Light Iron Founder Spells Out Why 8K is Coming and That's OK

Credit: Light Iron
Founder of color and post house Light Iron, Michael Cioni, claims that 8K and beyond will be survivable—and even beneficial—formats.

For many, the transition from SD to HD was meant to be the last big switch for a while.  After working with standard definition for decades, and a very slow transition from analog to digital video, the long, expensive, and years-delayed transition from SD to HD felt like a major technical moment after which we could rest. However, in the last decade, we've seen 4K go from a niche product (many didn't believe RED could make the camera work at all when it was announced) to a somewhat standard feature that most of us have on our phones.

Post house Light Iron has been heavily involved in that process, supporting high-end filmmakers (David Fincher is a regular client) and currently owned by Panavision. The company's founder and current Senior VP of Innovation at Panavision and Light Iron, Michael Cioni, spoke recently at the "Faster Together" conference put on by LumaForge as part of NAB about the reasons that this has happened so quickly, and how much further we're going to be going in the near future. Beyond 8K is definitely happening.

The video is worth a look for anyone struggling with the constant rhythm of resolution upgrades and for some insight into the hurdles that have been jumped over to get us there. Particularly interesting is the 4K monitor they were using during the era of early 4K projects, which was actually four 1080 monitors, rigged together with gaf tape used to cover the bezel and create a cohesive image

Credit: Light Iron

Cioni's argument is built around an extension of Moore's Law, while asserting that it's not necessarily a law and it only talks about transistors, but he sees it as a useful guide for computing speed.  Basically, processing 8K footage right now "feels" like processing SD did back in 2002.  SD to HD took about four cycles, and SD to 8K took about eight cycles of Moore's Law, to get to a similar amount of processing power.

Cioni shares several reasons why, even though it seems too soon to think about it, 8K is not only worth considering, but inevitable and necessary, not just as a capture format but also as a release format.  In addition to some self-explanatory reasons (lower noise from less pattern noise interfering with sensor noise, less DoF due to higher resolution and thus smaller circle of confusion), one of the most interesting to us is the possibility of reframing after deliver.  While we tend to think of reframing mostly as a tool in the post suite, when a director doesn't like the way a shot was framed, or wants to get a close-up out of a medium shot, there is the possibility of allowing some reframing for the end user without significantly noticeable degradation. The ability as an audience member to zoom into areas of the frame in a sporting event, or your favorite horror or thriller, and still see 4K resolution at 200% zoom could be fascinating in how it changes the relationship between the viewer and the content.

Credit: Light Iron

It's an especially interesting argument since many of us in the tech industry tend to think the other direction about why this is all happening.  Cioni is pointing out that, in the wider computer industry, technology like affordable SSD, Thunderbolt 3, and faster CPU and GPU processors make 8K doable, so of course we should bump the resolution up in the camera. Most of us working in the field tend to feel it's driven the other way: that the folks on set keep bumping up the camera resolution so we have to buy faster hard drives, computers and cables to keep up. But in some ways Cioni is right; even if cameras stayed comfortable at 4K, computers would keep getting faster (if only to play cooler games), and if we have the power to handle it, in some ways it does seem worth capturing more resolution.

Our personal take is mixed on 8K; currently, the primary innovation that seems to be creating a noticeable increase in quality is larger sensors, with the images from VENICE, RED Monstro, and Alexa LF being truly impressive.  Even the Hasselblad H6C gave beautiful footage at 4K resolution, though it did have rolling shutter issues.  Cioni is arguing, and is almost definitely correct, that 8K is coming for us whether we want it to or not, and the sooner we start thinking of creating ways to use it and embrace it the easier the transition will be.  Conventiently, it's hard to see the difference between HD and 4K on a 24" monitor, so it's really only big monitors where it's going to be worth the trouble.

Give the whole video a watch and let us know what you think down in the comments.     

Your Comment

14 Comments

For IMAX, 8K is kind of the starting point really. I stopped going to IMAX theatres after the projectors went digital, as I saw little benefit. If the resolution and quality started matching IMAX film again I would go back.

May 3, 2018 at 10:34AM

0
Reply
Batutta
514

I hate to say it but many of the examples in the benefits of 8k are just wrong.

1)Lower noise floor - Not necessarily. On the same size sensor the pixels will be smaller and more noise (like dslrs) but the noise will be finer due to more pixels.

2) More DR Mapping - Uh no. There will not be more Dynamic Range

3) Reframing - Yeah that's true

4) Less DOF? - No that's determined purely by sensor size, focal length, focal distance, and aperture

5) New Lenses - That has nothing to do with 8k.

6) Magnification - I think you mean reframing.

So there's one benefit of 8k. Reframing.

May 3, 2018 at 7:01PM

15
Reply
avatar
Zachary Will
Cinematographer
1040

Zachary, you forgot benefit number 7. You make more money if you have shitloads of 8K gear to sell.

May 3, 2018 at 7:38PM

7
Reply
avatar
Jonathon Sendall
Stories
2016

Jonathan-
I actually think this point is really excellent and appropriate! Making money is an important part of the equation because it means we can finance R&D so we can try new things and make things better! Plus, on the consumer side, it means we can invest in new technologies and use those to fill gaps in the market created by luddites which allows for entrepreneurial growth! It also means DIY groups can invest in these tools to elevate their quality levels, often resulting in charging more for their services.

May 4, 2018 at 7:55AM

0
Reply
avatar
Michael Cioni
SVP Innovation Panavision & Light Iron
81

Personally, I'd like to see the consumer side catch up. I'd like to see more 4K content, higher bit depth in TV's, tablets and higher bitrates over networks.
I'm glad as an industry we're transitioning from Super 35 to "Large Format" (which is a bad name for it as it makes medium format sound like a smaller format *cough* Arri *cough*.) but from a sharp image standpoint,we're definitely rapidly approaching the law of diminishing returns after 8K.

