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Seeing the world in 4K

  • By David


I had some time to shoot with a RED  just for fun this weekend. It’s nice being able to take a camera through its paces off of a project. I headed out early on Thanksgiving morning to shoot some landscapes on a Scarlet while the family watched the parade in their PJs. Needless to say, it was quiet and peaceful in the Coast Range, and we had some nice, clear weather and interesting skies, atypical for Oregon in November.

On the one hand, 4K can often feel like overkill. After all, most HD broadcasts are still 720, and nobody out there is really broadcasting, projecting or serving 4k files to audiences. I’m sure it’ll happen someday, but the infrastructure seems to be years away.  So why shoot in 4K? Of course there’s the future-proof/archival reasons for doing so.

But after spending the holiday weekend playing with this footage, I can find a few other key advantages.  First, if you’re shooting 4K on a project that will eventually be output at 2K, you’ve got the ability to re-crop your image. It’s a sort of safety. You should be framing and composing shots properly, but there’s always that stray shot with a microphone, thumb, car, bird or whatever in the corner.  With 4K, you can easily re-crop and fine tune a shot without losing any quality. It’s a sort of safety.

The next big advantage is the raw format. It’s a luxury being able to dial in clouds out of a blown-out sky or bring back detail that’s lost in the shadows. In photography classes in college, I remember using the Ansel Adams zone system to allow us to bring highlight and shadow detail out in the darkroom. Having that flexibility in digital video is a luxury.


Nothing beats the freedom of shooting from a DSLR. It’s certainly a lot more mobile, takes up less space, and is easy to pull out for a quick shot. The RED is a heavy beast. It devours batteries and isn’t friendly in run-and-gun situations. It’s also a much bigger load for our helicopter, requiring more expensive batteries and extra care in maneuvering.  The fan is also noisy and not ideal for interview/documentary situations.

Still, when it comes to image quality and flexibility, 4K footage offers a lot of advantages.

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