For the past 18 months almost everything I have shot has been shot at 4K. I have to say that I am addicted to the extra resolution and the quality of the images I am getting these days from my PMW-F5 and R5 raw recorder. In addition, the flexibility I get in post from shooting in 4K to crop and re-frame my shots is fantastic.
BUT: I have a Sony A7s on order. Us European buyers won’t get them until late July as the European model is different to the US model, in the US the cameras are based on the NTSC system, so do 24, 30 and 60fps while the European models are based on PAL, so do 25 and 50fps but with the addition of 24fps as well. Right now there are no realistic portable 4K recording option for the A7s, these will come later. So this means that for a now if I want to shoot with the A7s it will have to be HD.
Is that really such a bad thing? Well, no not really. It’s a sideways step not a backwards one, as I’m getting the A7s for a very specific roll.
Image quality is a combination of factors. Resolution is just one part of the image quality equation. Dynamic range, contrast, noise, colour etc all contribute in more or less equal parts to getting a great image. The A7s delivers all of these very well. If I am delivering in HD then most of the time I don’t NEED 4K. 4K is nice to have and if I can have 4K then I will take advantage of it, but for an HD production it is definitely not essential in most cases.
The reason for getting the A7s is that I want a pocket sized camera that I can use for grab and go shooting. It offers amazing low light performance and great dynamic range thanks to it’s use of S-Log2. I’m really excited about the prospect of having a camera as sensitive as the A7s for next years Northern Lights trips. I should be able to get shots that have not been possible before, so even at “only” HD the A7s will get used along side my 4K F5/R5.
In the future there will of course be external 4K recording options for the A7s making it even more versatile. I probably won’t always use them with the A7s but the option will be there when I NEED 4K.
Given the choice, if I can shoot in 4K I almost always will. I want to shoot in 4K whenever I can. It really does give me much greater post production flexibility, for example I can shoot a wide shot of an interview in 4K and then crop in for a mid shot or close up if I’m delivering in HD. So 4K will always be very high on my priority list when choosing a camera. But if you can’t afford 4K and are still delivering in HD then worry not. It’s probably better to have a well optimised HD camera than a cheap, poor quality less than perfect 4K camera. Don’t let 4K trick you into buying a lesser camera just because the lesser camera has 4K.
Well shot HD still looks fantastic, even on a big screen. Most movies are shown at 2K and few people complain about the quality of most blockbusters. So, HD is still good enough, 4K has not made HD obsolete or degraded the quality of existing HD cameras.
But is good enough? Good enough for you and your clients? I am passionate about getting great images, so I don’t just want good enough, I want the best I can get, so I’m a 4K convert, as are some of my clients. I’m actually delivering content in 4K for many of my customers. But sometimes, 4K isn’t practical, so in these cases I’ll just get the very best HD I can (hence the A7s for very portable and ultra low light shooting).
The bottom line is that right now, maybe you don’t need 4K, but it’s OK to want 4K. You may need 4K very soon as it becomes more mainstream (some nice Samsung and LG 4K TV’s are now available in the $1.5K/£1K price range). 4K might bring you many benefits in post production, but that doesn’t mean you need it, not yet at least. But once you do start to shoot in 4K there is no going back and while you might still not need 4K, you’ll probably find that you do actually need 4K. 🙂