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 If it couldn’t, it would be outdated before you knew it, and you might even lose clients or freelance work as a result.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 Despite having 4K, their cameras were still susceptible to becoming outdated, and having the ability to record 4K internally didn’t change that at all…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!