If you have spent any time recently looking at cameras, then you likely have heard about 4K. Today we’re going to explore everything that you need to know about the cameras of the future.
Why should I shoot in 4K? Shooting in 4K will produce superior picture quality because it gives you quadruple the resolution. If you’re trying to find the best picture quality available on the market today, then you want 4K. 4K also makes it super easy to edit images.
In a minute, we’ll introduce you to some of the best 4K cameras on the market this year. But before we get to the cameras, let’s discuss 4K.
First Things First, What Is 4K?
Have you been camera shopping lately? If you have, then you no doubt have noticed the term “4K video” slapped all over shop displays and written on labels stuck to the front of camera packaging.
So what is 4K? Well, 4K is a specific type of video. It literally means “4,000.” The reason that it is called 4K is that there are approximately 4,000 pixels of width in the footage.
When you first see a video in 4K, you will immediately notice that the picture is more detailed than anything you’ve probably seen before.
Think back to standard definition. Remember that? It wasn’t too hard to notice the difference when you switched from pre-digital standard definition TV up to HD or Full HD services, right? Now you can find HD services on digital TVs, Blu-Ray discs, and online streaming.
When you compare it to earlier standards, you will notice that HD footage is much more detailed. The picture quality will be crisper, and it looks great even when it’s viewed on a large TV.
However, even when you view the best quality 1080p HD video, it’s only going to be 1920 pixels across. Compare that to the 4,000 pixels you get with 4K, and you will notice that it’s significantly more detailed. The reason for this is that 4K footage has twice as many pixels horizontally, and it has four times as many pixels total. That’s major!
Manufacturers use the name 4K to describe a couple of different similar standards. The standard that you’re most likely to find is Ultra High Definition or UHD. This is the new standard for 4K TVs. 4K video is the future, and it is ready to become the new benchmark both for watching and recording video.
What Is the Difference Between 480p, 720p, 1080p, and 4K?
- Standard definition comes in 480p. This is the oldest technology used in TVs today. Think of 480p like the TV that you watched in the 90s. 480p was also used in digital cameras in the 2000s.
- 720p is a step up from standard definition. We call 720p high definition. There are some modern digital cameras that offer slow-motion video at the 720p resolution.
- Full HD or 1080p is the next step up from high definition. You will notice better picture quality with 1080p. You will find that the majority of modern digital cameras record at the 1080p resolution.
- That leads us to 4K. Think of 4K as the best of the best. You will notice significantly better detail and sharpness than you got with 1080p. 4K video recording cameras can be difficult to find, but when you use them, you will see that the footage is extraordinarily detailed.
What Does Shooting in 4K Mean for Video Shooters?
If you are shooting HD video, you may be wondering if you should upgrade to a camera with 4K capabilities. If you’re looking ahead to the future, then the answer would be yes.
There may not be a huge demand for 4K right now in the marketplace, but at some point in the very near future, there will be. Just think about how far we’ve come from standard definition! So why not get ahead of the curve now?
The truth is, even if you’re not quite ready to make the jump to 4K, there are several major benefits for using 4K it now.
The benefits of shooting in 4K
Let’s take a look at some of those incredible benefits.
Makes HD video look even better
The first benefit of shooting in 4K is that it will make your HD video look much better. Modern HD cameras will capture excellent quality 1080p footage. But when you begin with a 4K source and then downscale it to high definition resolution, your picture will look even more spectacular.
The reason that the picture looks so much better when you start with 4K is that you are effectively oversampling every pixel by four times. On top of having crisper, sharper images, your color data will also be better and easier to grade. And typical video artifacts like moire will be greatly reduced or even eliminated because of the original capture of higher resolution.
Crop, zoom, and pan
Another benefit of shooting in 4K is that it is much easier to crop, zoom, and pan. With 4K, you can use some really cool editing techniques, which would be nearly impossible with HD footage. Do you want to crop in close on a subject that you shot? No problem!
You can actually crop up to four times with 4K footage. And you can do that while still maintaining your full HD video resolution. All of those extra pixels will also allow you to zoom in and out and pan across the picture while keeping the HD resolution.
