Right now your typical DSLR or video camera shoots 1080p at 24fps on a decent censor at a fairly compressed bitrate. What this means is that your dynamic range is fairly low, your footage has a bit of noise, and there is macroblocking/compressions artifacts. And you ar able to watch this sub par video quality in 1080p. Then you can compress it some more, upload it to YouTube, and you are left with what barely qualifies as good looking footage.
Am I a bit melodramatic? Okay, the truth is DSLRs shoot ridiculous video for a bargain price. You can take a $300 DSLR, slap on a few lenses and tell a good story that looks decent visually. Fortunately, it is only a matter of a few years before entry level consumers and prosumers will be able to shoot excellent looking videos on more powerful cameras for low prices. You can already shoot 4K on a cheap Samsung Galaxy Note 3.
Things are beginning to move very fast, and we have a good taste of where the industry is going. Recently I wrote an article about the top DSLRs for 2014, concluding that nothing interesting is coming out. That was before the 4K craze at CES. CES showed us that whether or not you like it 4K is coming fast. It seemed like everyone had a 4K TV or camera to show off.
The Top Video Cameras and Video DSLRs under $5000
Plenty of new players are entering the game, and prices of DSLRs are going to drop faster than normal. Here is what the sub $5000 market has to offer:
- Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera (1080p, RAW)
- Blackmagic Production Camera 4K (4K, RAW)
- Blackmagic Cinema Camera (2.5K, RAW)
- Digital Bolex D16 (1080p, RAW)
- Ikonoskop A-Cam (used) (1080P, RAW)
- Axiom 4k Camera (4K, RAW, unknown price)
- JVC GY-HMQ10 (4K)
- JVC 4K PX100 (4K video for under $2000, exact model number not yet known)
- Red One (4k, RAW)
- Sony FDR AX-100 (what everyone has been talking about, 4K video for $2000)
- canon Eos c100 (1080p)
- Canon 5D mkIII (1080p, RAW with Magic Lantern)
- Canon 5D mkII (1080p, RAW with Magic Lantern)
- Canon 6D (1080p, RAW with Magic Lantern)
- Canon 70D (1080p, higher bitrate video)
- Panasonic GH4
- Panasonic GH3 (1080p)
Smartphones and Other Devices that Can Shoot 4K Video
- Sony D6503 ‘Sirius’ (smartphone)
- Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (smartphone)
- GoPro Hero3 Black Edition (camera)
Do you sense a theme here? I do. The market is getting an influx of 4K and RAW capable devices. 4K TVs (UHD TVs) are roughly two to three times the price of a good 1080p TV. This means that you can get a Sony or Samsung UHD TV for under $3,000. Or you can get a third party brand name for under $1000. Dell’s 28-inch Ultra HD Monitor is priced under $700.
It’s a 4K invasion! There is no doubt that entry level consumers will flock towards 4K for their handheld devices. Most people don’t know what bitrate, compression, color space, or color depth are so they will flock towards higher resolution video rather than higher quality video (like RAW video). The technology for 4K is here and the prices to adopt it have finally reached a sane threshold. It’s only a matter of time until Apple dips its feet into 4K via its smart devices. When that happens 4K will will become the norm and HD will be a thing of the past.
What 4K Camera Should You Buy?
First of all, you should wait. Right now 4K cameras are overpriced for prosumers (unless you are buying a Panasonic GH4). If you buy a Sony FDR AX-100, you are getting a generic camera that is fine for home videos, but honestly you are getting ripped off. This camera is not designed for serious filmmaking. If you want to create serious films, just get a 5D mkIII with a Magic Lantern RAW hack, or get a Panasonic GH4. The 5D mkIII does not shoot 4K but does produce excellent picture quality (it can shoot RAW video). The Panasonic GH4 does shoot 4K. It shoots glorious 4K and outputs RAW, making it the most powerful video camera under $2,000. In fact the GH4 is the cheapest and most versatile 4K camera on the market (not counting smartphones or other gimmick devices). Read my article about the GH4 specs.
By going 4K right now you are on the cutting edge of technology. It is really expensive to be on the cutting edge of technology:
- You need to shell out $2,000 minimum for a 4K camera
- You need to buy a 4K display to enjoy the content
- You need to build a top of the line PC that can handle editing 4K
- You may need a PC monitor that supports 4K (to edit your footage)
And once you do all this, you will have no one to share your footage with because most people will not have a 4K display for the next few years.
Do You Need a 4K Display to Enjoy 4K Footage?
No. When 4K is converted down to 1080p, the quality is much greater than regular 1080p. Yep, you heard me correctly. Each pixel is an average of 4 pixels (because the resolution of 4K is about 4x bigger than 1080p), and so the color is much truer because each 1080p pixel has a closer color and luminance to the actual source. Downscaling video from 4K to 1080p results in a bit of a fake RAW effect as far as color information is concerned. Some people actually argue that downscaling 4K to 1080p is preferred to uncompressed 1080p RAW! The point I am trying to make is that while you may not enjoy the resolution of 4K video today, you will certainly enjoy its increased color accuracy when downscaled to 1080p.