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John McCully January 21st, 2016 10:43 PM

4k vs HD
Having recently thinned my wallet to the tune of close to $10k NZ on new kit, Sony all the way, I thought I would attempt to understand if I got value in line with forked out money. In particular I wanted to ascertain if in fact my infatuation with 4k was worth the pain.

The new kit consisted of a A7RII camera, a 70 200 G lens, and an A6000 camera (I know; not 4k). Just for fun I included an old Sony E 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS in the mix.

I also have a new AX100 camcorder which was not (yet) included.

The comparison consisted of shooting a scene which included sailboats large and small bobbing up and down on moorings, waves racing towards the beach, and scrub-type vegetation on the surrounding hills, mid afternoon on a very windy day in full summer sunlight (not a cloud in the sky). I set up the tripod, a steady solid Sachtler FSB-6, in a spot somewhat sheltered from the wind. I set the A7RII in 4k then HD both Full Frame and s35 with both lenses, and the A6000 in APS-C mode HD (obviously) with both lenses.

Bottom line: when the clips were viewed on my DELL U2410 monitor there appeared to be no significant difference (excluding wind shimmer that happens when using the E 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS with the telescoping part extended). I didn't pixel peep.

My first reaction was 'what am I doing wrong here' and I shall certainly repeat these comparisons, but...

I know that's not the full story and there is clearly more to it than simply video image quality but what I found remarkable was that HD held up so well. I also acknowledge that when viewing these clips with my nose one meter away from a huge 4k TV I might come to a different conclusion.

If I knew this when I purchased the A7RII would I have parted with my hard earned?

Yes, but not for the 4k, which is not so much to downplay 4k but the real take home for me is how good HD now is compared to HD of just the other day.

Has anyone else conducted a similar comparison, and if so I would certainly be interested in your results and comments.


Roger Gunkel January 22nd, 2016 04:46 AM

Re: 4k vs HD
Hi John,

If I understand you correctly, you have bought a 4k camera, filmed 4k and HD footage of the same scenes. You have then viewed the footage on a 24" HD monitor and concluded that there is no great difference in the footage shot at 4K and HD.

Due to the pixel density of 4k footage, you are really not going to see much difference on a 4k 24" monitor, and an HD monitor of any sort is not going to be capable of showing full res 4K images. If you compare the two on a 60" 4k tv, you will certainly see the difference.

I'm not sure what you were expecting to see with 4k as there is currently no general delivery medium for sharing 4k with clients. I have two 4k cameras and the advantage for me in filming in 4k is that I can crop the frame quite drasically, still maintaining an HD res picture. That means that I can crop a close up from a wide image or carry out a pan across a shot in post production from a fixed view. So for me, the flexibility of 4k is at the editing stage whilst maintaining the HD quality that my clients want on the delivered product.


John McCully January 22nd, 2016 10:17 PM

Re: 4k vs HD
Many thanks, Roger, for your input. Yes, you understand me correctly however I would emphasize the point that HD has come a long way certainly as produced by the Sony cams I have recently purchased. Seems to me the introduction of the Bionz X processor made a huge improvement in the overall quality of HD even as 4k hit the street.

I do understand the advantage in post you describe and other shooters have also reported this.

I was mightily impressed with the 4k delivered by the AX100 even if a tad sharp for my taste, generally. I did read here and there folks saying 4k rendered off as HD is better quality than HD. But as you say to really see a difference I need to be viewing my footage on a very large 4k TV, that I do understand.

What I was expecting to see with the A7RII when shooting 4k is in fact what I am seeing and that is very nice sharp footage. What I was not expecting to see is equally pleasing footage when shooting HD with the A7RII (and the A6000 for that matter).

So my observation is that HD in this day and age is not too shabby when compared to the latest and greatest 4k acknowledging the points regarding viewing environment and post manipulation needs. Of course one should add the notion of future proofing that shooting 4k provides.

I am not unhappy with my recent kit acquisitions.

Now I need more lenses.

Oh dear...here we go again!

Steve Burkett January 25th, 2016 04:35 AM

Re: 4k vs HD
Hi John,

HD has certainly seen some improvement. However if you're doing a comparison, a 24" HD screen is hardly the best way to show off 4K. It's like comparing different HD videos on a 10" tablet. I've done quite a bit of work with 4K and whist I strongly believe HD from a 4K camera is much better than HD from an HD camera (with some exceptions), its not in the same league as watching 4K on a large 4K TV. The extra detail becomes quite apparent.