Killer still photos
You can take still photos from video with 4K too. 4K has double the number of horizontal lines as you have with HD video, but don’t forget that 4K footage also has a whopping four times as much total resolution as you get with HD. With 4K, you have the ability to pull an 8MP picture from your video. That’s enough for a decent-sized print. You could even use it to make an ad for a magazine.
Finally, we have to discuss image stabilization. You get a whole lot of extra pixels with 4K. Those extras help a lot with stabilization. There are many non-linear editors like Apple Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere Pro that include algorithms for image stabilization. These editors do a good job of stabilizing handheld video to make it look as if you shot it with a Steadicam.
The problem is that this process will decrease your resolution by scaling, cropping, and rotating your film frame-by-frame to deal with camera shake. Now, if you begin with HD source material, your video could be significantly less sharp as you crop out pixels. On the other hand, if you’re working with 4K source materials, you will have a whole lot of extra pixels to play with. So stabilize away till your heart’s content!
4K Video and Photography
Could video mode ever be useful for still photographers? You bet it could! With 4K, you can shoot 30, 25, or 24 eight-megapixel images per second. Amazing, right? You’ll never have to worry about capturing the perfect shot!
There are many cameras that allow you to extract frames from video in playback mode. With others, you can hit the shutter button while you’re recording to help you mark the frames that you want to grab out.
Some Panasonic cameras push the boundaries even further with a dedicated 4K Photo mode. This mode will allow you to shoot your footage in more traditional aspect ratios, instead of being stuck with the panoramic format. Some cameras even let you use a pre-record mode, which continually records footage and then saves 30 frames from before and after you pushed the shutter.
It is possible to pull excellent images from 4K video shot on any camera. However, if you’re shooting video intending to get still photos, your images may need some fine-tuning. So work with your settings and techniques. The time that you spend experimenting in photography is never wasted time.
Is There Any Downside to 4K?
Let’s face it. 4K is great! But as great as it is, the extra resolution could mean that you will have to upgrade your equipment. By equipment we mean computer, hard drives, memory cards, displays, and maybe even your lenses.
Do I Need Special Equipment to Watch Video Shot in 4K?
Yes, you will likely need to upgrade your equipment to shoot and watch videos in 4K.
What about the TV?
It’s worth noting right now that not all 4K TVs are created equal. They will all have a resolution of 3,840 by 2,160, but the story doesn’t stop there. There are a few features that you should consider if you want to get the most out of your 4K.
Wide Color Gamut and High Dynamic Range are two of the biggest features. You should also think about getting a TV with WCG and HDR. You will see that these things will greatly improve your picture quality.
Whichever 4K TV that you decide to go with, you should make sure that your TV has HDMI 2.0 inputs with HDCP 2.2. Most modern 4K TVs sold today will have these, but if you have an earlier generation of a 4K TV, it may not. If you’re not sure, you can Google your model number along with “HDMI 2.0.” For HDR, you will need HDMI 2.0a.
In order to get the most out of your 4K TV, you will need 4K content. Without 4K content, your TV will just be upconverting. Upconverting works pretty well; however, it’s not really true 4K.
Perhaps the easiest option is to use your TV’s included apps like Amazon and Netflix to stream 4K. If your TV doesn’t have those apps or if you’re looking for other options, you could try one of the boxes like the new Roku. These boxes offer 4K service providers. They also stream HDR.
You are also going to need an internet connection fast enough to stream your content. We recommend that you use a service that offers at least 15 megabits per second. If you go below that, especially during peak hours, you will be bumped down to 1080p or whatever your service calls their sub-4K level.
If you’re using Netflix, you will need the highest-level service plan. Their lower-cost plans do not include 4K. Amazon Prime offers 4K videos too. So does YouTube. And YouTube’s 4K is free. However, it’s not supported by all apps. Other companies offer different services, but you should be aware that the 4K version of anything is going to cost you more.
In addition to streaming, you may also find Ultra HD Blu-ray players and discs. So far, the only such player sold in the US is the Samsung UBD-K8500.
