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September 4, 2012

4K at 60FPS is Coming from Sony, New Cameras Likely Not Far Behind

While you might just be catching your breath after getting caught up with all of your 1080p, or even 2.5K devices, 4K cameras at the budget range are going to come fast and hard from the major manufacturers. JVC was the first out of the gate with a less than stellar solution, but there was no question other companies were working on the technology. Now we've got confirmation straight from Sony about what's right around the corner for lower-end 4K cameras.

Thanks to Cinescopophilia for the link -- here's a little bit about the new sensor:

The English version of the new Sony IMX144CQJ Exmor R sensor press release has surfaced. The IMX144CQJ sensor is a diagonal 9.33 mm (Type 1/1.7) sensor, which places it somewhere between a 1/2″ (8mm) and 2/3″ (11mm) sensor in size. The Sony IMX144CQJ has 12.40M-Effective Pixel High-Speed, and is a High-Sensitivity Back-Illuminated CMOS Image Sensor for Consumer Digital Still Cameras and Camcorders.

Basically the sensor will sit somewhere between the EX1/EX3/PMW-200 and the higher-end broadcast cameras. Of course, a sensor that small doesn't necessarily lend itself to being fantastic in lower light (or giving excellent shallow depth-of-field), but we all know that shallow depth-of-field is a bit overrated, and often it's really the dynamic range and color fidelity that make an image what it is. What is interesting about this sensor is that it is actually a native 1.33 aspect ratio, which means it will probably be able to take 4:3 still images -- or maybe Sony will sell this sensor for industrial purposes as well. Either way, it's likely this sensor has been in development for some time, and the release of the document from Sony means that lower-end 4K cameras will likely be released in the next few years. Here is a little more information about the frame rates (click for a larger version):

There will be more 4K sensors to come, but what's more striking for me is how far ahead of the game Sony's sensor development is than the other Japanese manufacturers. Of course companies like RED and Arri can get high frame rates -- but they have a very specialized business and they can work with a sensor manufacturer to design exactly the right sensor they need. Sony, however, is usually working on a far larger scale. If Sony can get 60fps at 4K, why can't we get 60fps at 1080p from many of these manufacturers? Yes the data rate is far higher for real 60p (or at least it should be), but there is such a demand for these frame rates that it seems like a no-brainer for a company like Canon to incorporate (though maybe strong sales have let them spend a little less time and money on R&D).

I know a lot of people would rather have 1080p at 120fps than 4K at 60fps, but I think there's another factor people aren't considering in the ensuing 4K battle. While RED has produced the first affordable (relatively speaking) 4K, 5K, and soon to be 6K cameras, it is still taking a bit of time for displays to catch up. Those are coming, however, and depending on your line of work, whether they need it or not (or can even benefit from it), once clients start really seeing material in 4K, they're going to want it. This transition won't happen for another few years, but if you have a competitive business, it's not too early to start thinking about a 4K game-plan and how that might fit into your business model.

What do you guys think? Will those who bought into RED's "future-proofing" have the advantage, or will display technology take long enough that people will have time to catch up?

Link: Sony IMX144CQJ Exmor R Sensor -- PDF

[via Cinescopophilia]

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38 Comments

You got that right when you said, "I know a lot of people would rather have 1080p at 120fps".

September 4, 2012

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dixter

Ditto. I mean there's certainly value in both, but let's all remember that regardless of how much a camera costs, a 4K or even a 2.5K or 2K workflow isn't in the interest of *as many* people as a 1080p workflow is. That's just a matter of beyond-the-camera technologies. Plenty of small time and indie projects can't put together enough processing and manhours and storage and backup and data wrangling to (properly) handle a bulky amount of 4K footage at today's prices, and they won't be able to at tomorrow's prices either. There are a lot of factors involved there which are changing much more slowly than camera evolution.

I'm actually pretty impressed by Sony right now. They're a company I love to hate generally, but lately (in this line of business anyway) they've been making some pretty darn smart decisions compared to Canon and friends. Of course it will eventually benefit many people, over the long term, to have higher framerates available in 4K shooting technology. But that doesn't mean that in the short term, 1080p won't continue to mean more to more people (especially if it comes with sweet, sweet overcranked slow motion abilities). That's not choosing one thing over another, that's just a reflection of where the marketplace is.

