August 10, 2017

DP Steve Yedlin Blows the Lid Off Camera Resolution Myths

Yedlin
Assume that more resolution equals better? DP Steve Yedlin argues that we are already at peak resolution.

Steve Yedlin, ASC is the cinematographer behind some exceptional movies, from indie favorite Brick all the way to the massive blockbuster San Andres. In between his day job as a top DP, he's been working on custom image processing tools to create the look he desires from any source so as to not be bound by the limits of other people's workflows. After all, to be a cinematographer is to be an inventor. In fact, back in the days of the F900, Yedlin was famous in color circles for the creation of Yedlog, a system for shooting Log on linear cameras years before techniques like CineStyle came out.

"Many filmmakers believe that the best measure of perceptual image quality is to count the photosites on a camera's image sensor, but that is not substantiated by the evidence."
Steve Yedlin

After last year's deep dive into Display Preparation, Yedlin has released another useful video series. This time, he's testing various resolution cameras against each other to see if resolution is all its cracked up to be.  It's well worth digging into the full Resolution Tests on his website to get a sense of the sheer volume of testing he did and the results of those tests. The cameras Yedlin used are:

  • Alexa 65 (3K)
  • Sony F55 (4K)
  • RED Weapon (6K)
  • ARRI 435; 4-perf super-35mm film (Scanned at ~6K)
  • MSM by IMAX; 15-perf 65mm film (Scanned at ~11K)

Unlikely many resolution tests, he doesn't always tell you which camera is which—and that is part of the goal: to move us past our preconceptions about which camera is going to look one way or another, and to just look at the images and judge for ourselves. He argues we need to get beyond Ks, and he makes a very convincing case.

Credit: Steve Yedlin

While many resolution arguments circle around to purely technical information about debayer algorithms and actual resolution, Yedlin is focused purely on the audience perception. The biggest takeaway for filmmakers is that we have already likely passed the point where extra resolution is noticeable to an end user. While going from standard definition to high definition was a huge leap in image quality, going from HD to UltraHD won't even be noticeable for most users, and anything beyond that offers no benefit at all. The goal of these tests it to have technical discussions in a fashion that is understandable by laypeople, and Yedlin does a great job of that.

Anything beyond UltraHD offers no benefit at all.

Various marketing forces will be pushing you one way or another as you make decisions on capture and release formats for your projects, and it's up to you to find the best information possible to help you make capture choices. This demo is long, but should help you get a handle on where we are with resolution and, at least according to Yedlin, more isn't always better.

Your Comment

41 Comments

I made an account just to comment and say thank you for this article.

So tired of the pixel counters. Good content trumps any camera spec you can ever convince yourself you need.

August 10, 2017 at 12:02PM

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For me, going from VHS to DVD was the largest perceptual jump - text was finally crisp and clear on the screen, and the image was steady. Audio was AMAZING!

DVD to HD was a big jump, but I noticed the improved colour far more than I noticed the enhanced resolution.

I've seen a lot of 4K screens, and while I barely notice a difference at most casual viewing distances, 4K does start to introduce a weird uncanny valley situation, where footage of landscapes almost looks like a window out to the world.

I suspect crazy high resolution will have some remarkable and unexpected applications, I'm just not sure they will be related to filmmaking.

August 10, 2017 at 12:11PM

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kyleclements
Artist / Photographer
865

Agreed. The only area I see 8k+ resolution making sense is VR (where its speculated that the human eye could benefit from resolutions higher than 8k per eye).

August 10, 2017 at 2:27PM

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nice

August 11, 2017 at 11:53PM

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thiru
8

Loved this, thanks for sharing!

August 10, 2017 at 12:13PM

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Rod P
11

I was fortunate enough to be among the many people who helped with this test. I may be able to answer some questions that aren't already on Steve's twitter.

August 10, 2017 at 12:34PM

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Joseph Slomka
Color Scientist - Acquisition through archival
905

What's your take on downsampling, is there any real benefit to it? It feels like if there's an argument for acquiring higher resolutions that's the only valid one. Thanks!

August 10, 2017 at 1:38PM

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My take changed because of this test.
If you are using a professional cinema camera and shooting your coverage correctly there is no advantage.

Less surprising is little disadvantage to up sampling. Considering most VFX are done in 2k and up-sampled on delivery for 4k that was just conforming years of observation.

