Why You Should Not Shoot in 4K - Sundance panel - Post-Production - www.mentorless.com

NAB might be behind us but the frenzy for the latest camera never seems to stop. Technical performances always make eyes shine, and with the equipment’s price going down, there is a real temptation for indie filmmaker to listen to the 4k mermaid’s song. Listening to the Post-Production Panel from Sundance 2014 posted by Candy Factory Productions, I was interested to discover that all the panelists were adamant: DO NOT SHOOT 4K IF YOU’RE AN INDIE FILMMAKER.

The panel consisted of Mike Jackman (Co-Chairman NYPA, EVP Post Production FilmNation Entertainment), Guenter Noesner (ARRI), Jennifer Lane, (NYC based post production supervisor) & Paul Rachman (Filmmaker/Slamdance Organizer) and here are three reasons why they think 4K doesn’t make any sense for an indie filmmaker at the moment:

#1 – Nobody Can Tell the Difference

Yes, you read that well. Even if you shoot 4K, nobody will be able to see it’s 4K. Why? Two reasons: whether you watch a film shot in 4K in a theater or at home, there is a very specific distance where you would need to be to appreciate its full effect. Bummer. And if you watch on your computer or your phone… well, you can guess the answer to that.

The other reason that I found very interesting, and pointed out by Guenter Noesner, is that the human eye does not actually perceive 4K as better looking: ‘An aspect that we feel is never really discussed is What do we perceive as better looking? This technology, 4k, is coming from the industry from a technology point of view, it’s really not what we, humans, kind of perceive as the better choice.

#2 – It Will Stretch Your Budget And Take More Time

One major mistake often made by indie filmmakers is that post-production is left aside or miscalculated during budgeting. And post-production is a make or break moment. We often think of post-production as the moment where we do the editing, the color correction, sound design, score, but it’s also the moment where files are rendered, exported, and copies of your film will be made, digitally or on film, so it can be sell to territories (if you’re lucky enough to reach that point). There is no selling your film to distributors if you can’t provide the necessary files in the right format. And that’s when a lot of indie filmmakers learn it the hard way.

One of 4K’s main issue for an indie filmmaker is the size of the files: HEAVY. “2k is a phenomenal format and, as an independent filmmaker, I wouldn’t even consider 4k. It is a massive amount of storage, massive amount of drives, everything will take longer to do, it’s just a more difficult process.” says post-production supervisor Jennifer Lane.

#3 – The Delivery Side Can’t Hold Its Part of the Contract (Yet)

Another point I thought was interesting is that the panelists made it clear that as of today, 4K was more of a marketing coup from the industry, because 3D didn’t work out, than a real step forward for the audience. Both Amazon and Netflix rely on the 4K argument but here is what Guenter Noesner says: “The improvement has to been made on the pipeline where you get this data. Streaming companies can only deliver between between 6 to 60 Megabytes per second while a 4k delivery is 6,000 Megabytes per second.” (…) “Wouldn’t it be better to get an HD picture where you’d get more of that HD better, than to get a 4k picture where you’re getting less of it because we’re compressing it?” Makes sense to me!

Last but not least, here are some extra info worth knowing:

  • 4K is not a requirement for a movie in distribution deals. And (good news), 35mm is becoming a discussion.
  • Jennifer Lane recommend you to do a test between different formats (Pro Res, 2K, 4K), and asks the lab not to tell you which format they are projecting, so you can see, unbiased, which ones looks the best for your story.
  • Bring a post-production supervisor during pre-production for couple of days, to make sure you know and understand what are the basic requirements to finish a film that you can ultimately sell and distribute
  • You will spend 150 to 200k making deliverables. Yeah, that came as a shocker for me too.
  • Don’t stop the conversation after the first talk about deliveries: you will be asked to have X and Y format, but things might change over time, so stay in touch (or have your post-production supervisor be in touch) with your international sales company.
  • If you have investors: Be aware that they’ll probably want their money back before the money is taken out to make those deliverables.
  • If you do budget for basic deliverables and you’re in NYC, some Studios require 2 sets of elements but only 1 set counts toward tax incentives.
  • Film still is the only sure way to ensure your story will survive through time. We know it, but it’s always worth repeating: film ensures your film will survive about 150 years. Hard Drives: 5 years top. If your film is only saved digitally, it means you’ll need to stay on top of every new codecs coming out and to constantly transfer your film into those new codecs, making sure there is as less compression as possible to minimize the data loss over time.