September 4, 2012

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trackofalljades

I would rather 720p at 200fps than 4K at 60

September 4, 2012

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kevin

as a music producer of many years, i have seen advances in audio technology cross what i would call a "threshold of relevance." i remember in the early 2000's recording audio at super high def (192 khz,) and it was quite a fad! Here in 2012 however, no one really cares. (unless its sound effect work..) Everyone I know records at 24 bit 48 khz, and listens to mp3's! I use an old Pro Tools rig from the 90's..my workflow is super-fast, and my clients are always happy.

Having gotten into video in the last three years, i can see many parallels in the way this technology is going!
A 4k sensor equipped camera for the masses reduces the need for expensive crews..( by giving the indie film-maker more options in post..) but i wonder if as a delivery resolution, it really matters.
I would predict that video technology is nearing its own "threshold of relevance."

September 4, 2012

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ruben huizenga

The problem is that 4K is being pushed by everyone. Sony is pushing cameras and TVs. Most other cameras are moving that way. Theaters are moving to 4K projection. If anything I think it's safe to say the threshold for video is 4K or somewhere beyond and not 1080p. It seems like 4K SHOULD be the threshold, but who knows.

September 4, 2012

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once BBC puts out one of their super awesome nature documentaries in 4K, thats when 4K will be here and now :D Seriously I think HD was accelerated by Planet earth more than anything else

September 4, 2012

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kevin

I honestly wouldn't doubt it. That and sports programming. People want to feel like they're there (in regards to sports) and a 4K TV at 70 or 80 inches could certainly do that.

September 4, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

Yeah, it does seem like there will be a threshold as well though. I mean once you get to 4K on a 42 inch screen is there any point in going beyond that? It seems like web will have it's own threshold (4K maybe), TV will have a different one (8K), and then theaters will have another (no end to the gimmicks to keep people coming).

September 4, 2012

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You're forgetting that TV also leading towards 120hz and 240hz monitors. I was curious where the The Hobbit would fit in with its 48fps but there seems to be a backlash there and not in sports or video games.

September 4, 2012

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Julian

Yep, and there are a few other manufacturers with 4K solutions at that size. That one is going to be around $30,000 I believe, though - so not very cheap at the moment.

September 4, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

@Luke Neumann - Depending on who you ask it will take at least 80" - some say 120" or more - to be able to differentiate 1080p from 4k at normal viewing distances. At 42" it would be impossible no matter how good your vision, unless you get really close to the screen.

48/60Hz in consumer TVs seems like a much more worthwhile investment. Almost no one will appreciate the extra pixels.

September 4, 2012

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wtx

That's what I mean. The threshold for resolution will be dependent on the screen size for that medium. I think it will be different between Web, TV, and Film with Web and TV hitting their threshold sooner rather than later. Also, we can assume at one point soon Web and TV will combine into the same thing. It kind of already has. I was about to say how there won't be a huge market for 80 inch monitors but I think monitors will just be replaced by wifi TV's soon enough and the threshold for Web AND TV will be the same (ie. 4K).

I just don't know how many people will have 80 inch TV's in their homes at ANY point in time, regardless of price and availability. Just from a square footage stand point...most living rooms would need additions! These big companies seem to be putting a lot of stock into the assumption that people will want their TV's to be the focal point of their homes. While I'm sure people will buy them, I don't see the general public EVER getting on board with that idea.

Companies have a way of manipulating people into buying though. I'm sure just the words "ultra" and "def" would cause people to buy a 42 inch 4K TV, even though they can't tell the difference.

September 4, 2012

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Just wait for the 4k discs I assume they would have to use discs that hold up to 1.5 terabytes...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holographic_Versatile_Disc

September 4, 2012

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Julian

If you can fit a 1080p 2 hour movie on a 25GB Blu-Ray, you will be able to fit a 4K 2 hour movie on a 100GB Blu-Ray with decent compression. Compression is going to double again in a few years, but these things are always improving.