August 10, 2017 at 2:10PM, Edited August 10, 2:19PM

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Joseph Slomka
Color Scientist - Acquisition through archival
905

I signed up just so I can ask you: Since the 15/70 imax was so underwhelming, was it due to film stock you used? Was it 500t? Please clarify.

August 11, 2017 at 8:16AM

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So do you know what film stock was used for the test? Because it is so strange seeing alexa65 beating imax film.

August 15, 2017 at 8:36AM

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Finally, intelligent, well-crafted evidence illustrating the futility of manufacturers (and less than intelligent consumers) insistence that higher pixel count equals higher image quality. Too bad the effort is wasted on the vast idiocy that consumes the film making community at large.

August 10, 2017 at 12:42PM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
545

How would the people you are insulting have known better? There is a lack of good technical resources in the film making community. If the 'vast idiocy' don't know technically details it is because there are not unbiased sources that they can learn from.

In addition to production work I teach. It has never been helpful to call people who are misinformed 'idiots'.

August 10, 2017 at 2:16PM

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Joseph Slomka
Color Scientist - Acquisition through archival
905

Damn! I got served!

August 11, 2017 at 3:52PM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
545

That was brutal. We all have our learning curve. Ignorance is not necessarily a bad thing...until it's willful.

August 10, 2017 at 4:37PM

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Tawan Bazemore
Director. Colorist. Cinematographer
1

He should have thrown the BMPCC into the mix. Just to kick things up a bit ;-)

August 10, 2017 at 1:27PM, Edited August 10, 1:29PM

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Sahit Anand
Director and Co-Founder of DO. Creative Labs
185

matching my gh4 and BMPCC footage is a pain...so much more color depth in the BM image, but even at 1080 the gh4 is perceptibly crisper.

August 10, 2017 at 2:30PM

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it's amazing that market forces can drive an industry to buy things, processes, workflows, etc...that they just don't really need.... in this day and age, you always have to look at new technology and ask yourself...ok that's cool, but what problem does it really solve and do I have that problem and is solving that problem worth the cost........ for me, more and more that answer seems to be no.

August 10, 2017 at 3:34PM, Edited August 10, 3:34PM

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I had the honor of working with Steve on a commercial many years ago. It was in the early days of digital and pre-shotput software. He was kind enough to teach me how to use linux commands through terminal to verify complete backup of video files. His technical knowledge coupled with his ability to light blew me away.

August 10, 2017 at 3:48PM, Edited August 10, 3:48PM

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eric girgash
Director of Photography
77

Wow! I can't put a price to this test, thank you Steve and Joseph for donating your time!

What blows my mind is how the Alexa XT is basically using a 7-year old sensor from the Alexa Classic. I wonder, how would a 2k image from the Alexa EV up-res'd to 4k hold up in this test? Theoretically, wouldn't it be identical to the XT?

August 10, 2017 at 4:36PM

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Thank Steve this is his vision.
The Alexa still performs adequately . This work can help calm filmmakers who can 'only' afford to record on an Alexa

August 10, 2017 at 7:52PM

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Joseph Slomka
Color Scientist - Acquisition through archival
905

Copy that, thanks for the response! If I may ask, what have you found to be the cleanest upscaling algorithm for your workflow?

August 11, 2017 at 9:03AM

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Hence why my BMPCC still gets a ton of work

August 10, 2017 at 9:09PM

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Charles C.
Editor/ Director/ Director of Photography/ Wannabe Thinker
976

That is a wonderful article and I'm glad to have such a prominent source back up the ideas behind it. I am constantly amazed at what something as simple as a t5i can achieve when outputting 1080p the thing is that not enough people get the idea that what you POINT the camera at is so much more important than the camera itself.

August 10, 2017 at 11:25PM

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Rohan Merrill
Director of Photography
13

Image wise I'll put the image from my Leica SL hybrid using Leica glass and recorded on an ATOMOS recorder up against just about anything Arri or RED puts out, for less than half the price.

August 10, 2017 at 11:50PM

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Hmm. That sounds interesting. I've never heard of that camera being used for video purposes. What kind of dynamic range does it get? What format/codec/color science will it output to the ATMOS recorder? I'm intrigued.

