What’s the Point of 4K Video in a Quality Still Camera?

By RUSSELL

You see it on photography forums all the time: “Look at the 13MP Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone. It has the ability to record 4K video. Well, 5 minutes at a time. Why doesn’t the (Nikon/Canon/Sony…) professional still camera do this?”

4K resolution… | Lynn's Audio Video
4K resolution… | Lynn’s Audio Video
Really? The big manufacturers of professional quality digital still cameras should pour millions of dollars into making sure their mass-marketed gear can produce 4K video, instead of just broadcast quality HD 1080p? Before they’ve worked out a 24-70mm F2 zoom?

Was just thinking about all the 4K videos my friends with Samsung Galaxy Note 3’s (Amazon/eBay) are producing. You know, the smartphone they used to film the sequel to “Avatar.” How groundbreaking and brilliant to finally put major-motion-picture-level film capability into the machines… that are purchased by the tens of millions to play Angry Birds and send selfies.

OK, just kidding about Avatar II being filmed on a smartphone. It’s actually being filmed in 3D, using an array of Logitech webcam equipped, self-organizing Roomba vacuum cleaners.

OK, perhaps some of the above claims are not perfectly accurate. But it is perfectly accurate to point out that when my niece was learning to write in first grade, her attempts to write both capital and lower case letters would not have improved, had I given her the exact set of oil paints and brushes Rembrandt used in 1642 to produce The Night Watch.

Like so many of us living in Southern Ohio, my 6-year-old niece would have had trouble maintaining good color balance in the shadow areas. |  Rembrandt / The Night Watch
Like so many of us living in Southern Ohio, my 6-year-old niece would have had trouble maintaining good color balance in the shadow areas. | Rembrandt / The Night Watch

So let’s consider the skill set, experience, inclination, storytelling ability, source concepts and material, lighting, audio recording equipment, microphones, storyboards, control of background vistas and ambient noise, camera dollys, tracks, gyroscopic stabilization and other camera holding equipment, ease of reproduction and viewing, storage media and communication bandwidth, editing tools and computer power, teams of grips, assistants and talent managers, editors, directors and sound effects people to scratch the surface of what is needed beyond the demands of a good still photographer, to produce the quality of films that anyone would care whether or not they were produced in 4K video instead of mere 1080p HD…

Those do-justice-to-4K-film-making resources, efforts and talent are as about as available to the typical stills photographer (who rarely brings themselves to spend $15 dollars on a white card), as my 6-year-old niece…

She's all grown up now. | RussellInCincinnati
She’s all grown up now. | RussellInCincinnati

…was close to producing something like Rembrandt’s The Night Watch during grade school recess.

I’m all for pretending that if you buy an object that has something in common with a great piece of art that you admire, you’ve almost become a world-renowned artist. Why else would I be saving up for the same diamond-edged filleting knife that Wolfgang Puck uses to prepare canard à l’orange?

But please Canon, Cosina, Fujifilm, Leica, MxCamera/Metabones, Nikon, Olympus, Ricoh/Pentax, Samsung, Sigma, Sony, please do not divert manufacturing and marketing resources away from making faster, brighter, more flare-resistant, lighter and smaller lenses and camera bodies and adapters, with perfect clarity in ever-lower light, to instead bringing 4K video into the finest and most compact still cameras.

Still photographers have absolutely no idea how (nor personal capability) to make a Hollywood quality movie. Even if we did have the slightest idea of how to make such a big screen epic, there are only a few thousand teams of people in the world that would be held back in their filmmaking potential by having anything better than perfect-quality 1080p HD video and slow motion capability.

Still photographers use their equipment to record things they stumble upon in the world. 4K video cameras are what a few teams of people might use, over a period of weeks or months, in due justice to a rush of greatness, to create a convincing world and a living, breathing story within that world. Those are different activities, one done by billions, the other done by thousands, calling for quite different tools.

I guess still cameras use digital image sensors, “just like” big screen crews nowadays build their team and work around a metal device enclosing a digital image sensor.

I guess my niece could have used a paintbrush to learn how to write cursive, just like Rembrandt probably used a paint brush to make The Blinding Of Samson. But please, let’s not reduce the number of teachers in the public schools or slow down the development of ever-lower-light still cameras in order to make sure all the Head Start kids and SLR-carrying photographers in the world, have access to 4K video equipment.

Occasionally I stumble across nice pictures like this, taken by a single human, in a single minute, with equipment that drapes comfortably across a single shoulder. Will probably never accidentally film any hour-long 4K movies this good, some evening, even if I get a really big Memory Stick. | RussellInCincinnati
Occasionally I stumble across nice pictures like this, taken by a single human, in a single minute, with equipment that drapes comfortably across a single shoulder. Will probably never accidentally film any hour-long 4K movies this good, some evening, even if I get a really big Memory Stick. | RussellInCincinnati



  • Bengt Nyman

    I don’t shoot video at all. If I did I would buy a quality video camera. Contaminating a top quality still camera with rudimentary video should be a crime.