September 4, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

I agree, I am a music producer and was discussing this with a friend recently. I can only just hear the difference between 32bit and 64bit internal processing in my DAW. That is with a very good set of earphones. I dont think I would be able to distinguish anything higher. It is above the quality of good vinyl on a great turntable and now the high resolution sensors are beginning to compete with film I think 8k will be the limit for a long time to come. 1080 is not taken up widely for TV's across the globe yet.

September 4, 2012

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Robert Groves

I am with the doubters here on 4k. I think that in the end the limiting factor is the human being. Until now I have watched 2k movies in theaters and even trying to I can't see any pixel. Now what general Joe will see a difference!!!!!! Going from SD to hd was a big step up, but now everything above it will have significant diminishing returns. Manufacturers will push it because they have to always try to push something to keep there profit like they tried and mostly failed with 3d.

Listening to news everyday is just depressing, we could be back to the 80s level with the economy and perhaps another food crisis looming with the big drought. So even if you will find 4k tv etc it won't be mainstream any day now at least in broadcast where everything is not even in true 1080p. Consumers might also go one step back like the MP3 music or computer where they might preffer smaller but more convenient way of consuming media. People went from desktop workstation, to laptops and now tablet, because they provide 99% of what they need in a more convenient way.

September 4, 2012

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Danyyyel

I also lived through the audio changeover. I TOTALLY AGREE. Give it 24/36 months, this entire debate is irrelevant, as 4K will be everywhere, at prices taht will make you weep now. The top-end will be shooting 8K with 16 stops by then (humour).
Unless you're not making money off your kit right now, or you have a project where they've already paid the upfront, DO NOT BUY A NEW CAMERA. Entire studios went broke in the 90s because they bet the wrong horse. I can see it happening again right now in consumer/pro video.

September 4, 2012

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marklondon

I agree with your "threshold of relevance" concept. Honestly, I doubt the average consumer can tell the difference between a 1080p clip and a 4k clip on the average-sized tv or computer screen. In fact, humans can't tell the difference between 720p and 1080p at the distance we normally sit away from a tv screen (cite your sources! http://cnet.co/FObjT9)

Although 4K is inevitable, I sincerely hope that in the future, sensor creators focus less on resolution and more on things such as dynamic range.

September 4, 2012

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Edge

Cheap 4k acquisition seems like a great thing for indie filmmakers, but for at home consumers it's pointless. At normal TV viewing distances it's virtually impossible to tell 4k from 1080p. Consumers will have to start sitting uncomfortably close to their TVs to appreciate the difference.

September 4, 2012

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wtx

A camera was once a mecahnical device, as were adding machines. But today a camera is just a computer.

Who buys computers for use 4-5 years from now?

The RED upgrades are a nice thought but they will be encountering enough price pressure on the new cameras that I'm not sure it will be much better than staying a free agent and buying whatever the best camera is when you need an upgrade.

If I have a project I want in 4K for posterity it would be the exception and it would certainly be a rental not a purchase. Not until the quality and usability (incl. workflow efficiency in post) comes down in price enough to make it worth buying rather than renting. Though rental fees will go down in tandem.

We've seen a new camera every week it seems and each of them blow away what was the same price 12 months before. Production factors are universally accessible now. The more important question is, who's going to pay for all these movies to be made, and who's going to watch them?

September 4, 2012

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Peter

You have to spend all your own money and work for free, didn't anyone inform you? :)

September 4, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

We're still at a time where making something of feature length is rare. Since the entire population of LA (and then some) is rumored to have their own screenplay sitting in a desk drawer, with all this production capability flodding the market and young upstarts trying to find something to do with it, a lot of those screenplays may actually be made (on shoestring budgets...but, fix it in post).

This means vast seas of content will form, most of it dismal, the occasional viral hit and a few overlooked and underpromoted gems rewarding those killing time sorting through it all. And you wonder, why all that work and expense, when no one watches beyond the friends of the cast and crew that come to the "premiere" party and those who couldn't make it that saw it posted on facebook a few months later when the makers decided, finally, that no one was going to distribute it.

