The 4K Range

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,

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