What is 4K Video?

4K (Ultra HD)

What's All the Fuss Over 4K?

If you've recently been looking at new cameras, you'll probably noticed the term '4K video' pasted on store camera displays and even on labels affixed to the camera fronts. 4K is a video designation that literally translates to '4,000'. The name comes from the approximately 4,000 pixels in display width. This is much more detail than any specification than any you've seen before. Perhaps, you've already observed the jump from pre-digital 'standard definition' television to 'HD' then to 'Full HD' benefits that are now possible on digital TV, Blu-Ray discs and streaming on-line. Compared to early standards, this HD footage is developed, crisp and ieven looks excellent when seen on a large TV. However even the best quality, '1080p' HD video is only 1920 pixels across. 4K contains significant more detail, since it has double the horizontally pixels, and four times the total pixels.

Technology doesn't stand wait for for anyone and the a new video standard is now 4K.

The 4K label is used to express a couple different, although very similar, standards. The articulation you're most likely come across is Ultra High Definition or UHD, the new 4K TV standard. 4K video is positioned to become the new benchmark for both capturing and viewing video and it brings a whole host of instant advantages.

Obtain Additional Video Clarity

The images below represent the in detail contrast between various video resolutions. Video captured using a D500 DSLR Camera.

Standard Definition (480p)
Digital cameras 2000's and TVs, late 90s / early 2000s. Can't make out much, though.

Consumes Ducks - 720p

High Definition / HD (720p)
A few contemporary digital cameras provide slow motion video at this resolution.
Consumes Ducks HD

Full HD (1080p)
Most contemporary digital cameras record at this resolution.
Consumes Ducks 4K

4K
Few cameras capture 4K video recording but when you can, the footage is fabulously sharp compared to 1080p.
Consumes Ducks

What 4K means for Video Photographers

If you are shooting video in HD, you should upgrade to a 4K to a 4K-capable camera? The obvious answer to switch to 4K is to prepare your work for the future.

We don't even use 1080p!
Consumers may not insist on 4K content today, but at some point in the future they will, and if there's any lesson in history, this will probably occur soon. Just envision if everyone continued to shoot standard definition up until the moment that everyone had an HD TV at last. No one wants to view that snowy, grainy low-resolution content today? As a content creator it's always better getting out in front of the curve. However, even if you don't require (or even want) to acquire 4K content yet, there are number of huge advantages to adopting the 4K standard now.

Improved 1080 HD Footage
Shooting 4K will make your HD video appear better. Most of today's HD cameras capture great 1080p video, quality, but when you start with 4K source images and downscale it to HD resolution the image will look even better, thanks to each pixel effectively being over sampled by a factor of four. In addition to clearer, crisper images, color data is improved and easier to grade, and common video artifacts like moiré are significantly diminished or even eliminated thanks to the higher resolution original image.

Cropping / Zooming / Panning
4K capture also makes it possible to benefit from editing techniques that would be impractical - or at least not easy - with typical HD footage. Need to crop in tight on an image you captured? No issue - you can crop as miuch as 4x on 4K footage and still keep full HD video resolution. Similarly, all those additional pixels let you zoom in, out, or even pan over an image while keeping HD resolution

Creating Still Images from Video
Have you ever shot a video, only to later decide that you need a still image for a marketing or advertising campaign? 4K to the rescue. Although it has only double the horizontal lines as HD video, 4K footage contains four times the total resolution over HD. While you can muster out a 2 megapixel still image from standard HD video footage, that's not enough resolution to be useful for anything much past use online. 4K, however, gives you the capacity to extract an ~8MP image straight from your video. That's enough for a decent size print or even an a magazine ad

Stabilizing Your Images
All those additional pixels also come in handy to stabilize your videos. Most non-linear editors, like Adobe Premiere Pro along with Apple Final Cut Pro X, feature image stabilization algorithms that do an exceptionally good job of simulating stabilizing of handheld footage and making it appear that you used a Steadicam. Regrettably, this process reduces the resolution of the video by strategically scaling, rotating and cropping your video frame-by-frame to counteract camera shake. If you're begining with HD source material this means that the ensuing video may be obviously less sharp, as you're cropping out needed pixels. If you're beginning from 4K, however, you have a momemtous amount of additional pixels to play with. Stabilize away!

Using a Green Screen
green Screen
Shooting in front of a green screen is a universal video technique that allows editors to merge a foreground object or subject, such as a person, with a diverse background. This process, called chroma keying, becomes much easier the more pixels there are. If you have 4x the pixel density in your source video, it will obviously be better.

4K Video for Still Photographers

How could a video mode ever be useable for still photography you ask? Well, think of it as a way of capturing 24, 25 or 30 eight MP images each second and you might begin to grasp the appeal. Whether it's the brief smile after a child blows out the candles on their birthday cake or the score of a match-winning goal, this shooting process can help make sure you capture the absolute moment.

Panasonic's 4K Photo mode lets you select the right still image direct from the 4K footage. Image by Panasonic.

Many present day cameras allow you to extract frames from video footage while in playback mode, and some let you press the shutter button during recording, to mark which frames you want to capture as stills.

