4K: “You’re Not Going to See the Difference”

by Hugh Brownstone24 Comments

DP Alex Ferrai says “most movies are still being mastered in 2K” – so why do you really need to shoot in 4K? “If you can afford it and if you have the horsepower to do it, by all the means, go ahead and knock yourself out.” This is NOT a ringing endorsement. 

Well, it’s December 2015, and I’m still shooting and loving my little 1080p-recording Sony a6000  [B&H|Amazon] with a couple of tack-sharp, lightweight Sony E-mount lenses. On the other hand, I’m shooting 4K videos on my Phantom 3 Professional  [B&H|Amazon] for stock footage, and my go-to interview camera is a 4K recording Apple iPhone 6s Plus with optical image stabilization and the ability to punch in whenever I need to (with a single, fixed length lens, 4K actually makes sense here).

Alex does a great job of articulating why you don’t want to shoot in 4K, and it’s for these very reasons that I haven’t fully upgraded to 4K (on the other hand, I now have a five terabyte RAID 5 volume and a five terabyte RAID 0 volume attached via Thunderbolt; my boot drive is a 1T SSD; I have 16G of RAM on my MacBook Pro; and I’m getting used to the idea of proxy files):

· 4K chews up storage like it’s going out of style, and most people can’t afford the disks or CPUs to handle it
· Most distribution is through the web, and for the most part, the web can’t handle it
· You can’t see the difference most of the time
· Future proofing isn’t really a valid argument

Still, if you’re like me you sure CAN see the difference, even down-rez’d. You get paid more for 4K stock footage. And it’s around 4K that you get the same (slightly better) resolution as 35mm film. There’s a reason CASABLANCA holds up so well.

Maybe a Sony a7s II [B&H|Amazon] or Sony a7r II [B&H|Amazon]  shooting in 1080p (for now) really IS the way to go.

I’m going to have to think pretty hard about that one over the next few weeks.

IFH 020: Why Indie Filmmakers Should NOT Shoot 4K!

Here's Why You Might Want to Think Twice Before Shooting Your Next Film in 4K

Via No Film School:

On his new site, Indie Film Hustle, veteran filmmaker Alex Ferrari is tackling questions like these, questions that pertain more to the scrappy underdog filmmakers out there than the folks with multi-million dollar budgets. And through his podcast, which is booming in popularity these days, Alex is sharing his brash, no-nonsense approach to low-budget filmmaking with the masses.

In a recent episode, he goes after one of the sacred cows of modern digital filmmaking — 4K acquisition — and makes a compelling case for why indie filmmakers should think twice before assuming that 4K is the right choice for their production.

Read full article at No Film School “IFH 020: Why Indie Filmmakers Should NOT Shoot 4K!”

(cover photo credit: snap from No Film School)

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh is the founder of Three Blind Men and An Elephant Productions. He and the team write, direct, shoot, score, and edit web-centric films; conduct photo shoots; and write copy, white papers and blog posts. Hugh also writes screenplays (he recently optioned a TV pilot) and just published his first eBook (Apple's iPhone: The Next Video Revolution). If it's about telling stories, it's in their wheelhouse.

And always with the ambition of authenticity, humanity and wit.
Hugh Brownstone


  1. Hey man, actually Raid 5 stopped being recommended since 2009. It’s better to switch to Raid 10 or 6! http://www.zdnet.com/article/why-raid-5-stops-working-in-2009/

  2. This is nothing more than a re-hash of what has been talked about and talked about and talked about. First off, there’s different flavors of 4k, which he doesn’t mention. Sure, if you’re shooting 4k RAW files you have a bigger beast on your hands, but for the majority shooting with the GH4, Sony A7s, Samsung NX1, any of those shoot fantastic 4k and will NOT break the bank and can be edited on just about any relatively new computer. Evidently he’s never heard of Youtube, which host stunning 4k footage. we all know that no one broadcasts 4k, so tell us something we don’t already know. If I were making an indie film I would first and foremost post, at the very least, a trailer of my film to Youtube which is the worlds biggest visual platform, hello mcfly. The benefits to shooting 4k far outweight it’s disadvantages. With that being said, there’s nothing wrong with shooting 1080, but if I can shoot it in 4k I’m definitely going to take advange of it’s benefits over 1080. I kind of thought this whole 1080 vs 4k, was a dead subject, I mean really, what’s the point of talking about it? It is what it is!

