By Sam Measure, Technical Consultant, CVP
2020 was meant to be the year of 8K. NHK had spent over a decade planning for the Tokyo Olympics and its mission to be able to shoot and deliver it in its 8K Super Hi-Vision format has progressed from the fringes of science-fiction fantasy to sound practical solution with amazing speed.
Sadly, of course, it is not meant to be; we will have to (hopefully) wait until 2021 to see the Games in their full 8K glory. But one of the consequences of the broadcaster’s single-minded determination to pull the rest of the industry up to the format’s standards is that 8K is a legitimate choice now for high-end shooting where the budget allows.
One of the main arguments for its use harks back to the introduction of HD, and that is oversampling; that it is always better to shoot at higher resolutions than you are going to deliver. The theory being that the more information you start with, including color gamut and dynamic range, the better the final quality of the picture, especially when you take into account that down the line various codecs will be algorithmically deciding what parts of the picture should be thrown away.
This is a rule that has held true all the way down the line, from shooting in HD for SD, 2K for HD, 4K for 2K, and now 8K for 4K. So many of the processes we are used to in modern shooting—low pass filters, debayering and more—reduce resolution, so starting with as high a pixel count as possible is always going to be an advantage further in the production process.
How Soon is Now?
No one is really saying that every 8K shoot now is likely to be watched in 8K anytime soon—though that future proofing argument is always there in the background and should not be discounted—but you will get a much better deliverable at any format as a result. And for anyone shooting for VFX work, that extra detail is going to lead to much cleaner composites, even if the VFX work itself is being done at lower resolutions.
Beyond the technical, there are plenty of creative reasons for shooting at 8K as well. Reframing is one of them. More pixels gives you more image to move round in post, allowing a cinematographer to correct any errors in framing that might have crept in on set or even change direction on the composition of a shot entirely. Filming wildlife? Your position can be that bit further away than before. Digital pans and zooms are similar processes and can give some really fantastic looking results in post.
In a similar way you can even use it as a bit of a cheat to shoot what looks like A Roll and B Roll at the same time; cropping in and reframing, for example, a talking head to give you a substantially different looking shot.
Stabilization is another key advantage. 8K simply gives you more pixels to play with and allows you to zoom in to the image as many software packages insist without soften- ing it more than is strictly necessary. It’s also worth thinking of the still images that you can get out of it. Each frame of an 8K video is essentially a 32+ megapixel image, which is why it looks so great as a still image.
Read more: Your 8K Ecosystem is Almost Ready
However, the biggest drawback is the amount of data. This is a good point to mention as it brings us on to the question of budget. That storage requirement alone hints at costs and it is undeniable that shooting 8K is more expensive in terms of cameras, in terms of lenses and in terms of storage. There is less choice of gear and what is available is expensive, and there is less choice of expertise in using it. It also requires a fair amount of grunt further down the line when it comes to the post process, especially if you want to have anything like realtime playback while working natively with 8K files.
That said, though costs are falling all the time, experience is ramping up, and the creative advantages are definitely starting to outweigh the financial negatives, especially up at the high end.
2020 might not have managed to deliver an 8K Olympics, but as the year progresses and the industry can get out once more and start shooting again, it might deliver more 8K productions, albeit ones destined initially, at least, for a 4K audience.