4K: Behind the pixels

4K: Behind the pixels

October 2, 2017

What Is 4K?

You may have heard the term before, but if you haven’t it’s pretty simple: 4K literally means 4,000, which comes from the approximately 4,000 pixels across 4K footage. 4K has a pixel count four times the current resolution you’re likely familiar with, Full HD. (sometimes called 1080 or HD).

In total, 4K has 8.3 million pixels in each frame. That’s a lot of pixels! The only question is, would you use them? In plain video, no. If you’re watching 4K video just because it’s a higher resolution you will never see every single pixel unless you have a 4K monitor or TV; you may be surprised however, that isn’t the most practical approach to 4K recording.

But while the uncompressed video– which takes up an ungodly amount of space– is usually useless, there are many more reasons to use 4K. Firstly, greenscreening and special effects function much better in 4K. Secondly, no shot is worthless: if you need to zoom or reduce shakiness in a shot, HD can’t be modified without looking pixelated. 4K on the other hand can be modified 4 times as much as 1080, and still look sharp on an HD display. What does that mean in the end? It means content creators can be much more versatile in their shooting methods, because 4K recording allows anybody to make an in-camera shot into something different.

There’s one thing you may not have heard yet, and I’d like to mention it before going on: you can own a ready-to-shoot camera capable of recording 4K for
under $600. However, it wasn’t always that way. Ever since early 2003, when the DALSA Corporation redefined the digital cinema world by releasing the first 4K camera, it has been one of the most in-demand facets of film and video production.

Back then, it was the only 4K camera available. It weighed about 40
pounds and the rental cost was $3,000/day. The camera was not a prototype, it could shoot 4K but the lenses and accessories increased the cost to over $3,000. I think you see the simple question here: do you really need 4K that badly?

Probably not.

Heck, you could rent out a professional non-4K camera setup for less than $3,000/day. The simple answer is, it just wasn’t worth it. Back in 2003, the support for a digital output was weak.

Now, over a decade later, 4K is much cheaper and widely available. You can outright buy a 4K camera that produces a surprisingly good image, weighs under 500 grams, fully kit it out, and you’d be lucky if you got over $3000.

Arthur Mah of Alpacalypse Productions was kind enough to answer a few questions. Here’s what he thinks of 4K:

Q: 8K is out now. How do you think that affects 4K and its market?
A: In my opinion, 8K got released way too quickly, sort of right after 4K was still very new, so I don’t foresee the 4K market being that heavily affected, many editors are still acclimatizing to 4K and 8K is just too much right now.

Q: What do you think the top reason is to use 4K?
A: It’s for image fidelity and maintaining a high dynamic range. If you’re planning to display it on a large screen or if it’s becoming a serialized series like on Netflix, then obviously you want 4K. As far as a consumer format, most of the time you just need HD, but if you’re planning on shooting indie or commercial, or colour grading or modifying many of your shots, definitely 4K has a purpose.

Q: What is the one thing you think 4K consumers need to know?
A: I think consumers need to understand how to ingest 4K, so they need to know what specs they need if they’re planning on editing and storing 4K. They’re like, ‘yeah, 4K is great, and it’s a higher quality,’ but at the same time they usually don’t realize that it literally takes up four times the memory.

While lots of improvements have been made in a very short time frame, 4K bring on a big problem – and for many of us starting out it is possibly the biggest trap in the entire industry. People too often misplace the purpose of 4K; they replace camera operator skill and expertise with more megapixels. They substitute truly good filmmaking techniques
and in-camera shot value for a higher pixel count. To get ahead of the game, here’s a tip: if you’re just starting out in the videographer world, don’t get caught up in the higher resolutions. Concentrate on production value – how much it looks like you spent – but most of all, concentrate on getting the shot in-camera. That way you will avoid unending work in post production and editing. Ask any videographer: the less post production, the better.

This then leaves creators with one of the biggest unanswered questions in the industry: “How much farther can we go?”

– Bryn LipinskiSony 4K digital video camera