Should you shoot in 4K?


If you’ve shopped for cameras recently, you’ve likely noticed that 4K cameras are everywhere. But is it too soon to adopt this technology and shoot your own content in 4K? Is it worth upgrading to a 4K camera? And if you only need to output your video in HD, why even bother with 4K? 

What is 4K technology?

4K is a video technology that refers to a horizontal resolution of approximately 4,000 pixels (4K). But there are actually two standards for 4K:

  • The film and video industry standard for 4K is a resolution of 4096 x 2160 (sometimes referred to as Cinema 4K)
  • The 4K standard for television and computer monitors (referred to as UHD, UHD-1 or ultra-high-definition television) is a 3840 x 2160 resolution

To put this in perspective, HD 1080p resolution is 1920 x 1080. At approximately 8 million pixels, 4K screens have about four times the resolution than what 1080p screens can display.

4K is here now.

For cameras, 4K is already migrating to mainstream cameras with some smartphones being able to record in 4K/Ultra-HD resolution (at 3840 x 2160). Some higher end and mirrorless cameras can shoot both Ultra-HD (3840 x 2160) and true 4K (4096 x 2160). And action cameras are getting in on the 4K game, with manufacturers like GoPro® selling cameras with 4K video recording.

4K: Better quality on bigger screens.

At about four times the number of pixels of standard HD (1920 x 1080), the ultimate reason for shooting video in 4K is that you’ll get better overall quality with the higher resolution, which is especially noticeable on a larger UHD screen. Although this improved picture quality may seem like the most obvious benefit, there are many other benefits to shooting in 4K. 

Shooting 4K for HD output.

What if you’re planning on outputting your video in HD – should you still shoot in 4K? Absolutely yes! The extra resolution you get from 4K has a lot of practical applications when you get into post-production. Take your 4K footage into post and downsize it to 1080p and you’ll get a better image and less noise than if you were shooting in 1080p. 

You’ll also see benefits in:  

  • Image stabilization
  • Cropping and reframing
  • Added pans and zooms without data degradation
  • Capturing a two-camera look for one camera shooting
  • Chroma keying (green screen or blue screen) or rotoscoping

Using post-production editing techniques for things like image stabilization, cropping, pans, and zooms all result in an overall loss of resolution. Since shooting in 4K gets you about four times more pixels than HD, you’ll have a lot of extra resolution to start, so you won’t lose clarity in your final 1080p video. 

When stabilizing shaky footage with non-linear editing software, the process generally includes cropping and scaling your footage in order to counteract the camera shake, which reduces the overall quality. Starting with 4K video, you won’t lose resolution like you would if you had to zoom in and stabilize in standard HD footage. 

You can crop by up to four times your total image in 4K without losing detail in your final 1080p video.

By changing the position of your crop within the shot, you can create tilts, pans, and zooms in post-production, without having to retake your shots. Those 8 million pixels give you a lot of data to start with, and provide much more flexibility to edit your image without losing detail.

Interviews or testimonial shots can be much more visually interesting using footage from two cameras shooting from different perspectives. Shooting in 4K but outputting in HD can give you enough data that you can create a two-camera look with one camera. You can edit a tight shot from a wide shot with no loss in resolution in your finished video, which is great when you need to break up a video with different shots. You can effectively keep your camera on the tripod and still have different compositions within the video.

Special effects like rotoscoping or chroma keying (sometimes called green or blue screen) can also be more accurate with 4K. In both chroma keying and rotoscoping, the smallest details (such as an actor’s hair) in a scene can be visible in 4K, allowing editors to zoom in and identify elements that need to be removed from the scene. This results in much greater precision in the final edit. 

Of course, doing edits in post-production takes time, but sometimes the ability to make edits in post can be a great benefit for your finished product. So, go ahead and shoot your video in 4K for 1080p output and you’ll ensure your footage stays in high resolution even after your edits. 

4K for still photography.

What if your goal is not video, but still photography? Can you still benefit from shooting 4K video? Yes, you can often render still photos directly from the 4K video footage, and this can be extremely valuable when you’re trying to capture fast action. For example, at 30fps of 4K video, you’ll have 30 high-resolution photos you can select from in just 1 second of 4K video. This gives you many more photos to choose from per second of shooting. When your subject is a fast-moving target, such as wildlife or high-speed sports, shooting in 4K will give you lots of opportunities to grab the best shot. While you can pull stills from 1080p video, the lower resolution isn’t nearly as flexible. 

Is 4K futureproof?

Of course, nothing is ever really futureproof. 8K is coming down the road, but still has quite a way to go to hit mainstream. 4K is here today. There’s no doubt that camera manufacturers have jumped on board the 4K train, with many 4K cameras available for purchase now. The cameras differ by specific features and specifications, but they all promise to give you images with clarity well above and beyond HD. When buying a new 4K camera, make sure to check the camera’s memory card compatibility, as the memory card format required for your camera will vary by the model and manufacturer. Whether it’s SDHC™/SDXC™, XQD™, CFast™, microSDHC™/SDXC™, or CompactFlash®, Lexar® offers cards in multiple capacities, so you have several options when buying memory for your camera. Take advantage of the amazing digital clarity in 4K now, and see how much better your videos and photos can be.