Who Really Needs 8K?

As often happens, a site reader posed a simple question via email that I know a lot of you are also wondering about.

With their recent full frame product launches Canon and Sony just made a huge amount of noise about 8K and 4K, respectively. Is this a good thing or something insignificant? 

To videographers, it's significant. To the mostly still photography crowd, it isn't.

Netflix is probably the easiest to see and understand in terms of what's happening with professional video. They have clear, published guidelines on what they want creators to be shooting ("90% of the total runtime should be [captured using our camera/format guidelines]"). 4K is the bottom of their requirements, and generally only with raw or very high codec capabilities. 4.5K, 6K, and 8K cameras are abundant on their "approved" list.

This is the Disney Factor at work. Disney pretty much pioneered the notion of putting creative works into a vault and pulling them out from time to time to generate more revenue. But sometimes when they did that, they discovered that they needed to completely remaster things because technology had outdated the creation.

All the media corporations making big money commitments to productions want the resulting work to have long term legs now. That's so that they can pull the footage out of the vault later—or just keep it active—and format it for the most recent consumer output any time they want, without much trouble or cost. 

You can't achieve that perfectly. Indeed, Netflix is basically running just one format in front of the consumer (e.g. lots of 8K capture when 4K distribution is becoming possible). 

Right now, there's a content-sucking black hole happening in and around Hollywood (and Bollywood, and all the other woods). Amazon, Apple, AT&T (HBO), Comcast (NBC/Universal), Disney, Hulu, Netflix, Quibi, and others are all pouring huge amounts of money into productions outside of the traditional broadcast and theatrical film distribution (which is still ongoing, by the way, which makes the black hole bigger). All because of streaming.

There's never been a better time for an independent videographer to make a deal to get their production financed and/or completed. But all those big entities want the Disney Factor: future-proofing of what you shot. 

Canon took at shot at getting themselves out of the 4K hole and into the future with the R5. Yes, the R5 has limitations, but to the smaller shops that can't afford an 8K RED or who need to be nimbler in the field, it still looks good, they're just going to have to manage the heat issue. 

Sony took a shot at topping the current 4K base with an A7S Mark III that basically dots every 4K i and crosses every 4K t. Again, at a price point the smaller independents and those who need to be nimbler in the field like. 

Take me, for instance. Over the years I've collected 4K video safari footage, mostly as a test of capability when out in the middle of nowhere. I've had a proposal for a specific show active for the last 18 months, but a couple of things, including the recent pandemic, have sidetracked that for the moment. Still, the Sony looks like exactly the camera I could afford and manage in the really wild areas we'd have been getting into. One that would handle the focusing and slow motion needs I'd have in ways that even some of the more expensive solutions wouldn't. A Sony A7S Mark III would likely deliver solid Netflix baseline capability, so it wouldn't really cut off my access to the bigger players in terms of pitching and financing said production.

The Canon shooting 8K would probably be out of my consideration due to heat issues, unfortunately, but in the current video production environment I can still see plenty of opportunities for it, too. 

So, yes, there are folk out there that will gobble up the R5 and the A7S Mark III. But, no, they're not the mainstream consumer still photographers. As I've pointed out, I think the Canon R6 and the Nikon Z5 are the more important cameras to watch for that market. 


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