4K Cameras

Last updated by Yermy Weiss on Jul 22

In an age where even consumer cameras record progressive 1920 x 1080 HD video in a standardized video codec and in a wide variety of frame rates it may be easy to forget how complex early HD production was. Early HD adopters had to navigate a wide array of early HD video resolutions and formats, often specific to the camera manufacturer. Most early “1080” video formats, like HDV and DVCPRO 100, were actually 1440 x 1080, not the 1920 x 1080 that is common today. HDV was 60i by default, but both Sony and Canon had different proprietary ways of recording progressive footage to the 60i tapes (much to the frustration of anyone who has ever tried to playback a Canon HDV tape in Sony HDV camera or deck). Eventually 1080P standardized and today everything generally tends to just work. But it took time to get that way.

4K video cameras are in a similar position that HD cameras of 10 years ago. On the surface 4K cameras aren't very different from their HD siblings. They have the same types of settings, design, and for the most part can be operated in the same way. But picking out a 4K camera today is much tougher then picking out an HD camera because every manufacturer does 4K a little differently, and the differences can lead to vastly different workflows. In the same way that shooting on a HVX200 when P2 cards maxed out at 2 GB necessitated a dramatically different workflow from any HDV based HD camera, the differences between how various cameras record 4K can have an effect on every stage of the production chain. So when looking at 4K cameras be sure to keep certain key differences in mind. Some things to look out for are discussed below.

Does the camera shoot QHD or Dci 4K?

While all HD content is shot in a 16:9 aspect ratio there are still two competing aspect ratios and resolutions for 4K content. The digital cinema initiatives, referred to as DCi, define 4K as being 4096 x 2160 at a 17:9 aspect ratio. This format is currently more common in 4K cinema projectors. The competing 4K format is ultra high definition, also known as quad HD, UHD, or QFHD. UHD is 3840 x 2160 at a 16:9 aspect ratio. UHD is more common in 4K televisions since the 16:9 aspect ratio makes it easier to display 16:9 HD content on. Some 4K cameras can shoot both Dci 4K and UHD. Some can only shoot one type of 4K. And while the difference between the two is relatively minimal, it is something you should keep in mind while selecting a camera since either format could end up being the 4K standard in the future.

Does the camera record 4K internally or need an external recorder?

Many 4K cameras are unable to record 4K internally and require an external recorder. Having to use an external recorder decreases the cost of the camera, but the cost of the recorder needs to be factored into your budget. Having to use a 4K recorder also increases the complexity of the camera rig and makes it harder to shoot with a small crew or in a run and gun situation. One advantage of 4K external recorders is that you can rent them, and if you aren't shooting in 4K very often that can save you money overall. 4K also tend to work with more than one camera making them flexible.

What 4K formats or codecs can the camera shoot or record in?

In reality 4K is just a resolution, and how that resolution is stored varies widely among different cameras since there is still no agreed upon standard. The different 4K recording formats implemented in some cameras can lead do drastically different workflows, so it is important to make sure the camera or recorder you purchase records 4K in a method that best works for you. RAW allows for tremendous flexibility in post since you can set things like contrast, sharpness, white balance, and even ISO (most of the time) in after shooting. But RAW requires a larger amount of storage space and computer processing power to work with. Some 4K cameras can only record 4K in RAW, some can record in RAW as well as a 4K video codec, and some can only record in a 4K video codec.

What frame-rate do I need?

HD video’s frame-rate is standardized for TV at 60i. And while many HD cameras offer different frame-rate options it can be assumed that all HD cameras will at least shoot at 60i. 4K has no broadcast standard and thus one should not assume anything with regards to what frame-rates a 4K camera can shoot at. Some 4K cameras are unable to shoot slower then 60P and some are unable to shoot faster the 15P. If you plan on downscaling your 4k content to HD for distribution on TV, you should look for a camera that shoots at 30P because that will convert to 60i more easily then 24P. If you plan on only distributing in theaters or on video then 24P is all you need.

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Would it be possible to know the minimum storage requirements for 4K per minute (both RAW & 4K codec)

Can one use laptops such as Mac Book Pro & Final Cut Pro to edit directly in 4K?

The file size will depend on the camera you are using mainly. 

A laptop is not really condusive to 4K editing. For a quote on a workstattion please email AskBH@BHPhoto.com

Yes, you can use a laptop to edit 4K, in Premiere Pro CC 2014. Sadly, FCP is a dinosaur.

Good info... then I will wait till it stdandarize

ther cool

I purchased PowerDirector 12 and I tried it with a 4k sample footage taken using an Arri Alexa camera, made available online for download, at the camera owner's web site.

One issue that I noticed was that the CPU resources need to be taken into account when editing. I own a computer based on an Intel i7 Quad Core CPU, running at 1.73 GHz per core, and play back during editing is a bit slow. This may not be a problem to some people, but some professional broadcasters may find it problematic. Interestingly, playing back the footage using a media player, had no speed problems; the footage played back smoothly in real time.

This means that using a media player to judge if your system's fast enough for doing 4k video editing is not a reliable guide; you need to load the footage into PowerDirector 12, and view it yourself, and see if you can tolerate the slower playback speed. For me, I can adapt, or when I have funds available, I can see if I can upgrade the graphics card; Cyberlink recommends for nVidia systems:

GeForce 8500GT/9800GT and above

GeForce GT/GTS/GTX 200/400/500/600 Series

I suspect it may be best to upgrade to the higher recommended card models; e.g. GeForce 9800GT or GTX 600 Series, for 4k editing? I really don't know because I haven't yet checked which models are still available, and which give the best 4096 x 2160 editing performance. Since I'm upgrading I am going to look into the DirectX 11 compatible cards.

The recommended minimum memory is 6GB for a 64 bit OS, and I have 8GB, so I have sufficient system memory.

Anyway, I thought I'd put in my 20 cents' on this issue.

In my previous post's second paragraph, I started mentioning CPU speed then switched later to discuss the graphics card. To clear up any confusion:

The speed of video during editing may be a mixture of the graphics card's GPU and the system's CPU. Although usually it's the GPU that determines play back speed because it takes over the video processing resources' overheads from the CPU. The CPU does compute some graphics parameters.

So when I upgrade, I would upgrade first the graphics card, and if that improves performance then the job's done. Upgrading the graphics card on my system would do several things: 1. May provide for 4k output from the computer's HDMI port to a 4k TV/monitor; 2. Improve the speed of graphics rendering at 4k; 3. Update from the old DirectX 10 Microsoft standard, to the DirectX 11 standard. I am constrained by the graphics card interface my system uses.

If the graphics' performance is still below acceptable, I would look at upgrading the CPU, when further funds become available.

  videos mixer

Hi, I have Three Cameras

1. Canon 5D Mark III

2. Sony 1500P

3. Panasonic AGAC90

Can these cameras be used to record in 4K/UHD resolution ??

Hi Sidharth -

None of the cameras you have listed offer 4K/UHD recording capability.

If you have additonal questions, send us an email:AskBH@BHPhoto.com