Modern cameras offer many resolutions. Why are there so many options and what should you include for your project?
There are quite a number of resolutions that filmmakers need to keep track of, and it will continue to grow.
Blackmagic’s latest camera, the 12K Ursa Mini Pro, can capture up to 12K files (i.e. files with a resolution of 12288 x 6480 or 79,626,240 pixels per frame), or work in 8K, 6K, or even 4K. With all the options on the table, how do you decide which format is best for your project, both for capture and delivery?
Let’s examine the differences between the resolutions.
The first decision you should make is what aspect ratio you want to record your project in.
Aspect ratio refers to the ratio of the width of the image to the height, and in cinematic terms we usually write it as the ratio of width x 1, so a square size would be 1×1 and a size twice as wide as it was would be 2×1 .
In terms of video, you’ll often see 4×3 or 16×9, but aside from those two formats, it’s usually reduced to the x1 equivalent, with 4×3 being roughly 1.33×1 and 16×9 roughly 1.77×1.
While the choice of aspect ratio used to be a bit restrictive, with 1.33 x 1 dominating before WWII and 1.85 x 1 and 2.39 x 1 in the second half of the 20th century, it’s now a wide field for that Framed design of your final project. While 1.33, 1.85 and 2.39 are still common, you see 1.66 (originally more common in Europe), 2×1 (created by Vittorio Storaro), and more. If you’re finishing up for TV and streaming, 1.77×1 (full screen 16×9, no bars) is also very common.
This is basically a personal choice for any filmmaker, which the “blanking” settings in DaVinci Resolve allow you to easily replicate both on camera and in your final color grading process.
There are a ton of arguments in favor of all formats, with some projects requiring greater vertical height and preferring the more square formats, some requiring widescreen formats, and many now considering shooting vertically (9×16) for platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
Remember that while this can be a personal decision for your project, your sales platform can also have opinions. If you’re already set up on a platform or are aiming for a specific one, be sure to read their datasheet to see what is acceptable.
You will find that 16×9 is becoming more common for filmmakers who deliver to the web, streamers, and television, but you may not have noticed that it isn’t with the older formats like 1.85×1 or 1.66x 1 matches.
16×9 was actually created on purpose in 1984 by Dr. Kerns Powers as a format to support as many other formats as possible. By overlaying the 2.35×1 and 1.33×1 layouts, you get an area of roughly 1.77×1, which means you have a 16×9 final video format and a 1.33 video (with pillarbox bars on the side) or a 2.35×1 video in there (with letterbox bars) you use roughly the same area.
Some of you may be wondering, “Do I still need to convert my video file to 16×9 even though I’m shooting in a different format? If I’m shooting natively 2.35×1 why am I putting it in a 16×9 box with all the extra garbage? space? ”
In general, you should still create a 16×9 file because 16×9 files are by far the most widely used video format today and you will encounter the fewest problems. When delivering 4K, in most cases it is safest to deliver in 3840 x 2160, which is the standard UHD 16 x 9 format.
While large platforms like Netflix will pick up your 3840 x 1640 file (if you’ve included a wider aspect ratio like 2.35 x 1), all you can really count on is that the big platforms will handle this file properly. Smaller platforms are notorious for doing weird things with these files, including stretching them to fit in a 16×9 window without letterboxing.
Worse, it may look good on your web player, but then look weird on your streaming system or mobile viewer. We’ve been to tons of film festivals showing movies in weird aspect ratios that didn’t look right, and while it doesn’t happen at the high level festivals, it definitely happens all the time at the lower level festivals.
Regardless of the aspect ratio you’re shooting, unless you’re just working on a theatrical and high-end streamer release without Blu-ray to keep your deliveries as safe as possible, be sure to get a 16×9 version.
Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI)
DCI, short for Digital Cinema Initiative, refers to the group that sets the standards for digital cinema. While the final specification came about in the early 2000s, an important aspect of the format is the preference for 2K and 4K files, which are slightly wider than 16×9 (2048×1080 instead of 1920×1080). This really became part of. developed Cineon, Kodak’s digital imaging workflow, in the early 1990s.
