Cinematography : 4k or not to 4k? by J G Blodgett

J G Blodgett

4k or not to 4k?

Hello all,

I am no cinematographer so my question, although practical in terms of anticipating shooting my first feature, is purely out of curiosity and based on what I've read. The basic question is: Why do I need to shoot 4k?

It seems like 4k has just kind of blown up over night, with all kinds of ridiculously expensive options in the DSLR world, as well as cinema cameras, etc. But are any of the networks that we are trying to (as filmmakers) even set up for broadcasting 4k? Isn't it true that most VOD sites that we will be selling to are only demanding around 2.5k, Full HD, etc.?

Again, I am not a cinematographer, and I will be hiring soon to produce my own feature, so some brutal honesty will be greatly appreciated. Thanks :)

Vasco Phillip de Sousa

2.5k is already much bigger than full hd (1080p is about 1k). I heard about 4k dslrs back in 2012, when I was preparing to shoot a feature film in 1080p. It really put pressure on me to get the film done quickly, as I knew that my "full HD" camera was about to become obsolete. And, yes, back in 2012, professionals were already talking about 5k. (Prosumers were looking to 4k.)

Basically, 4K is what the special effects of the films in the 1990s (like Independence Day) were done on. So, for cinematic distribution, it's nothing new.

The only problem I see with 4K is the computer power you need to edit it, especially if you have effects or want to do a lot of touch-ups. Full HD can take forever to render, for 4K you really need something more powerful than pro-sumer.

Jakub Micuch

It's just depends where you want to show your film. If it's just for internet VOD - 1080p is good enough. If you want to show it on 2m/width screen, better would be 4k :)

But, for my opinion, good idea is shoot it in 4K and deliver film in 1080p, because you can have possibility to crop image, what is really good toy in post-production. This is main reason why is red cameras able to shoot in 8K I think.

Anyway, I think, the world is preparing for VR where is needed 8K for 1 eye to have a perfect image, so in next few years I am sure, that 4K will not be interesting to anybody.

John Ellis

The Director/DP I work with has shot solely on 4K since 2013. He says it's much easier to step down the resolution if needed, than try to step it up. He hasn't talked about 5K, so I don't know if that's coming soon or not.

Jake Richardson

some outlets require 4k capture now, such as netflix for origination of their own programming. some say its going to be the future proofing standard. it does afford some extra options in post. and stepping down always looks better than scaling up. it can add costs, such as storage and you need machines that can handle the pipeline. but if you are working with a team accustomed to handling it, its not that big a deal.

Juan Platero

Just shot 4K but not raw

David Trotti

4K is the current standard for shooting and post, particularly in TV and indie features. I'm doing a Hulu series now that is shooting 8K to protect for shelf life. Be aware there are two 4K standards. 4K UHD and Cinema 4K. UHD is 16x9 and used principally for TV and streaming. DCI 4K is a wider projection cinema standard.

If your goal is to sell your project to the widest market, shoot and post in 4K. As Jakub mentioned you can always deliver lower standards if you need to.

You should also discuss High Dynamic Range settings with your DP and make sure he's familiar with how to effectively light and expose for HDR. The ability to manipulate HDR images in post with LUTs is awesome.

Jeffery Anderson

no. this ^^ information is wrong.

2k(2048 x 1152) is slightly larger than HD(1920x1080)

there are no DSLRs that shot 4k video back in 2012, just stills. I'm pretty positive that as DSLR changed to mirrorless camera, that no DSLRs ever shot 4k video

4k can be come in different formats and Editing it, even if it's 4k RAW, is pretty easy and most higher end prosumer computers can edit it. All these ideas are outdated... Red and Arri are now selling 6 and 8k video cameras

PS: JG, I'll send you message and you can ask me any question you might have

Royce Allen Dudley

A little speculation and misinformation in the above thread.

First, there was a 4K DSLR in 2012 despite what was said, the Canon EOS Cinema 1DC. Not widely accepted because of the price but it was the first and it was used as needed and appropriate. Secondly, 1080p HD is not 1K it is close to 2K and it's still a standard in use but not the only standard. As far as current origination in 4k, there is plenty of content being created in HD professionally for various uses. However if a project is being done on spec it would be foolhardy to create it in HD when 4K and higher standards are available now... and when I say higher standards I'm not only talking about resolution but color space, compression and other factors. There are many films that shot for theatrical release... even in special venue Imax.... on an Arri Alexa at 2.5 k however you cannot shoot a Netflix original drama on any Alexa or any other sub 4k camera... it is simply not allowed. Netflix like others have origination parameters that must be adhered to from image exposure to final delivery. It's reasonable to assume those parameters can change between the time you write your script and the time you finished editing. A few years ago right before I shot the indie feature BONED the decision was made to shoot 4k RED rather than HD Sony... the film just released on Netflix. Not all their acquired content is 4K naturally, but it helps to be, because that's where they and everyone else are arriving now. 4K has matured as an exhibition format residentially (been to Best Buy lately? Try finding an HD television... they still have a couple on closeout) and even projects shooting with the intent of airing on mobile platforms such as your telephone would be wise to shoot at 4K or higher at with maximum latitude and color space in order to protect additional unforeseen uses. Even with projects that have distribution lined up, you cannot know where that project will end up ultimately.