August 13, 2017 at 7:35PM, Edited August 13, 7:35PM

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On a good monitor, my eyes can easily distinguish 720, 1080, 2k, 4k. But what makes me shy away from anything beyond 1080, is the fact that they are just TOO NOTICEABLE. The picture stands out too much, and tends to overshadow the movie. Probably works for sci-fi , but I am not into it. I would prefer watching normal dramas and romcoms on 1080 or even 720. Like we don't turn up the volume, just because we can, we don't need clearer pictures, just because technology can achieve it.

August 11, 2017 at 2:32AM, Edited August 11, 3:16AM

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Ayan Banerjee
Film Maker
209

I agree with him in theory, but there are some reason to consider shooting at a high resolution that you "need" to. Shooting at 4, 6 or 8k can allow the budget film maker to make up for lack of other expensive equipment or the lack of a huge or extremely talented crew.

For example, if you shoot in 4k, but will ultimately be rendering to HD, you have up to a 4x zoom/crop in post without sacrificing quality. Instead to renting a steady cam operator & rig, you can smooth out a hand held shoot every well in post. Pan and scan is an old ugly term for what they would do to a movie to make it if on standard def television, in today's world of relatively cheap high resolution cameras pan & scan is a great way to think when you're film making on a budget.

August 11, 2017 at 8:47AM

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His demonstration is not to show extra resolution doesn't exist or can't be used for special effects. It's basically a super well proven demonstration that you can shot ANY current professional cinema camera for 4k mastering and get more than adequate results. There are a few places that say ARRI cameras aren't good enough. this dispels that.

I keep hearing this myth that you can shoot 4k and zoom and crop with out sacrifice.

In order for that to work you need to have lenses wide enough top be sufficiently far away from the subject and also have enough space for your blocking. Additionally you need to shoot for deep depth of focus so that all areas of your shot are in focus allowing the reframe. You aren't describing a camera setting you are describing a technique.

The same hold true for post stabilization. Post stabilization on anything but a top notch computer is a time consuming task. Additionally you need to be farther away from the subject, with shorter lenses and shoot shorter shutters to reduce motion blur from camera movements.

August 11, 2017 at 12:34PM

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Joseph Slomka
Color Scientist - Acquisition through archival
905

Which camera is which in PT1? I can't find the info.

August 11, 2017 at 11:32AM

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This is an exceptional article, besides the fact that many of us in the industry knew this already, but it's nice to hear an established DP reiterate the point. The human eye, or more so the brain is built the way it is built. Without talking about cyborg technology (which is more real than most in the public know about) there's no biological upgrade that's going to take place in any of our lifetimes. What this means is that resolution past a certain threshold (ultraHD in this example) is considered "diminishing return". There is no perceptible advantage to going past a certain resolution as it will not be processed by the limitations of our biology. Just as we will never be able to perceive IR rays with the naked eye.

I think this is important to keep in mind when these camera manufactures use 6K and above as a marketing selling point. If people stop buying into gimmicks, it will force camera manufactures to focus elsewhere, like improving on other features like workable AF for example. It will also drive the market to lower, more reasonable pricing. Suddenly, Arri, RED, etc., will have to compete more in the prosumer 4k market, which I personally feel is a more innovative space.

August 11, 2017 at 4:04PM

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thank you, seriously, I explain this to my filmmaker friends all the time and they still think the holy grail is more pixels. I'm probably doing a poor job explaining, but this is way to valuable of a point to be treated like trash by filmmakers.

August 11, 2017 at 4:45PM

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Daniel
94

Didn't see any controls on the built in video player so I downloaded the two segments to let me pause and replay some of the parts. An excellent presentation that seemed to promote the idea that anything higher than HD resolution is wasted because it can't be seen. On the other hand, for the pixel peepers with the money, Part 2 was almost a commercial for the Alexa65 which just blew every other film and digital camera away, regardless of MP count.

August 11, 2017 at 5:35PM, Edited August 11, 5:39PM

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bobspez
Retired unix sys admin
124

If an audience is wondering about the resolution of the film, it can't be that interesting a film.

August 11, 2017 at 6:34PM, Edited August 11, 6:34PM

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Julian Richards
Film Warlord
827

Which is why everyone is a fool not to switch back to vhs camcorders.

