Does anyone remember the 3D TV craze a few years ago? The one where people dished out $150 for special glasses to wear at home so the TV image would “come alive?”
The whole 3D craze didn’t quite pan out the way some “experts” expected, but it wasn’t the first nor the last technology hype to grace us. These days, that role has been filled by the term “4K.”
4K simply means 4000, referencing the amount of pixels the resolution offers. 4K is actually 3840×2160 pixels, but that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily in product advertisements.
4K technology has found a prominent home in many major manufacturer’s product lines. From televisions, computers, tablets, and cameras, 4K is often seen as the next evolution beyond HD.
We’re still waiting to see whether it will replace HD eventually, But it’s hard to argue with its increased presence. The camera market, in particular, has seen an increase in 4K sensors and capabilities.
If you feel yourself hankering for some of that 4K camera goodness, hold on and take a breath. There’s a few things to understand about what 4K really means when it comes to your camera.
4K Cameras & Photographers
Let’s start with this: 4K isn’t the latest and greatest in photography.
4K and photography have a bizarro world relationship: 4K is small in this world.
4K is about 8 megapixels. Most cameras these days can shoot images three to four times that amount. Compared to modern photos, 8 megapixels were the best we could hope for ten years ago on a camera phone.
If a camera is trying to use the 4K label as a selling point, it’s nothing but hype.
However, that doesn’t mean a 4K camera is useless for photography. Many cameras now include a 4K photo mode which will take around 30 4K images per second.
This makes an excellent burst mode if you are trying to freeze action like in sports and wildlife photography. In general, the faster you can take a photo, the clearer the image will be. This lets you minimize things like motion blur.
4K & Video
4K is all about high-quality video, and it’s hard to argue with the evidence. If the stars align correctly, meaning everyone has a 4K capable screen, this resolution brings videos to the next level. Details are as sharp as you can get with technology today without spending a fortune on an 8K camera.
If you don’t have the right screen to view a 4K video on, it’s only going to appear in regular HD. Given that only a few sources will stream 4K content, it’s hard to guarantee you will always find the right audience.
You can also look forward to larger file sizes when shooting in 4K. Because 4K is more data than HD, you will either be restricted to shorter videos or will need to carry a lot of extra SD cards. If you’re okay with the space requirements, 4K might be right up your alley.
The lack of a 4K screen isn’t a deal breaker either. Having 4K footage can be great to work with while editing a video.
Since 4K is a higher resolution, there is a lot of extra space to work with if the final product is going to be in HD. 4K footage allows you to crop and scale video like an image. You can reframe a shot, zoom in on specific areas, or otherwise create interesting effects that would require reshooting the footage in normal HD.
The Final Answer
By now, you should know where I’m going with all of this. The answer to whether 4K is right for you is simply: it depends.
First, and most important, make sure you understand what 4K means for your own needs. Whether you’re a photographer or videographer, the 4K resolution is going to offer something different than normal camera capabilities.
Second, make sure you are prepared for the additional space the 4K resolution requires. Whether it’s more SD cards or specialized computer screens, 4K technology has its own set of demands and needs.
Finally, avoid the hype of the term 4K. 4K cameras can do a few extra things other cameras can’t, but they aren’t magic.
They can expand your creative possibilities if you are willing to learn something new. If you’re happy with what you can produce on your current equipment, then a 4K camera might turn out to be an extra expense you don’t need.
Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Choose wisely or simply go out and try one. You might find that it’s completely pointless but still worth the money just to have those two enticing characters gleaming on the side of your camera.