In regards to HD quality, I think developments have more been in the DSLR range, which to be honest many at the time of early DSLR videos said were of a resolution closer to 720p in quality despite being full HD. My old Canon 60D footage is technically HD, but viewing the footage now and comparing it to the GH4 HD, the 60D resolution is much less detailed.

HD camcorders produced at the same time were better though suffered from smaller sensors. I think the C100 was the first to show off quality HD in a larger sensor, which if I understand correctly produces its image by downscaling from 4K internally.

In terms of comparisons, I've done one where I compared HD from the GH4, 4K from the GH4 and HD down-converted from the 4K video. The 4K video looked much more detailed, like looking through a window really. HD video in both cases I could see little difference. Both were sharp, but the loss of resolution was quite apparent compared to the 4K.

Chris Harding January 25th, 2016 06:16 PM

Re: 4k vs HD
I can certainly see the difference on my Panasonics between FHD and 4K BUT on my 23" monitor there HAS to be some detail in the shot to use as a comparison ...using blue skies and stunning scenery will never show any difference as there is no fine detail. Try filming the neigbour's fluffy cat ! Anything with a lot of detail will show up the difference ....macro closeups will also show the difference. Typical YT videos will often use zoo trips to show off 4K!

Of course you can take your two comparison clips on the time line and zoom around 4X on each image .. the 4K should keep the same resolution as the original HD and the HD should have deteriorated quite significantly!!

Paul Anderegg January 25th, 2016 09:05 PM

Re: 4k vs HD
I've tried the whole zoom in 4x on 4K images, but they never look right, always looks like very low quality HD.


John McCully January 25th, 2016 09:48 PM

Re: 4k vs HD
OK, here's my most recent comparison results. I set up the tripod in the shade and out of the wind at the edge of a small bay, Waikawa Bay to be precise. Sailboats near and far (tons of detail there especially in the rigging) small waves, bush in the background where my EX1 I would show lots of noise, a very warm day about 28 C with a thin high overcast enough to pleasantly subdue the contrast, clear atmosphere and plenty of colour, the sun 160 degrees to my right and high in the sky..

Distance to the nearest sailboat 90 meters and to the bush and a couple of houses across the bay about 900 meters. Tons of detail, light and movement out there. The steady wind of about 6 to 8 knots out on the bay moved the sailboats on their moorings and created small rapidly moving waves,

I imagine you get the picture. Hugely more congenial than shooting my neighbors mangy scruffy ill-tempered cat.

Just for the hell of it I dug out my old NEX 5n, dusted off the cobwebs set to defaults, attached the sharpest glass I have - a Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS lens - and fired away. There it was; good old boring soft lifeless pre-Bionz X HD.

I included the AX100 this time. The 4k mode is (only just) visibly better, sharper, than the HD mode with this cam when viewed on my 24" HD monitor.

The HD recorded in the A7RII was right up there with the 4k recorded with the same setup. If I pixel peep, yes, the 4k is sharper.

Again, my conclusion can be taken two ways (ignoring the frequently mentioned advantage 4k delivers in post). One might choose the half-full scenario - is 4k not that much better than HD. Or one might choose the half-empty scenario - is HD now (almost) as good as 4k. Or might it be the other way around!

Whatever, for me the very good news is that HD produced by these 4k capable cams is high quality, the best I have ever viewed. I won't think twice about shooting in HD especially where I have difficulty with the dimming of the EVF - as happens when shooting in 4k - therefore postponing the purchase of a field monitor.

And furthermore a 4k 65" TV is not in my foreseeable future :-)

Paul Anderegg January 25th, 2016 11:49 PM

Re: 4k vs HD
4K UHD on my PXW-X70 looks exactly the same as the SD DVCAM mode image on my 3.5" on camera LCD.......I can only conclude that........nevermind. :-)

John, repeat your testing by throwing a lot of gain and noise at the image, as see if you see more of a difference, especially when downrezzing 4K to FHD. :)


Steve Burkett January 26th, 2016 12:43 AM

Re: 4k vs HD
John your conclusions, as well constructed as they are, become spoiled simply as you're reviewing footage on a 24" HD monitor. Compare on a 4k monitor, then we're talking.

Dave Blackhurst January 26th, 2016 04:31 AM

Re: 4k vs HD
John, you're getting a race car chassis, a high horsepower engine, and then putting skinny little tires on it... the rubber isn't getting it to the road....

4K TV's are NOT that expensive, in fact they are rapidly becoming a valid option for replacing a comparable HDTV. LOTS of them on the walls at the local "superstores", and at prices that would have been attractive just a couple years ago for a decent HD model.

