Pixels. Millions, and millions of pixels. Over 35 million to be exact. Pixels are the small light-gathering dots that sit on the sensor of a camera. They turn the ions from rays of light that hit them into an electrical signal that your camera can read so that it is able to produce an image. Alone, a single pixel can’t do very much for us but when there’s enough of them, they are capable of producing incredible images.
How Many Pixels Do You Actually Need?
Most video or formats adhere to specific dimensions of pixels, written as width x height. For example, “HD”, which was the hot new technology in the early 2000s and is still widely used today, measures 1920 x 1080. Yes, there’s close to two thousand little dots on a single line of an HD video and there are over one thousand of these lines stacked on top of each other. For anyone who is counting, that’s 2,073,600 total pixels. Sounds like a lot, right? Actually, by today’s standards, it’s not that much.
Today, most productions are targeting a 4K delivery, which is an image that is 4x the resolution of HD at 3840 x 2160, or 8,294,400 total pixels. This increase in resolution allows for a much sharper, almost true-to-life image. Thankfully, most consumers’ televisions, phones, and computers now support 4K so we truly have a high resolution pipeline available to us from capture to delivery. As with most technology though, there’s always a next step.
Several years ago, RED DIGITAL CINEMA introduced the first widely available camera with an 8K sensor, the DSMC2 HELIUM. Technically they introduced one before that called the DRAGON 8K but that one was plagued by manufacturing delays so we for the purposes of this conversation we’ll call the HELIUM the first widely available 8K cinema camera. But what is 8K?
Just as 4K was a quadrupling of resolution from HD, so too is the move from 4K to 8K. 8K is measured as 7680 x 4320 which comes out to 33,177,600 total pixels. As an employee of RED at the time of this camera launch, we always had one of two reactions when we told people about this new camera. Our clients either said “WOAH 8K OMG I NEED ONE NOW” or they would say “Ehhhh 8K is overkill, our eyes can’t even discern that much details. I’ll pass.” In many ways I agree with the idea that 8K is overkill, but if we consider that maybe it isn’t overkill, then why is it beneficial?
8K is a measure of resolution so anything filmed in 8K will have advantages over 4K material when it comes to being able to digitally zoom in in post or to downsample to reduce noise in the image. It also allows for other post-production techniques like digital stabilization without losing resolution. Overall though, how does this help a business?
Someone who is creating content in 8K for your business has given you a few distinct advantages. Because of this high-resolution, your content has been immediately future-proofed for whatever future delivery methods develop… 8K TikTok anyone?? They’re also providing you with a pathway to pull still images from the content. Still images typically need a higher resolution image file because printers have a more finely detailed way of showing that resolution where TVs don’t.
Also, because different delivery methods (social media platforms) have different tastes for content, filming with an 8K canvas gives you the ability to reframe as needed without needing to re-film something just because you didn’t film in the correct aspect ratio.
In addition, your content creator has also given you the power to create a multi-camera shoot with that big-budget look while only using a single camera since they are able to punch in and out on the 8K image without losing resolution.
8K is the Future, But Not the Present
Unfortunately, 8K still isn’t as in demand as many camera manufacturers would hope. That being said, higher resolution images are *usually* always better than a lower resolution option (unless we start talking about HDR vs. SDR but that’s a conversation for another day). Luckily for all of us, there are plenty of 5K and 6K camera options in addition to the 8K options mentioned (there’s even a 12K camera out there).
At Chromatic Digital Cinema, we use an 8K HELIUM camera and a 6K KOMODO for most of our productions. This gives us incredible flexibility and image quality for the projects that we embark on for our clients. If you have any questions about this article or want to talk about a project that you need help on, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.