Though I think this is a good thing. People aren't watching TV anymore, they say. They are even starting to leave facebook and the web. What are they doing with all that time they used to kill? I see, they're becoming filmmakers and making their own personal TV.

September 4, 2012

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Peter

I like your Free Agent comment. I think that's the best route as well. I'm buying a Black Magic camera for personal use and some commercial then renting on an as needed basis. Cameras tech is expanding at a crazy rate right now.

September 4, 2012

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There are people who try to buy their way into having appeal to clients, having the very latest and greatest on hand. But unless they are independently wealthy and taking a tax write-off, those strategies tend to drown them in debt.

Since this is supposedly a film school, I think keeping it very simple is good advice for people. (I know you are more experienced than the learners Luke.) Figure out what you want to do with a film, not a camera. Unless your career goal is to be an operator/1AC then the camera race is a distraction. The BMCC and three decent lenses are more than enough image quality to get a message across. Anything from the RX100 up is. When you've developed a sense of what you are doing with a production, the cameras will be available to you.

September 4, 2012

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Peter

I would be happy with a $3,000 camera that actually resolves 1080p and has 60fps. I really don't care about even 2k, let alone 4k.

September 4, 2012

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Tim

That's the thing, shooting 4K does resolve a real 1080p once you downscale...

September 4, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

True, but wouldn't it be better to record sharp 1080p footage from the get go instead of having to deal with 100's of gigs of soft 4k footage, only to downscale back to 1080p? Isn't that what the C300 does already? It has a 4k sensor that scales down to 1080p.

September 4, 2012

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Tim

Sure, but working with the 4K file first is actually far more versatile. You can always get rid of the original 4K files and keep converted 1080p footage. What you're looking for just hasn't come down in price yet. 5 Years ago there wasn't an affordable way to shoot with a large sensor camera. Now we've got too many options. Just think about what there will be 5 years from now.

September 4, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

All the things that involve cropping as intention or side effect...stabilization, rolling shutter, distortion compensation, and recomposition...benefit from having resolution to spare in post. So there is an advantage in capturing in high res. Is it worth the expense and time? Depends.

September 4, 2012

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Peter

I never thought the whole 4k thing would take off so fast. Exciting times indeed.

September 4, 2012

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moebius22

you buried the lede, as we used to say in journalism ....

" .... there is such a demand for these frame rates that it seems like a no-brainer for a company like Canon to incorporate ... "

canon is slowly getting it's lunch eaten.

September 4, 2012

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timeoutofmind

1). In the old days when broadcasts were in "standard definition" we shot all are our TV spots on 35mm film and finished on video. Obviously we could see the difference between material originating on film vs video while watching the SD broadcasts. Now I find it much harder to tell what is what while watching TV. I suppose a 60 inch 4K TV could look amazing if the TV and the content shown on it is NOT designed to look too "electronic" or gaudy so the bar for higher quality will go up. Mistakes and bad taste will be emphasized. 2). I remember one large post production facility probably jumped the gun and went out of business when they invested in HD too soon...3). It seems in print technology images are being successfully "up-rezzed" for large sized posters. Those huge canon printers can actually "add/fill in" pixels using various algorithms. I wonder if similar tweaking of resolution will become commonplace in moving pictures as well.

September 4, 2012

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Rob

Red Scarlet owner operator here, and trust me you need to shoot in 4k. PS I am totally not biased in these matters... lmfao

