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Why Indie Filmmakers Should NOT Shoot with a 4K Camera!

(Unless you can handle the workflow)

Now I’m not talking about the compress 4k files you get from a DSLR or GoPro. I’m speaking about the big, chunky files you get when shooting 4k ProRes or RAW on a RED Camera, Blackmagic URSA Mini or Arri ALEXA.

An issue I see come up again, and again is indie filmmakers shooting a format that they can’t handle in production, post-production or in delivery (like 4k, 5k, 6k or 8k). Currently, the big buzzword is UHD (Ultra High Definition).


Technically, “Ultra High Definition” is actually a derivation of the 4K digital cinema standard. However while your local multiplex shows images in native 4096 x 2160 4K resolution, the new Ultra HD consumer format has a slightly lower resolution of 3840 X 2160.

Now while having a larger image to play with is better it does bring a ton of baggage along with it. RED Cameras started popularizing 4K cameras with its first camera the RED ONE. It was so far beyond anything else on the market at the time that it ignited the imagination of indie filmmakers everywhere.

Now shooting 4K in today’s world is a bit different. It cost much more than you’d expect once you factor in all the things you’ll be dealing with down the pipeline.

More Hard Drives

Your budget will be stretched since you’ll need more hard drive space to house and back up the larger files. Also, transfer times will take longer because of the larger 4K file sizes. Your onset DIT (Digital Imagining Technician) will need to have large and fast hard drives to push the extra gigs of info.

On those films with really small budgets, every minute you have on set is precious. If you only have two solid-state capture cards and two back up hard drives to transfer them too, then you might be waiting to shoot. You might shoot through a card faster than a DIT can download, check it and transfer it to your back up drive.

I’ve seen this situation play out a ton of times on set and trust me it’s not fun to be that poor DIT when the entire set is waiting for him.

4K Post Production

I did a podcast a few weeks ago on Post Production Workflow (Post Production Workflow: Understand it or Die!). The episode breaks down the craziness of not understand the entire workflow from camera to deliverables.

Distribution is not there…yet

As of now, 4K is not a mandatory deliverable for distributors. Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime are not ready to stream 4K. The internet pipe is just not there…yet. Yes, Netflix has a 4K option but the need for 4k as the standard is not there yet.

I just sold my film, This is Meg,  to Hulu who only asked for 1080p. I handled all the deliverables for a $10 million+ Hulu series and they only wanted 1080p.

Mastering in 4K is really expensive and time-consuming. If you are doing visual effects than you VFX guys are going to hate you and it will cost you more money. Dealing with 4K plates is what $150 million films deal with and they have the budget to do so. A smaller budget indie film doesn’t have the resources to deal with any issues that might come up working at 4K instead of HD or 2K.

Also, when you color grade 4K footage it will cost you more money. Again processing, pushing and rendering that larger format kills your budget. Would you rather have more time to color your film at 2k or rush it to master in 4K?

But I need 4K for my theatrical DCP

Again another myth. Mostly ALL theatrical releases are in 2K DCP. Why you may ask because movie theater chains do not want to upgrade to pricey 4K projectors when the 2K looks fine.

I mastered my film on at 1080p, then did a small blow up on to 2K for my DCP. When I saw it projected I was blown away how good it looked. Check out the trailer for This is Meg below.

On the Corner of Ego and Desire

I shot my second film On the Corner of Ego and Desire on the BMPCC 1080p. I screened it at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood and it looked amazing. It world premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in the UK. Watch the film here: On the Corner of Ego and Desire on IFHTV

 I love 4K…really!

Listen I’m not a 4K hater by any means. Hell, I’d shot all my films in 20K if that was possible. I’ve always shoot 4K on my projects. You can recompose shots in post-production, more color space, etc. It’s great but I also have the budgets and hardware to deal with that workflow. This is sound advice for all aspects of the filmmaking process, do what you can within your means and do it well.

