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Why we use Full HD DSLRs for corporate video

So for filming corporate videomarketing videotraining videomedical videoTV commercials and web video I have been asking myself a couple of questions recently- 1) why do my company and I use DSLRs to film our projects and 2) would my production company benefit from moving to 4K for all our projects? Here at Provident Media Group, we film the vast majority of our projects at 1080p using DSLRs. Here are my reasons along with some pros and cons we have found, heard and learned about.

Disclaimer: I have never filmed using a 4K camera (I have been a camera assistant to a DP using a RED Epic for a project), but I have worked with and edited 4K files in Premiere Pro on a recent documentary project.The biggest reason why we film 1080p video from a DSLR is because 1080p video is fairly cheap to film, edit and store these days. When it comes to filming corporate video projects, file size plays a role in the budget. At the end of the day 4K files are almost always larger than 1080p files from a DSLR. This means more hard drive space and faster computers are required for editing 4k, which means more cost for the company and eventually the client. Now at this point it would be fair to point out that SD is cheaper to film and edit than HD, but I will address that later. So why do we film 1080p? Screen resolution and price is the answer. According to a 2012 article by TechCrunch the most popular screen resolution is 1366X768, which according to StatCounter.com is still true in the last 12 months.

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If I create a project at 4K and my client and the targeted audience don’t have monitors that support 4K, will they see a quality difference? From what I have been able to see the answer is Yes and No.

  • Yes. Cameras that film at 4K generally produce a better image than DSLRs that film at 1080p, in terms of dynamic range, color, etc, etc and the detail is better when 4K is down-scaled to 1080p. Now I say generally, because there are exceptions to almost everything.
  • No. While you will see benefits in down-scaling 4K to 1080p, you won’t be able to leverage all the benefits that are possible with 4K. I have viewed 4K footage on a 4K TV before and the results are stunning! However 4K shown on a 1080p monitor? Still very nice, but nowhere near the impact of 4K footage on a 4K TV.

With all that said, is the cost of filming, editing and storing 4K worth the benefits to me and my company? Right now for Provident Media Group it isn’t. Why? None of our clients have ever asked about filming or delivering a project in 4K. I will say that one client did jokingly ask (sometime in early 2011) about filming a training video for IMAX viewing. Gulp! Now I am not saying that cheaper is always better. SD is generally cheaper to film, edit and store than 1080p. However, 1080p footage looks much better than SD (barring operator error when filming) when viewed on a higher resolution monitor (1366 X 768 or more), especially when viewed full screen. Also, this benefit of increased resolution (SD versus HD) can be enjoyed by the majority of viewers as shown by the screen resolution chart above. By comparison, the resolution of 4K currently can’t be fully leveraged on the vast majority of computer monitors and TV screens.

Finally, a tool is a tool. Even if your camera shoots at 4, 5 or 6K the increased resolution won’t make a poorly composed, lit, staged or blocked shot look better. The viewer will simply see the mistakes more clearly. Now I know there are DSLRs that do offer 4K recording, however the issues with screen resolution still apply even though the cost of 4K capable cameras has come down. There are possibly still the same issues file size, though I can’t say that is true for every 4K DSLR.

So all in all, we will continue to film at 1080p for the reasons stated above. However, if a client specifically asks for a project to be filmed and delivered in 4K, I can guarantee that after getting off the phone with them the next phone call will be to the rental house to secure a 4K camera.Thanks for reading! If you have any comments, questions or criticism about the article or my opinions on the subject please leave a comment below. I love to have other people’s opinions and input on ideas. Cheers!