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Why Shooting 4K Is Becoming Less Important + The Resurgence Of The Arri Alexa Classic

4K has been a part of the filmmaking conversation since the RED ONE was first released over ten years ago. At that time, all the “experts” were certain it would take over within just a couple of years, and told us HD would be obsolete before we knew it. A decade later though, it just hasn’t happened.

In some respects 4K has come a long way – especially when considering cost and accessibility. It’s never been cheaper or easier to shoot In ultra high resolution, and there is literally no barrier to entry any more. Just about every new camera can shoot 4K now (even iPhones), which is a far cry from 2007/2008 when the elusive RED ONE was the only real option.

But from my vantage point, the 4K “movement” seems to have already peaked… At least with regards to interest from filmmakers.

I think back to 2014 when cameras like the GH4 were hitting the market and bringing 4K to the masses for the first time. There was this feeling in the air that whatever camera you bought next HAD to have the ability to shoot 4K. If it couldn’t, it would be outdated before you knew it, and you might even lose clients or freelance work as a result.

But as the years went on, most of us realized that 4K wasn’t going to be a game changer. It wasn’t going to land us work. And it certainly wasn’t going to “future-proof” our projects either.

Countless filmmakers that once lined up around the block to buy their A7S II or GH4, ended up selling their cameras within a year or two. Despite having 4K, their cameras were still susceptible to becoming outdated, and having the ability to record 4K internally didn’t change that at all…

My point isn’t that there is anything inherently wrong with shooting in 4K (or 8K for that matter!), and I will always opt to shoot at the highest resolution I can. But this obsession with 4K has largely died down over the last year or two, and I can’t help buy wonder why…

Maybe it’s because just about every camera can shoot 4K now, and it’s no longer the hottest feature to have. Or more likely, it’s that we’ve seen first hand that shooting 4K won’t in and of itself help our projects succeed, and that it’s a luxury not a necessity.

4K is not a requirement for getting into top tier film festivals or winning Oscars. Audiences, buyers, and festival screeners couldn’t care less if your film was shot in 4K. Even Netflix, who is one of the only players to require original productions to be shot in 4K, will still buy produced content that originated in HD or 2K.

Whatever the case – resolution just doesn’t matter the same way that it did a few years ago when we were in no mans land. In 2014 it was easy to convince filmmakers they needed 4K and would be irrelevant without it. And for all anyone knew – that could have been true! But in 2018, after spending years watching countless 4K videos of cats on YouTube while movies shot on iPhones are winning Sundance, we’ve finally gained some perspective.

Back in the film days, cameras were relevant for decades, and most filmmakers didn’t need to obsess over their gear or worry that their work would lose relevancy because of the technology they were using. They focused on what mattered – telling a good story with great performances and entertaining an audience. And I think we’re finally starting to get back to that place…

Cameras will certainly never have the longevity that they once did, but at least now the novelty of 4K is no longer stealing our attention away from other technical considerations – like color science and dynamic range. 

Not to mention, the 4K rush drove down prices of HD/2K cameras so much, that true DIY filmmakers now have access to some of the best cinema cameras ever made on the used market.

I had a narrative filmmaker ask me recently if she should buy mid-range cinema camera like the Canon C300 II or a used Arri Alexa Classic. Her primary consideration was overall image quality, and both cameras were going for almost the exact same price.

I didn’t even have to think about the question before giving my answer – Alexa Classic.

The Arri Alexa line still offers the best image quality and color science on the market, and that includes the original EV model. The fact you can pick them up on the used market for what a high end Canon DSLR with a lens will run you, is absolutely astounding. And the going rate is purely a result of the Alexa Classic’s inability to shoot 4K.

That’s not to say everyone should run out and buy an Alexa Classic. They are still not going to be optimal for lots of productions – namely due to size and weight issues. But the fact that buying a used Alexa is a viable option in the sub $10K market is absolutely amazing.

I’ve heard from friends that work at rental houses, and owner/operators of Alexa Classics that there has been a big uptick in interest for the camera over the last year. I only imagine it’s part of the overall trend of filmmakers breaking the 4K spell that was once cast on them, and focusing more on other aspects of the craft.

This mentality has trickled down to consumer level cameras too. Right now, you can pick up a used Lumix GH2 for as little as $200 – that’s crazy! I remember when stores couldn’t even keep them on the shelves just a few years ago… It may be a couple generations old now, but for an up and coming filmmaker without any money and who doesn’t “need” 4K, it’s an incredible gift.

