4K In The Mainstream

If you attended NAB this year, you probably thought the 4K conversion already happened. Everywhere you looked was a new 4K camera system, 4K recorder or 4K compatible NLE or workflow solution. In the early ’00s, you probably remember a similar scenario when HD (1920 x 1080 resolution) was being heavily pushed, even though few filmmakers had access to the technology (unless you worked for a studio). For television production, filmmakers were shooting HD primarily for archival purposes because at the time, there was a lack of HD viewing options in the home.

But in 2013, 4K production and postproduction is here and now. Previously, the RED cameras (ONE, EPIC, Scarlet) and Sony F65 were the only game in town for 4K capture. But in the past year, with the release of the Canon C500, 1D C and the new Sony F55 and F5, a middle tier was born, giving indie filmmakers wider access to the format. On the consumer side, GoPro released the HERO3 Black Edition that was able to shoot 4K (12 fps only) for only $399. Although most GoPro shooters have no use for shooting their skate or ski videos in 4K, the HERO3 brought 4K to the masses.

But this year’s NAB further sealed 4K’s emergence with the announcement of the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K. The camera, which was the hit of the show, has a Super 35-sized sensor with a professional global shutter and can capture compressed 4K CinemaDNG RAW and ProRes 422 (HQ) using the built-in SSD recorder. The defining aspect of the camera is its price, which retails for $3,995, (not much more than a new EOS 5D Mark III). Like last year, Blackmagic completely disrupted the digital camera industry with this release.

Within the next couple of years, 4K will be the norm and HD, in its 1920 x 1080 format, will be wiped off the map like SD before it. We still have a way to go in regards to 4K television sets, and although they’re finally starting to hit the market, they’re still out of reach for most consumers at $5,000 and above. TVs won’t be priced for the mainstream until there’s enough 4K content to exhibit and networks move both slowly and cautiously. Sound familiar?

Which brings us to ARRI. After the demise of Panavision on the digital side, ARRI, in particular the ARRI ALEXA, has become the crown jewel of the high-end professional cinematography market, especially in regards to feature film production. One of the biggest surprises at NAB 2013 was ARRI’s announcement of the new ALEXA XT. Although the XT contains amazing new features, the buzz at the show was that it remains a 2K or 1080 camera. (It’s important to remember that the ALEXA does capture 2880 x 1620 that’s downsampled to 1920 x 1080 or 2048 x 1152 for ProRes.)

ARRI has always believed that latitude trumps resolution and this is one of the primary reasons that the majority of cinematographers have chosen the ALEXA over other digital systems. In my opinion, the lack of a 4K ALEXA was probably due to the fact that the majority of ARRI’s clients are rental houses. With the announcement of a new 4K ALEXA, your rental houses’ inventory of ALEXA systems would become obsolete soon after. Plus, television is still broadcasting in 1080i or 720p. But make no mistake, a 4K ALEXA will happen. It’s inevitable.

And now that 6K and 8K sensors are here, I’m sure in a few years’ time, we’ll be repeating this cycle once again. Ho hum.

Misinformation” is a joint effort between HDVideoPro and the Sachtler Academy. The Sachtler Academy is dedicated to promoting open knowledge exchange among production professionals worldwide. Initiated by renowned camera support manufacturer Sachtler, the Academy offers a nonpartisan venue by which cinematographers and videographers can hone their talents, discuss techniques and stay updated on technical advances from various manufacturers. To find out more, visit www.sachtler-academy.com/ and www.sachtler.us.