  3. I can see the difference when I’m up close to a large monitor computer screen. Which isn’t the way I watch shows. On my 55″ Samsung from 10-12′ away, 1080p looks sharp as hell. I just saw Creed (and just about all the movies I’ve seen in a theater this year) in 2k, way more than sharp enough.

    I shoot loads of indies, commercials and TV and if my producers hadn’t drank the 4Kool Aid, I’d rather shoot an Alexa 2k than any flavor of 4k//6k, 

    Also, given the US’s arrested wifi development concerning bandwidth, I don’t see 4k being transmitted properly anytime soon.

    While some may say 4k is great for punching in, it also magnifies noise when you do that. I like getting my frame right the first time.

  4. I’ll have to look deeper into this. Which manufacturers are offering RAID 6 or 10 today?

  5. You’re talking a $58,000 dollar body-only camera, yeah I’d take that over a 4k camera as well. Unless you’re punching in past it’s, 4k, 100% limit you’re not going to see any more noise than you would with 1080. Also, it’s not all about getting your compostion correct in so much as you have more options in the edit.

  6. Apparently it’s more complicated than that – the RAID failures projected by the article you linked to have not happened. We’re speaking with some people who know this stuff cold, and look forward to giving you, our readers, a much more complete answer. Cheers, Hugh

  7. I can remember them saying that about 720 vs 1080 a long while back.
    Using that logic then there’s no visible difference between 720 and 4K. There has to be a break point somewhere.

    I have 70 year old eyes and I can see the difference in my reference monitor in Premiere, which is usually only about 5 or 6 inches wide on the screen. 2K to me only looks really good (color and sharpness of definition) if it’s downsampled from 4K.
    And you don”t have to spend a fortune, either. My GH4 with a Ninja Assassin is way cheap for the results I get.

    I’ll stick with 4K for all the reasons already mentioned, thank you.

  8. Funny you should mention the GH4/Assassin combo – stay tuned for our next installments of our long term FS7 review!

  9. MacMarkIIHD I find that 4K footage from an iPhone or Phantom 3 Pro is enough to drop my computer to its knees as soon as I add any rendering.

  10. Of that I have no doubt, IF you’re not transcoding that to Prores422 before you edit.

  11. MacMarkIIHD may be an old topic for you and I sure don’t think it is dead. It is still a very big deal for many. And there are millions of people who cannot view 4k on youtube due to bandwidth. And there’s $ – shooting in 4k adds 10-20% to a project’s budget and for many that’s a deal breaker. I have spoken to TV professionals for example who can’t afford the extra costs of 4k.

  12. @planetmitch, Why do bird sudden appear? I couldn’t tell you why this is your most read article of the week. Okay, it may not be dead, but it certainly is a rehash with nothing new we all havent heard before. True, millions may not have the bandwidth to view Youtube, but multiple upon multiple millions do have the bandwidth. I would guess that number would be 85% of all households have high speed internet. Where are you getting the 10 – 20 % increase in budget to shoot 4k? Sure, if you’re shooting the remake of the Ten Commandments, that may be, but for the average video project, that isn’t true. Does 4kk take up more HD space, yes, but HD storage is cheap. And, if you’re shooting in H.265, all the better, for the most part. I think many are comparing apples to oranges when it comes to 4k, on one hand you have the indie filmmaker, which 4k might not be the route, it really depends upon what type of coverage you’re planning on for your scene. In many cases, 4k can save you on setups by having the option to get your coverage from a wider shot and recomp in the edit. Again, for the average video project, small business, music videos, its not adding extra costs in the production, however I will say, if you’re adding that 20% to the back end of your budget just because you’re shooting 4k, that’s up to you, but it’s certainly not costing you anything more to shoot it.

