Film Math: When Is 2k Greater Than 4k?

Eve Cohen Canon C300 Mark ii
Courtesy of Eve Cohen

A cinematographer with all the money in the world and three months to shoot a movie would have a gear list that’s fully organized and checked off. But if all you have is 12 days on a microbudget, you have to fight for the camera and technology that will work for the picture.

Such was the conundrum faced by DP Eve Cohen before production began on “Be Somebody,” a tale of young love and discovery between two opposites played by Sarah Jeffery and YouTube star Matthew Espinosa, which debuted June 10. Producers were pushing Cohen to shoot in 4K because they had been told the format’s higher resolution yielded a better image. “But that’s not necessarily true,” says Cohen. “It definitely wasn’t true in our case.”

“I favor dynamic range over resolution for most projects that don’t have any VFX or specialty shots.”
Eve Cohen

Cohen had reasons for choosing lower-res 2K technology, and they weren’t based just on budget constraints. She argued that when finishing the picture in post-production, 2K would provide more flexibility since it’s recording at a higher bit-depth and offers more subtly in the grayscale.

The producers ended up using Canon’s handheld C300 Mark II camera, which is able to adjust to the format that’s right for the project. Director Josh Caldwell, also a Canon aficionado, backed Cohen’s decision to shoot in 2K over 4K and was instrumental as they negotiated with the producing team.

There were also trade-offs in terms of recording time, Cohen says. “You can record 4K internally to the cameras,” but that allows less time per media card, and “we needed more storage space.”

Cohen says she generally prefers 2K for work that doesn’t require VFX. “I think the 2K 12-bit renders a better-quality image than the 4K 10-bit,” she notes.

The decision paid dividends near the end of the fast-paced shooting schedule — 84 pages in less than two weeks — when Cohen had to ask Caldwell to shoot a scene on his own. It was a middle-of-the-night shoot, and they still had a small exterior they needed to capture.

Cohen knew the director was an experienced handheld camera operator, and would be able to film the scene the way he wanted. “But I was a bit worried about it being exposed properly,” she says. “As a night exterior, it was quite hard to light without a full crew.” Still, she felt that with the 2K camera being more forgiving in lower light, she’d have enough wiggle room to adjust the image later on if needed.

Indeed, post-production came to the rescue. “We had quite a bit of grading to do,” Cohen allows, “but it was easier to correct because we had enough dynamic range.”

(Pictured above: DP Eve Cohen at work)

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  1. Jeff says:

    Nick – the Mark II does shoot 2K (2048), as well as HD (1920) and UHD (3840) and 4K (4096). That would be pretty absurd if they didn’t check that. The Mark I only shot 16×9 HD.

    I’ve heard the words latitude and dynamic range used interchangeably lately, and that does sort of bother me.

    By the math, the 12 Bit encoding will give us more latitude to push and pull in post, 4096 shades of gray vs 10 bit’s 1024. So I believe that’s where the confusion has come in about dynamic range, bottom is still bottom, but the subtle differences in those under exposed areas are represented better with 12 bits and more latitude to pull out in post.

    I would have loved some examples as well, although I really do wonder how much of a difference we’d be able to see on even the nicest of 15″ 709 laptop screens.

  2. Nick Jake says:

    A good movie can be shot on an iphone, as we’ve recently found out.

    But this article…I clicked on this article because I thought I would find something interesting. Like comparing actual images of a series of cameras shooting at 2k vs 4k and the associated bit rates. Especially across motion compression schemes, which they all use to some degree even as things are shot raw. After all you put ‘math’ in the title, I was pulled in. But where was it? Comparison to ‘real’ film even? I mean you used the words math and film. Meanwhile, you are shooting HD video and know nothing about any of it.

    I say HD because the camera you mention doesn’t even shoot 2k like you claim. It shoots HD. Are you not aware of the difference? How embarrassing. I hope to god you have some firmware update that actually does 2k and I’m unaware. Because otherwise, I don’t think you should have written this article until you have more experience.

    Even if it was 2k and not HD, embarrassing is the flat out claim that 2k has higher dynamic range than 4k. You are utterly confused. Resolution is just a measure of pixels. Dynamic range is a completely different set of factors, and a worthy discussion that you don’t seem knowledgable enough to have. It’s clear you barely know what dynamic range even means. And you certainly don’t understand the math.

    There is nothing inherent in 2k that equates to higher dynamic range than 4k. It’s just more expensive. Some cheaper cameras have a lower bitrate limit than others, and are going to look better at HD. Would have been nice to even hear that being discussed. Or the question, is HD a bad choice if you want to project later, and if not does youtube video actually need 4K?

    I think HD is all you’ll need for youtube. Youtube is the future, and the here and the now. So I’m not bitter, I’m down. I’m just saying. Don’t click bait me with fake headlines. It would have been more appropriate to say “Does youtube video actually need to be shot 4k?”

    No, it doesn’t.

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