6 Reasons To Shoot 4k Video Even If You Can't View It Yet

6 Reasons To Shoot 4k Video Even If You Can't View It Yet

Last week I wrote a post about how Nikon really needs to jump on the 4k bandwagon. I got a few comments that basically said; "Why do you care about 4k? nobody even owns a 4k TV at this point." They were right, 4k TVs aren't very popular, but I have no interest in producing 4k videos right now. I want to shoot 4k footage to enhance my 1080p videos.


Sharper 1080P footage

You may think that HD footage is a universal standard and anything shot in "HD" will look ultra sharp but that isn't true. "High Definition" footage can mean 720i/p or 1080i/p footage. Most HD cameras today will shoot in 1080p (the highest level of HD footage) but there is no regulation at all on a camera's bit-rate. 

To save money on processors and memory buffers, cheaper cameras typically output HD footage at a relatively low bit-rate (megabits per second). This causes your footage to look soft, pixelated, and muddy. 

In the example below I've taken a Jpeg image using the Nikon D750 and have shrunk it down to 1080p and I've also taken a still from a video clip of the exact same scene. I've then cropped in so that you can see the pixels at 100%. The D750's video footage is actually quite good compared to other DSLRs but the image below shows you just how far 1080p video footage still has to improve. 

4k footage, named because it has 4000 pixels horizontally (4096x2160), is approximately the size of 4 standard 1080p (1920x1080p) video files. Shrinking down 4k footage to be 1080p is a night and day difference in detail and quality. Down-sampling can also help cut down on noise and grain making the footage appear to be cleaner as well. 

In theory it is possible for a high end 1080p camera to film higher quality footage than a cheap 4k camera, but in my experience most 4k cameras are significantly sharper than 1080p cameras.

Shooting 4k video footage to get a sharper 1080p final export is the ultimate reason to shoot 4k but I've got 5 other uses for 4k that make it even more useful. 



Stabilizing Footage in Post

While Hollywood has a team of people and an unlimited budget to produce flawless camera moves, I don't have that luxury and sometimes I'm forced to shoot hand-held. Even if I am standing perfectly still with a optically stabilized lens on my camera, you're going to be able to see camera shake. If I have to start walking, the footage becomes unusable. 

Video effects like Premiere's "Warp Stabilizer" can save shaky footage, but it requires that the footage be "zoomed in" to work. If your 1080p footage is already soft, cropping in another 20% will make it unusable. 

Shooting in 4k will give you enough pixels to play with so that effects like video stabilization will have no discernible effect on your finished video. 




Cropping Footage In Post

You've heard photographers say for the last 10 years: "I like having more megapixels because it gives me more cropping options." Now that same luxury is available for film makers. When we were filming our landscape photography tutorial we used a Dji Phantom 2 with a Gorpo 4 Silver at 2.7k (2.7k is larger than 1080p but smaller than 4k). 

Since I didn't have a vision downlink system I had to fly the drone and guess what I was filming. Back in post I was able to crop the footage to be the best composition without losing any quality in the final 1080p export. 

Chances are, you've never considered cropping your video footage because it wasn't an option. Once you've experienced the flexibility of recomposing a shot after you've shot it, you'll never want to go back. 


Perfect Pans and Zooms

Have you ever tried to film a perfectly smooth pan with a video camera? It's almost impossible. Have you ever tried to film a perfectly smooth zoom with a manual lens? It's literally impossible.

If you shoot 4k, small pans and zooms have never been easier. Simply zoom out, grab a few seconds of your scene and then add a pan or a zoom once you get back to the computer. 

Adding these movements to your video in post will actually look better than anything you can do in the field and because 4k gives you so many extra pixels to work with, your finished product will look flawless. 


Shooting A and B Roll Shots At The Same Time

If you've ever filmed an interview with someone you know that you will need to run a minimum of 2 cameras. A 5 minute video might have around 20-100 cuts in it and to mask each of them, you will need to jump from camera to camera to avoid the dreaded "jump cut." Shooting 4k and exporting in 1080p gives you a lot of room to play and basically can give you 2 or even 3 different looking shots (wide, medium, and tight). 

For many of our videos we end up setting 2 cameras in almost an identical position, one shooting wide and the other shooting tight. One 4k camera could easily replace this 2 camera setup. 


4k Footage Is Good Enough To Pull Still Frames

Most 1080p video footage looks so low res that still frames really aren't even good enough for web use. If it's not good enough for a website, you certainly wouldn't consider printing a still frame from a standard HD video camera but 4k is changing that. 

Not only is most 4k footage good enough to replace standard still images on the web, but many shooters are starting to realize that 4k still frames are actually good enough to print. To put this into perspective, a 1080 video contains 2 million pixels where a single frame of 4k video contains 8.8 million pixels.  

Check out our video where we compare a Hasselblad file to a still frame pulled from a very outdated Red Epic. Back in 2012 when we filmed this we were all really impressed with the Epic but today the Red Dragon puts the Epic to shame. 