Regarding 4K, if anything, this sounds like a great news to me. Why stretch your budget to shoot 4K when 2K will do? I know a lot of filmmakers feel they need to shoot 4K on the RED for their film to be taken seriously, but as all the panelists said: the story is what matters first.  I recommend watching the full panel, it’s a short one and there is much more to learn from it:

By mentorless| 21 Comments | Cinematography and Cinematographers, Directing and Directors, Filmmakers Tools, Interviews, Personal Buzz


  1. I don’t disagree with the big idea, but I like to quibble :-)

    I question “Streaming companies can only deliver between between 6 to 60″ megabits per second.
    4k delivery fits into that model easily, by my calculations, at about 24Mbps. (details below)
    Granted, my 20Mbps broadband has a top speed of 15Mpbs and often fails to deliver 8Mpbs.
    However there will be H.265, fibre-to-the-home, plus 4k iMacs – but that’s not cinema.

    I recently realised I’d drifted badly in my calculations of data rate over the years, inflating them dramatically. Many years ago, I calculated the best tradeoff in file size (data rate) to image quality and settled on half-sized PAL SD at 0.5Mbps. That’s 512×288 at half a mega*bit*per second. Any bigger dimensions and the file size went up substantially; a higher data rate didn’t improve the image but pushed up the file size; a lower data rate didn’t reduce the file size much, but *did* degrade the image. I spent an entire day testing and checked it in real world use for years. With that confidence…

    Extrapolating the *area* – 512×288=147,456 pixels – I can calculate other optimal sizes.
    For 1080p, I get about 7.2Mbps.
    With a 2.4:1 crop – 1920×800 – I get 5.3Mbps.
    4k with 2.39:1 crop – 4096×1716 – comes to 24.3Mbps
    I double this for Vimeo however, as they will compress again – but I do think we waste bits by guessing and copying each other – at least I have been. One day I hope to host a festival of compression tests ;-)

    • hahaha, ok Brad, hands down, I wouldn’t have been able to pull that off. (Would be interested to know what Guenter would respond to that, it seems interesting to me that his numbers would be off.) Very interesting, thanks for sharing that! Mb aside, two ‘problems’ remain: your eyes will likely prefer the 2k version of a same footage (we’d have to go through blind testing to make sure, agreed) *and* you also need to know exactly where to stand to see a 4k image. Whether it’s a tv or a film screen, if you’re too far or too close, the ‘magic’ won’t operate.

  2. Good points and insights from the panel that I have (almost) no argument with, however I’d like to counter with a couple reasons it might be a good idea to film in 4k:
    1) Future proofing your creation. You can shoot and edit in 4k and deliver in 2k. When the infrastructure for better delivery changes, you’ll have a 4k-ready master.
    2) Creatively, you can reframe your shots in post if needed (to fix boom mics, backgrounds, etc)
    3) LTO is a proven long-term backup. Sure, it is not as long as film, but long enough to transition to the next long-term solution and quite a bit cheaper.
    4) You CAN spend FAR less than 150k on deliverables. But you will probably spend more than you budgeted!

    • thanks for all the additional comments jeremy! This is all true, James also pointed out some of these points, but if today you are on a very tight budget, why buy a rolls that you’ll never be able to maintain? In an ideal world, we would all shoot 4K, but i think it’s important to remember the realities of what shooting 4k means if you are on low-budget (and i’m not talking Studios Low-Budgets).

  3. If you’re saying you shouldn’t let the shooting format dictate your ability to make a film, then that’s correct. Thats pretty obvious. But if you’re saying “don’t shoot in 4K, its more hard work than its worth” then you are being very short sighted.

    It’s true that a 4k distribution infrastructure isn’t in place at the moment. But saying ” don’t bother shooting 4k, no one can watch it yet” is like telling someone in 1999 “don’t bother shooting HD, noone can watch it yet”. It will come.

