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Why Shoot 4K Today?

Posted by Guest Blogger on March 12, 2015

The motion imaging business is one of constant change. There are new fads and trends that seem to pop up every day. The trick is weeding through the fad of the moment and finding the gem that will last for a significant period of time.

Many believe that 4K image capture is just that, a fad. I for one do not agree with that viewpoint. I’ve shot 5K resolution for about 3 years now and recently have moved into 6K production as well. Personally I’ve seen the benefits of ‘over-sampling’ even when editing in a HD environment. Our clients are now seeing the benefits too, and requests are on the rise for 4K image capture.

There are arguments for and against 4K image capture. The main opposition believes that the move to “UHD” will be slow and painful. I believe that may be true in part because broadcasters do not want to spend the money necessary on infrastructure to deliver UHD to the masses. However, this business is nothing if not adaptive. If broadcasters won’t change, content providers will figure out a way to go around the broadcasters.

(UHD is slightly different from 4K, in that 4K is 4096×2160 resolution, displaying in a 17:9 (or 1.9:1) aspect ratio and UHD is 3840×2160 and displays in a 16:9 (or 1.78:1) aspect ratio.) It’s literally four HD panels put together!)

I for one think the traditional broadcast model is in danger. Typically, broadcasters rest on the status quo. However, the masses are always looking for bigger and better. This is certainly the case for UHD and 4K display. Can you remember the first time you saw a true HD image on an HD monitor? It was mind blowing, right? 4K does to HD, what high definition did to standard definition! Unlike 3D that requires special sets and glasses to watch, 4K will infiltrate the majority of homes, and without making some ill. Further, nearly every angle of view has the same experience, unlike 3D.

Streaming content providers like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon are starting to take a strong hold on the consumer dollar. Each of these entities are producing and/or delivering content in UHD. These types of companies enjoy breaking traditional business models. They are already finding ways to bring 4K to the masses much faster than broadcasters are planning. With new codecs like H.265 and VP9 on the cutting edge, it won’t be long before UHD content starts to become common place. 4k is now popping up all over the internet, primarily on YouTube as they allow for UHD resolutions and playback Even DirecTV has started their 4K service with limited programming. .

Prices of UHD sets and computer monitors are falling. In fact, there were holiday sales that had 4K/UHD televisions as low as $799 on Black Friday. These were the same tactics used by broadcasters and manufacturers to get the masses to purchase HD sets in the early 2000’s, with largest leaders to convert the masses from SD to HD were video games and sports. The largest events in the world are now being captured with 4K equipment. The 2014 world cup was broadcast in 4K to many countries, and down converted to the rest. Once these aspects of 4K imaging invade the typical household, the rest will follow.

Who wants 4K or UHD acquisition now? Any entity that wishes to use their footage in the future, whether it is for historical reference or purely for profit. Unlike standard definition, HD won’t be able to be “up-converted” to UHD because to do that requires that it’s magnified 400%. The general consensus in the broadcasting world is to not allow this to take place for programs that will be shown over the airwaves. Therefore, if you’re shooting content today, that you hope to use or re-purpose in the future, it needs to follow UHD specifications.

We’ve been hired to shoot the Superbowl for 2015. Our clients are mandating that we shoot footage for them in 4K or beyond. They will edit their masters in 4K and then down-covert to 1080 on site for broadcast.

We have noticed that nearly all of our corporate clients are moving into 4K as well. These clients want to be able to use material captured today for various purposes in the future. Many are asking that we acquire in 4K (or beyond) and provide them footage in both 4K and 1080; the latter being considered “proxy” files. The beauty of this system is that if you shoot and post in 4K, it’s quite simple to make a 1080 output of your finished product. If the decision is made to later present the material in 4K, it’s not necessary to go back and re-edit the material. This methodology is far more cost effective than using an EDL from a 1080 edit and then re-populating material to create a 4K program.

Most of the computers on the market today can edit 4K material without many issues. Even though it’s quite simple to edit in 4K today, some companies have been led to believe that their infrastructure can’t handle the resolution, and therefore perform an ‘off-line’ edit in 1080, and later an ‘on-line’ edit in 4K.

As prices of cameras continue to fall, 4K continues to follow in the footsteps of HD. What once was ‘exotic’ and commanded a higher price tag, is now becoming the norm and settling into pricing structures similar to HD.

Practically every modern camera being produced utilizes some form of digital media. The days of using tape (unless LTO for backup) have passed. 4K/UHD does require more media storage space, but the price of storage continues to drop as the sizes of hard drives continue to expand.

Further, the development of HD has ceased. Manufacturers are concentrating more on 4K and beyond than on HD. It’s becoming more commonplace in the consumer world too, as many mobile phones and POV cameras are now shooting in 4K/UHD.

Make no mistake about it; there is a learning curve with all things in the 4K world. There are nuances in every aspect from acquisition to monitoring to post production. Some make the transition seamless, while others struggle to grasp the knowledge necessary to move forward. However, with some research and practice, utilizing 4K is no more difficult than utilizing HD, which too had a learning curve.

So at some point one has to make a decision… continue using the technology of yesteryear, or step forward and start using the technology of not only today, but tomorrow as well! How many of your current film productions around the globe are captured in 4K or beyond?


  1. Very interesting article, thanks. There does seem to be more of a case for 4K production, even though distribution has its challenges.

  2. Good info…. I too have shot in 4K for a few clients (using RED) and will now be getting a new 4K camera after the NAB show we are going to (leaning toward the Sony FS7).
    We are getting more clients wanting it so as to avoid a 2nd camera as they can get both a wide shot and close up form the same camera as they deliver in HD. Peace Mark 🙂

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