Should You Love 4K?
Whatever happened to 1080p? Wasn’t it the future, the flat screen enabling wunderkind of the digital age? CUT TO: 4K approaching like a runaway boulder smacking right into indie filmmaking. Just try to walk past a Costco display of 4K monitors without offering a stunned gasp. The picture is glorious, a hyper sharp, hyper-realistic playback worthy of fairytale fantasies. Unfortunately, hardly anything is streamed or broadcast in 4K. Well, why the heck not?… Quite simply, it’s the cost of conversion.
To 4K or Not 4K?…Is That a Question?
It’s no secret that nearly everything shot in 4K is down converted to 1080p for broadcast, editing, and film distribution. Why? It’s because 4K is an digital storage monster. It all comes down to Color Space, the ability of colors to be stored separately on a pixel and the ability to manipulate them in post. Um, what? 1080p is a compression process that combines bits of color in various corners of a pixel. The human eye can’t tell the difference. It looks normal. Our brains and eyes compensate for minuscule abnormalities when colors share a digital bed. Ain’t brains great! So, if 1080p still looks good, why shoot your film in 4K?
Flex RAW Muscle!
4K is simply a bigger canvas for recording information. Doubled, tripled, 4K’s digital footage gives way to a new age of post production. Editors are free to indulge their artistry and magic. Mistakes with footage, color, angle, camera shake, and exposure are corrected with a few clicks of a keyboard. Forgot to shoot that big close-up? No worries, 4K allows you crop into a portion of the image without loss of definition or focus. Need to add or erase light, windows, objects, or characters? It’s not a problem in the hands of a savvy editor. Whereas some 1080p capture might show a hazy, telltale glow that a manipulation has taken place, 4K in post looks seamless. Quite simply, the phrase, “We’ll fix it in post,” actually means something now. The creative flexibility and solutions offered by 4K have turned celluloid into a dinosaur.
So what's the downside? All that digital info needs to go somewhere and that means bigger drives, faster drives, faster processors, a RAID system to protect your work and more expensive cameras to buy or rent. It also means buying CFast cards to insert in those cameras, the equivalent of pocket sized SSD drives to capture your 4K footage. Comparing the cost of an average SD card to a CFast 2, you're in for an extra few hundred dollars. You'll probably need at least two cards or risk your production grinding to a halt to upload and copy off your files. You also may need a Data Wrangler, a 4K savvy AC or PA to transfer, log, and safeguard all your creative data.
Is it Worth It?
Well, the short answer is...Yes! Yes to 4K! The footage and flexibility of 4K is astonishing. Having just shot, E.P.G., a sci-fi film with digital effects, I would never attempt another technically ambitious project with anything less than 4K. So what's the longer, more sensible answer? No to 4K!…not if you're shooting a small intimate film, another My Dinner With Andre or Spotlight. There's no sense in running up your indie’s low budget figures without a scripted need for effects. With a lush and pleasing tone delivered by a skilled cinematographer, 1080p will service you nicely. Let your script dictate the need for 4K. You're backers and budget will thank you.