    On a technical level, shooting 4K is not harder than shooting 2K. Things take longer, and it does require more drive space, but that is a commitment you must make regardless of shooting format, and drive space is too cheap to value it over the resolution of your film. shooting 4K allows you to make 2K and HD masters in the short term, with no loss of quality, and means that when the infrastructure catches up, your 4K master will be waiting in the wings.

    Your work is your art, and if (like me) you want it to endure, you want to shoot it in a format that will endure.

    • Thanks for posting here James! I see your point, but I think the main point that prevails is: if you are on a budget, understand that the gain in shooting in 4K is not worth the money it will require to sustain such a choice. And this is for indie filmmakers first and foremost. I would echo about everybody saying that is your plan is to make art outlive time and changes, 4K doesn’t provide you much more security than 2K because it remains a digital source. Film does.

  4. I can’t help but disagree with the comment about film being the only form of preservation. I strongly feel that within ten years we’ll be seeing vector based video codecs start to emerge as a delivery/archival format that could ultimately bring the resolution argument to an end. Having said that, if that happens, then there really is no reason to shoot 4K (though I’m not knocking anyone that decides to.)

    • i hope you’re right coty. When it comes to archiving, i think no matter the format, preserving your data long enough is going to be tricky for indie filmmakers. but then again: can you budget that far ahead when you’re trying to make your movie today? If you can, awesome. If you can’t…

  5. It seems crazy to me that anyone believes this, preserving your master for future distribution is very important, Film is dead stop pretending its not. I doubt anyone on that panel has truly evaluated 4K images on a 4K projector. Obviously the guy from ARRI downplays the importance of 4K because they dont sell a 4K camera (so you should probably shouldn’t pay to much attention to his comments) I wonder how ARRIs stance will change when they release a 4K camera? they were even talking about how to scale to 4K with their current camera at NAB so obviously its on their minds. Also its not all about resolution its more expensive to shoot cannon c500 at 2K raw or Arri RAW for that matter then it is to shoot a compressed 4k format (4K ProRes or .r3D). As far as posting in concerned as long as you are choosing the right tools / partners it should be easy both Premiere and FCP can easily edit 4K just be sure to stay away from AVID and you will be fine. As long as you post super is smart enough to pick a post house that is not based on legacy technology they should have no problem chewing through that footage, check out this video from a post place based in NY to see what I mean. https://vimeo.com/90986719

    I would be interested in seeing a counter panel why indies should shoot 4K. Its all about researching the process and understanding the costs / benefits, just like making any other investment because really thats what your film is, an investment both financially and in your career / future, so make it wisely.

    • thanks for sharing your thoughts jake! I think your panel idea about ‘why indies should shoot 4K’ is actually exactly what we need. (and just generally, have real pro and cons panels.)

    • thanks for sharing your thoughts jake! I love your idea of having a panel about why indie should shoot 4k (and just in general, i think it would be healthy and useful to have pro and cons panels). Everybody in the comment section seems pretty convinced that indies should shoot 4k, but i also feel that what gets lost is always the budget reality attached to shooting a movie when you’re an indie filmmaker. on my way to watch your link now :)

      • The idea that it’s significantly more expensive to shoot 4k vs. 2k is just not true. In fact, with today’s cameras, like the Red Epic, 5k is more and more common. The only additional expense is added hard drive space, which is a minimal difference given a film’s overall budget. All indie films should have a dedicated DIT on set, and yes, 4k footage will take slightly longer to offload, backup, and transcode, but the benefits vastly outway any of this. Long term image quality should be important to any serious filmmaker, but beyond that, the editing flexibility afforded by shooting at 4k or higher is immeasurably valuable to any indie production. A tight budget means for a shorter shooting schedule, and therefore less coverage and footage to work with in the edit. Any editor knows that being able to reposition a shot to create a cutaway or smooth out a jump cut can save endless hours of problem solving and fix story problems. This repositioning option alone is invaluable and is one of the empowering aspects of new digital technology for indie filmmakers. Then only reason I can understand for choosing NOT to shoot 4k or higher would be a camera choice. Shooting on the Alexa, for example, affords a latitude that Red cameras can’t match as easily. But then again, even the Alexa can shoot higher than 2k.