An HD "monitor" or TV will typically display a very "nice" image, but to appreciate 4K, either in video or stills, you have to put it on a 4K monitor.

Even my cheap-o Seiki 39" looks stunning, and is by far the most productive "desktop" I've ever used, and I've run multi-monitor rigs for years... a 4xFHD single display is very very useful if you get a large enough screen!.

Otherwise, 4K on an HD screen is like looking through dirty windows. When you see the "looking out the window" image quality the first time, you'll understand.

No doubt that you can get some very nice HD from recent cameras, my RX10 (mark I) produces a lovely picture and equally lovely video, probably "close enough" to 4K in the video department to satisfy many people, but there is still something more to a true 4K image on a 4K display.... The first time I looked at stills in the Sony 4K output mode on a 4K screen, it was like getting my eyes fixed to see "right"!!

I might add that I still see a lot of very "fuzzy" HD on broadcast, so it's likely all a bit relative...?

John McCully January 26th, 2016 01:52 PM

Re: 4k vs HD
Many thanks guys, your comments are most helpful. Dave, your comment about using the Seiki 39" is very interesting. That's about as big as I can go and even that it is pushing it a bit. My viewing and editing environment consists of a 9.4 meter yacht and a 9 meter motorhome, wonderful lifestyle but no huge lounge for a huge TV not to mention I haven't watched TV since I discovered the Internet long ago even before the introduction of Netscape. And it goes without saying I'm not about to swap my lifestyle for a huge lounge in which I might have a huge TV; no way Josť!.

So my workstations are also my entertainment stations so to speak and with half decent connections to the Internet the world, as I choose it, is at my fingertips.

Now, back to how might I best fit 4k into my life. Based on your comments I need a larger better monitor, 4k at that.

I note a merchant in a not to distant town is offering a Samsung 28" UHD High Glossy Monitor and a AOC U2868PQU ultra high definition monitor (same size and that's about as big as I can go). So will I get the wow factor when viewing 4k on these 28" 4k monitors, do you think? Of course I shall try before I buy however any thoughts on that most appreciated.

Dave Blackhurst February 4th, 2016 06:04 PM

Re: 4k vs HD
I like having the bigger monitor, keep in mind that these big panels are very slim front to back, and newer monitor/TVs have narrow bezels than older ones, so you can have as much as a couple inches smaller overall dimensions compared to a model just a couple years old. Check specs online, you might be surprised.

I think you'd you'd see the "wow" factor on a 28" if you're sitting close to it. I just picked up a laptop with a "QHD" (not quite 4K, but close) screen, and even though it's only 13.3", I see it as being sharper than a 1080 screen that I'm used to. It's subtle, but it's there.

John McCully February 4th, 2016 08:21 PM

Re: 4k vs HD
Thanks Dave, I did my homework and the monitor I might get is the Dell P2715Q. From the comments online this seems to be about it cost/performance wise right now. No doubt the price will come down probably right after I pull the trigger but hey, it's only money. I take your point that more screen real estate is good and it might as well be 4k.

I did more testing and yes, the 4k footage is sharper but only just..


Steve Burkett February 5th, 2016 02:38 AM

Re: 4k vs HD
To me 4K isn't about sharpness; its about extra detail. Its the same as if you compare an 8mb photo to a 2mb one on your phone. True all that extra detail on screen can create the appearance of sharper image, but if I showed a deliberately soft 4K image and a sharpened HD image, which image would look sharper to the eye. If your monitor can't display 4K, then you are not seeing the extra detail at all. Its 4K downsized to HD; the downsizing may cause some extra sharpening of the image, but the resolution just isn't there to see the difference.

John McCully February 5th, 2016 01:37 PM

Re: 4k vs HD
Thanks for commenting Steve. One of the more amusing comments I have read on the internet, not referring to 4k by the way, is 'it's not sharper it just looks like it is'.

Are you saying that when my 4k monitor arrives, early next week hopefully, and I view 4k footage on it I will actually see things that are invisible when I view the same scene, same lighting, same camera/lens, shot in HD and viewed on my 24 inch HD monitor? The comparison must be 4k viewed on a 4k native resolution monitor vs HD viewed on an HD native resolution monitor.

I am somewhat familiar with resolution charts where unresolved lines are just blurry. I understood the more lines resolved the sharper it is.

Whatever, as well as more screen real estate I shall settle for better 'quality' and if you want to pin me down on that word; good luck. I shall simply refer you to Robert Pirsig's book 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' wherein he concludes, more or less, that quality is not definable however I believe I shall know it when I see it.


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