August 8, 2017

Still Not Shooting in 4K? Here's Why You Might Want To

Should you shoot in 4K? (Yes, we're still talking about this.)

Even though it seems like every filmmaker has a camera that shoots 4K, there are still plenty of those out there still making movie magic in HD. However, if you've been wondering lately whether or not you should make the transition to a higher resolution, you might want to learn a few of the benefits of shooting 4K other than the obvious (a bigger, clearer picture). Filmmaker Peter McKinnon shares a few of those benefits in the video below.

Okay, admittedly this subject seems a little dated. These days, everybody shoots 4K, right? Well, it would seem so, but there are still plenty of filmmakers out there who haven't been able to (or don't want to) get their hands on a 4K camera—most likely those who are trying to ball on a budget on a Canon Rebel T7i that only shoots HD. And that's pretty understandable given the fact that many popular (and expensive) cameras from even just two years ago weren't built with internal 4K recording. Suffice it to say that the switch from 1080p to 4K was a relatively quick one.

I'll admit it: when 4K began to replace 1080p as the standard, I wasn't really on board. I used to downsample my 1080p footage to 720p when I uploaded my videos online, because back then the image quality was, in my opinion, more than good enough for the work I was doing. In fact, the guy I bought my camera from was a cinematographer who worked for HBO who asked me to promise him that I'd only shoot in 720p, because 1080p was "a slightly better-looking waste of disk space." So, when 4K came on the scene, my thinking was, "If 1080 was good yesterday, it's still good today." Arrogant, I know. (The difference in image quality between 4K and 1080p is much more noticeable than the difference between 1080p and 720p.)

Now, I'm not pro-4K because it provides better resolution than 1080p. If you're shooting sports, nature docs, or something that would really benefit from having a crisp and clear image then definitely, shoot in the highest resolution you possibly can. However, if you're shooting a drama film, be it a short or a feature, that you're going to release online only, then 4K might be overkill. Understand, I'm not saying don't shoot in 4K, I'm saying you may not need to upload it in 4K.

Resolution is a decision. I'd warn any filmmaker about making the assumption that 4K is the "best" resolution for their project. However, the benefits of shooting 4K actually has less to do with resolution than it does giving yourself more creative options, like the abilities to 1. Crop in and essentially create a whole new shot, 2. Create a tracking camera motion in post, and 3. Downsample if you feel like it.

Besides, 4K cameras are cheaper than they've ever been. Maybe a few years ago, it cost a pretty penny to get a nice camera that shot 4K internally, but now, this isn't as big of a problem.

This is definitely a hotly debated subject, so feel free to (respectfully) discuss your position on the 4K vs. 1080p war down in the comments.      

Your Comment

29 Comments

I still think the best part about 4k, which isn't explicitly mentioned here, is shooting in 4k, but when uploading, or even mastering, render in 1080. That way you get a really crisp 1080p image, crisper than simply recording in 1080, and you still have the option of uploading and mastering in 4k should you want to. And although there is a differing opinion, and correct me if I'm wrong, but you can downsample 4k 4:2:0 and end up with 1080 4:4:4.

The 8bit 4k ending up as 10bit 1080 is highly debated however, and I'm not sure where I stand on that one.

August 8, 2017 at 9:14PM, Edited August 8, 9:14PM

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Jake
Hobbyist Filmmaker
235

I don't know why the 8 bit 4k ending up as 10 bit 1080 is debated at all. It's a fact that it can't happen. The reason 4K 4:2:0 down-samples to effectively 4:4:4 is because it has to do with how much color information is stored/ spread out in each range of (four) pixels. so by compressing the image, each pixel in 1080 is the sum of 4 4K pixels, and therefore all the data exists in each pixel. But 8 bit vs 10 bit refers to the range of colors a single pixel can capture. 8 bit is able to capture 256 shades per color (RGB). 10 bit is able to capture 1024 possible shades of each color. There's no way too add extra shades of color through scaling.

August 8, 2017 at 9:59PM

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Craig Douglas
Writer/ Director/ Editor/ Videographer
1832

The debate started earlier on via Reddit back with gh4 and then eoshd it got a huge argument at then end someone did confirmed that you can't get 10bit by downsizing.

I shoot 4k because my sales agent tell me so and it also makes the buyers to be more interested in my film when it is shot in 4k and they pays slightly more for that.

Now if the final clip is for DVD or just bluray downsizing to 1080 would still looks better from 4k

August 9, 2017 at 7:49AM, Edited August 9, 7:50AM

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Johnny Wu
Director, Producer, Editor
299

It's counterintuitive, but it's been explained since the introduction of the 10-bit x264 open source codec (which is the most efficient software codec in the industry). Compressing an 8-bit source using a 10-bit x264 or x265 codec will be more efficient, thus giving better quality or smaller files than using the 8 bit codec.

