IFH 020: Why Indie Filmmakers Should NOT Shoot with a 4K Camera!

4K, Ultra High Definition, 2K, 6K, Red camera, RED.com, RED Raven, RED Epic, RED Weapon, RED Scarlett, indie film, independent film, filmmaking, filmmaker

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

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 buzz word 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 wiitst’s 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 todays 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 on set DIT (Digital Imagining Techincian) 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 on 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 it is super compressed and doesn’t look as good as a 1080p or 2K stream.

This is because there is less compress on HD and 2K than there’s on 4k. Do you want you film to look amazing at 2K or just OK or bad on 4K.

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.

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. indie film hustle, james cameron

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 help 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!

Right click here to download the MP3


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

Action Items:

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

RED Camera, red.com, 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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  • Peter White

    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.

  • D Gary Grady

    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

      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

        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.

  • Estevez Atya


  • Estevez Atya

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

    • Alex Ferrari


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  • famousfigures

    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

      And that film will not exist 100 years from now.

      • famousfigures

        Neither will you or I so…

  • Fabian

    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

      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.

    • 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.

  • DalTones DalToons

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

  • Steve Lantz

    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!!!