Creating and viewing video content in 4k resolution has never been more accessible. But don't go shooting in 4k just because you can, it might not be necessary. The process of delivering 4k video content as a videographer or filmmaker has certain limitations and changes in workflow that are worth considering before you hit the record button.
Before the comments fill up with critics of how important 4k content is against glass quality or sensor size etc., this article is will assume that these things are constant, your bitrate is sufficiently high for color grading, and your skills as a videographer are sufficient enough that you have charged for video creation.
The Cost of Data and Time
It’s quite obvious that shooting four times the number of pixels will eat more data than 1080p recordings. It’s important to be prepared for the increase data rate and memory demands. Whether it’s SD cards of SSD hard drives you are recording to, check that data read speeds are within the figures listed on the manufacturers website. Your camera may not have warnings for slow writing data rate speeds, and you may only realize frames have been dropped in post. By this time, it’s too late.
Data storage will also take a hit, especially if you are recording in memory heavy ProRes, DNxHD, or raw formats. A minute of UHD (3840x2160) footage in the ProRes 422 format will consume approximately 5GB of data. And if you’re charging for the work, then you’ve got to be backing it all up, effectively doubling the storage requirements.
You will notice that playback in your NLE software such as Premiere Pro demands more from your processor. Premiere Pro offers a streamlined workflow for creating and working with proxy files, but creating these files will take a bit of time and add an extra step to your workflow. When you have edited your video you can then swap back in the original 4k files for grading.
You can alternatively use the resolution option in the program monitor so the footage will play back at ¼ or 1/8 of the resolution when editing. But this fills your cache quickly. In my experience, I have found more success creating proxy files instead for smooth playback whilst editing. This is very important for me personally since much of my work is shooting and editing music videos, so realtime playback is needed to sync up cuts.
Also, be aware that 4k exporting is also going to take longer than a 1080p export. This will get especially frustrating if there are several niggly rounds of revisions towards the end of a project from the client.
Cameras such as the Panasonic GH5 will shoot a multitude of various frame rates to add some serious slow motion capabilities to your footage. But this is severely limited when shooting in 4k. The GH5 can shoot up to a whopping 180fps in 1080p, but just 60fps in 4k. Many other high end consumer mirrorless cameras such as the Sony A7s II will only shoot 30fps in 4k.
If you don’t need slow motion footage and have plenty of hard drive space, then 4k is surely the way to go right? Well yes and no, as there is one last huge benefit of a 1080p export.
Shooting in 4k for a 1080p output will give you the ability to crop your footage. This has a whole host of uses, such as the ability to add pans across your footage in post, or even having a faux second camera angle for an interview, one wide, one tight. Shooting in 4k for 1080p output opens up the floodgates to a whole host of creative tools which is simply not available in 4k unless shooting at 6k or 8k with something like the Red Weapon 8k that starts at $50,000.
Know Your Client
The technical limitations and changes in workflow are important to consider, but before all this, find out how your video will be delivered. If it is a promotional video for a small business to use on social media, there is no reason to shoot 4k. Save yourself the time and hard drive space. Alternatively, if you are shooting a wedding video that you know will be played on your client’s 60 inch 4k television, then shooting in 4k is worth serious consideration to really make your footage shine.
Price it Up
If it is not necessary, the benefit of shooting in 4k is that it’ll future proof your work. There may be an occasion when a client gets in touch a few years after completion to ask if there is a 4k version, and if there is, you can charge for it. It’ll also mean you can use the footage if you are making a 4k showreel of your work.
Shooting in 4k demands more of your time and investment into the video project, so make sure you are charging clients for the privilege to at least cover your extra costs. If you are eating up 5GB of data a minute, a 1TB hard drive isn’t going to last too long. And the extra steps in your workflow may add a few hours in post.
Let's not forget the cost of investment into high end consumer cameras that have 4k abilities. The Panasonic GH5, that shoots internal 4k 30p in 10bit 4:2:2, is priced at $1,997.99 for example. If you wanted to shoot 4k 60p in 10bit 4:2:2 then you are going to need an external monitor/recorder like the brand new Atomos Ninja Inferno, $995, along with some batteries and SSD drives As a fulltime videographer or filmmaker, cost of time and capital investment is vital to consider before any project is priced up, so make sure the extra resources are covered in your quote.
Lastly, 4k production should be seen as a premium product, in my opinion. If you have the gear, the skills and the processing power to push out really great looking 4k content, then charge a premium for it.