  13. MacMarkIIHD Why do birds suddenly appear when I’m near? :)

    Plenty of people have discussed the extra costs and the 10-20% figure is used often. I also was speaking with TV producers and they touted the same figures. Very few options for h.265 at this point. 

    And let’s not forget that actors and actresses HATE 4k :)

    Anyway, you’re convinced 4k is right for you and that’s ok. You’ve probably already absorbed many of the costs. There are PLENTY of people who still don’t NEED or have a customer that expects 4k so they’re perfectly fine shooting 1080. 

    And they read articles like this to see what if anything is new.

  14. @planetmitch, I’d sure be interested to know how/what they equate this 10-20% figure to. My guess it’s a back end addition for really no reason, other than they’re shooting 4k. I wouldn’t say i’m convinced 4k is for me, it’s just something I use along with 1080. I would agree, there’s very little call for 4k from clients at this point, however, I personally see that changing, as the interenet evolves into 4k’s primary host. You may or may not agree, but cable is dead, as far as how this newer generation consumes their content, the cable industry will never surpass the internet for content, and as more and more internet opportunites evolve for hosting 4k, and they will, my guess is 4k will be the new 1080 format, there just to many advantages in using it. So, just like me, they long to be…

  15. planetMitch MacMarkIIHD Regarding talent and 4K, a friend who works in network broadcast says they often do judicious softening of 1080 to make the talent look their best.

  16. ChenZhirong Really interesting reading (as I am about to set up a RAID 5). But I am using WD Red Pro drives that now quote 10^-15 read error rate, so I feel a bit better about it. Though B&H amusingly says they feature “Error recovery prevention”.

    HughBrownstone this is definitely an interesting topic for a writeup.

  17. HughBrownstone whoops, for some reason I didn’t see your reply until eclux posted. 
    Raid 10 is pretty common for any NAS with 4 or more bays while Raid 6 is for NAS with 5 or more. Buffalo, Seagate, Synology, QSNAP, any manufacturer offers this so long as they have the minimum number of bays.
    I think the idea behind it is that NAS should have at least 2 drive redundancy, especially in the case where all HDDs in the NAS are the same age as they are likely to fail at the same time.

    Looking forward to your next article, cheers!

  18. Did a little more research. Apparently error recovery prevention is a good thing. Much to learn.

  19. I’m a bit surprised to read this. You’re comparing what’s shot and what’s shown, and it makes little sense in my opinion.
    It’s well admitted that a good quality motion picture shown in 1980p is almost the same than the same movie shown in 4K. To the eye, in front of a normal screen at a normal distance, it makes no difference.
    But that’s the end user product only. The compressed version of the post produced movie.
    Post production is a sum of effects applied to footage. And those effects work way better, WAY better the more you have pixels. Gradients, blur, motion blur, grading, everything has finer results when applied to bigger footage. You can make an experiment with applying blur on a 100px x 100px image or applying blur on a 10000x10000px image that you resize at 100px afterward. The second is way better.
    Let aside the other reasons why bigger is better (post prod cropping, better stabilization…), you should always shoot in 4K if you can, I’d say. For editing, you can still rely on using proxies if your machine is a bit too weak for 4K. And in the end, it’s totally fine to produce a good 1980p, if you want. As long as your post prod is made on your big source footage.
    In short, everything that need to be calculated on the images will be better if the images are bigger. And 2000 to 4000 pixels makes a difference.

    Now let’s say that for anything that isn’t motion picture, such as games, interfaces etc, a 4K screen is incredibly better than a HD screen. On top of being crisper, you can look at it from a very short distance compared to a HD screen. So new usages, not only TV, but ads, menus, dashboards etc.

  20. I shoot in 4K for the added “space” to punch-in or to pan in a 2K post. Allows me to shoot interviews with one camera and not two. Save money and less equipment to haul around.

  21. Fast forward two years from when this was written, I’m now about to start moving onto 8k 360 vr lolz.

    and you thought 4k was a drive pig, just wait until you find out 8k is 1gb per one minute bwahahaahaha!

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