Reasons to shoot 4K if you’re an indie filmmaker


There are some really good arguments out there about why you don’t need to shoot in 4K (or even higher resolutions) and most arguments are easily augmented by motion picture camera manufacturer ARRI who for the last 10 years has felt 2K acquisition as adequate for their digital cinema camera line.

As someone who does a lot of post production supervision for many indie clients whether I am involved in some part of the process (colouring, VFX or editing) or simply consulting them on their project, below are legit reasons to shoot 4K and not buy into the hype about higher costs and possibly other myths.

1. Nobody can tell the difference

The audience, no probably not. But the producer, director, DP, editor and others involved in post production can benefit tremendously from shooting with more resolution over traditional HD. Especially as it can be during a typical indie film production more resolution will give you the opportunity to apply image stabilization, reframing, and even digital dolly/zooms in post which trust me can go a long way to giving your indie film a polish when you just didn’t have the budget/time/experience/foresight to get these types of shots during your production.

I find that when you shoot in 4K and then downscale to HD any noise patterns (or sensor grain) become much nicer looking on some cameras and footage. Also since 99% of sensors in digital cameras are bayer-pattern sensors, when you shoot with higher resolutions like 4K, 6K, or 8K and then downscale it to HD you increase the resolution of the blue and red channels which normally are only 1/2 the resolution of whatever format you were shooting in to begin with. This can be important for green screen work, keying, and other VFX applications.

Filmmaking aside, on a consumer level let’s not kid ourselves. Demand for 4K / UHD TV’s  are being driven by prices under $1000 and consumers hungry for the latest technology. Not to mention Netflix and Amazon have started creating original content in 4K leaving traditional broadcasters somewhat in the dust. 4K is not huge right now but it’s here and continues to evolve.

2. Let’s address that “budget” & “time”

RED, founded in 2006 with first camera sales in 2007 was built on the 4K mantra. One characteristic about RED some might not be aware about is that if you shoot in less resolution than 4K on a RED, the camera begins windowing the sensor resulting in cropped images. This means that you start to affect the focal length of the lens being used. So for example a 35mm lens becomes 70mm if you select HD as your recording resolution. Suddenly you need wider than normal lenses just to to have decent and workable focal lengths. So when shooting on a RED camera most people will shoot in 4K and then afterwards transcode all of the footage into 2K ProRes (preserving the angle of view from the 4K version) and use the transcoded files for editing and other post production processes like colouring or visual effects. If you’re not doing this you should be.

Working with a digital intermediate file in a common format like ProRes is guaranteed to save you time and frustration as you navigate the indie world of trying to manage the post production workflow process yourself. These digital intermediate files are smaller than most RAW original camera files, not to mention much easier for computers to process and faster to copy/move around. This makes is easier for everyone involved in the post workflow process from beginning to end plus you are working in a common format that is widely supported, even on old NLE software.

What if you’re not shooting with a RED or some other 4K camera?  I would still suggest transcoding all of your footage to HD ProRes 422 HQ and using it during your post workflow. Again it will help everything go much smoother and I guarantee save you time when it comes to the unexpected rearing its ugly head. What’s interesting to note is that no matter which camera the footage comes from, the intermediate digital files will always be the same size. It could have come from a 4K RED camera or a Canon DSLR – the HD ProRes files will be the same size.

If you were to follow my recommendation, at most you need to budget storage requirements for the original camera files, a backup for them, and then storage for the intermediate digital files which you will use during the entire post production workflow. In reality you would have had to budget for all this storage regardless because you’d never give out your originals anyway. Um, right?

The only argument about 4K having higher costs that holds a bit of water for me is that generally media is a bit more expensive to buy or rent because of the larger sizes needed, and yes you will definitely need more storage for the originals but even now that is changing. There are many new cameras coming out on the market that can shoot 4K with great quality and use about the same amount of data as some of the High Definition formats.

Below is a quick list of various cameras and formats along with their respective bit rates. Hopefully it’s easy to see why you might benefit from transcoding some of the larger data formats into something like HD ProRes 422 HQ before working with it. Also note Sony’s XAVC-L (Long) codec which is 4K and an impressive 100Mbps.

BlackMagic 4K RAW DNG = 2120Mbps

4K ProRes 422 HQ = 880Mbps

BlackMagic HD original camera RAW = 840Mbps

RED EPIC 4K HD = 488Mbps

Sony 4K XAVC = 240Mbps

HD ProRes 422 HQ = 176Mbps

Sony 4K XAVC Long = 100Mbps

Sony 2K XAVC = 80Mbps

Canon DSLR HD = 48Mbps

3. Future proofing yourself

The great thing about shooting in 4K but using HD intermediate files for post and mastering, is that at any point in the future an experienced editor can swap out your HD clips with the original 4K clips allowing a 4K output to be made without having to rework any aspect of your locked edit.

Good luck with your next film project, and be sure to shoot it in 4K!

About the author

Dennis Hingsberg is an award winning cinematographer and award winning producer based out of Toronto Canada, and founder of StarCentral Inc. – a video and film production company specializing in 35mm film production and film related post production services. Dennis also works as a paid consultant and resource on managing post production workflows for TV and film related projects.

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