SHORTS: Should You Invest Into 4K As a Filmmaker?

EF_investing_in_4kMan, I can’t wait to jump to the next big thing. And it seems to me that 4K is the next big thing. Not only is it a bigger image it’s also much sharper and contains obviously more details then regular HD. But with the quality comes a price as well. You have to purchase new gear that captures and processes 4K. The gear has to be fast and speedy and this can cost you thousands of $$$. Now, the question is always: When should you jump on in to the next thing? It can be a good idea to be an early adopter and grab some more marketshare if you’re one of the first to offer 4K in your niche. On the other hand when do you know it is too early to make the move? You might lose a lot of money by prematurely investing into the new system just to find out in a few years – when 4K is more established and widely adopted – that what you bought is either not the right thing or so outdated that you have to replace everything once again.


In this episode I answer a question from Ellad Urman. He asks: What camera would you recommend if you are trying to get into 4K even though my
budgets are still small? I share with you my thoughts if going 4K makes sense today (July 2014), under which circumstances you should jump in, and when should you hold off and not spend your hard-earned money on this (awesome) development. It really is a case-by-case question.
My method for determining which recommendation to make is simple: Does it make financial sense to go 4K today? What is the possible ROI in being the kid with the new toy?

Now, let me ask you, did you already make the move? What is your experience? Was it worth it from a financial or business point of view? Would love to hear from you.

  • JaKoyea Wright

    I purchased a Red Epic about a year ago and a Black Magic Cinema Camera about 2 months ago.I purchased the Red do to clients requesting their projects be filmed with the Red.I purchased the BMCC for lower end clients.Going out and buying a 4k camera for a low budget problem to me is a waste of time cut to the time that it will take to edit the project.Filming with my Canon t3i is faster and easier.Most clients don’t understand what 2k and 4k mean anyway.It didn’t make my clientele go up it just brought more clients that wanted Red quality videos with a Canon budget.I had to start renting my camera out to large production companies that were seeking anyone with Red Cameras.Your average everyday client can’t afford the production that goes into filming with the Red.So to answer your question no it didn’t help with clientele the world isn’t even ready for true 2k and higher due to 1080p being the dominant factor today.It was not worth it on a business level.Ive made a lot of money with both cameras but not enough to say its worth it yet.

  • Randolph Sellars

    Shmuley, excellent advice. I agree with all of your logic. Very few clients really need 4K right now unless one needs significant room to reframe. And, if you hire a good DP, you shouldn’t need to reframe! It’s still a 1080 world when it comes to most delivery – so why deal with with the cost and TIME involved storing and pushing large files around? I believe that 4K is largely hype to sell new cameras and TV sets. I can’t even get decent looking 1080 streamed to my TV yet. More resolution will require more compression (with artifacts and banding) to fit the bandwidth. Things like color depth will also suffer. The argument of “future proofing” content also doesn’t hold up anymore. In addition to camera technology changing rapidly, the self life of most content is also shrinking. Most content will lose significant value or will be dated by the time 4K becomes the “norm.’ And as you say, 4K cameras will be better and cheaper. All that being said… if a significant number of your clients buy into the hype and start to demand 4K, then you need to respond to that demand – even if they are wrong. But I would move cautiously as you suggest. You can always rent the 4K gear and your client’s should be prepared to pay for it. You will save money in the long run.

    In response to your viewer who asked the question about low cost 4K. I would recommend that they investigate the Sony A7s. It costs less ($2500) than a Canon 5D Mark III and it shoots excellent 1080 footage with high dynamic range and is excellent in low light / high ISO. It’s a full frame sensor that can also shoot in APC-S crop mode. One can also record good audio with the XLR adapter. And, if a client needs 4K, one can rent a 4K recorder for it. Yes, the Panasonic GH4 already records to 4K internally, but the dynamic range is not very good and it is a micro 4/3 sensor which is noisier. Most people agree that to get the best image in 1080, one must shoot in 4K and down-rez. Back to larger files.

