8K video is the new black, but is 4K obsolete? Is it worth throwing out your camera right now and urgently running for something that can shoot in a new format? Or maybe it’s better to wait a bit? Let’s deal with this increasingly popular video resolution together.
More recently, 8K video has become available not only on professional camcorders, but also on advanced “civilian” models. Canon became a pioneer with its EOS R5 hybrid, and a few months later Sony made its mark with its a1. Trying to keep up is Nikon, which has announced the arrival of 8K video in its upcoming Z9 full-frame mirrorless camera. In parallel, this video resolution is also becoming available for fans of shooting from the air — 8K is already in the Autel Evo II and is expected in the new DJI Mavic 3 Pro. And all this, it seems, is only the beginning of the triumphant procession of the new format.
The appearance of 8K in popular products gives manufacturers additional opportunities to distinguish their lines, and marketers a new feature that can be used in advertising. And of course, this is another way for sellers to push you to replace your old camera.
Familiar advantages of the new format
8K has a lot of positives. Content creators get better video, more options for cropping (cropping), zooming and panning in post-processing, you can save even better photos from videos, as well as add in-post stabilization and so on. Content consumers experience more detailed and sharper, more realistic video.
But it seems that we have already heard all this before … Yes, yes, manufacturers once told the same thing about 4K.
Of course, in 8K you get a lot more detail than in 4K. However, to the human eye, the differences are much less noticeable than when going from HD to 4K, especially when viewed from a standard distance (more on that below). There are several reasons for content creators to choose 8K, let’s take a closer look at them.
8K for content creators
Content creators will benefit the most from the new format and, yes, these are the same benefits we heard about when 4K became popular. An important difference is that the “default” resolution expected of videographers and content creators has shifted from HD to 4K in recent years. TVs and computer displays are getting bigger, audiences want 4K, and if you shoot video on demand, your customers may be demanding 4K even if they don’t really need it.
Shooting in 8K in this case is just another step that gives content creators more options during post-production, while still allowing you to save 4K resolution for the final product. If you need 4K for your work, it’s hard to argue with the benefits of shooting footage in the more flexible 8K resolution.
In addition to the basic crop and zoom tools, 8K expands other possibilities. Thanks to social networks and mobile devices, vertical videos are becoming more and more popular and it looks like this trend will be with us for a long time. What if you need to shoot content that needs to look equally good in both landscape and portrait orientations? At 8K, you will have enough pixels to keep 4K resolution when cropped to portrait aspect ratio. For those who need to post their work on different platforms in different formats, 8K sounds like a very interesting option.
The new resolution also allows for intra-frame panning and the addition of artificial shaking to footage (that is, adding motion effects to footage from a static camera in post-processing), while still producing a 4K final file.
Also, in theory, 8K footage will produce better 4K video due to oversampling and improved color subsampling. But with the naked eye, these improvements are almost impossible to notice — you are unlikely to see the difference between “good” and “excellent” 4K. In addition, today many cameras already receive 4K video with oversampling from the original 6K material.
Another area where 8K can be useful is in very large (or better yet huge) screens, billboards and signage. On them, the increase in resolution will be really noticeable.
Also, the new format is good for saving photos from videos. But today, many mirrorless cameras can shoot bursts in RAW at 20–30 fps, so this is hardly a serious reason to go to 8K.
Reserve for the future
The argument that your content will look good not only today, but also in the future, is made about every time a new resolution appears in cameras.
The transition from standard definition (SD) to high definition (HD) was a very big and noticeable step. It didn’t take long for SD content to appear on high-resolution screens as an artifact of a bygone era. The difference was clear and well marked. Everyone, from professionals to amateurs, quickly learned the benefits of HD. In this case, the notorious “future proof” really worked.
But the transition from HD to 4K, although it took place under the same heading, was hardly noticeable to the average user. Many top YouTubers are still filming in Full HD without any complaints from their viewers.
Very few people will be able to catch the difference between 4K and 8K by eye, unless they watch the recording from a huge screen or sitting close to the monitor. In order to see the full benefits of 8K when watching TV from a standard 3 meters, you need to get a screen with a diagonal of about 300 inches somewhere.
All of this makes the “headroom” argument for 8K a little less compelling than for previous formats. Of course, in the future we will certainly use full-wall displays (or displays instead of walls), but how relevant will our today’s content be in this happy time?
Should I shoot in 8K?
Just as it was with 4K at one time, to work with 8K you will most likely need to change not only the camera (unless you want terrible brakes and rendering for a week). Offhand — plus a more advanced computer and video card, as well as a bulky SSD. This is the most obvious thing that comes to mind, but something else will probably be needed in practice. Of course, at some point everything will be simplified, and any smartphone will be able not only to shoot in 8K (as some high-end models already do), but also process such video without any problems (this is already more difficult). In the meantime, you’ll have to pay (slightly) more. At the same time, as we discussed above, some of the advantages of the new format at the moment look very doubtful.
Also, do not forget that while TV screens are getting bigger, a huge part of the content, in particular from social networks, is viewed from miniature screens of smartphones. It is important to understand who your target audience is and what devices they use. It is unlikely that a conversational vlog will often be watched on a huge Ultra HD display.
However, if you absolutely must get your content in 4K and still want more flexibility in post, shooting in 8K has its advantages. This is an option for commercial videographers. And 8K can be interesting for independent filmmakers who want their films to look decent on any screen, including ten years from now.
Of course, one day 8K will become the new baseline standard. But today you don’t have much incentive to become one of the pioneers. You’ll get some of the same benefits that 4K promised over HD, but the payoff will be smaller, not because of technological limitations, but because of the limitations of the human eye. In addition, working with 8K files is still difficult due to their size and the resources required for processing.
Therefore, if you do not yet have any objective reasons for switching to a new format, there is not much point in chasing additional megapixels. Most likely, your audience will simply not notice the difference. But the increase in dynamic range and color reproduction is noticeable to the naked eye, but for this it is not necessary to switch to 8K.
For the foreseeable future, shooting in 8K will no longer require any additional effort and investment from you, but that time has not yet come. Might be worth the wait.
* in preparing the article, materials from the resource dpreview.com (Dale Baskin) were used.