  • Andy Umbo

    I have a few friends that made their living entirely off of video and cinema production and photography for over 35 years, they say that they would never buy a “hybrid” camera, there are so many excellent digital video cameras designed and set up to work for cinematographers, using the historic language, terms, and settings; and reasonably priced, that “futzing” with hybrid cameras are a waste of time.

    They’re not interested in taking stills, or having any still capabilities! The “hybrid” camera is a sales features for amateurs and journalism pros that are being made to shoot a few minutes of video on their assignments to be posted on the web-site. Got a journalism buddy that’s been forced to do this, and it’s a drag, since he’s NOT a videographer, nor has any interest in being one; it’s what he needs to do, to keep his job! He said when they force him to do it, they get “pro” still work and amateur video…

  • Bengt Nyman

    Give him a nice video camera for Christmas.

  • Michael D

    This was at least cleverer than most rants, but I still fail to understand what’s wrong with a company dropping some crumbs from other important development projects that have someting to do with some particular other device into the laps of people who mostly don’t want or need them. It’s certainly a fallacy to believe that if they weren’t making a Note 3 they wouldn’t be developing 4K video, and that they blew millions of research dollars on a feature Note 3 users won’t use. They tossed you a treat from some other project–don’t complain so much.

    People were making the same whine about video in the new Nikon Df–would it really have been that harmful to world peace and happiness if they’d spent the 27 cents or so per camera to put in the software for video that they had already developed for other cameras? No, it wouldn’t. But photogs had a real whine-fest complaining about the possibility.

    To believe that Samsung’s video developers could have been redeployed to designing faster zoom lenses, or some other feature you want more, or maybe taking out the trash that’s piling up in that particular corner of the building, is just silly thinking. Heck, for all you know, they’re mass testing some feature of 4K in a way and in quantities that they never could do in any other way, before they start turning out some $25,000 mistake based on it.

    Really, what is it about the photo community that they feel the need to whine about getting new features? That’s just pathological.

  • RussellInCincinnati

    [Michael D]: “This was at least cleverer than most rants…That’s just pathological.”
    *************************
    Flattery will get you everywhere, perhaps choose one of the above?

    [Michael D]: “It’s certainly a fallacy to believe …about a Note 3…To believe that Samsung’s video developers could have been redeployed to designing faster zoom lenses”
    *************************
    Ah, the emperor has no scan lines. Yes, you’ve blown the lid off this story. The foolish author wasn’t thinking of re-allocating design/manufacturing/testing/marketing/support “budgets” to something more useful than 4K video–but instead was literally calling for sensor and video support chipset and software scientists and marketers and support people, be reassigned forthwith to creating zoom lenses.

    And how pathological of the articles’ author, to think that it might cost any money for a large corporation to add (design build test market support) quality 4K video hardware and firmware to any of their carefully-designed still cameras.

    After all surely all the fine still cam sensors and custom image processing CPU pipelines in the world already read out 4K video effortlessly, with just as good quality (in all the details of dynamic range, moire/aliasing resistance, scan line sub-sampling/binning, compression formats, enhanced in-camera playback facilities, etc etc that serious video people are interested in) as current still sensors’ couldn’t-be-better 1080p output. And thank goodness there’s no possibility that the increased heat dissipation from reading and handling more data, more quickly, could crowd even $10 dollars out of the hardware budgets and spatial constraints of future cameras.

    (Note article mentioned the value, in still cameras, of perfect and well-featured 1080p, confining itself to merely making fun of 4K).
    *

    [Michael D]: “People were making the same whine about video in the new Nikon Df”
    *******************
    Ah, your point proven, since some of these articles’ words have actually appeared on the web in other sentences that you have not liked, either. Once the “whiner” etc name-calling starts, surely you will also remember to (a) tell us about the still photographers you know that will sell their 4K video cameras, when 4K appears in their still cams and (b) link us to the slightest evidence of your own still photography skills?
    *

    [Michael D]: “Heck, for all you know, they’re mass testing some feature of 4K in a way and in quantities that they never could do in any other way, before they start turning out some $25,000 mistake based on it.”
    ****************
    Good point. Why don’t still photographers rejoice at the possibility of being unpaid testers, for things that will eventually end up in the fine video cameras we don’t care about?
    *

    [Michael D]: “Really, what is it about the photo community that they feel the need to whine about getting new features?”
    *******************

    Yes, that homogeneous group of weak thinkers. How dare we not wish that the best cameras get cracking on the ability to read credit cards.