August 10, 2017 at 1:57AM

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You nailed it when you said "effectively". One cannot gain more color information by downsampling 4k 4:2:0 8 bit to 1080p 4:4:4 10 bits. Downsampling interpolates (educated guess in layman's terms) the available information over the extra channels and bits, to allow us to work with it in post as 4:4:4 10 bits (more pixels and shades). This flexibility is all it buys you besides the sharper image.

Technically true 1080 10 bit 4:4:4 will always be more precise than a 2nd pass of interpolation. Although the human eye can't tell the difference anyways.

August 11, 2017 at 2:50PM, Edited August 11, 2:50PM

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J Manuel
179

Peter!! He's my favorite YouTuber. I started following him right after I started following Andrew Kramer.

December 5, 2017 at 4:48PM

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Stephen Kawakami
The Boss
91

1080p usually looks blurry on my 4k screen, I'd recommend at least 4k uploads or higher.

August 9, 2017 at 4:14AM

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be cause most of 4k tv have a bad video processing that cause 4k too much crips with a unsharp mask, and often 1080p are bad upscaled blurred and after more unsharp masked. A good tv should show you a 1080p only quad scale pixel, and 4k exactly like you shoot, but never i found a tv that do that, most of tv born with the idea (fool) that i buy a 4k tv to see a sd video, than engeneers put in a lots of filters, unsharp mask algorithms and more... i often waste the time of shop assistants to find a tv that show my shooting like i do, and they never found the way to disable that damn elaboration.
4k show good on projection or on Video Monitor, never in tv, oversaturated, overconstrasted and oversharped also a sharp shooting.

August 9, 2017 at 8:05AM

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Carlo Macchiavello
Director
688

I don't think you can magically get more color depth by downscaling. That would be like getting more exposure, HDR, or color from b/w by downscaling. The information is not there. Can you fudge the info to be there...sure, just like you can take a 24fps video and make it a 240fps video. 90% is fake. To get real 12 bit color depth you'll need to start with a sensor and processor that can see 12 bit depth.

However, I do agree that the shear pixel size of the image is awesome to work with. Plus, most 4k camera have faster 2k fps so you can get 120fps which is amazing.

August 10, 2017 at 11:54AM

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hyena5@hotmail.com
Animator / CGI
8

August 8, 2017 at 11:14PM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1773

Haha as soon as I saw this article I thought of this demo.
I'm glad somebody posted it.

August 9, 2017 at 10:43AM

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It's great you posted, but you didn't comment on why your link is the most important one in the thread here.

What you posted a link by a current working cinematographer Steve Yedlin, study on the effect of capture resolution on output quality.

He filmed the same scene on cameras from 2k all the way to 13k 15perf IMAX. It was the same shot, in motion on a large variety of formats all for a 4k theatrical finish.

He goes though and with actual footage disproves many of the arguments that are made about 4k or higher acquisition producing better results for a 4k master.

Many people making claims have never thoroughly tested the actual theatrical differences or are evaluating still images only.

I have been really surprised the NFS hasn't made their own article on the Yedlin tests. He is an ASC member cinematographer who is shooting the next Starwars film, opening up his own research and testing to the wider community. Even more so it has the buzzworthy click bait conclusion because it go against 'common knowledge' that more #k's on acquisition matter for the final image.

August 9, 2017 at 2:12PM, Edited August 9, 2:26PM

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They have now. About bloody time!

August 10, 2017 at 11:49AM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1773

The real benefit of more #k's is not about the final image. It's about flexibility in post. A shot well exposed and composed will always look great, on any platform. The human eye can't tell the difference. But computers can. And it's when you have to push/pull the color/shadows, crop, stabilize, etc, that you'll miss those extra k's.

August 11, 2017 at 2:56PM

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J Manuel
179

Joseph, I was wondering if you might give your opinion on my situation?

I am shooting a short drama and have the opportunity to use some Super-16 Angenieux and Cooke lenses. The camera I have available is the Sony FS5, without the RAW upgrade license.
This means the 2K centre scan crop feature on the camera is locked, so i will need to shoot in 1080 for the lenses to cover the sensor.

The film's main goal is to reach the cinema screen by entering festivals. Will 1080 hold up on this size? I want to keep the look and style of the lenses i have available but don't have any remaining budget to upgrade the camera.

Many thanks!!

M

August 17, 2017 at 9:19AM

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Mathew
1

Maybe our 4k options are barely starting to get interesting.
Canon 4k dslr which was overpriced.
We had blackmagic production 4k plagued with problems.
People like myself who dont want to shoot 8bit or 10bit Sony or panasonic: so we're barely getting in to the ursa mini but its an expensive all around upgrade as far as cameta, storage, and processing.