On most screens, there isn’t a dramatic difference between files mastered in “HD” and “2K” or “UHD” and “4K DCI”. We’re talking about 240 additional pixels of horizontal resolution and the same vertical resolution. It’s very, very, very low, even in 4K, which at that point was way in the future.
In 2K there are 128 additional pixels or 64 pixels per side. In fact, many at the time thought that Kodak had largely created the 2K standard so that their Cineon marketing workflow would be more than just “normal HD”, since the additional 128 pixels of horizontal resolution just doesn’t make much of a difference.
The bigger advantages of Cineon over HD were things like color space and bit depth, which are wonderful but don’t have the marketing buzz of higher resolution.
Whatever the reason it was created, we’ll stick with it now. Theaters have projectors with full DCI resolution, but basically nobody else has. We recommend working in DCI only if you’re shooting a project that is 100% guaranteed to hit theaters, such as a new action film franchise.
If you view cinema as only a small part of your release, then it doesn’t make sense, if at all, to work in a DCI format. You’d better stick with the typical 16×9 ratios for your master file. There is a little known secret that the Digital Cinema Package (DCP) format accepts 16×9 files. They point perfectly to DCI projectors, just with 100 pixels of black on either side of the frame that are often blocked by curtains anyway.
If you are planning a project that will be mostly in streaming and online format and only show a few times in theaters, 16×9 will make your life easier.
Delivery refers to the final phase of your project when you are delivering to a streamer, television station, or theatrical release.
This is usually your timeline resolution when working in Resolve.
Resolve allows you to set up a wide variety of timeline resolutions, including custom ones, with all major formats. For the most part, we recommend sticking to native 16×9 formats like 3840×2160 and 7680×4320 because you have the greatest compatibility with the fewest artifacts.
You will find that there is still no timeline setting for 12K files up there, even though Blackmagic makes a 12K camera.
12K isn’t a set release format, and while there’s a pretty solid argument that it will come at some point, it’s not yet common enough to show up on the pre-made charts. Additionally, honestly, there are very few places that even show 8K work. 8K monitors are rare, 8K projectors even more rare, and 4K currently remains the dominant format for distribution and publication.
It can stay that way for a long time. Television still delivers HD broadcasts, and the move from SD to HD in North America has been a process that took years and a massive investment to bring the technology to life.
Since the benefits of switching from HD to UHD are much smaller (given the size of the TVs people have in their homes) and the huge investments, it will be a long, if any, time for TV networks to switch to UHD.
So … why 12K?
Since this article is inspired by the 12K camera, why should you take the 12K shots even if at least now you won’t be able to finish in 12K? Well, there are two major reasons to consider this; Oversampling and future security.
First, let’s talk about oversampling. While you might end up finishing at 8K, the extra resolution a 12K sensor offers creates cleaner, sharper 8K images than a pure 8K sensor because of the process demosaicing.
An 8K video file has 8,000 blue pixels, 8,000 red pixels, and 8,000 green pixels horizontally. An 8K sensor has only 4,000 green pixels and 2,000 each of red and blue when it comes to Bayer patterns. Even the 12K camera has 6,000 clear, 2,000 blue, 2,000 red and 2,000 green pixels in horizontal resolution.
The processing converts these sensor pixels into your final image pixels, and the more resolution you can put into this processing, the more you will get in the end.
The other side of the argument is future security. When RED first launched the 4K RED ONE in 2008, they said people should start shooting all of their footage in 4K now to ensure it stays profitable well into the future. Today, in 2021, the 1080p stock footage market is definitely declining and the 4K stock footage market is rising. I’ve had more than one client who shot the RED ONE and finished 1080p in 2011 or 2012, coming back to remaster the project to 4K UHD for new release platforms. 8K stock footage is definitely going to be a thing soon.
It’s not always worth taking up hard drive space in 12K, especially on projects like documentaries where you end up recording thousands of hours of footage. One of the nice things about the 12K camera is that you can shoot 4K with the same lenses that you shoot with 12K.
But if you’re creating a project like an indie feature or a promotional or music video where the hard drive space is manageable, there are really compelling arguments in favor of capturing in format, even if your current master plans are only for UHD.
Especially on an indie feature project – who knows, by the time you finish the mail the 8K results could be closer to the standard.