The convergence story continues to evolve. Pro photographers need to be ever more aware and fluent in motion capture, whether your goal is to create narrative films or to shoot motion vignettes as added benefit for your clients. For motion capture, the current mainstream format is commonly called "full HD"—1920×1080 pixels—but in the evolution of technology, we’re quickly advancing to higher resolutions. The buzz for the past year has been all about 4K, approximately 4096×2160 pixels, which is a dramatic improvement over HD. In this article, we take a brief look at the gear that’s available for 4K shooting when the end goal is a motion project.
One common misconception about 4K is that it automatically enables one to simply pull a still from motion footage. That’s not necessarily the case. Factors like shutter speed (shutter angle in motion shooting) and the speed of your subject moving within the frame can result in still frames that are soft even though the motion footage looks great. Shooting with an end goal of a motion project and shooting with an end goal of a still frame just don’t always align. For example, in an interview with DPP, Carlo Dalla Chiesa of Smashbox Digital described his process. He shoots the motion scene, then has the talent redo the scene at a slower speed as he shoots the footage that he’ll pull stills from ("The Beauty Within," Digital Photo Pro, September/October 2012).
For right now, 4K display definitely isn’t the norm, but it’s on the horizon. Shooting in 4K is, in essence, protecting yourself from obsolescence. 4K footage can be easily downsized for HD display, and when 4K display is available, you’ll have the higher-resolution footage ready to take advantage of it.
As is always the case with resolution figures, one manufacturer’s 4K isn’t going to look the same as another. We’re looking at a few distinct categories of 4K cameras, that is, cameras that are well versed in both still and motion capture. At the top end is the RED EPIC, the gold standard at this time. Below that are the RED SCARLET and the Canon Cinema EOS-1D C, which are highly capable models. We also include the new GoPro HERO3, which is notable because it’s a 4K GoPro. There are other 4K motion cameras that are solely geared to the motion-picture business, but we’re limiting the scope of this article to the cameras mentioned above.
In a short article like this, our goal isn’t to present all of the capabilities and nuances of the various models. We’re presenting each camera in brief.
Representing the top end of the 4K universe, the EPIC actually can capture 5K stills at up to 120 frames per second. At 4K, it can shoot up to 150 frames per second, and this gives you a lot of possibilities for slow-motion capture. At lower resolutions, the EPIC can shoot even faster, of course. RED says the EPIC can capture an impressive 18 stops of dynamic range with HDRx, and the body (RED calls it the "Brain") weighs only four pounds. EPIC cameras are routinely used as the main cameras for big-budget Hollywood features, which should give you a sense of how capable it is. That level of capability doesn’t come cheap, but prices are coming down. The EPIC Brain costs $19,000, and it’s available with PL, Canon EF, Nikon and Leica mounts. Contact: RED, www.red.com.
The SCARLET shares much of the same technology and the same sensor as the RED EPIC. The SCARLET can shoot 5K still frames. For motion capture, it shoots up to 4K resolution at 30 fps. At lower resolutions, the SCARLET can shoot at faster rates. Like the EPIC, the SCARLET is available with PL, Canon EF, Nikon and Leica mounts, and the Brain starts at $7,950. The SCARLET definitely feels like a younger sibling to the EPIC. It shares the same DNA, and some photographers might find that it’s an ideal camera because of the price-to-performance ratio. Also, if you want to get into more elaborate filmmaking, you can rent an EPIC to go along with footage that you capture with your SCARLET. Because of the shared DNA, it can be much easier to match footage shot with the SCARLET to footage shot with the EPIC. Contact: RED, www.red.com.
Canon Cinema EOS-1D C
The Canon Cinema EOS-1D C was hinted at when Canon debuted its Cinema EOS line. When it finally hits stores, the DSLR-shaped camera should retail for about $13,000. The body is reminiscent of the Canon EOS-1D X and, in fact, the cameras share much of the same technology. Motion capture is available at 4K resolution at 24 frames per second. By attaching a recorder to the HDMI port, you can record the 4K footage in 8-bit, 4:2:2. When shooting 4K motion, the EOS-1D C uses the APS-H portion of its full-frame sensor. It comes with a Canon EF lens mount. Contact: Canon, www.usa.canon.com.
GoPro has taken the world by storm with its compact action cameras. Their low cost, solid image quality and durability have made them the darlings of the high-adrenaline, extreme-sports crowd. In the fall of 2012, GoPro unveiled the next generation of HERO cameras, the HERO3. The company has clearly paid attention to higher-end users who have wanted some professional features, and the HERO3 running GoPro ProTune firmware is capable of shooting 4K at 15 frames per second. In a camera that costs $399 and is smaller than a typical tripod ballhead, that’s remarkable. Obviously, the HERO3 isn’t a substitute for a RED EPIC. Its single-focus lens and small sensor make it a good choice for special situations, including shoots where you need something that can be knocked around a bit. Being able to splice some 4K GoPro footage into a larger 4K production keeps your resolution consistent. Contact: GoPro, gopro.com.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Nikon D800 And Sony SLT-A99
| If you’re not shooting 4K, there are a number of high-power, full HDSLRs on the market. The full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark III is the successor to the infamous 5D Mark II. It has the same Canon AF system as the EOS-1D X, and a new firmware update, to be released in April, will allow it to record 4:2:2 to an external recorder via HDMI. Contact: Canon, www.usa.canon.com.
The Nikon D800 has been billed as a medium-format killer. It has a full-frame, 36-megapixel sensor for still shooting, and in motion-capture mode, the camera can record 4:2:2 to an external recorder via HDMI. Contact: Nikon, www.nikonusa.com.
The new Sony SLT-A99 is a full-frame, 24-megapixel DSLR that has Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology. The mirror never has to flip out of the way to shoot, and the camera can shoot up to 60 frames per second in full HD. Contact: Sony, www.sonystyle.com.
Blackmagic Cinema Camera
Introduced at the NAB show in April 2012, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is a 2.5K motion-only camera. With a sleek, low-bulk design, the camera caught a lot of attention thanks to its full-featured spec list and its sub-$3,000 price tag. The camera is available with a Canon EF lens mount, and at 2.5K resolution, its output is between full HD and 4K. The camera is an intriguing option for photographers who want a dedicated, interchangeable-lens, motion-capture camera with higher motion resolution than a DSLR, but at a lower cost than the high-end 4K options. Contact: Blackmagic Design, www.blackmagicdesign.com.