I have been hooked on 4K the moment I first saw it in April 2012 at NAB. 18 months later we are finally shooting, editing and delivering 4K productions to the screen. This blog post is a “as-of-now” report on what we do to make it happen.
We first experimented with pulling 8.8megapixel still frames from the footage and this resulted in shooting a short piece about our foray in this area. Micro Expressions got some good traffic (100,000 views in the first week) even though it was released on Christmas day. That project didn’t come without its critics – most vocally being from people who were aghast that we called it a revolution or that we didn’t credit RED for being first to offer printable frames from a motion camera.
Hopefully the people who did take time to read the accompanying blog post would have understood that the project expressed our honest opinions a possible use for this new DSLR. The film never had any input or influence from Canon either, they were simply kind enough to lend us two cameras and let us produce what we wanted. I still stand by the fact that we are seeing the early days of a shift towards mixed media from a single source.
I think there will always be dedicated still cameras but in the next few years more images will come from both formats. And why not? Having said all that, I am a cinematographer first, not a photographer, so my main intention was always to start shooting 4K motion and deliver it. It has been painfully slow this 4K workflow roll-out and this blog is to give you a current report on our experiences so far.
Firstly I’ll discuss our experiences shooting 4K with the 1DC having coming from a DSLR (5D) background.
The first thing about migrating to the 1DC for your productions is probably the increase in body size. Ok, its not like moving to a RED or Alexia, but DSLR shooters will find the size and weight increase a little to get used to. Its a 1 series body from Canon, meaning it feels like a 5Dm3 on steroids. The weight (1.5kg/3.5lb) is 76% greater than a 5Dm3 (850g/ 1.89lb) and notably the height (16cm/6.4”) is 36% greater than the 5Dm3 (11.7cm/4.6”).
The stabilisation tools you are used to working with can become inadequate unless you are already using heavy duty models. For example, light sliders like CINEVATE’s FLT wont handle the weight of the 1DC, especially if working with sizeable lenses. I am a fan of the CINEVATE ATLAS10 for my sliding- its solid but has been the most reliable and performing slider I have owned.
I am a glidecam addict and although I manage to shoot with the HD4000 with the 1DC, it takes some more grunt and work on your shoulder to manage it. You will also need to increase the weights on the bottom of the glidecam to accommodate the additional load on top.
If you use an eyepiece like the ZACUTO Z-Finder, you will need a “Tall DSLR” frame upgrade to fit the new height of your camera. Finally, if you have gotten away with super light tripods in the past, once shooting with a 1DC and assumed 70-200mm lens, you’ll find yourself pushing the limits of your sticks. Manfrotto’s HDV561 monopod just handles the 1DC, however the new 500 series monopod from Manfrotto with its heavier head, will be welcomed.
Upgrading one’s stabilisation kit is probably often overlooked by people’s excitement for moving up to the 1DC. To get the most out any camera system, you must invest in adequate supporting gear.
TIPS WHEN SHOOTING IN 4K with the 1DC
1. Your attention to detail has to enhance. In the past, clutter in the background of your shots, imperfections in your talent’s appearance, wouldn’t be noticed. But with 4K, everything is suddenly there for everyone to see. A hair dangling out of place, or even some fine dust on your lens can be picked up with incredible clarity. Whilst this is the reason some are of the view 4K isn’t the way to go, for me its just a reason to be more disciplined in my productions. There are ways to shoot to reduce the digital sharpness that 4K can bring, and most of that comes down to your lens and depth of field choices. I think now, more than ever, its time to shoot with the best quality glass you can afford and if you want to reduce the “too sharp it hurts” affect, then trend towards lenses that can give deeper compression of the image (like telephotos) and reduce your DOF by opening up your aperture. This I do by using high quality filters (both ND and Polarizers) – my choice being the Tiffen range. They are superbly manufactured and don’t affect the white balance of your image (unless you start to use extremely dense NDs)
2. Focus become more critical than ever
In the past, getting a subject just slightly out of focus could be included in a scene and go by unnoticed. Not in 4K. Even the slightest degree of being out of focus will strike the eye very quickly. So practising your focus pulling has never been more needed.