August 12, 2017 at 4:18AM

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J Robbins
505

Tests like this are nice but this one doesn't prove what most of the posters desperately want it to prove. No one wants to invest in new equipment (it's the hack's lament) but what do you really get out of comparing a nice 2k camera and nice 4k camera and a film camera, if you view this test on a 15 inch laptop? Even pixel peepers like me know that nice 2k footage will look nice on a laptop--it'll even look nice on a 50 inch 4k screen 12 feet away. But if we're talking about cinema exhibition--and by throwing 65mm Imax footage into the mix--large screen, immersive exhibition, which I think is the future if movie theatres are going to survive, then there's no "ah-ha" moment in these tests. An ever-so-soft 4k Liemax Theatre is still always underwhelming and (IMHO) a waste of anyone's money--and a 65mm Imax experience is still eye-popping, and provides an electric jolt, an uncanny "You Are There" quality far beyond what you can get from a 2k or even 4k camera. Even the 35mm scenes from Dark Knight looked a soft compared to the Imax scenes. People forget that the eye and the brain are constantly scanning an image, picking up new details every few milliseconds for as long a that image holds. That's why 4k projected on a multi-story Liemax screen looks "fine" but it's never going to be breathtaking--it'll never get that audible gasp that audiences emit when the screen faded up on a real Imax movie. I admit 70mm Imax can't go on forever but I saw an 8k large screen demo at SxSw last year and it was INCREDIBLE, a game changer--it had the "wow" factor in spades--and as nice as the much-vaunted "Skyfall" looked, a 2k camera/projector could have achieved that sensation. I can't imagine a superhero film in 2035 being shot or exhibited in anything less. Hell, even a middling horror film shot in 8 or 10k, projected on a giant screen would scare the bejesus out of the most jaded audience--that's the power of large format and that's the power of resolution. So here's another eye test: cut and paste most of these comments from this blog and mix them up with comments from a DV forum from 2002, where they complained endlessly that "even experts can't see the difference between SD and HD" and that "HD is a fad and thank God pros like us are brave enough to say so"--and I promise you won't be able to tell the difference between the 2002 comments and 2017 comments. And as myopic (in both senses of the word) as those 2002 forums look today, 15 years from now when even a low budget horror film is immersive, the comments from this forum will age just as poorly. For myself, I'm tired of going to 2k movie theatres and seeing those damned muddy images--but then I don't sit in the back of the theatre. Beyond 2k, even with a great film like There Will be Blood, shot and exhibited in 35mm, its sweeping vistas fell (just a little) short if you were in the front 3rd of the theatre--those images couldn't quite achieve an epic quality. It was still a great film but it would have been even grander in 70mm and Anderson was wise to switch over to that format for The Master. For now, 4k is better in most situations than 2k, at least when it comes to big 4k tvs, VR, and nice movie theatres. And for the future, 8k and beyond will be even better still, and they will be essential as surviving movie theatres (and lightweight VR-like eyewear) become more immersive.

August 12, 2017 at 4:16AM, Edited August 12, 5:01AM

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J Robbins
505

I'll take you up on your 2002 dare.

Very well-mastered DVD's with low compressions ratios properly uprezzed to HD look great. Usually DVD's were poorly mastered and overly compressed, from poor initial transfers. I'm viewing on a Sony VW40 HD projector at about three and a half metres away with picture from 3 metres wide to 4.5 metres wide. (Yes I would like to sit just a little further away but that's not how our great room is setup, just not possible due to kitchen islands and such - anyway I am close enough to see detail).

In the case of 4K and 8K, yes it will make a difference. But as you say: in IMAX movie theatres or in the very best of the 2K movie theatres. I don't know how closely you've followed projector maintenance and focus adjustment in movie theatres over the last thirty years: it's always been pretty poor. So most films won't even be projected sharp enough for there to be a substantial difference between good 2K and good 4K let alone 6K or 8K.

There are huge advantages to higher resolution in special effects generation (when faking reality, it's easier to make it more convincing if you can see the details before rescaling down).

August 20, 2017 at 3:24PM

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Alec Kinnear
Creative Director
397

The "RED Weapon (6k)," mentioned above is really "RED Weapon Helium (8k). The RED Epic Dragon is 6k.