May 6, 2018 at 3:38AM, Edited May 6, 3:48AM

2
Reply
K W
785

My point Michael was that financial considerations aren't always the best motivators towards better techniques or technology. They can help but they aren't the primary. 3D is the perfect example of this. 8K has it's place of course but it isn't the main reason for better film or tv productions.

May 8, 2018 at 12:12PM, Edited May 8, 12:12PM

5
Reply
avatar
Jonathon Sendall
Stories
2016

The slide was specifically to do with large format 8K so that's where most of those benefits are derived from.

May 3, 2018 at 8:15PM

18
Reply

Hi Zachary-
In the interest of helping explain these points so you can understand them better, let me briefly elaborate:

1) Any sensor (regardless of its sensitivity) will experience a lower noise floor through the process of super sampling. Since today's exhibition formats are 4K and HD, you are forced to scale down 8K material by 1/2 or 1/4 size. This process results in automatically lowering the noise floor due to the law of averaging. Sensors that start at lower resolutions are unable to super sample and thus do not experience the same noise reduction characteristics as higher resolutions like 8K. If you want an absolute measurement, 8K supersampling down to HD is the equivalent of a noise floor reduction of -6db. You can see an example of this here:
https://vimeo.com/260678147

2) The operative word here is "mapping." A sensor can only map dynamic range to what it can see. A greater pixel count means the camera can map more dynamic range in the real world to the captured image. Since a pixel can only have a single value (or represent a single stop) more pixels allows for more values (and more stops) to be mapped to the image. You can learn more about that here @ the 43min mark:
https://vimeo.com/248235757

3) We agree:-)

4) Your ingredients that contribute to DOF are correct, but your assumption that you can achieve the same DOF results in large format is incorrect. Larger sensors will always have less depth of field potential and also allow for lens speeds to increase at speeds 35mm cannot achieve due to its smaller geometry. Because of spacial light mapping, 35mm sensors will always have more DOF than medium or large format (provided you creatively desire less DOF). You can learn more about that here:
https://vimeo.com/253322347

5) The slide you are referencing is 8K Large Format, which is referencing a 46mm diagonal, not S35. By this, S35 lenses do not cover 46mm which means you use new lenses in order to cover the large format image circle. So this has everything to do with 8K in the context of large format. This opens up a world of vintage large format lenses, as well as a slew of new ones such as the CP3, Thalia, S7, Artiste, and Signature lenses. All of these are brand new and driven by large format cameras, mostly thanks to 8K RED since they mass produce 8K large format.

6) No, I mean magnification, which does not refer to reframing. You can learn more about that in the link I provided for #4.

I encourage a good discussion and I think your points are good because honestly, this stuff is new and that means it can be challenging and often open to some interpretation. I hope these answers help clarify these points and moreover, I'm confident if you shoot 8K large format yourself, you'll come to these same conclusions I have in my own work.

May 4, 2018 at 7:52AM

6
Reply
avatar
Michael Cioni
SVP Innovation Panavision & Light Iron
81

I love Panavision lenses and gear, but why the push for the RED platform? Almost every AC and DP I have worked with still enjoy working with the Alexa system more from the Alexa65 to the Mini.

May 4, 2018 at 9:19AM

0
Reply

Great question, Nick. Every camera (Alexa iterations included) utilize parts from companies all around the world. No camera company builds every component within a camera, not unlike how Ferrari integrates parts from other car manufactures when building their cars. They key differentiator is how those parts work together. Ferrari is known for their quality and have a distinct top-end target market, very similar to Arri.
RED cameras are designed for the mass market and serve a wider array of customers. Alexa65 and AlexaLF are only designed for a select group of professionals.
When we examined options for electronic partners to go with our lenses and accessories, we wanted to work with the most advanced sensor and fastest evolving electronics program. That's RED. How we optimize that is like taking the best parts and tuning them to Panavision's target market. This doesn't at all diminish how well the Arri platform is designed, rather we set out to accomplish what Arri and RED (and others) do well and elevate them to a previously unmatched level for top-end professional cinema. RED Monstro, REDCode, and RED's custom ASICs sit as the core of this mission, and once you shoot with it, you'll instantly know the difference.

May 4, 2018 at 9:44AM

0
Reply
avatar
Michael Cioni
SVP Innovation Panavision & Light Iron
81

copy that

May 4, 2018 at 10:22AM

0
Reply

So, can we finally start to consider a 4K worflow, from acquisition to DCP, as the minimum bottom line, at least for features? We have yet to see a Marvel or Disney (except for Tomorrowland and Star Wars) or Pixar movie released in 4K!

May 4, 2018 at 1:38AM

10
Reply

"The ability as an audience member to zoom into areas of the frame" ... WTF. How about writing a good compeling story so the audience will be so immersed into it that won't have time to play with your TV while watching the movie. Enough with this technology BS. The cameras we have now are already good enough. Time to focus on screenwriting (which is at its lowest now).

May 4, 2018 at 2:51AM

0
Reply
Rod P
300

the Ks dont matter. there is no visible difference between reds new cameras. all new films might as well be shot on their 5k dragon. large format? dont matter. you can achieve a blurry look by shooting at 2.8 in daylight with a 50mm.
only thing of interest in new cameras is low light sensitivity and insane dynamic range.

May 4, 2018 at 8:50AM

0
Reply
avatar
Vincent Gortho
none
1322