Don’t try to make Avatar right out of the gate. James Cameron started on Piranha 2: The Spawning and built his way up over time. He made the best movies he could with what he had access to at the time.

The new RED Weapon camera has been a problem to deal with for many indie filmmakers. The RED Weapon shoots 4K, 5K, and 6K and has extremely large files to deal with. If you don’t have a RED Rocket X card (cost: $6750 + Warranty $395) that helps you process the footage, you are out of luck in post-production.

It will take you weeks, depending on your system, to attempt to transcode all that footage. Editing in RED RAW will be out of the question.

I’m just saying shoot a format that is within your capabilities. Don’t make your filmmaking process more difficult than it has to be. In this episode, I go over a ton of info on why you shouldn’t shoot 4K if you’re an indie filmmaker.

Happy Shooting!

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Action Items:

Check out this Sundance Film Festival Post Production Panel discussing why indie filmmakers should NOT SHOOT 4k.

If you like this show take a listen to:
Don’t only hire DPs because they own a RED Camera!

RED Camera,, RED Raven, RED Epic, RED Scarlett, RED Dragon, RED Weapon, RED Camera Workflow, Arri Alexa, Blackmagic Cinema Camera, cinematographer, cinematograpy, DP, director of photography, DOP,

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Facebook Comments


  1. Peter White on November 7, 2015 at 12:14 am

    This is getting pissed on where it’s being linked. 4K isn’t nearly as hard to handle as you make out, especially if you compare great looking ProRes LT or other efficient formats that still have great color depth. Shooting 4K and cutting at 1080p is a snap in Premiere Pro, even on a laptop, and the storage requirements are no worse than shooting ML RAW video from a Canon DSLR. The benefits of increased resolution and re-framing are huge, with little downside.

    You’re on the wrong side of this unless by “indie filmmakers” you’re talking about weekend dabblers with shop lights.

  2. D Gary Grady on May 2, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    I tend to agree with Peter White. Tom Antos regularly edits 4K on a laptop. All you need is a reasonably recent computer and a fast internal or external drive (RAID or more likely SSD) with USB 3.0. Shooting in 4K future-proofs your production, and the ability to reframe is huge. Then again, I don’t think 4K is mandatory either. If I’m not mistaken, even most cinemas are still projecting 2K, and in any case, it’s very hard to see a difference between 2K and 4K at normal viewing distances unless you’re really looking for it (and even then it may be more psychology than perceivable resolution. Except maybe for major league batters, eyes can see only so much. Bit depth and limiting compression are more important.

    • Fabian on November 13, 2016 at 8:43 am

      a external SSD or a few external HDDs in a RAID make absolutly no sense at all.
      the USB 3 reading and writing speed is so limited.

      • D Gary Grady on November 13, 2016 at 5:59 pm

        Hi Fabian. It’s true that USB 3.0 can be a bottleneck for SSDs or a RAID (depending on the RAID), but the point is that while USB 3.0 can handle uncompressed 4K or UHD, a single conventional hard drive generally can’t keep up. That’s why it helps to use an SSD or RAID. Obviously USB 3.1 or even better and Thurderbolt 3 better still.

  3. Estevez Atya on June 7, 2016 at 7:57 am


  4. Estevez Atya on June 7, 2016 at 8:05 am

    2 year later, will a fullHD film be ok on an indy festival?

    • Alex Ferrari on June 7, 2016 at 8:42 am


  5. […] Related: Why filmmaker SHOULDN’T Shoot 4k […]

  6. […] Why Indie Filmmakers Should NOT Shoot 4k! […]

  7. famousfigures on July 8, 2016 at 11:23 am

    I shot a film with a Red Dragon and edited most of the film on my 2014 macbook pro. It wasn’t hard at all…

    • Lisa on June 16, 2017 at 2:02 pm

      And that film will not exist 100 years from now.

      • famousfigures on June 16, 2017 at 4:26 pm

        Neither will you or I so…

  8. Fabian on November 13, 2016 at 8:40 am

    but all these “problems” are not really big.
    buy a bigger HDD they are really cheap. uhm if you got a good 4k cam like the red dont complain about the size of the video files …
    you have to think in the future.

