Looking around online, I notice that some people believe quite passionately that 4K is the future, and that the future is now. Others seems to think that the number of K is not the only — or even the most important — parameter. Perhaps there is some truth to both points of view. I can say for sure that name-calling doesn’t help light the path.
Paul Cameron, ASC recently shot a commercial for SquareSpace using the Sony F55 4K camera, and during our conversation about the shoot, he raised some interesting questions about the higher resolution afforded by the camera. He used the new Panavision Primo V lenses, which are designed for use with digital cameras. Another recent project Paul shot was the Apple “Pencil” campaign, which required lenses that were free, or nearly free of distortion. See the Apple ad here: “A Pencil Stars in Apple's Ad for iPad Air”
“There are basically two schools of thought, right?” Paul says. “One is to go for the cleanest and sharpest image, with perfect resolution. And then there’s shooting older glass, using flares, aberrations, veiling and other intrinsic idiosyncrasies.
“Every sensor captures flares differently,” he says. “Same light, same lens, different sensor and you get different results,” he says. “We thought we had it nailed with the Arri Alexa and the Red Epic cameras. Now we’re on the F65, and the F55 4K, and the Dragon sensor 6K, and we’re needing to adapt and learn how these sensors react with different lenses and other photographic tools.
“Let’s say you’re shooting a mid-shot on a 65mm lens, with a soft focus background that is falling off. Often we end up shooting wide open on digital to soften the background anyway, and to emulate a film look. There is a marked difference between shooting a Cooke S4 on Alexa and shooting on Primo Vs or Leicas in 4K. You want to open another stop to let the background fall off even more. Optics are optics. But by its nature, the technology is going to change how we perceive things. It’s so clean. Even though it might be the same lens, the same depth of field, with that type of resolution in 4K, it doesn’t feel like it used to.”
Are we reaching a point where 4K and beyond is changing our perceptions?
“The natural long lens anamorphic look, with extreme out-of-focus backgrounds, feels and looks different in 4K, even though the optics are the same,” Paul reiterates. “With all that resolution and no grain, to me, it’s different. And we have to learn to use it, to develop a slightly new sensibility about it. With anamorphic lenses, I like to light the wide shots at 5.6 or 8 then ND down two to three stops and shoot at 2.8. That way, when I go in for the close-up, I shoot at 5.6-8. That way I can control the amount of soft focus in the background for the big screen. Now in 4K, it feels different. I'm using the psychology of depth of field in new ways. The disciplines I grew up with are changing.
“We have so many lens choices now, it’s kind of like the wheels have come off,” he says. “There is still an incredible amount of old glass on the shelves. Meanwhile shiny new ones are appearing every day. Some of the glass that performed well in the 2K realm doesn’t cover the 4K sensor or behave as well in 4K. The bottom line is that the glass and how we use it with whatever technology really determines one’s style for the most part. It’s all about discovery, still — that moment when the glass you chose collides with light. Hopefully whatever K sensor is capturing it, and you get what you are seeing.”
I invite readers to comment on the issues raised here.