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Who Can Afford 4k? And Why Would You Want To?

The reality of going 4k.

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I’ve never bought into the 4k hype. Why would I want to pay way more much to store files and increase my computing capacity just to have larger size images that are more or less not needed — not to mention that most monitors don’t display 4k and pretty much nobody can tell the difference even if they did … not to mention that when it comes to documentary or news deliveries, it’s the story that matters, not the resolution that story is filmed in.

4k has been marketed to consumers as the next generation and that 1080p (or 2k, basically) will go obsolete. This isn’t going to happen unless we all of a sudden decide that we want to watch our video on screens the size of buildings. No, our screen sizes are not going to increase, so 2k fits our current screen dimensions adequately.

Hollywood has been shooting in 2k for a long time, and if that is a good enough resolution to project films on screens with then it’s good enough for me to produce content meant mostly for web distribution.

However, I am not against 4k. It is a very powerful tool in the right circumstances.

One of these right circumstances is when shooting interviews. Filming in 4k and putting it into a 1080p timeline means that you can crop the shot in around 4x without losing any resolution. This means you can mask jump cuts by cropping into a close up. Shooting in 4k is almost like having two cameras. You can also do things like separating out elements from the same frame and editing them together as if they were independent clips.

I took a cinematography class by the great Hollywood DP Howard J. Smith last year in Johor Bahru, and he told the story of how he was pitching a filming strategy to producers of a Singapore game show. When asked how many cameras he would need to film all of the contestants he answered, to their surprise, one.

What do you mean one?

He said he would just film it with is 8k RED and crop in for shots of each contestant separately.

Yes, large resolutions are a good tool in some situations. I am not anti-4k, 8k, or whatever crazy number of k that’s developed next. What I’m against is the needless use of ultra high def resolutions. 1080p is not going anywhere anytime soon.

My biggest problem with 4k is how to store the files.

I shot a 50 minute interview yesterday in 4k in 24 fps with prores 422 as the codec. It came out to 190 gigs. Yes, 190 gigs.

In any given short documentary or video news project you’re probably shooting 10 to 20 such interviews, so that would be 1.9 to 3.8 TB of storage JUST FOR INTERVIEWS. And this isn’t even shooting in raw or prores 444. Add in all of the verite and b-roll shots and you’re up to 5 to 10 TB of storage space needed for a short film project. At the going rate of a 4TB hard drive selling for $100, you’re looking at $250 just for storage … add in a backup and you’re up to $500. If you’re doing a larger-scale project, expect to pay out thousands of dollars just for storage — not to mention needing a place to actually keep all of those hard drives.

The reality is that $500 is a big cut out of the earning that you can expect to derive from most short documentaries or video news delivery.

While you can buy a 4k camera rather cheap, actually shooting in this resolution is a major additional expense. So until the TB becomes the new GB, 4k is out of financial reach for most filmmakers.

This is a grim reality that most shooters notice right away after trying to transition to 4k, and a dirty little secret is that most shooters with 4k cameras are actually shooting in 1080p 90% of the time.

It’s truly remarkable how the market demanded a technology that it doesn’t need or, when it comes down to it, really even wants.



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Filed under: Electronics, Technology

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

4 comments… add one

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  • Trevor November 19, 2018, 5:59 pm

    similarly, they r putting in super fast fibre optic cables where i live yet no ones gonna have a computer to handle that kinda potential speed…. and all they r doing is checking their FB… but they r convinced they gotta have it…

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    • Wade Shepard November 20, 2018, 9:18 am

      Haha, yes. The people (companies) who will use that are few but they are the highest value population — the people cities want to attract. High-value people now gravitate to high bandwidth hubs. I certainly look at this when deciding on places to set up for a while. Germany, Poland, etc are extremely difficult to work from long-term due to the horrible internet, and people (companies) who need speed will go elsewhere, like Romania or Lithuania or weird midwest US cities who have suddenly become way more attractive because the internet is top notch. When you’re dealing with huge file sizes slow internet is a like an old dilapidated highway. It’s enough to disrupt trade and business. Fiber is the new highway. But, yes, most people have no use for it and it’s mostly just a marketing thing to get people to move in and invest.

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  • Byteme November 27, 2018, 9:39 am

    4k is just the tech companies way of trying to continue their profit train, and let’s be honest, my fellow humans with cash to burn will gladly buy it just to out dick the other guy just like they already do with art, iphones, Kopi Luwak, you name it some dumb turd will gobble it up.

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    • Wade Shepard November 27, 2018, 12:21 pm

      Right on! It’s funny though, as some camera companies like Canon tried to resist making 4k a standard … but then thy got crushed by the likes of Sony and Panasonic who sold 4k like it’s the next great thing.

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