That said, I am no fan of 4K for capture or exhibition for a number of reasons. But personal feelings don't really enter into production decisions when it comes to covering your bases. I remember mastering a 35mm feature for DVD when Blu-ray had been announced. Between the time the film had a verbal distribution deal and the time the elements were delivered, the request was made by distributor to remaster the film in HD in order to complete the deal. Things are moving much faster now than they were back then. I think I have completely beat this dead horse.

Jeffery Anderson

no, and I had to look it up, but the Canon 1dc is 2013+ and I don't believe it was ever used professionally, but did cost $15,000... it was a mirrored camera, which surprises me. A short 4 years later and that cameras is basically junk. I believe it was mostly used for photos

before that:

2011 Red released it's 3rd camera, the Red Epic M-X, shooting 5K videos with up 150fps

2010-2012 Arri Alexa Camera were widely available, it's a 3.4k sensor that downsamples to 2k ProRes

2013 Arri Reased is Alexa XT with RAW, OpenGate and highspeed by the release of the 1d c, there were better options for Video, mostly because it shot 8-bit h.264

You can shoot under 4K. There are circumstances of Cinematographers shooting the Arri Alexa open gate 3.2k and UpRez'ing to 4k for 4K standard... probably the only camera that can.

There are cheap opens, the BlackMagic 4.6K mini is about $6,000 and they have older models that are cheaper... full kit with all the extras adds up, but the base camera makes for an amazing buy. It shoot RAW, ProRes and has some, but not all of the professional options Arri and Red have with their cameras.

Red also have the Raven, that shoots a similar 4.5K and has the Red secret sauce for RAW.

Scarlet-W can shoot 5K RAW and costs a little bit more.

Sony has the FS7 and FS5, which with ad ons, can record external 4K RAW

Canon has the new release of the C200, which can record 4K RAW internally

good rule of thumb is to hire a professional DoP, and if you're on a budget, shoot 5K+ on a Red Camera

Royce Allen Dudley

Please don't confuse enthusiasm with facts. I have hated DSLRS for cinematography from the beginning they're not suited to it. I think the thread was why should someone shoot in 4k. And also has to the 1dc I'm pretty sure its retail was about 12,000 on the street and it was used professionally, as I said earlier as a crash camera and B camera. One of the theatrical features using it was Need for Speed.

Of course once we start to talk about professional, we must define it. GoPros fit in the mix because they get used professionally too.

I agree that one should hire a professional DP if one can. I completely disagree that you should limit your camera choices to brand X,Y or Z based on the DP's own brand prejudice or the camera he owns.

A DP with a producer's best interest in mind will start backwards from distribution and discuss what camera best fits the project's intent.

J G Blodgett

So much awesome responses and great info!! Thank you all so much for taking the time to really lay a lot of this out for me. It is really appreciated as I am gearing up for my first feature production. Ultimately I have decided to shoot on s16mm film, and I will be posting another thread on this since I received so much great input on this thread. Thanks to all!!

Vidit Upadhyay

Well, i think 4k add details to your shot. But all depends on your requirements. Post Production in 4k demands good system and heavy data rate.

Royce Allen Dudley

Super 16 is an interesting choice in 2018... But not a bad one by any means.

J G Blodgett

Royce Allen Dudley Yeah, I realize it is almost unconventional at this point in time but I am really looking forward to achieving the aesthetic of the s16 film.

Alex Darke

I wrote a post that goes into this topic, if you are interested in reading it:

J G Blodgett

Alex Darke Thank you for the article. It was very informative. I am looking at having to shoot in 4k do to Producer's request, despite my wanting to shoot on 2k raw, or s16mm film. Nothing set in stone yet but we'll see. Thanks again

Larry DeGala

I've shot 18 terabytes of 2.5K raw and over 30 terabytes of 4K raw. Also shot over 100,000 feet of 16mm motion picture film. Comes with the territory.

Bruce Alan Greene

If you think your delivery requirements will require a 4k original, then shoot 4k. If you just want to release in cinemas, 2k is fine. As for the look of the film and equipment needed, find your cinematographer and speak with them about it :)

J G Blodgett

Bruce Alan Greene this is what I keep hearing, and unfortunately for my budget, my producer states all of his distributors want 4k, even though to hit the film festivals I would only need 2k...

Bruce Alan Greene

Well, then you have your answer, 4k it is!

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