3. 4K doesn’t mean your productions automatically increase in production value. Sloppy shooting, as always will remain that way. And I believe this is even more pronounced when the images are so crisp. A bump on a tracking shot will scream out to you in 4K, as will a wobble from a tripod bump. It may not in camera, but once you playback your material on a 65inch screen you will be harshly reminded. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!
4. 1DC contrast quirk – like shooting with all Canon DSLR’s I like to reduce the contrast of the image in the picture profile settings. This flattens out the contrast a little producing a greater dynamic range. The much hyped Canon-log feature I have found to be incredibly flat, so much so that I cant bring the image contrast back in post to an acceptable level. The camera isn’t shooting raw, and I just believe you should let the camera’s internal processors do the job they were designed for. (if only with a slight nudge in the lower contrast direction via picture profile).
We have all heard about the greedy data requirements of the 1DC, and its true: it hogs media. Its a pretty simple formula – you need to spend on new cards.
I have not recorded to anything but the SANDISK 128G 100MBS cards with the 1DC (for shooting 4k that is, if shooting 1080P, then your standard “small” cards will work just fine). With 30 minutes of footage only per 128G card, the math is quite simple. If you are shooting commercial work, then around 4 cards will probably manage your requirements, especially if running a download station on set. But if you are shooting events and weddings, then the idea of managing with only 4 cards becomes a fairy tail.
Our first real 4K wedding shoot took place in Santorini Greece in August this year. I say real, because the test shoots were controlled and we had more crew and assistants on board. The wedding in Santorini was shot with two shooters, Wissam Abdallah and myself, and we had to manage our data and shoot simultaneously.
We had six 128G cards on this shoot, which in hindsight was really stretching it. We had two 1DC’s for the trip and 2 x Download laptops. Over a USB3 connection, you will experience at best 100MBS download, but usually more like 70MBS-90MBS to your hard drive. So a typical download takes appox 30minutes. That is equal to the time it takes to fill up a card when recording. We took two laptops so we could obviously capture two cards at one time.
On this 4K wedding shoot we just had enough cards to get us through shooting the morning preps, ceremony and location shoot. Once at the reception we began downloading the data and recycling the cards through the night. Its not something I enjoy doing, so in time I will invest in several more cards, enough to cover an entire wedding shoot without having to reuse a card on the shoot. Currently these CF’s are still prohibitively expensive, but we all know they will certainly become cheaper.
With the Darren Jew Whale shoot in Tonga for Canon Australia, we found that six cards was more than enough for a day’s filming. The dual CF slot is brilliant for extending the time between having to reload, especially when shooting with an underwater housing.
Understandably, the total volume of data you will accrue when shooting with the 1DC will be substantial. For a typical three camera wedding shooting 1080P, we would normally shoot around 100G or so of data. With only two 1DC’s we shot around 1.2TB. And we didn’t overshoot, if anything we were tighter with our coverage as to not unnecessarily fill up cards. So the other cost that needs to be factored in is the increased storage dedicated to backup each 4K production.
We have successfully edited 4K content on Adobe Premiere CS6 and Edius7. For RED footage, the clear choice is Premiere as it has been well designed to handle the REDCineX codec and even allow direct manipulation of the Metadata source settings from within Premiere. But seeing as this is a 1DC focused blog, we’ll stick with Edius. Edius7 is not a hugely used NL software, but for the people who do work with it, love it. We have been editing with Edius for the past five years, having come from Premiere, and its been certainly the most stable and reliable editing program I’ve used. IT also has great power in mixing formats on the same timeline. Having said that, Premiere has come forward leaps and bounds in the past couple of years. (ever since FinalCut self-destructed) so I’d probably rate them equally now. If you want to read more about the awesomeness of Edius, you should check out the great blog of cinematographer Matt Scott who is an Edius wizard.
But as of the time of writing this blog, Edius7 is the only NL software I’m aware of that can handle the native 4K (4096x 2160) files from the 1DC. You will need a fairly beefy machine to handle the files without lag, with the recommended specs found on the Edius website.
When setting up your project in Edius7 to your 1DC footage, its fairly straight forward. Choose 4096×2160 as the resolution. One big piece of advice I can give PC users is to ensure your system drive for your computer is a SSD with at least 500MBS of read/write speeds and also install a second equally rated SSD as a dedicated drive for your windows page file. This will see a big increase in the performance of your programs. I would also recommend raiding your media drives together (ensure HD speeds of 7200RM) for increased speed. I have mentioned these suggestions as they don’t appear on the Edius7 recommended specs page and I have found through experience that it makes a huge difference.
Of course there are people who have found that editing in proxy mode is speedier and more efficient, however I prefer to have a workflow that sees us editing with the native files, in their full 4K glory.
This is the area of production that I enjoy the least. We all know exporting correctly is super important, but at the same time its just plain dull. But through much trial and error, here are the settings that we have found work best with the 1DC.
Our best results so far has been to export a H264 MP4 with a data rate of around 50MBS. The most important thing to remember when exporting for playback on an Ultra-def display is that you will need to slightly downsample the size from 4096 x 2160 (aspect 1.896) to 3840 x 2160 (16:9). This is because the majority of 4K TVS are standardised not to the Digital Cinema Initiatives agreed 4K, but to 16:9 4K which is called UHD (Ultra high definition) which kind of makes sense to keep the frame size the same as most current TV’s on the market.
If you are in love with the Super35 aspect ration of the 1DC, then export at 3840 x 2025 and you will have small black bars top and bottom but will remain true to the aspect. I personally would just resize to 16:9 for a more pleasing look.
Please note: The black bars top and bottom on the embedded vimeo links in this blog are just a word-press blog quirk (if anyone know’s how to avoid these please let me know!) When watching these films on our vimeo channel you will notice they don’t have this letterbox effect.
EXPORTING TO HD FROM 4K:
Firstly, you must remember that 4K footage that is produced by the 1DC is shot in the Super35 Aspect ratio (1.896) so export settings that you may have saved for your usual applications like Vimeo and PlayStation need to be adjusted.
The main one being frame size. When down-sampling to HD remember to adjust the height of the clip by the same ratio as the width. So your 1920 file will remain that width but the height needs to be adjusted to 1012 (not 1080) It will result in a narrower or skinnier export which is the Super35 one. Thankfully Vimeo automatically recognises the aspect of files uploaded to it so there is nothing different about sending it online. (when exporting to the narrower aspect of 2:1 – which has been recently popularised by RED – you need to make this number 960. If you prefer the narrower look of 2:1, then there is no problem exporting your wider 1DC footage to this aspect, just ensure you tick the option to “crop” to fit this new aspect ratio, not resize to fit. And of course you’ll want to check that head-room and framing isn’t negatively affected buy this stripping of image top and bottom.
This film above was down-sampled to S35-HD (1920×1012) from the original 1DC 4K (4096×2160)
MEGABYTES PER SECOND:
There is a heck of a lot of information that is being lost when stripping away resolution so you want to keep a high bitrate (at least 50MBS) to retain as much clarity through less compression as possible. it goes without saying that 2 PASS VBR encoding with maximum depth is recommended.
If you cheat by encoding with less quality can result in horrible banding through your shots, especially where graduated exposure occurs like skies and in water.
One of the most frustrating thing about the release of all these fantastic 4K displays (actually most are Ultra-Def and “only” display 3840×2160) is that they haven’t offered any kind of 4K playback device for actually watching content! We are finally seeing a slow roll-out of 4K media players from the likes of RED (REDRAY) and SONY’S PlayStation4, but that “coming soon” tag hasn’t helped all of those content creators who impatiently want to revel in our 4k footage now.
The day I saw the release of genuine 4K media players from Nuvola I ordered one. It arrived a couple of weeks ago and we immediately went to work hooking it up to our 4K Samsung 65inch F9000. After some a few hours of messing about with settings, we finally got our content playing back on the screen to an acceptable a quality. What through me for a while was as simple as the refresh rate. Being in Australia, we run on 50Hz power system (the US is 60Hz) and of course that is the main reason the US television standard is 30FPS (or 29.97 to be exact) and here in Aus we have 25FPS.
The Nuvola NP-H1 is a great little mini-computer, which I suggest you get pre-installed with Windows7 and their 250G SSD. Its literally setup plug-and-play and for those of you in the US, it will immediately begin playing back 4K clips on your screen when powered up. (in Australia, you’ll find these clips lag due to your TV’s refresh rate – you’ll need to install your own content).
In the coming months many players will become available which is a great thing for all of us in production.
WHY SHOOT 4K NOW?
Here is my top reasons why you should shoot 4K now:
IT JUST LOOKS SO DAMN GOOD
Ok, not the most technical of answers, but you know what – I have listed this first for a reason. I think 4K rocks. I love it and Io love being passionate about my craft.
And of course that passion for what we do can become worn-down. How many of you found your passion for filmmaking re-ignited when DSLR’s first appeared? Remember how that excitement rubbed off on your clients? Passion can be infectious, and I have found the same thing happening again with 4K. I’ve even upgraded people to 4K production before even being able to show then the difference on screen, that’s how powerful genuine passion can be. (it also probably helps that every 2nd tv ad today is hyping-up 4K TVS!)
4K (SORRY, ULTRA-DEF) TVS ARE GETTING CHEAP – FAST!
TVS that offer 4K playback are dropping in price so fast that soon I believe all displays will become standard as 4K. Most films and a large number of high end Television shows like Breaking Bad and House of Cards have been shot in 4K. Unlike 3D, I do believe that higher resolutions are here to stay and will become more mainstream. It could be argued that ultra-definitions are more suited to documentary and wildlife films, not dramas. Whilst I can understand that argument – why do we need to see the pore marks on the nose of the actor? – but instead i’d like to think production techniques will adapt to the new format and make steps to ensure they work to its strengths and weaknesses. I remember when HD became more widespread in TV productions. Suddenly makeup and set-design had to lift their game and become more subtle otherwise cracks in both could be picked up easily by the viewer!
I think it is a wise move to insure your projects will still be technically relevant in years to come. How could I have gone to the Artic or Africa this year and not shot everything in 4K? I would only regret not having useable footage for future projects and increasing the longevity of the projects we complete today. Its for the same reasons that television shows are being produced in 4K today despite the added costs.
4K PRODUCED SUPERB HD
There is a very noticeable look to a production delivered in 4K that was originally shot in 4K. The HD that results from downsampling the high resolution original is a lovely off-shoot benefit. Its called “super sampling” or “oversampling an image and reaping a superior HD master. Its comparable to scanning 35mm film and showing it in HD. People who have watched our HD exports have asked if they are watching 4K. That says it all.
MORE OPTIONS IN EDIT
The ability to crop into your picture for either re-framing, horizon correction or stabilisation is impressively advantageous. Finally we have some of the options available to our motion images that photographers have enjoyed with their stills for years.
BUILD 4K STOCK
Stock libraries around the world like Getty and T3Media are crying out for more 4Kcontent for their libraries. Its like the playing field has been levelled again and what were once extensive collections are having to be re-stocked with new material shot in higher resolution. So its a great time to start building your collection and benefit from selling online with limited competition.
In my opinion, if you are already producing in 4K and not taking full advantage of being an early adopter by actually playing back your 4K footage to new clients – you are squandering a big opportunity. Its called a “honeymoon period” for early adopters, where you find yourself being able to command a premium due to relatively little competition. (The same thing happens when people buy expensive new camera systems and rent them out at a high rate before the market becomes flooded.)
I hope this article helps those who are starting out in 4K production with the 1DC and saves you many hours of setting-tweaking. If you would like to learn more about shooting in 4K then you should really consider joining our Cinematography workshop taking place in Africa this year. Watch the promo film below or visit the link above for more info on this exciting in-the-field workshop taking place in June 2014.
We promised to post more regularly next year with a load of new projects from around the world.
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