The State Of 4K Today

In the October 2012 issue of this magazine, I wrote a column called "4K Plug-And-Play" about an AbelCine client who wanted to shoot and play back 4K live. They had purchased a 4K camera and a 4K projector, and wanted to see the output of the camera live. At the time, this presented a complicated and expensive problem to solve. Their camera didn’t have a 4K output, and the hardware for playing back the footage was expensive and cumbersome. The good news is that a lot has changed over the last year and a half.

4K has gone from a strictly cinema experience to something accessible across all levels of production. So when a client recently called us up with a request to shoot, monitor, edit and finish in 4K, we had an answer that could fit a modest production budget. The solution combined the latest tools and software available today. To refresh my now outdated column, and to give you an idea of the latest 4K technologies, I’ve outlined the current state of 4K below.


Acquiring in 4K has been a possibility for many years now, starting with the RED ONE camera all the way back in 2007. Fast-forward seven years, and we have a wide assortment of cameras that can acquire 4K footage in RAW, and more recently, video formats, as well. Here’s a breakdown of the latest cameras and recording formats.

RED now has their EPIC, SCARLET and new DRAGON cameras, which shoot in RAW up to 6K. RED records in their R3D REDRAW format at compressions from 3:1 to 18:1. At 24 fps, you’ll get data rates between 126 Mb/s at 4K WS (widescreen) 18:1 and up to 1.4 Gb/s at 6K WS 4:1.

Canon’s EOS C500 camera outputs RAW 4K data over SDI. RAW data can be captured with an external recorder, or converted to ProRes 4K with the AJA Ki Pro Quad or Convergent Design Odyssey7Q. Canon RAW has a hefty data rate of 2.1 Gb/s at 24 fps, while ProRes 422 (HQ) 4K comes in at 880 Mb/s. Canon’s EOS-1D C DSLR records in a 4K Motion JPEG video format at around 500 Mb/s.

Panasonic just announced the Lumix GH4, which records 4K in a compressed video format at only 100 Mb/s. They’ve also hinted at a future 4K VariCam model, which no doubt we’ll learn more about after NAB 2014. Panasonic has already announced development of their AVC-Ultra format, which allows for 4K video recording at around 400 Mb/s at 24p.

Vision Research’s Phantom Flex4K can record in 4K RAW up to 1000 fps. It can capture RAW data to its CineMag in 24p at around 3.5 Gb/s, very big files indeed, but the Phantom 4K produces completely uncompressed 4K files. The good news is that Vision Research has announced the availability of a compressed video format in the future.