Daniel Haggett

London based Lighting Cameraman / DoP

There seems to be a mass of 4k cameras becoming available.  The latest offering from NAB in Las Vagas talk about cameras with better and better specs, for cheaper and cheaper prices.  So when do you ditch your HD camera, in favour of something that shoots 4k?

As a cameraman it is always good to be slighltly ahead of the game.  When a Production Manager phones up and asks you to shoot on a certain camera or format, it always works best if you can say yes, rather than phone a rental company, get specs and prices and call them back.  When people were first getting interested in shooting on DSLRs I got in early.  I had the rig, the right lenses, knew the right way to record audio and knew what was acheivable and what wasn't.  The bottom line was, I got good work and made good money.  The same was true when the Canon C300 came out, I pre ordered the camera and was ready to go as soon as the interest started.

It wasn't that easy with every camera buying decision.  In the early days of HD I managed to get a very good deal on a Sony F900 with a friend.  The F900 was, I guess, the Arri Amira or the Sony F55 of its day, it was used to shoot Star Wars III, it was capabable of shooting HD at 24p 25p or 30p, which was very unusal at that time.  Most TV productions back then were shooting with Digi Beta, whilst lower budget work (news, sports, corporate) were beginging to shoot on DVCAM.  The Sony F900 was streets ahead of these cameras and I was hoping I could clean up.  I didn't.  There were a few issues 1) The tapes cost several times more than the other cameras. 2) the decks for the tapes were 50k to buy, or a lot to rent and few companies owned them. 3) Editing systems often didn't have the space to capture everthing in HD.  When people called me to ask if I could should something in Digi Beta, I would try to persuade them to go HD at a reduced price and very often, the productions simply couldn't afford it.   The only work I got with it was on high end, high budget documetaries.  Meanwhile the value of the camera was droping like a stone.

Blackmagic ursaThe Black Magic Ursa, starting at under 6,000 dollars.  Records apple pro res 422, or RAW. 










 AJA CionThe AJA Cion


Apple Pro res 444 or 422

9000 USD








My point, in this rather long and drawn out story, is that it is good to be slightly ahead of the game, but there is no point in being years ahead of the game, as cameras devalue fairly rapidly.  This years NAB is awash with 4k cameras, each one cheaper than the last.  Camera manufacturer obviously want to push and sell new technology, and Sony have an added insentive as they can sell 4k TVs too.  However, it is good to keep the end user in mind, as this will ultimately be what drives demand and dictates whether you get a phone call asking to shoot 4k or not.  At present masses of channels aren't even broadcasting in HD yet, let alone 4k.  Loads of DVDs are being watched, which are not even HD and more and more people are watching content online - where 4k is likely to be a hinderance rather than something to be desired. 

With this in mind, how many people are likely to be dissatisfied with the resolution of their HD TV at home and want to upgrade to 4k?  In a cinema 4k makes sense to me, you have a huge screen and resolution could reasonably be improved, however, I am not sure the same can be said for  40 inch TV in the home.

This is not to say I think there will be no interest in 4k.  There are lots of points that will draw productions towards it, special effects work or even just edits where Directors want the option to crop into the image for a normal HD production.  4k also gives the cameraman the option to digitally zoom in and use super 16 size lenses for HD productions.  So 4k does have its benefits. Eventually TV, film, broadcasting and camera technology will push on ahead and 4k will be mainstream, however, I won't be buying a camera just becuase it shoots 4k before the phone calls start coming in.

Further reading:

Cnet.Why 4k TVs are stupid.  

Variety. Hollywood says "Meh to 4k TVs"