    • Corey, if you don’t have a camera system yet then it’s a smart idea to go ahead with a G4 or Sony A7s. If you have invested already into a system like I have (Canon) then it’s probably not smart to take a financial hit at the moment and switch over to 4k unless, as I outlined you have 4k clients. Now, if you want super slomo like the A7s offers (Canon doesn’t) and you need the super low light performance then this is a different discussion and yes, I also would go ahead and get it. But would I get it because of 4k? No, not at the moment.

  • Corey

    I purchased a Panasonic GH4 cinema camera and 4K is the future of film. With the GH4 it has a crop factor where you can crop it to 1080p and still keep the 4K quality. I believe everybody is ready for it(Filmmakers anyway). I absolutely love this camera and will be using it for all my Productions. The camera is light weight which is great for run and gun shoots. Its shoots at 96fps in slow motion that is very clean. It holds up better in low light shooting then the Canon 5D series. It has in camera time lapse and stop motion animation. This is the perfect camera for cinematographers(I’ve used virtually every camera). I’m ready for 4K. It’s the future and the future is now.

  • Ra’anan

    Shemuely, I love to hear to wisdom to validate my feelings! Also, the comments below help give more balance.

  • noname_noslogan

    Some people might or might not be ready for 4k cameras but when the masses start seeing these new 4k TVs at Best Buy they’re going to be ready for 4k.

    Seeing a 4k TV next to a 1080p HDTV is like seeing an HDTV next to one of those TVs you used to own but got rid of even though your dad (who also now owns an HDTV that he’ll give up when you pry his cold dead fingers from it) said “Meh, I don’t really care about HDTVs, my old TVs picture looks fine to me.” Now he’s glued to the Golf channel all day watching his “glorious” hi def picture with your uncle Mort who is green with envy and, despite being a holdout with a (it’s American!) Curtis Mathes (the “most expensive” and “darn well worth it!”) has finally conceded that your dad is right and is “looking into buying an HDTV” eventually. Besides your uncle Mort, every other bipedal hominid has an HDTV and is now getting interested in 4k.

    With these 4k TVs dropping in price, consumers will take the leap. Better quality image, finally at the “Hollywood level” for these prices means one thing, 4k is happening. Get on the train or move out of the way because this train is moving!

  • Todd Roberts

    Some humble thoughts based on my experience:

    1) Clients do not ask for what they do not know. It is your job to sell. If the video has a short life, is essentially disposable, then maybe 4K is not the way to go. If the video has a long life, going 4K is a selling point. Sponsors of my TV shows know that their investment will be viable years from now.

    2) Does the client want the best or bargain basement? Some people will gladly pay more for prestige if you offer it. Positioning is important.

    3) I once worked for a marketing firm and had a conversation with one of the sales reps. I wondered why car manufactures needed to update their models each year. His answer was that it would give a sales person something NEW to sell each year. 4K could be your something new to sell.

    4) 4K gear doesn’t need to be expensive. I’ve been shooting almost all low-end 4K for about three years. My local group of producer friends has 2 Sony AX1, 2 Sony AX100, 6 Panasonic GH4, 2 Panasonic G7, a Panasonic Z1000, a Sony a7s II, 2 4K GoPro Hero 4 Black, a DJI Osmo, numerous 4K iPhones and a Red Scarlet. I know all cameras are not created equal, but they are all 4K. Most are less expensive than a Canon 5D Mark III.

    5) Post equipment doesn’t have to be more expensive. I tried FCPX a few years ago because it was the only editor I could find to handle Sony’s new XAVC-S codec when it was first introduced. It’s handling of optimized media and proxy files have allowed my 2012 Mac Pro and 2012 MacBook Pro to edit any flavor of 4K. An editor I’m working with is using an i7 iMac and Thunderbolt drives without proxy files. These weren’t upgrades, it was gear we already had. 4K monitoring is the exception, of course.

    Just a few thoughts to factor into a decision that should be wholly based on what is right for your business.