Several Panasonic cameras take this a step further using a dedicated '4K Photo' mode that lets you capture footage in more customary aspect ratios, rather than being fixed in the panoramic format of most video. Some cameras even include intelligent functions to help you acquire the moment, such as a pre-record mode that continually record footage, then saves those 30 frames before and after you press the shutter button.

It's entirely possible to extract great images from 4K footage from any camera, but if you're acquiring video with the explicit resolve of capturing stills, your images will benefit greatly from some settings adjustments and technique. As always the case in photography, time spent experimenting is never time wasted.

Increase the likelihood of keepers shooting at 30fps
4K video at 30fps: In just 1 second of 4K video you can capture 30 photos. Fast-paced racecars are tough subjects to properly frame, and with so many photos to choose from, the probability is greater that you'll get a keeper.

Shot with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G7
Opportunities are missed using slower bursts
Burst modes on most cameras are 5-8 frames per second: Most consumer digital cameras only have the ability to shoot 5-8 pictures in a second, way slower than 4K. You might get obtain or two good photo with plenty of practice and timing, however multiple photos within the same sequence is nearly improbable.

Upgrading to 4K
As great as 4K is, the extra resolution could require you to upgrade parts of, or potentially your entire photography pipeline which could include memory cards, monitors, hard drives, computers, cameras, and possibly even lenses.

Preparing for 4K

Manufacturers of both consumer and professional electronics are scrambling to add 4K video to their products, but with more pixels comes an awful lot more data to push around.

Footage storage
4K footage takes up a lot more space than full HD - up to four times more, in fact. A single minute of video on some prosumer 4K-capable video cameras can weigh in at more than one gigabyte.

In order to keep up with all that data, you'll need fast memory cards, capable of at least 30MB per second write speed (which corresponds to the U3 rating on SD cards). This should allow recording at quality settings up to around 200mbps. Panasonic memory cards that support 4K recording.

Memory cards aren't quite as expensive as they once were, but high-speed cards still represent a significant investment, and one that needs to be factored in to the cost of a new 4K-capable camera.

Storage to record 1 hour of video on different cameras
Storing all that data for editing also means a fast, high-capacity hard drive. You'll need at least a 7200rpm conventional hard drive on a USB 3.0 or faster connection, and as much storage as you can afford. Solid State Drives (SSDs) are significantly faster than spinning-disk drives but they're much more expensive per GB of storage.

Do I need a new computer?
It depends. In the same way as 4K video requires a lot of space to physically store, it also requires a lot more processing power to handle it when it comes to editing the footage.

As always when looking at computer performance, the main things to consider are processor speed, the graphics card, how much RAM is installed, and the type and capacity of hard drive.

You'll soon know if your computer isn't up to the task of editing 4K video. But even if you're having issues, you may be able to get by editing proxy footage (offline) as opposed to the actual original footage (online). Apple's Mac Pro desktop computer is more than enough to handle 4K editing.

Minimum PC requirements
Processor RAM Graphics card Hard drive 4K High-end quad-core 16GB+ NVIDIA 600-series or higher or AMD R5-series or higher 1TB+ 7200rpm or large SSD 1080p Quad-core 8GB Dedicated GPU 256GB+

Display requirements
It is possible to shoot, edit and publish a 4K video project without ever viewing the footage on a 4K monitor, but we wouldn't recommend it. If you're looking for a single monitor workflow, expect to spend at least $500 and keep an eye out for the 'IPS' designation. IPS panels are superior when it comes to color accuracy at different viewing angles. If you already have a color-accurate monitor, you can go with an additional, more budget-oriented 4K monitor for cutting footage together, and continue doing color grading on the older monitor. Editing lower resolution footage then exporting to 4K is one option. Image provided by Panasonic.

Workflow and Sharing
Editing 4K footage doesn't just require a powerful computer, you'll also need specialized video editing software. There are plenty of video editing suites out there, and 4K support is becoming more common even for inexpensive options like Apple's iMovie. But for the best results we'd recommend more full-featured software like Adobe's Premiere Pro, or Apple Final Cut Pro X. Just be aware that different cameras shoot video in different ways, and different video editing software interacts with these file formats in different ways too, so you should do some research to find which software will work best with your footage.

Let's say you've produced your prize-winning 4K content and are ready to share it with the world. Great! But before you do that, here are some things to think about. If you want or need to share your work in full-resolution 4K you can easily share the files directly via your prefered online cloud storage service, but depending on your Internet connection speed, upload and download times will probably be very lengthy. 4K video is still not very well-supported by online video hosting services, but Vimeo allows you to make 4K footage available for download and YouTube offers 4K streaming (albeit highly compressed).

Finally, consider: do you even need to output in 4K? As we said in the introduction to this article, HD video is great, and it's fine for most purposes. There are some huge advantages to shooting and editing 4K, but when it comes to sharing your work, 4K might be overkill. If you output as HD, file sizes will be significantly smaller for one thing, and you won't need a UHD screen to view the footage at its full resolution. Even if you output HD though, you should always save a 'futureproof' full-resolution 4K version to disk. Adobe Premiere Pro CC by Adobe. Available on both Windows and OS X. Final Cut Pro X by Apple. Available only on OS X. Service Streams 4K Can upload 4K to YouTube Vimeo Pro accounts allow 4K videos to be downloaded March 28, 2016 ✓

Popular Photo Accessories

Articles Index