4k is far from being a common household format. Even though it is easy to go out and buy a 4k TV, you will have a very hard time finding footage to play on it. Luckily 1080p footage has so much room to improve. You shouldn't run out and buy a 4k video camera because you want to see your footage in 4k but, you should consider filming in 4k simply to enhance your standard, HD footage. Unlike 3D, it's pretty obvious that 4k is the future and even if it never becomes universally adopted it will help improve your videos today no matter what format you are working in.

Lee Morris's picture

Lee Morris is a professional photographer based in Charleston SC, and is the co-owner of Fstoppers.com

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It's a great article and point you're making here Lee. Back when we were making the transition to HD it was the "exact same thing". I purchased two Sony HDV 1080p cameras despite Panasonic at the time having maybe the slightly "better" camera but was only SD. I was so happy to have purchased the resolution as I never looked back and experienced the very same things down sampling the footage which returned clearly superior results.

I no longer shoot video and am sticking with the stills but I guarantee you that 4K is the only way to go for those considering shooting and processing with anything less.

Hi Lee interesting concept, but got a query on your usage of your drone, if using for business use do I need to have some sort of licence I have heard you do? and also need permission from CAA.

Best Regards

I do not have a license. You don't have to at the moment but that may be required soon.

Lee to shoot commercially in the USA you need to have an FAA exemption

Well damn, obviously I don't know the rules. Luckily I haven't shot anything commercially in the USA

YESSS! Have been wanting a 4k capable camera and have almost purchased panasonic/sony several times now. Please Nikon, Give us some 4K! :)

i am photographer not videographer and i dont need video at all )

Oh good. At least we know now.

oh sarcasm good to know ))

Enjoy the separation of the two while it lasts ;)

Don't forget green screen! The extra resolution is always a good thing when pulling keys.

.... and what is up with Nikon and 4K?? I have been nagging Nikon at NAB and online about this for a couple of years now and the response has always been "we have no plans for that feature". I have been seriously considering a Panasonic GH system now that Metabones makes a Nikon lens adapter. Nikon is going to lose professional customers if it does not step up to the plate with a full frame 4K camera.

Great point. I've never tried green screen myself.

The more I shoot 4k and higher the more of a pain it becomes-especially in After Effects. Most of my clients just want everything finished in 4k just because they can-not like it's really "needed". That's what I love about the Odyssey 7q+ which in realtime can debayer and supersample raw 4k to 2k to give the added sharpness and denoising that downsampling gives.

Just be sure when downsampling from 4k to 2k you simply aren't downscaling down, there's an approximate algorithm which really makes your image shine in the process which simply in your editor "scaling down" doesn't do.
To me the best benefit of shooting 4k to 2k is the increase in color depth detail. So shooting 4k 4:2:0 to 2k will give you 4:2:2 which helps a bit in keying and grading. It won't quite make a 4k 8 bit image 10 bit but hands down its much better then trying to manipulate 8 bit!

Well, I do record in 4K with my cellphone (4K DCI). The benefits are enormous, when it comes to color grading over H.264 in 1080p, you wont be able to avoid the aberrations and messed up details. Since i've started using 4K and resampling to 1080p, i've managed to hide most of my problems. Looks great after it, much better than the "thing" my 6D outputs.
I'm now looking foward on a GoPro Hero 4 Silver to get some better results.

you got to do a correction article on how to process GoPro footage for best results, cuz this footage you got from Iceland is insane...granted sexy light all the time but still I'd love to see how you corrected the go pro footage itself :)

Believe it or not 100% of the drone footage that we shot in Iceland is 100% untouched. We didn't set white balance or exposure or anything. We did change anything besides the occasional crop in post. No color correction, no curves, no nothing.

holy crap thats awesome....Iceland's magic light :)

Thanks for that A Camera/B Camera GIF.... Nothing is more appealing than watching Charles Manson's son scratching at his fleas.

Great article!

Wow, so much wrong with this article I don't know where to begin, I have been a professional cinematographer for 30 years, maybe you need to speak to people that actually know what they're talking about!!

Hey guys, I want to know which 4k camera do you guys recommend being a nikon guy with a bunch of nikon lenses. I'm a photographer but I'm getting into video since some of my clients ask for video more often. Is the Nikon D500 an option? The reason I want to shoot 4k is the same as this article.


Looks like the sample above wasn't de-interlaced. But I agree. In my world of corporate video production, I usually adhere to the deliverables targeting their infra/intrastructure. The intangible question is the same Q I ask every client. 'What is your deliverable'. If they say 720p, I'm covered shooting at 1080. If they're looking for a 1080 delivery down the road, my master timeline can accomodate, as I create everything in the native format it was shot in. But if they want 4k shot but delivered at 1080, you can basically make one camera look like two without loss. Not only will 4k look better 'shrunk down' in 1080, but it also allows you pan and scan.

I got really hooked up having full frame 4k images(http://yitechnology.com/) for all my clips and shots. Im not using a cheaper 4k camera and it's pretty decent on all kinds of shoots.