August 12, 2017 at 2:12PM

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s
6

most explanations or conclusions are based on wrong assumptions and misunderstood's
the main myth is: 6k source is not a downscale to 4k, 6k camera source has only around 3k true resolution and this only if the lens has enough overhead for this resolution and the right aperture was used like f-stop 5.6 and above and not more the 11... and the right framerate/shutterspeed
most lenses have a bad resolution at f-stop 2.0, 2.8, or even 4.0, but these are mostly used
also, the first video here has only HD-Resolution, not 4k
also, he does not use fixed scalings in his second's presentation and also the most viewers do not use HD-Monitors with fullscreen scaling with a pixel to pixel match to the original video resolution. So he adds another scaling... your monitor adds scalings... so you look to several times degraded 3k compared to 2k downscale, that's the simple reason why there is not such big difference between "6k" source and 2k downscale (of the true 3k source)... so most conclusions are completely wrong especially part 11 in the second video...

August 12, 2017 at 10:01PM

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Michael Radeck
trainer, camera and postproduction specialist
13

Thats seems like a spurious argument. Basically your saying that no lens is capable of the same resolution as the 6K/"3K" camera under normal creative shooting conditions. If so why do you need a camera with more resolution? Which is what Steve is saying. He actually says quite clearly that other factors, including lens choice, codec etc have far more effect on our visual perception above 2K. As far as monitor scaling goes that doesn't happen if you are viewing 1:1 pixels which is what he clearly states is happening in the video. Yes the video is different on my monitor and your monitor but I'm sure he wouldn't have gone to all this trouble if his own eyes weren't seeing what we're seeing. The other thing I don't think pans out is your so called "3K" camera (the Arri 65) appears to outperform 70mm film scanned at 12K and that is actually true resolution as film is not debayered.
I'm really grateful that Steve put together this test. I think it confirmed that the better the codec you shoot in (ideally RAW but failing that ProRes or DNxHD or even high bit rate XAVC) the more resolution you preserve. There is obviously a huge amount of time and effort that went into it and to dismiss it out of hand (and don't forget Steve actual posts and uses this gear for a living) seems a bit churlish.

August 17, 2017 at 3:47AM

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Thank you for this! The ultra HD hype seems to be mostly about companies selling more camera and software product, and we've swallowed the bait hook line and sinker. The best camera is the one you have with you. Just please tell us a great story and forget about the tech!

August 14, 2017 at 2:17PM, Edited August 14, 2:18PM

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Does anyone here knows what film stock was used?
Joseph?

August 15, 2017 at 8:27AM, Edited August 15, 8:29AM

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Hi. Steve Yedlin here. This article is mostly great, but I wrote to the editors asking them to correct a few misleading details in it. But they've neither responded nor updated the article, so I'm posting here the notes I sent them:
-6 cameras were used but your article only lists 5. You seem to have combined AlexaXT and Alexa 65 into one. The Alexa65 is not 3k as the article says, but 6k. It's the AlexaXT that's 3k
-The article has positioned the phrase "Anything beyond UltraHD offers no benefit at all" within the page the same way it has positioned a quote of mine. Even though the article doesn't use quotation marks, the positioning and typesetting of the sentence and its association with my demo could imply that it's a quote from me or that it represents content of the demo, which it doesn't. Nothing in the demo makes that assertion or anything similarly superlative or hyperbolically categorical. To the contrary: there's a whole section in the demo special circumstances under which increased spatial resolution could be beneficial. The whole demo is very rigorous in its use of carefully measured language not to make overreaching statements such as this one.
-I don't contend, as the article says I do, that we've reached "peak" resolution. That implies it's the max possible. I never claim in the demo that more resolution isn't possible -- only that it's not especially applicable to a cinema audience's experience and that it can't usefully be quantified with k-counting. A better word might be "saturation" -- we've reached saturation of resolution for most practical applications for cinema viewing.
-Why does your link to Part 1 say "production" and link to Part 2 say "post production"? Those words don't correctly differentiate the two parts from one another in subject matter. Both parts are about acquisition AND pipeline for high resolution exhibition. Part 1 is more of a flyover for general concepts and Part 2 is more technically detailed, but they're both about both acquisition and pipeline, not just one or the other.

August 17, 2017 at 6:22PM

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Thanks Steve for the clarification and the original demo. Say a lot about the editorial strictures of NFS I'm afraid.

August 19, 2017 at 8:24PM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1220