  6. Good thorough article.
    While I agree with the conclusions I have to say that I strongly disagree with one of the reasons given:
    “nobody can tell the difference.”
    Again, within the Indie Context I tend to agree but in the hands of an experienced shooter 4K makes a major difference . . . . if only for the color space, “margin of error” and repositioning factors.
    Sadly, I’ve seen 16mm indie films from the 60’s re-trasnferred with today’s tech and they can look simply incredible. The same will not be said in 50 years for something shot to JPEG or I PHONE or even 4.4.4.
    So, the beauty of digital is that it’s cheap and accessible; the downside is that it doesn’t really hold up.

    4K origination is expensive and requires patience and professionalism . . . . but it IS vastly superior; anyone who can’t SEE the difference has no business making blanket statements that no one else will see a difference.

  7. Hi. Would you mind elaborating on this point?
    “If you do budget for basic deliverables and you’re in NYC, some Studios require 2 sets of elements but only 1 set counts toward tax incentives”. What does this actually mean?


    • Hi Goran,

      When you shoot in NYC, you can benefit from tax incentives, but they will only apply for 1 set of deliverables. When you sell your movie to distributors, you might be asked to do two sets of everything (2 copy of 35mm along with all the elements that go with it), but you won’t be able to use the benefits of the tax incentive for both sets. So you’ll have to pay 1 set full (or have it fully budgeted). This is explained better in the video you can watch within the article, so don’t hesitate to watch it, it will give you more insights.

  8. I disagree.

    I shoot in 3K and 4k (Scarlet), and master in 2K. While I agree not to many people can tell the difference for the average viewing distance between 4K and HD, 4K has saved a couple shots.

    Reframes, digital zooms, digital pans, digitally stablization out shots. The article points out with number 1, no one can tell the difference. So if I crop in to 200% no one will notice if I am outputting to 2K, it adds much needed flexability. I have turned one shot into two, through different crops. It turns ok shots into good shots. I know this is sloppy work on my part, but I am learning, as most indie film makers are. 4k has saved me from at least one scene reshoot.

    Shooting in 4k and out putting in HD is worth it as an indie filmmaker.

    • thanks for sharing your experience chris, always good to know what others chose and how it helped (or not).

  9. I was at this panel and there was a large amount of omitted information that is actually very important to the discussion, the most important of which are that resolution comes independent of file-size, and that acquisition format is different than your post-pipeline or deliverables.

    If hard drive costs are a concern, consider codec over resolution. On the whole, 4k usually takes up more space than 2k but that is not a hard truth. 2k ProRes4444 from the Alexa runs about 2.2gb/min. Red Epic 5k at 5:1 compression runs about 5gb/min. But bump up the compression, and you can match that filesize. Also take into account other RAW formats, such as ARRI Raw or Canon Raw, each breaking the double-digit gb/min barrier as they are uncompressed. In addition, you can shoot 4k on the Sony F55 to XAVC for roughly the same filesize as 2k ProRes.

    Working with 4k footage is usually slower, but again depending on filesize. However, most editors work with transcoded footage, whether it’s a lighter version of files originating in HD or 4k. When it comes time to grade, most modern color correction apps can handle 4k codecs easily. With a decent hard drive, Red Dragon 6k R3Ds will play back in almost-real-time on a off-the-shelf Mac Pro. And most indies don’t finish in 4k – they use the extra resolution to their benefit and deliver in 2k.

    My big takeaway is that there is no single answer and making blanket statements like “Don’t shoot 4k” is irresponsible. I recommend that every film speak with their post-supervisor, editor, DP and colorist prior to shooting to choose the equipment, technology and workflow that best fits their needs. A little testing can illuminate quite a bit.

    I think the only blanket statement should be “Have fun making movies!”

    • thanks for the additional data david! good to know you were at the panel and significant parts are missing too. i’ve said it in previous comments, but i think i should accept i couldn’t make my point clear: this article is not saying “4k is not good” this article is saying “when you are an *indie-filmmaker* on a *low-budget* don’t get obsessed about shooting in 4k.” You can make a great film and shoot in 2k, or HD or SD or 16mm, or iMax, or… so if you don’t have the money, maybe take it easy on the format and invest on other aspect of your films. Sorry you find it irresponsible, and glad to see everybody has a couple of millions in a drawer, i don’t :)

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