Wednesday, November 30, 2011

4K vs 1080p.... or just a good film.

I love trailing around the various film making forums online. There's some great tips on film making... some great links to really useful websites and lots of interesting people all contributing to the global film making community.  But, there's a hell of a lot of arguing about camera resolution. Ever since RED upped the game with the RED One, people have been talking about 4K acquisition. The new Scarlett is refreshing the argument all over again.  There's a whole bunch of cameras that can shoot in 4K now and there's a growing number of online film makers who will tell you that resolution is king.

I've just shot a full feature in HD for the first time... 1080p HD looks amazing when projected onto a huge cinema screen. Just ask any number of Arri Alexa may capture upto 3.5K, but most users are shooting at 1080p....  even Roger Deakins is shooting the new James Bond film on one in 1080p. If it's good enough for him...  and you can't argue that James Bond isn't meant for a cinema release!

I enjoyed the technical side of preparing for my last shoot. Shooting a feature is grueling. You need to pick the right equipment for the job. I knew we were shooting in low light most of the time, so i picked the Sony NEX-FS100 and Atomos Ninja combo.... they did a great job, thanks to our Camera Op, Amy Wilson and some vintage lenses.

But... are the lovely images making my edit flow better? Is the shallow depth of field making the dialogue work? And, conversely, is the 1080p as opposed to 4K making the story weaker? No, of course not. I've got all kinds of problems in the edit, which is completely usual... it's par for the course. But, not one of them has anything to do with resolution.

1080p HD looks stunning...especially if it's shot right, and so does 4K, but neither is going to affect how good your film is. If film makers spent as much time on script development and rehearsals as they did on camera equipment, maybe the films we get to see would be better than they currently are?

EDIT Jan 2013 - I wrote this back in 2011 and i still feel pretty much the same way about 4K... the only thing i'd add is that 4K shooting does give you the freedom to re-frame your shot in post if needed if you're working on a 1080p timeline... that's useful. BUT... it still isn't essential, there's still no easy workflow for it and even the new Sony 4k recorder doesn't make it very easy or cheap... and Canon's C500 can't capture 4k still need an external recorder for that and they are all very expensive. I just hope someone like Atomos takes up the challenge at some point and they might be able to do it a price we can all work with.... but for now, i'm not at all bothered. My next feature that i'm shooting this year will be shot in 1080p again.

EDIT September 2015 - Why is this post so popular still? It's the most read post on my blog, even 4 years later. I guess it's because people are still googling 4K acquisition.  I now shoot in 4K about half of the time. Any drama projects and some music promos just look stunning shot in 4K, but i'm still editing on a 1080p timeline... no one wants 4K delivery yet apart from for cinema.. and i still think an upscaled decent 10bit 422 HD picture looks amazing.  We're now starting to hear about 8K cameras...  crazy stuff... but you can't stop progress. From what i've seen using various 4K cameras and capture systems, dynamic range makes a much bigger difference than just resolution. As i hoped, Atomos brought out the Shogun and then more recently, the Ninja Assassin.... these are still my preferred way of working.  Did anyone notice how many of the Oscar nominated movies were shot on the Alexa this year? Still not 4k and still cleaning up in the biggest of productions. That tells you all you need to know about the 4K/8K/whatever race for resolution... it's just not that important to the end customer.


  1. Glad to hear your views!
    I too have invested in the NEX FS100 and love it. I was worried that I was investing in 1080 rather than 4k as I too am making short films. However after shooting a short with some guys that currently work at the BBC in Birmingham, I am more than happy! I think lighting is such an important element in producing good looking pictures followed by good grading. Anyway I am impressed with what you have achieved so far and look forward to seeing Addicted!

  2. Thanks Gaz. I think the FS100 is the best value 35mm video camera out there at the moment... i'm really happy with mine. I'm sure 4k will eventually become more important, but at the moment i don't think it's vital....especially when you see 1080p projected on a large screen... it looks incredible. The C300 has definitely caught my eye, but 50Mbps isn't enough for me, so i'd still have to use something like the Ninja, so there's no real advantage over the FS100 for me.

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  4. Where did you get the info about Deakins shooting Skyfall in 1080p? As far as I'm aware its 4k and as its destined for Imax shooting in 1080 doesn't stack up?

  5. The Alexa can't shoot 4k... 3.5k at best... But Bond being shot in 1080p... DoP discussed this in several interviews. Some specific scenes are being shot in iMax... As in most iMax movies. 1080p upscales amazingly if shot at a decent data rate.

  6. Skyfall was shot at 2.8k and the final DI was upscaled to 4k. No scenes were shot on IMAX 45/70 cameras.

  7. Yep... Roger Deakins confirmed this on his blog a while back. Should have updated this before then. Anyway, very interesting that he upscales all his masters to 4k, even when he does shoot HD rather than 2.8k, like on 'In Time'. I upscale masters to 2k fro projection. Might have to give 4k a go and see what it looks like.

    Here's his blog on the subject: