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Not sure about the difference between HD and 4K? Video resolutions used to be a transparent setting that filmmakers understood clearly. With cameras pushing the threshold of picture quality, it’s important to know how such developments are affecting your shooting experience. Here’s a closer look at one of the most controversial topics floating around the film industry today.

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Aspect Ratio and Dimensions

The best way to understand what you’re looking at is by tackling the basics of aspect ratio and screen resolution. Firstly, video files are commonly measured by pixels. For example, if you have a clip that is 640 x 480, it means that the dimensions of the file are 640 pixels wide by 480 pixels high. Aspect ratio refers to the ratio of the width to the height. So in this case, your aspect ratio in the example is 4:3. To arrive at this figure, simply divide 640 by 480. Other names for this setting are Standard Definition (SD) or 480p.

To streamline compatibility for computer monitors and television screens, it is recommended to use industry-standard aspect ratios. These include the following settings:

  • High Definition (HD)- 1280 x 720, 16:9 or 720p
  • Full HD- 1920 x 1080, 16:9 or 1080p
  • 2K- 2048 x 1152, 1:1.77
  • Ultra HD (UHD)- 3840 x 2160, 16:9 or 2160p
  • DCI 4K- 4096 x 2160, 1:1.9 or 4K

Note: Some cameras shoot up to 8K, but it’s not best practice to deliver content at those levels, at least not yet.

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4K Shooting and Camera Gear

You’ve probably heard of the term “4K” being thrown around by television and smartphone manufacturers. Most people want devices that are 4K-capable without knowing why. That’s because commercials and sales representatives often add unnecessary adjectives to the description, which can be confusing for individuals who aren’t familiar with the loosely used term. Based on the listing above, this simply means a video frame that is at least 4000 pixels wide. Such settings are roughly four times higher in resolution compared to 1080p. The changes can only be seen when using electronics that are capable of displaying that level of picture quality.

When filming, you need to consider the capabilities of your camera. If you’re aiming to shoot at 4K resolutions, your investment will be in a shooter that can, at the minimum, handle superior UHD. If you want to future-proof your gear for the next five to seven years, a savvy 4K camera is the way to go. With that being said, you should also be prepared to shell out between $1,200-8,000 for one. Below is a list of 4K shooters (thanks Alik Griffin for the compilation):

  • Panasonic- GH4, FZ1000, Varicam 35, HC-X1000, AG-DVX200, HC-WX970, HC-WX870, A500 POV Cam, DMC-CM1, LX100
  • Sony- A7s, A7r II, PMW-F55, NEX-FS700RH, PXW-FS7, FDR-AX1, PXW-Z100, FDR-AX100, FDR-AX33, RX100 IV, RX10mk II
  • Samsung- NX1, NX500
  • Canon- XC10, 1DC, C500, C300 MK II
  • Leica- S (Type 007), D-Lux (Type 109)
  • BlackMagic- Production 4K, Ursa, Micro Studio
  • Red Cinema- Weapon, Epic Dragon, Scarlett Dragon
  • Arri Cinema- Alexa, Alexa XT, Alexa Plus, Alexa MT M, XT Studio, Alexia Mini
  • Vision- Phantom Flex4K
  • Kinefinity- Kinemax
  • JVC- GY-HM200, GY-HM200U, GY-HM170E compact, GY-LS300
  • GoPro- Hero 4
  • DJI Drones- Phantom 3, Inspire 1
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