At the end of the day, 4K is just a resolution format. It’s a great tool to have, and one that I use on many of my own projects – but it’s almost never mandatory.

So for any filmmakers out there weighing their options with regards to camera choice, I hope this has put things in perspective for you. Color quality, low light sensitivity, stabilization, and dozens of other variables matter so much more than 4K… So don’t forget to keep an open mind next time you’re camera shopping, and see what the used market has to offer – you might be surprised what you come up with.

Let me know your thoughts on 4K in the comments below!

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About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

40 Comments

  • Tim Viola
    September 5, 2018 at 1:32 am

    This is a refreshing take on the “big debate!” I actually think this is part of a larger epidemic among filmmakers who are gearheads in disguise. Don’t get me wrong, we NEED experts who are focused on using the tools for the right projects, but at the end of the day we’re storytellers. Priority one. I’ve had to back off attending meet ups at times because they started becoming popularity contests around who has the best sensor, latest gear and the biggest K. It truly is mind blowing how distracted creators get with cool tech–even I will confess to getting seduced from time to time–but it’s a slippery rabbit hole.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 14, 2018 at 8:33 pm

      So true! Thanks for sharing this here, Tim.

      Reply
    • Damon
      October 24, 2018 at 8:00 pm

      I bought a GH4 back in April. “4k!” I thought. “Now I’ m a serious videographer.” Then I had to load the files into my computer, which is no slouch. no 8-core processor is a slouch. After my computer kept locking up, I remembered that I didn’t have all those problems when shoot simple 1080p.

      For the same price I could have bout a couple GH2s and a couple Ninja 2 recorders ,and actually had something.

      I’m just not sold on 4k. For me what’s the point in 4k with a junk codec, stripped out color space and trickled bandwidth, not to mention the crop in on the 4k. A 50mm prime comin’ in looking like a 120mm lens, lol. Dang! Can’t get no wide shots without a stinking microphone lens.

      For get it.

      I went back to 1080p, used the 200 mb bit rate, bought a couple books on documentary filmmaking, and went to work bettering my craft. Lo and behold over the course of a summer I transformed by simple fishing videos into true fishing adventure documentaries, using old Canon FD lenses to boot!

      Incredibly liberating article! Thank you.
      Damon

      Reply
      • Noam Kroll
        November 14, 2018 at 5:37 am

        Wow – thanks so much for sharing this, Damon! Great to hear your story.

        Reply
  • Hampus Lager
    September 5, 2018 at 6:06 pm

    Never liked 4k (or high frame rates) for narrative, but for sports: Love it.

    I wish Blackmagic did a real v2 of the pocket with the same sensor, just add 60fps, better screen and battery. Same for Digital Bolex. Then I would never get another camera again ever.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 14, 2018 at 8:36 pm

      That original pocket is still one of my favorites too! Would love to see another true pocket camera from BMD.

      Reply
  • Liam
    September 6, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    I shoot docs more than narrative, so it’s certainly a different ball game, but I’ve shot a couple of low budget indie projects recently that have spent significant time and money worrying that they have to shoot 4K to be taken seriously. In some cases, actual anxiety that it won’t be good enough to shoot cheaply on a GH5 or C100 or similar and spend the money saved on pre/post production, hotels or something else.

    Then I was at Sheffield Doc Fest earlier this year and the opening film playing to an enormous theatre was shot on a prosumer camcorder in HD, with the auto-white balance left on in some shots (it looked like crap but it WAS a great story). Then several of the award winning films it turns out (Minding the Gap which has now been picket up by Hulu, and Hale County, This Morning, This Evening) were shot on 5Dmkiii’s. I heard another was shot on the bmpcc…etc etc. Another beautiful doc that keeps getting drooled over time and time again for it’s visuals is The Islands and the Whales, shot on a Sony F3 in HD.

    In my world at least, the only people worrying about 4K are the amateurs. It’s a very strange disconnect and I get wrapped up just as much as the next person in worrying about the wrong things. The latest camera doesn’t do much good at all for a production in many cases.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 14, 2018 at 8:36 pm

      So true, Liam. Appreciate you sharing this here!

      Reply
  • marko tardito
    September 6, 2018 at 3:16 pm

    your post open my mind, thnks

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 14, 2018 at 8:36 pm

      Good! That was the goal 🙂

      Reply
  • Steve H.
    September 6, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks for keeping it real Noam. In the end it boils down to keeping a persons attention for an hour or so.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 14, 2018 at 8:37 pm

      Appreciate that very much Steve! Will try to keep keeping it real.