Now, how about the content?
You’ve probably already figured out that you are going to need some specific 4K content. You can tell that the content is 4K if it is labeled UHD or 4K. If you don’t see a label, then it likely isn’t 4K.
Chances are, the cables that are currently using will work fine. HDMI high-speed cables are capable of carrying 4K signals.
You won’t find any “4K HDMI” cables. Instead, you will either find high-speed or standard-speed cables. It’s the connection in your receiver or TV that needs to be a specific HDMI version. 4K requires HDMI 2.0 or 2.0a.
If you have bought your TV in recent years, then your cables will almost certainly work. However, if your setup is older, you may need to check the cables. You can find the information by Googling your model number and checking with the manual.
You’ll know that your cables aren’t working if you’re getting no picture or dropouts. If your cables aren’t working, you can always try a cheap HDMI cable.
Do I need a new receiver?
Unfortunately, the answer might be yes. The problem is that most older receivers won’t pass a 4K signal. That is true even with HDMI.
One thing that you can do is to connect your 4K source directly to the TV and then send the optical audio to the receiver. This may not be the ideal situation, but it’s definitely cheaper than buying a new receiver. You can also use this process if you plug everything into your HDMI soundbar. But if your soundbar is not HDMI 2.0, then it won’t pass a 4K signal.
Another option that you have is to purchase a 4K-compatible receiver. Just be prepared to shell out some big bucks.
File storage is another consideration because 4K footage takes a whole lot more space than full HD. Believe it or not, it takes four times as much space to store. That means that just one minute of video on some 4K cameras can weigh more than one gigabyte.
You’re also going to need fast memory cards. Look for cards that are capable of at least 30MB per second write speed. This will allow you to record with quality settings up to about 200mbps.
The good news is memory cards aren’t as expensive as they used to be. However, you should still be prepared to make an investment into high-speed cards. Factor this cost in when you’re estimating the cost of a new 4K camera.
You’re also going to need a fast, high-capacity hard drive. For a USB 3.0 or faster connection, you are going to need at least a 7200rpm conventional hard drive. You’ll also need as much storage as you possibly can afford. Solid State Drives, or SSDs, are much faster than spinning-disk drives. The problem is that they’re also much more expensive for every GB of storage.
Will I need a new computer?
As we’ve already discussed, 4K requires quite a bit of space to store physically. It also needs much more processing power when it’s time to edit the footage.
When it comes to computer performance, here are the main things to consider:
- Processor speed
- Graphics card
- How much RAM is installed
- Type and capacity of hard drive
It won’t be difficult to tell if your computer isn’t up to the task of dealing with 4K video. If you’re having any trouble, you may be able to edit proxy footage offline instead of using the original footage online.
Minimum PC requirements for 4K
- Processor: high-end quad-core
- RAM: at least 16GB
- Graphics card: NVIDIA 600-series or higher or AMD R5-series or higher
- Hard drive: at least 1TB 7200rpm or large SSD
If you really wanted to, you could shoot, edit, and publish your 4K video project without ever looking at the footage on a 4K monitor. You could do it, but it’s not recommended.
It’s likely going to cost you at least $500 for a single monitor workflow. You should also watch for the IPS designation. IPS panels are the best when you’re looking for color accuracy from several different viewing angles.
If your monitor is already color-accurate, then you should consider going with another more budget-friendly 4K monitor to do your cutting of footage. You could then continue to do your color grading on your older monitor.
What Is Upscaling?
In order to show lower-resolution material on a 4K TV, the TV has to go through a process known as upscaling. Upscaling works by increasing the pixel count of an image. This process allows an image that was meant to be used on a screen with fewer pixels to fit a screen with significantly more.
It’s worth noting that there won’t be more detail in the picture because the information in the signal won’t change.
You will find that some upscaling results in added smoothness. Generally speaking, upscaled pictures will look better.
However, all TVs don’t upscale the same way. You may find that certain 4K TVs will produce an image that looks too soft. Most TVs aren’t going to have this problem, but it’s worth mentioning because you want to be sure that the TV you are purchasing doesn’t have any issues with 4K before you make the buy.
