How many of you remember the DALSA Origin camera? Announced in 2003 and released in 2006, the 4K digital cinema camera, which resembled a mini-refrigerator, was going to take over professional production. But because of its size and unyielding workflow due to its monster-sized 16-bit 4K RAW files, the camera wasn’t accessible to anyone, including studio filmmakers. In short, it was a decade too early.
Now, 4K is becoming the dominant acquisition format. RED has been capturing 4K since 2007 with the RED ONE, and has since released the EPIC, SCARLET and the 19-megapixel 6K DRAGON sensor. Sony has the top-of-the-line F65, which can capture 16-bit 4K RAW files, as well as the new F55, F5 and FS700U 4K cameras. Canon’s Cinema EOS division has been targeting Hollywood with the C500 and 1D C cameras, and Blackmagic is soon to release its first 4K camera, the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K. Even on the consumer side, cameras are transitioning toward higher resolutions with fixed-lens 4K camcorders like the JVC GY-HMQ10U, Sony’s new FDR-AX1 and GoPro’s HERO3+, which can capture 4K at 15 or 12 fps. The big holdout is ARRI with its ALEXA and new doc-style camera, the AMIRA, still capturing 2K or full HD. But even without ARRI, it’s safe to say there’s no going back to a 1080 world.
THE POWER OF 4K
As you already know, 4K has four times the image information over full HD. Most know of its technical specifications through DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) projection standards, which is 4096×2160 (doubling the DCI 2K standard of 2048×1080). There’s also Ultra HD, aka Quad HD or UHD, which is for 4K television standards. Its resolution is 3840×2160, which doubles the 16×9 full HD standard of 1920×1080.
There are many advantages in shooting 4K, but at the present time, the most common one is archival. Since we all know that higher resolutions are inevitable (4K now, 8K tomorrow), typical delivery specifications for visual effects and theatrical exhibition are still currently at 2K, and deliverables for television and the web are 1080 or even 720. But once the transition to 4K becomes the industry standard for exhibition, your 1080 footage will need to be upscaled to 4K. When you upscale footage, you have to use your current pixel resolution to guess or interpolate values based on the average of the pixels in your image. Your new upscaled 4K images will more likely display instances of blur, jagged images, halos, etc.
Another current advantage of shooting 4K is that you can take advantage of its high resolution and make subtle corrections in framing or shaky footage when finishing in a lower resolution. For House of Cards, director David Fincher shot in 5K with RED EPICs and stabilized and tracked every shot in Adobe After Effects and mocha. Most people shooting with RED cameras also like to "window" the sensor in order to capture stunning close-up shots without having to change lenses.
But before you go out and purchase your next 4K camera, there are still a few factors to consider before 4K becomes your workflow standard.