      Reply
  • […] Why Shooting 4K Is Becoming Less Important […]

    Reply
  • Bill
    September 8, 2018 at 11:30 pm

    Another reason why film is making a very real and justified comeback. I use 16 or 35mm for my own narrative projects and shoot digital on docs (one just premiered nationally on PBS) and we use whatever camera fits the job in that case, from FS7’s for the bulk work but mix in GH cameras, gopro’s, etc.. and no one cares in the end what we used as long as it sounds good and was color graded professionally.

    Does the STORY work, and what best supports it that story? Those are the questions. Kodak stocks can do things for emotion and mood that no other system can but then a good HD or whatever-K Sony or Gopro can serve its own unique purpose that a film or maybe an Alexa could not fill, but then who would want to shoot Bladerunner on a GH4? … adinfinitim!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 14, 2018 at 8:42 pm

      So well said, Bill. Thanks for sharing your two cents.

      Reply
  • Alex
    September 9, 2018 at 6:48 am

    It only seems that the 4K craze has settled, but in fact it is just a fact that everybody is shooting it and all the cameras have it so it is not a subject of debate anymore. Some networks forced camera manufacturers into 4K because they only accept 4K content.
    But lo and behold – these camera manufacturers have found a clever way to make filmmakers think their cameras are obsolete once more – it’s called “the full frame craze” and it will bring along the complete redesign of all the lenses and cinema zooms to fit the new cameras. And after that, everything will go the 8K way. And so on and on and on….
    Despite of everything, I still think Arri makes the best cameras in the world. I own an Amira and couldn’t be more satisfied.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 14, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      I love the Amira, one of the most intuitive cameras to shoot with. And couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on 4K/full frame. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  • Nat
    September 9, 2018 at 10:46 am

    The obsession with high resolution goes against the fundamentals of cinematography. Where is the mystery? I no longer ask myself what am I seeing because it’s all there down the tiny little crack in the wall. If you’re obsessed you need the best quality for your story then your story needs a lot more than high-res.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 14, 2018 at 8:44 pm

      Exactly. Film should equally be about what is off screen, not just what’s right there in your face. 4K, 6K, 8K, etc. in many cases leave nothing to the imagination.

      Reply
  • Richard
    September 9, 2018 at 11:05 am

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. Thank you for giving this perpective!

    We want better pixels, not merely more of the mediocre ones!

    This is why I can’t understand Canon for continuing to release cameras that don’t focus on better pixels. 10-bit 4:2:2 is so much more appreciated than 4k in 8-bit 4:2:0!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 14, 2018 at 8:44 pm

      Precisely – quality over quantity!

      Reply
  • Nicolas
    September 9, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    The Alexa Classic selling for around 10k isn’t because it can’t shoot 4K. Red One is around 3K nowadays and it shoots 4.5K. It‘s simply: They’re both old and heavy and they do lack some state of the art features.
    Alexa Mini doesn’t shoot 4K and it’s still selling new for a few dozen Ks. Even used it’s expensive.

    You have to remember: All those cameras aren’t really made for pixel in/out mastering. So the Alexa is a 2K camera but it’s got enough oversampling capability. It‘s not a FHD bayer cam. Just as most 4K bayer cams are shining when mastered in 2K. Not 4K.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 14, 2018 at 8:45 pm

      Definitely true, Nicolas. Thanks for this.

      Reply
  • […] recently came across a post by Noam Kroll That you can now get an ARRI Body for $10,000 – $12,000 depending on where you live, which is […]

    Reply
  • Jacob Martin
    September 16, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    So good and so needed. I have found myself thinking about this a lot. Just the perspective I needed!!!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 14, 2018 at 4:51 am

      Thanks, Jacob! Appreciate the note.

      Reply
  • Tony
    September 24, 2018 at 8:19 am

    The world does not need new cameras, but new stories.

    Reply
  • Dimitri K
    September 28, 2018 at 4:46 am

    While Full HD is good enough as a delivery format, recording HD using a sensor with Bayer filter is not enough for me personally..

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 14, 2018 at 5:11 am

      What camera do you shoot on?

      Reply
  • Joseph Rubinstein
    October 2, 2018 at 10:10 am

    Have been saying this for about 6 years now :))

    This is my list in order of importance:

    1. Color Complexity
    2. Motion Cadence
    3. Recording Format (RAW best H264 worst)
    4. Highlight Handling / Dynamic Range
    5. Texture / Noise / Grain Structure
    6. Pixel Size / Closeness
    7. Resolution / Resolving Power

    There may actually be a couple more above resolution, it’s 3am though 🙂

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 14, 2018 at 5:18 am

      Beautifully put and couldn’t agree more.

