29 Jul 2014

The Peril of 4K: Our Craft is Being Threatened!

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4K resolution images enable plenty of post-camera hanky-panky.  Shooters embracing very high-resolution cameras must be aware of the downstream perils and threats to the craft that can pop up around them.

It’s what we all want, right?  More resolution!  And the camera companies are responding in a huge way, staking their futures and financial fortunes on it. NAB and Broadcast Asia were wall-to-wall 4K and IBC will soon be similarly awash with cameras and displays.  Larger sensors and higher pixel counts are all the rage, so bring it on baby. The more, the merrier!  More resolution is better, right?

The downside of more...

Well, maybe not so fast. The same ultra high resolution that lends the professional look and feel to our images has exposed a nasty downside to the modern filmmaking craft. We shooters and gatherers of light are the masters of our domain, or at least we like to think so. We compose with skill and taste, having learned over many years the discipline of appropriate framing to exclude everything that detracts from the visual story.

The advent of 4K, 5K, and higher resolution capture has introduced an era of extreme irresponsible, hanky-panky post-camera, the willy-nilly indelicate cropping of our well-considered images being, without a doubt, the most demoralizing and offensive. In the new brave digital world, we shooters have grown accustomed to seeing our work tweaked and adjusted ad infinitum downstream. Sometimes our scenes, say, shot on green screen, must be composited, or image stabilized, or a guide wire must be removed.  We understand and accept this reality of working in a modern, all-digital world.

Crying foul

Problem is, owing to the arrival of 4K and, heaven forbid, 8K in coming years, our images are being transformed and systematically trashed in a way we’ve never experienced. The shenanigans we are seeing now, the re-framing and re-cropping of our work by less talented others, will only become more upsetting and egregious as the pixel counts rise higher. Alas, giving producers, editors and indecisive directors so much resolution invites foul play.  And that is exactly what many of us are experiencing now.

So, sure we love 4K, and more and more we are willing to put up with its challenges: the massive data loads, the high compression in-camera, the bevy of high-frequency artifacts and chromatic aberrations appearing suddenly in our re-purposed SLR lenses. Of course we love 4K. Fine. Let’s also consider the unintended consequences and the impact on our craft.

Higher and higher resolution. Is it what we really want? Think about it.


Barry Braverman

Barry Braverman is a cinematographer with over thirty years experience in television documentaries and feature films.  His credits include Wes Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012), THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2007), as well as National Geographic TV Specials, HBO ‘First Look’ and CBS News Sunday Morning.  Braverman is a member of Hollywood’s cinematographer guild and regularly conducts multi-day camera and video storytelling workshops around the world, most recently in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. As an author his new book VIDEO SHOOTER 3rd Edition (2013) from Focal Press will explore the art of video storytelling with the latest 2D and 3D cameras.

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