September 5, 2012

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Brian Merlen

Just to interject a bit of reality here -- many, if not most, 1080p-capable cameras already run sensors with a greater than 1920x1080 resolution. I can't speak for the designers, but generally the idea is that a Bayer matrix sensor with resolution x by y and the usual RGGB construction has a maximum red resolution of x/2:y/2, green resolution of (approx) x/sqrt(2), y/sqrt(2), and a blue resolution of x/2:y/2, best case. Add in some optical low pass filtering, and actual achievable resolution will be substantially worse than this, x/3:y/3 or worse. If you use a higher resolution sensor, say with a x*2:y*2 resolution, you can then downsample to x:y retaining full resolution in all channels. Note that you *still* need optical low pass, but it can be less critical since you can dial a bit of it in digitally. In color terms, going from a x*2:y*2 resolution Bayer sensor to x:y means that you have full RGB information for each pixel. This actually is a 4:3 reduction in information from the Bayer matrix's RGGB, but the fact that you have 2 greens you can bin together effectively gives you an extra bit of noise immunity on the green channel (which is the brightest in luma terms, so this is worth having). If you can capture this at 4:4:4 with sufficient bit depth to not be throwing away information, then 1080p really can be only fractionally less sharp than a 4K raw Bayer image, close enough to be swamped in the optical low pass's effects. 4:2:2 encoding maintains the same luma resolution as 4:4:4, as does 4:2:0 for that matter, with the difference only exhibiting itself in chroma, which you'd only see a difference from if you're keying the footage -- the human eye can't see the difference (this being why those kinds of encoding have been used for decades).

So, basically, these sensors might well not be intended for raw 4k, and might really be intended for broadcast 1080p cameras. And even if they are raw 4K, then there is no guarantee that the footage will look any sharper or better than 4:4:4 or 4:2:2 1080p. This is all just physics, you can work it out from basic principles. It's interesting to note that the Alexa, with its 2.5k Bayer sensor, is not (quite) going to give true 4:4:4 information at 1080p, though 2500:1920 isn't far from the 1:sqrt(2) ratio needed to get full resolution on green, which as I mentioned is the most important component for luminance. Thinking of RED's 4K resolution option, this will give you (theoretically) more information than 1080p 4:4:4, but in luma sharpness terms this is limited to about a 1.5 times increase in resolution, not the 2 times you'd intuitively expect. 5k gives you a 1.8 times increase. Either are enough to see the difference, particularly 5k, but it's not the huge difference that people (are marketingly suggested to) naively assume. Now the F65 with its 8k Bayer sensor (downsampled to 4k) is a whole other kettle of fish.

All this said, this is camera geekery. I'm interested in this partly from day job stuff (I've designed prototype cameras for a Mars lander). My non-day-job passion is film making, which I find to really be not much about cameras at all. Lighting, figuring out how to put the camera in the right place, how to help the actors to remember their lines and avoid false notes, how to arrange locations and permits, etc. It just goes on endlessly. If only camera geeking was sufficient! :-) I like posts like this one because the technology interests me, but (to the mods), I have to say that I really do like the more recent push to include other aspects of film making. Keep up the good work! :-)

September 6, 2012

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Part of the reason why RED & Arri can get high framerates from their sensors is because the sensor is clocked higher and has dedicated cooling. The Arri Alexa actually has a peltier cooler on chip, most cameras only use air cooling and a heatsink. The super high speed Phantoms use similar techniques. Basically, normal CMOS sensors with high clockspeed and cooling.

A sensor is like any other CMOS chip, it has a clockspeed, when you boost clockspeed you increase voltage and increase temperature.

Mass produced chips like those from Sony, Canon, etc that are in dSLRs and compacts have to run at very low clockspeeds and not get very hot. As a dedicated cooling system and fans can't fit in a small body, moreover moving parts like fans have a higher probability of being broken as well as interupting audio function if the mic is on camera.

This sensor, which likely runs at very low speeds, and can be cooled in a small body, means that 4K is going to be common as dirt in the near future.

September 9, 2012

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Castle

“If Sony can get 60fps at 4K, why can’t we get 60fps at 1080p from many of these manufacturers?”

Exactly.

The lack of 1080p60 was my biggest disappointment with the 5D Mark III and the only thing keeping me from ordering the BlackMagic Cinema Camera. With HFR 4K becoming common at the high end, why do I still have to trade away full HD for 60 fps with so many modern cameras? Silky smooth slow motion requires more than 30 fps, but 720p is significantly less sharp on a 1080 monitor.

March 1, 2013

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Dax

Sony and Panasonic just announced that they will co-develop a new BluRay disc capable of 300BG.

September 6, 2013

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wsmith