transcoding to i-frame first. It will take more time before you can begin editing, but once your timeline starts to get 30 minutes plus, you'll avoid a lot of slow-downs caused by LongGOP unpacking.
For short projects - those that take a few days - I mostly edit native. The slowdowns caused by LongGOP don't seem so bad when they're not multiplied exponentially, as in a long-form project.
For the most part, ProRes 422 works well in Pr on my Mac. I've not had as good luck with ProRes4444 (I have a thread ongoing about my issues.).
I use MPEG Streamclip to make ProRes 422 from H.264 from a digital still camera.
Here's a tip, if you have an 8-core machine: Duplicate your copy of MPEGStreamclip. Launch both, set them to use 4 Simultaneous Tasks. Then, when you batch export (half of your files to each instance), you'll see that all 8-cores of your CPU are being maxed out. This will get your transcodes done at maximum speed.
Thanks for the detailed reply. This is pretty much what I have thought, at least regarding the time factor. I am working exclusively with DSLRs, doing short pieces for existing still clients who need video/motion. Is there any real image quality difference between color grading H.264 camera files vs. ProRes 422?
Well, again, laws of physics: There will be a quality loss transcoding to any lossy codec like ProRes. But, the loss is slight, and likely impercepable to 99.9% of the human population. But, when you jump from an 8-bit codec to a 10-bit codec, any effects you add at the 10-bit stage should hold up better than effects added to 8-bit footage.
Thanks for the information. It is much the same as t is with stills - RAW files, tifs, jpgs and 8 and 16 bit files.