Video & Filmmaking

How to Step Into 4K While Stepping Around the Pitfalls

November 12, 2015

By Greg Scoblete

Images Courtesy of Brian Hallett and Jared Moossy

Brian Hallett and Jared Moossy.

When we started asking videographers about the challenges of shooting 4K video, we were sure we’d hear things like, “you need a supercomputer to edit it.” But as videographer Brian Hallett says, the computer horsepower in his 2011 MacBook Pro has handled many 4K video editing projects just fine. Instead, there are other, often subtle, challenges with jumping into 4K.

Consider the Codec

Not surprisingly, the filmmakers we spoke with always opt to record RAW video as their first choice among video file options for the same reason still photographers shoot RAW: It provides greater latitude to recover details in highlights and shadows, and delivers a file that’s more easily color graded during post production. But there are times when shooting a 4K RAW file isn’t necessarily the best choice. For Hallett, codec choice is often determined by deadlines as much as quality considerations. For short turnarounds, he will sometimes forgo RAW files and instead opt for a 10-bit ProRes file since it can be processed in near real-time while still retaining enough quality to satisfy clients. Adding effects and color grades to ProRes files will tack on extra processing time, but it will still be a shorter workflow than wrestling RAW files, Hallett says.

While RAW files offer the most flexibility for post-process color grading and exposure adjustments, shooting a compressed format doesn’t mean you completely surrender those options. Many cameras—including a growing number of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras—support recording a Log format. A Log file isn’t a RAW file since it has exposure information like white balance and ISO baked in, but a Log file does produce a de-saturated image that allows for effective color grading during post-processing, Hallett says. Log formats go by a variety of (mostly unimaginative) names depending on the camera you use—Sony’s is S-Log, Canon’s is Canon Log, Arri dubs theirs LogC, etc.—but the effect is the same. When RAW is too time-consuming, a 10-bit ProRes Log file gives you second, color-gradable option.

Easy On The ISO

Many video cameras—not just 4K models—can’t cope with low light as well as DSLRs can. And, unlike DSLRs, video cameras have limited native ISO ranges. That means that ISO isn’t as effective a tool to recover details in a scene that is shrouded in darkness or shadows. When shooting with a cinema camera, you have to think a bit counter-intuitively, says photographer and cinematographer Jared Moossy. “With motion you have to bring up the light to show low light,” he says. In other words, it means adding artificial light, not cranking the camera above its base ISO, which for many video cameras is 400 or 800. “I’ve pushed it one or two stops but never pushed it more than that,” Moossy says. In 4K, where details resolve more sharply than in HD, ISO-induced grain looks all the worse.

Budget (Both Money and Time)

The high resolution of 4K imposes high costs that impact every line in a budget—more memory, more time in post production, higher-end optics, etc.—but since it’s fast become a buzzword many commercial clients will ask for it before fully understanding what that implies for their budgets. “Everyone wants to get the biggest and best just to say they have the biggest and best,” Moossy observes. Knowing how to budget a 4K production, and especially what to cut if the budget is too high, is a skill that Moossy finds he’s increasingly called on to exercise.

“Usually accessories are the first to go,” Moossy says. He’ll cut the number of monitors, group shots that need a certain tool, like a jib, into a single day to shorten rental durations and then, only then, will he consider compromising on camera or lenses.

“I’ll compromise on the camera before the lenses, but usually, when it’s that tight of a budget, you end up compromising on both.”

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