      Reply
  • David Bonner
    December 3, 2018 at 5:29 am

    The only reason I ever seem to work in 4k is to have the ability to crop later in post-production. My work hardly ever ends up needing to be anything more than 1080p and I am fine with that 🙂

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      January 17, 2019 at 12:58 am

      Totally. The crop helps – especially for documentary work, or narrative projects shot run and gun!

      Reply
  • Sean
    March 6, 2019 at 6:44 pm

    Great article, Noam. I’m planning on saving up for a C100 Mark II in the near future because it seems to suit my needs just fine, and 4K isn’t one of these needs. The ergonomics, built-in NDs, XLR inputs, low-light performance and DPAF are of more interest than shooting in more Ks. Movies shot in 1080p have won Oscars for cinematography and screened in IMAX theaters so I think I’ll be fine.

    Besides, more and more video is moving to social media now, and Instagram still only allows SD uploads with no sign of increasing any time soon. Nobody needs 4K on a phone!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 17, 2019 at 9:40 pm

      Thanks Sean! And good call on the C100 – I owned the original and loved it. Got tons of mileage out of the camera… Super versatile, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

      Reply
  • John
    July 26, 2019 at 2:22 am

    I’m a California based film director and here is my ten cents on this subject.

    Technical point of view :

    Is 4K better than HD? You bet it is. Why? The most important reasons are; more detail due to the drastic increase in resolution. Is more detail better? Of course it is. Also, when you shoot 4k you can punch in. You get more digital real estate – this is always better than less space.

    Artistic point of view:

    Is 4k better than HD? Not at all. It makes no difference and it does not make the story any better.
    Is it required? A few years ago, I would even dare to say YES. Today? Maybe only for Netflix acquisition. Other than that, not really.

    Summary:

    Is more resolution better technically speaking? Of course it is! nobody’s going to argue that 2K is the same then 720 and 4k the same as 2k. The point here is 2K is good enough; however, why not have more and cut the excess if needed then have just enough where you don’t have anymore room for adjustment? some people complain about the computer not handling 4K why not shoot prores instead of raw that makes a huge difference in processing power if you’re computer can’t handle a 4K prores file. Maybe you should look for a more powerful computer if you’re editing Professional video. it’ll eventually catch up to you and you’ll have to change your computer anyways. So shoot 4K but deliver in 2K or just shoot 2K and just plan things out very well for those times in post where you have to punch in. An Alexa Classic can blow any 4k prosumer camera out in the market even at 2k but don’t disregard 4k either. It’s a great thing! I would say 8k is a little too much. There is a threshold where things should stop before they become too artificial and I think 4k is that threshold. I would sale three 4k cameras to buy one Alexa classic without a doubt but if that’s not possible, 4k has a lot of good benefits.

    Thanks

    John

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 22, 2019 at 2:00 am

      Great points, John. And thanks so much for the detailed response. I totally agree with you – if all things are equal, why not shoot 4k? If you have to compromise anything creatively or logistically, then it’s worth considering if it’s truly worth it… Otherwise it’s always a great option to have.

      Reply
  • Jim Hancock
    November 17, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    I’ve been shooting either still or motion for 33 years, having gone through the megapixel battles of the early 2000s and having 4 megapixel images in 6 foot duratrans, knowing what interpretation can do, and knowing what makes a good image…… the minute I heard 4k I winced…. nope, not interested, also as an indy filmmaker, that shot and edited “Come On In We’re Dead” in 1080…. and still felt a need to grain and grit it up…. not to mention choking my machine with HD…. and gobbling up terabytes, I didn’t even consider 4k…. glad somebody else understands images….

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 22, 2019 at 9:42 pm

      Great analogy, Jim. There are so many similarities to that early 2000s megapixel race, as you said. Hadn’t thought of it that way before, but so true.

      Reply
  • Joshua Ntenga
    July 2, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    being able to read such an amazing article in 2020 and still change my mind is so awesome. this has really changed alot of perspectives in my mind. but am in a country (kenya) where people think 4k is everything. tough am not yeta good cinematographer, i think my country people need to see this.

    thank you so much for such an amaizing article

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 5, 2020 at 4:01 pm

      Glad to hear it! 4K is a great tool but not essential if you don’t have access to it.

      Reply

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