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What is 4K UHD?

Shooting and mastering 4k uhd

Producing television content in 4K UHD (Ultra High Definition) means you have a few more things to think about compared to a standard HD production. 4K UHD content delivers stunning results, whether you’re future proofing your assets or already delivering full 4K UHD final shows. But shooting 4K UHD can be a little more complex than a HD production and a little more expensive, adding anything up to around 35% onto the production budget.


 Many of today’s cameras can shoot 4K but your choice of camera, as always, should be dictated by your budget, workflow and final deliverables. If money is no object and you have a large crew and plenty of time in post, shooting with the Arri Alexa 65 or Sony F65 enables you to capture some of the highest quality pictures possible. Here’s an overview of the most widely used cameras at different price points and some observations that might help your choice:

Shooting the Very Best Possible Images 

  • The Arri Alexa SXT is the gold standard for television drama. As with our other Arri cameras, the camera records up to 3.4K or 3.2K Pro Res 4444 (XQ), so for 4K or 4K UHD you need to up-sample 1.2x. 
  • The Arri Amira is widely used for drama and commercials, as well as high-end factual productions. 
  • The Arri Alexa Mini delivers very impressive 4K UHD results in the same way as the Alexa and Amira, although it has a limited toolset compared to the Alexa SXT. The Mini has the advantage of being small, lightweight and flexible. You’ll find many drama DoPs opting to have at least one Mini on set. 
  • The Red Dragon and Red Weapon are both well thought of, shooting RAW R3D in 6K or 8K. Red is hugely popular in the USA and gives a different look to the Arri cameras, with the Arri being thought of as more filmic and the Red as more clinical. 
  • The Panasonic Varicam 35 is late to market but increasing in popularity, particularly for drama and natural history. This is a camera where a bolt-on recorder is strongly recommended for high-end results, although the Varicam has a useful proxy file recording option in-camera for immediate viewing (and editing) purposes. 
  • And no list of mid to high-end cameras is complete without the Sony F55, which has become something of a broadcast workhorse. For the best results it is recommended that you use the AXS – R5 RAW recorder.

Factual and Corporate Heavyweights 

Dominating the middle ground are the two most popular hire cameras in their class: the competitively priced Sony FS7 and the Canon C300 Mk II (the follow-up to arguably the most successful broadcast camera of the past half decade). Both shoot in 4K and are good options for mid-range broadcast projects.

In the Palm of your Hand 

At the lower end of the market, the Sony A7S and Panasonic GH4 provide exceptional image quality, particularly for macro work. Both also have the added benefit for fast-paced Movi and grip shots and shooting in tight spaces. Their sensors are exceptionally sensitive in low light too. However, both cameras are limited in scope when thinking about lens options. Amazing value for money, but limitations mean they aren’t always well suited for use as the main camera for 4K and 4K UHD projects.


Lenses are as important a consideration as cameras when shooting 4k. Lens choice should both be dictated by budget and your desired final look. Vendors have made a big thing about ‘4K glass’, but by and large, this is simply marketing speak. The issue here is how fast the lenses are for light to travel through to reach the sensor. The lower the T number, the better, with zooms generally having a handicap in this regard. The lens adaptor (for example PL to EF) also makes the lens a stop or two slower.

Too Much Information 

4K UHD is very unforgiving of poor camera work and a slightly out of focus shot will scream at you from the post suite. So, ensure you have a very good DoP or camera operator. 

Another issue aggravated when shooting 4K UHD at 25fps is stepping, where the additional resolution only intensifies the juddering movement of straight lines when panning or zooming. 

Producers who have shot 4K UHD also comment on how the additional super-vivid resolution can be distracting or simply provides ‘too much information’. Considerations have to be made regarding better set design, make-up and how your subjects are shot, particularly in close-up.

Thinking Ahead 

Even in 4K UHD, you are still making numerous compromises from shoot to final delivery. This is worth thinking about ahead of filming. Having consulted with us and your post house, you might want to run some camera tests to check out various workflows and recording options. For example, if shooting on the Sony F55, the AXS R5 RAW recorder delivers a far crisper, cleaner image than shooting on SxS cards recording 4K XAVC in camera.

Data, Data, Data 

With 4x the resolution, you need 4x the media and storage. An FS7 shooting on a 128GB card can only record around 40 minutes 4K XAVC, which is a pretty compressed 4K image. With the AXS-R5 at minimum compression (2.4GB/s), the shooting time on a 512GB card is only 20 minutes. 

Using media cards, as you might have used tape on a long shoot, is not an option due to it being too cost prohibitive. So you have to copy your rushes across and back them up at the end of the day’s shoot and someone needs to be responsible and accountable for this.

Ahead of Post 

Viewing your 4K rushes in 4K UHD when mastering is, of course, desirable, but the majority of Soho post houses don’t yet have 4K monitoring. They tend to charge a premium for 4K suite work with additional charges again for 4K ingest, export and final file deliverables. A typical compositing or grading session will also add time and money because the render times are a lot longer. You’ll not only want a Grade 1 monitor (like the Sony BVM-X300) but you’ll also want a 4K UHD television to see what it looks like on a consumer set. The Grade 1 monitor tends to mislead with the very best colour and resolution reproduction, so you might find your production looks a little disappointing when later seen on a consumer 4K UHD television. 

Doing as much in-house ahead of going into a post house is highly recommended. You can edit and playback 4K content on a reasonably powerful home desktop or even laptop, using standard editing packages such as Adobe Premiere, Apple FCP X and Avid Media Composer. This is an invaluable way to keep your post costs under control. From Red 6 and 8K, you can reframe, crop, zoom and create your own 4K UHD passes. 

Why shoot in 4K, if I’m not mastering in 4K? 

  • There are many reasons, including: 
  • Better resolution, even once down-converted. 
  • More pixels and accurate information for vfx work. 
  • Flexibility to reframe and create your own HD moves within the 4, 6 or even 8K frame. 
  • Future-proofing: enhancing the long-term value of your assets ahead of future requests for re-mastering. 
angenieux, Leitz, Blackmagicdesign, Sony, ARRI, Canon, ZEISS, Panasonic, SIGMA, Cooke, RED

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