The Best 4K Cameras
Here are our top five picks for the best 4K camera this year.
1. Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR
One of the best 4K cameras on the market this year is the Nikon D500. Fans of this camera argue that it is the best camera to use in less than ideal conditions. The Nikon D500 comes with a weather-sealed body and the maximum ISO value of 1640000. All of that means that this camera will perform great in challenging weather and light conditions.
It’s worth mentioning that the Nikon D500 will support 4K UHD video recording at 24, 25, and 30 frames per second. If there’s any downside to this camera, it’s that it’s fairly expensive. But given that this camera is one of the most feature-packed DSLRs on the market, we certainly consider it worthy of an investment.
2. Panasonic Lumix GH5 4K Digital Camera
Another 4K camera worth your time is the Panasonic Lumix GH5 4K Digital Camera. The original iconic Lumix GH4 was an unbelievable camera. It basically revolutionized the video production industry. Well, the GH5 is even better.
This extraordinary camera has taken the country by storm. The GH5 comes with state of the art 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor. It also contains a Venus Engine Image Processor with a 5 Axis Sensor Stabilization.
This camera can create stunning 4K videos at up to 60 FPS. And the ISO value can go as high as 25600. Like the Nikon D500, this camera is on the expensive side. But the technology makes it a smart investment.
3. Sony A7R II Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera
The Sony A7R II Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera is another excellent 4K camera worth your consideration. Sony has been one of the main players in the revolution brought on by digital images. For decades Sony has been producing models that have set the image quality standards and pushed the boundaries in the industry. The Sony A7R II is the newest model from Sony’s beloved A7 series. And it does not disappoint.
The A7R II offers a whole lot of different possibilities for both videographers and photographers. This incredible camera features a 42MP Full-Frame Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor. It also comes with a BIONZ X image processing engine. That makes this one of the best cameras on the market this year.
The A7R will produce 4K videos in 3840 by 2160 resolution at up to 30FPS. This camera is relatively new, so it’s difficult to tell if it’s worth the high price tag. But the features certainly are promising.
4. Fujifilm X-T2 Mirrorless Digital Camera
Another camera that shouldn’t be overlooked is the Fujifilm X-T2 Mirrorless Digital Camera. To say that this camera is spectacular would be an understatement. It was released in 2016, and since then, it has moved to the front of the pack as one of the best mirrorless cameras available. Between the X-Processor Pro Engine and the 24.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS III Sensor and the dual SD card slots, this camera will allow you to create incredible material without any effort at all.
The X-T2 produces 4K video at 30 FPS. And it has a max resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels. You’d be hard-pressed to find a downside to this camera. The only thing that we would like to see added to it may be a touch screen. But even without the touchscreen, this camera is special. It’s loved by amateurs and professionals alike, especially because it’s so easy to use, and it produces exceptional quality every time.
5. Panasonic Lumix G85 4K Digital Camera
The final camera that we’d like to recommend today is the Panasonic Lumix G85 4K Digital Camera. This camera is a fantastic mid-range mirrorless camera that will work great for both hobbyists and professionals.
This camera will let you shoot in Ultra HD 4K to give you the very best image quality possible. If there’s any limit to this camera, it’s in the 16MP Live MOS sensor. With this camera, the ISO values will go as high as 25600. That means that you can capture excellent photos, even in poor light conditions.
This camera also comes with decent battery life. You should be able to take around 320 shots on one battery cycle. However, it’s also a good idea to get a battery grip. This way, you can be sure that your camera will shoot video even over more extended periods of time.
It All Comes down to This
As you can tell, there’s a lot more involved in getting 4K into your life than just purchasing a 4K TV. You will also need a camera that can shoot in 4K. And you will likely need to upgrade your equipment too. Otherwise, you’re not doing much more than watching upconverted 1080p. That’s not too bad, but it’s also not 4K.
There’s no question that 4K is the future. So why not jump on the trend now? You’ll be glad you did. Happy shooting!