August 9, 2017 at 1:52AM, Edited August 9, 1:56AM

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Vincent Gortho
none
537

For the Ursa Mini respectively, that's ACTUALLY a full 4k workflow.
Prores/DNxHR 4k is a standard found on the Alexa and now Red. So if you're having issues w/ storage and processing w/ the Ursa, then you definitely have to upgrade your post system to compensate.

August 9, 2017 at 12:21PM, Edited August 9, 12:21PM

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For image stabilization process we need extra side pixels. Also this reason, shooting 4K and finalize 1080p is a good thing to do.

August 9, 2017 at 6:32AM, Edited August 9, 6:38AM

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There is a lot to make that actually practical. Are you shooting with a faster shutter to account for motion blur? You also need to make sure acquisition hold on to padding for that purpose.

When done properly shooting for post stabilization will be significant amounts of effort. that effort may be better spent on physical camera stabilization.

I mean it's a valid thing to do in post, but it's a whole lot more than just switching the camera to 4k and eliminating the need for a gimbal.

August 9, 2017 at 2:16PM, Edited August 9, 2:18PM

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.

August 9, 2017 at 6:34AM, Edited August 9, 6:37AM

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I've had the Ursa Mini 4.6K for over a year now and I rarely shoot in 4.6K , or even 4K. 90% of the time I'm shooting 2K w/ ProRes HQ.

August 9, 2017 at 9:31AM, Edited August 9, 9:31AM

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OMG are we still doing this? .... Facts are, the majority of theaters still only broadcast in 2k. Your HD cable at home is 720, the few blu-rays you have are 1080...and probably the most important fact is 95+ percent of all the video is distributed and viewed via the web and 1/2 of that on mobile devices. Virtually none of that is in 4k.........so please give it a rest... and go create some GOOD content ...i don't even care the resolution ....just some GOOD content.

August 9, 2017 at 9:51AM, Edited August 9, 9:51AM

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Nobody argues about whether content should be good.

This whole "stop worrying about 4k" is only true to a degree. Should people worry about it? Of course not. Should they be interested in it? Of course they should.

The medium of display is moving (read: has moved) almost entirely beyond 2k and in many cases 4k is just beginning to be expected with 8k no on the horizon. So, yes, shoot in 4k because if somebody really wants it in 1080, you can give it to them, and if someone wants it in 4k, YOU CAN GIVE IT TO THEM

August 9, 2017 at 10:06AM

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@Michael Silvey - You nailed it

August 15, 2017 at 9:58PM

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Justin Peacock
Writer/Producer/Director
98

I'm old enough to remember when posts were titled "Why You Shouldn't Shoot Your Next Project in 4k"

August 9, 2017 at 10:03AM, Edited August 9, 10:03AM

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So like last year?

August 9, 2017 at 5:11PM

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Definitely good for film project archival. I've also found that upscaling 1080p footage TO 4k does wonders for aforementioned tracking shots as well on a 1080p/2k timeline, of course.

It has its benefits. However for the most part, I don't use it often.

August 9, 2017 at 12:17PM, Edited August 9, 12:17PM

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August 9, 2017 at 3:24PM, Edited August 9, 3:24PM

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August 10, 2017 at 6:38AM

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Simple. Always master in the highest quality available.

August 11, 2017 at 3:21PM

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Marc Strong
Producer
91

The only relevant factor in this (4k VS HD) debate is time.

How long do you want your content to be relevant for?

Most lay-people are currently watching standard definition on HDTVs; this is unlikely to change for at least 5 years (It took years for everyone to upgrade to HD TVs and they're still watching DVDs on them. It will take years more before 4k saturates the TV market, by which time mobile will eclipse TV viewing % wise).

I routinely ask 'normal' (non content creators) people what resolutions and devices they watch with and 90% have no idea themselves but watch mostly DVDs (standard def) free to air TV (HD) and cable (standard def unless paying for premium) on HD TVs.
Internet is and will continue to go through the roof with 80% of all video content being viewed on mobile or tablets in the next couple of years (mobile viewing is currently over 50%).
HD will remain the viewing standard online for most people for 5 years, despite the hype around 4k, 360, VR/AR.

The question is: How long do you want your content to hold up for?

If the answer is 'forever & ever' then you should throw $5k+ at upgrading to 4k workflow, as it is inevitable you're going to have to one day.
But if you've already got a workflow with HD, your product will be good for at least 5 years, and be starting to look old in about a decade.

For a lot of us, the change to 4k might be inevitable, but I'm gonna squeeze out a couple more years of content with what I've got, while I wait for better and cheaper 4k camera & laptop options to arrive.

August 15, 2017 at 10:16PM

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Justin Peacock
Writer/Producer/Director
98