Cinematography

The Problem With 4K

I think the significance of 4K shooting has been somewhat over-hyped by many indie filmmakers. Don’t get me wrong it’s very cool and a huge leap in the state of the art that we can capture video at such an incredible resolution—4× that of standard HD video. So it is a big deal . . . just probably not that big a deal for you—at least not yet, because there are some very simple practical matters that seem to be overlooked in all the 4K hype:

  1. There are very few places that you can actually SEE a 4K image.
  2. 4K footage requires much more media storage, which gets expensive fast.
  3. 4K footage requires much more computer power to edit and render.

4K is still very expensive. So astronomical, that outside of a few high-end private post-production/screening facilities, there isn’t any place you can actually see 4K resolution onscreen. Plenty of things are being shot in 4K alright, but most of them are being edited, screened and distributed at the same standard HD resolutions (1080p or 720p) as everything else. The theaters in the US are still in the process of converting to expensive HD digital projectors and I simply don’t see them throwing out that technology for even more expensive 4K projectors in the immediate future.

Similarly, 4K televisions and monitors are still in their (expensive) infancy and I think 4K cable will happen later, rather than sooner. HD still hasn’t saturated the US market and I doubt that the cable companies, Netflix or YouTube or anyone else will be broadcasting any significant amount of programming or videos in 4K anytime soon, so very few people will ever get see a film at 4K resolution for the time being.

Photo by Chardayyy

The simple fact is 4K is so good that we don’t have many practical means to actually see it in it’s full glory. Beyond that, from a producing and technical standpoint, shooting 4K is also impractical because it requires much more (at least 4× more) digital storage space and processing power as working with 1080 or 720 HD footage.

Sure, the better the original acquisition format, the better the end product will look, but the difference in cost, hard drive space, computer power and editing workflow hassles may not be worth the modest improvements you’ll get after “downrezing” 4K to standard HD resolution. If you’re shooting a very cinematic and visually beautiful subject matter or shooting a narrative feature that will likely be distributed theatrically, I’d give 4K a serious look. Otherwise, I think we’re still a few more camera generations away from 4K being a practical acquisition format for most independent documentary projects.

Excerpt from The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide: A Down & Dirty DV Production, 2nd Edition by Anthony Q. Artis © 2014 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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