    • Lisa on June 16, 2017 at 2:02 pm

      If you were thinking about the future, you’d be shooting on film. Hard
      drives crash, people forget to back up and files corrupt. Film lasts
      forever and it’s proven. Which is why I shoot on 35mm film – which has
      to be scanned at 12k to get the ultimate detail. Digital cannot approach
      this. Yes indeed, think about the future if you want your digital
      ‘films’ to still be around 60 years from now.

    • Aspiring Filmmaker on August 26, 2017 at 2:32 am

      Bigger HDD is not the problem, its how fast you can get your 4k footage from the HDD to your computer to edit. 4k footage can be uptown 500mbps at HDD are 120mbps. So there is lag time finding it difficult to edit your 4k unless you compress which means loosing pixels and image quality, then why pick 4k in the first place, or proxy. just something that was in my head. If your going to compress 4k and the image is affected why spend the time and effort shooting 4k in the first place.

  9. DalTones DalToons on March 26, 2017 at 5:44 am

    but isn’t as easily stolen as 4K since illegal or rip-off streaming sites can’t stream 4k

  10. Steve Lantz on July 15, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    It’s true 4K isn’t there yet. Most of your distribution outlets, whether it be PPV, YouTube, selling Blu-ray on Amazon, etc. are all 1080p. Most theaters and festivals are still projecting in 2K, with 4K reserved for the big blockbuster 3D movies. A lot of Indy fillmmakers are hung up on the idea everything has to be shot in 4K or higher these days, but the truth is the average movie goer doesn’t know or care what format, or camera you used. Audiences only care about compelling stories with interesting characters. Focus on great cinematography, editing and music scoring and your audiences will be happy. I haven’t made the jump into 4K yet due to the enormous costs and difficult, time consuming work flows. I am currently shooting a low budget Indy with a Panasonic AF100. I use high-speed primes, get the fattest exposure possible, use color charts for color matching and light everything in a cinematic way. The footage looks amazing, even projected on a large theater screen. Eventually I’ll step up to 4K, but for now, HD is still good enough!!!

  11. Simply Evil on October 27, 2017 at 6:40 am

    Click bait. Shooting in HD because of theoretical and maybe marginal expense is silly. You are immediately limiting your project’s lifespan. Keeping a copy of your movie in UHD and having to copy that to evolving storage mediums is not that big of a deal. Hell, if you are that paranoid, do the best of both worlds, shoot in 5k…spend $4k output to film and now you have a long lasting archival version of your project.

  12. Bill Thompson on November 16, 2017 at 11:03 am

    I edit native RED r3d files on my Mac Pro with Final cut pro X and it plays in real time on a 4k monitor no problem. Thunderbolt 2 and 3 raid drives handle this stuff no problem.

    Error in the article, RED by default is compressed. Usually 5:1 though I do 3:1. You don’t have to do RAW.

    Weapon at 8K is around 225 MBps, which is 1/4 the read speed of a Thunderbolt 2 RAID, 1/12 Thunderbolt 3, so it’s not an issue.

    Color grading is the same as 1080p on my system. 4K monitor at 100%.

    Hard drives are cheap.

    Have multiple cards and transfer while you are shooting. That whole argument is a joke. Waiting? Huh? lol

    And if you have a slow system, proxy encoding is a one time wait. I use the native files though easily.

    HD looks better than SD.
    4K looks better than HD.

    Finally, 4K saved my butt editing a couple times when editing in a 1080p project. I was able to crop out an Arri light, and a boom, without losing image quality.

    Bogus article.

  13. Bill Thompson on November 16, 2017 at 11:07 am

    “Why do you need an 8 megapixel camera when you only have 2 megapixels on your phone’s display?”

    That’s the idiocy of arguing you don’t need 4K if you aren’t showing it at 4K.


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