Tuesday, March 4, 2014

To 4K or not to 4K, that is the Question

To 4K or Not to 4K, that is the Question- 1080P may Just be Fine!

4K UHD is 4 times HD
For quite a while now the 4K buzz has been getting loud as ever. There are monitors, televisions and most importantly cameras simply buzzing around the term 4K. Then there are various 4K resolutions as just barely any final standard has been determined. It seems that in regards to television (totaly futuristic), the 4K UHD (4 times HD or 3840x2160) standard seems somewhat predominant. But there are additional 4K resolutions for film, and god knows what else. The key is to get as many pixels into a frame as possible. Why? Because if you think back to true film, just how many silver atoms/pixels are there in a frame? A lot! Then there is that little detail known as dynamic range. Blech.

4K is Great! But to What End?

If one asks people in the pro-cinematography world, one might get several answers. Or perhaps even some questions. The questions are usually to drill down to what facility in regards to 4K. One may ask, what camera? Or perhaps, compressed or RAW? Maybe DNG? Once that is determined, then the answers start harmonizing. And only then does 4K become great! 

The fact of the matter is that the professional world primarily looks to 4K not for the size that it will show on one of those outlandish 4K televisions or monitors, but rather what it offers in what is known as "post production". Ask any DP about this and they will start talking about RAW, shooting "flat", dynamic range and all kinds of wonderful things. But in the end, the final product will most likely end up being 1080p. 

4K - Big Bucks without Delivery.

On the net it's now even more up in the air...

One may hear about the future of 4K being delivered to your television. Yeah, right. Not happening unless you are internet connected with a large pipe (bandwidth) and know how to fetch from certain streaming companies that they themselves are not really sure about doing as this thing called "Net Neutrality" is starting to bite. 

Major Television Networks? 

Not likely gonna happen unless someone figures out a way to really crunch the data and then explode it without loss over the digital air, or cable. And by the way, it seem digital air is a lot cleaner than cable. You can see the difference on your current tv signal. Try it. In any case, the problem lies again within bandwidth (net/cable/hardwired/Google fantasy fibre) and frequency spectrum over the air. It simply isn't available for the quantity of data that needs to be transferred in real time. 

Buffer it and then play? 

Well, maybe. This simply means that you request a download to some device, and watch later. The device doesn't yet exist for easy use consumer-wise that is also directly connected to your entertainment system. Who knows? Maybe Microsoft will come up with a killer concept in the near future. Oh wait, they tried that once with Windows Media PC. We saw how successful that was. 

Fuggetaboutit!

Why even worry? 4K is overkill for the eye anyway. Actors don't really like to be shot at such a high resolution. However there is a tremendous use for 4K As a marketing tool for manufacturers in the industry it opens up a whole new world for selling new cameras, ancillary devices etc. We are talking some big bucks here!

The Real or Usable Benefit of 4K.

Being a stock shooter, I have been producing 4K resolution footage for almost 2 years now, all without owning a 4K camera.

The fact of the matter is simple. 4K is a resolution. And for all intents and purposes, let's just call it 4 times HD and still a 16 by 9 aspect ratio. So how can one shoot 4K without owning a 4K camera?

Ever since I purchased my first Canon DSLR, I had the capability with the only limitation being that it could only yield time lapse goodies. Simply put, the frame size or resolution of a photograph in one of these DSLR's is far larger that need to create 4K as we know it today. 

If one shoots a sequence of say 300 photographs, timed in a consistent increment, one now has 300 frames, which in turn is approximately 10 seconds of footage in time lapse. Pretty neat. And it just so happens that time lapse is a darn good selling product. But the real benefits come when one can shoot such sequences in RAW, which most of these (even pro-sumer) DSLRs can do. You just need one nifty little attachment affixed to the camera itself. This nifty tool is called an intervalometer.

This "intervalometer" device simply plugs into the remote shutter release port and does all the work for you once you program it. There is one caveat about the word "intervalometer". Many don't know what it is or have even heard of this word. If this is the case, simply ask for a remote timer shutter release mechanism that you can program for interval shooting. :)

For more info on how this is done, check out some of my video tutorials on how post processing works for such image sequences:

Producing and Delivering 4K

If you find yourself getting excited about this prospect, great! Think about the possibilities. You can deliver in super high res, with a super high pixel depth provided you use the correct "post production" tools. I personally tend to shoot in pure RAW always. This gives me so much color space, lighting space and flexibility that opens up many interesting avenues. The key is to understand the technology in the camera as well as the software technology for use in "post". 

Once you figure out the concepts and can deliver gorgeous footage (time lapse of course), you will surely realize that there are many, many possibilities as well as possible revenue generators to accumulate enough cash to perhaps one day purchase a true 4K video camera. Perhaps the longer this takes, the better for you. Let me explain the oxymoron of a statement.

Don't Jump on the 4K Camera Bandwagon Yet!

Why you ask? Probably because it still seems somewhat premature? Maybe because 6k is on the way?
If you want my opinion (opinions are a dime a dozen), I believe the market will stabilize perhaps in the next year or so. But it currently is just doing one heck of a marketing job. Prices keep coming down. Products keep improving and getting more versatile. And the standards are really still up in the air. A company known as BlackMagic announced their 4K camera quite a while ago, and only recently started shipping. But from what we see it is still not up to par. Sony has a line up of cameras that one can supposedly upgrade for quite a few bucks. Canon may be announcing some more goodies as well. And let's not forget about many other possibly unknowns out there.

It's a Race to the Bottom (Price-wise).

As this industry has shown over and over again, it will most likely end up being a race to the bottom price-wise. The competition is fierce! But one must really do their do-diligence prior to making any purchase. This has been the case with all generations. 

You need to first ask yourself, what do I need the camera for specifically? Is it for in-house a.k.a. studio work? Is it for "run and gun"? Or is it simply to be the first to own whatever purely for bragging rights?  

This would cool.

Personally, I can wait as I still have my time-lapse option for now. I would much rather see a new breed of HD cams that offer a dynamic range of at least 24 stops . For those that don't exactly know what that means; 16-24 stops (depending on who's article you read) is approximately the range of light that the human eye can see without being "blown out" (i.e looking straight into the sun) or waiting for the eyes to adjust to a pretty dark environment. Now that would be cool! In the mean time we just have to live with that HDR concept. 

For additional insights and opinions, here is another article from a fellow stock shooter talking turkey about this exact same topic