Here’s why you probably don’t need 8K right now (and why you might)
Canon’s recent announcement of the new EOS R5 wasn’t completely unexpected, but one of the camera’s key specifications, 8K video, did catch us a bit by surprise. 8K video has been in development for several years, but to date it’s mostly been limited to Hollywood-level cinema production and tech demos by Japanese broadcaster NHK.
With the R5 it looks like that may be about to change. In fact, we now know that the R5 will be able to capture 8K/30p using the full width of the sensor. Of course, there’s a lot more to video quality than just resolution, and we don’t expect the R5 to challenge a camera like the RED Helium 8K, but the fact that 8K is making its way into any consumer mirrorless camera suggests that this could be the tip of the iceberg.
With that in mind, let’s look at some reasons why you probably don’t need 8K video anytime soon – as well as a few reasons why you might.
Almost nobody is watching 8K
8K displays are absolutely incredible, and once you’ve seen one in person you can’t unsee it. It’s exciting to think that some day 8K displays will be everywhere.
But today, they’re not everywhere. In fact, they aren’t really anywhere except for niche locations like post-production environments or the living room of that guy down the street who always has the latest gizmo (and isn’t afraid to pay top dollar for it). Sure, 8K TVs are coming down in price, but they still run into the thousands of dollars and it will be a while before they’re commonplace.
8K TVs are coming down in price, but they still run into the thousands of dollars…
There’s also the question of whether most viewers will be able to see the difference between 4K and 8K. Even with good eyesight, human vision at typical viewing distances will be a limiting factor unless you’re using an exceptionally large display.
In short, there’s really no reason to get an 8K camera in order to deliver 8K content today.
You’ll probably need a new computer
Unless you’re in the high-end video production business, or possibly a really serious gamer, chances are pretty good that your current computer won’t be up to the task of editing 8K video.
The same thing happened when 4K video came on the scene. It wasn’t uncommon to discover that video rigs designed to cut through 1080p footage like butter could get mired down when working in 4K. We needed faster processors, faster video cards, faster storage and, of course, new 4K displays to take advantage of all that resolution.
We can expect similar challenges in the early days of 8K video. Early adopters will pay a premium to upgrade their editing equipment, so unless you really need to shoot 8K today it might be better to wait a couple years for better, and more affordable, mainstream support.
The files will be huge
Remember when we first started shooting 4K video and discovered just how big the files could be compared to HD? We needed larger memory cards, more of them, and in may cases, faster cards to accommodate the increased bit rates required for high quality 4K. Check out our recent review of the Panasonic S1H for a real world example of how this impacted DPReview’s Richard Butler.
Remember when we first started shooting 4K video and discovered just how big the files could be compared to HD?
Larger files also resulted in workflow changes. Some videographers who were used to editing entire projects on a laptop’s internal hard drive had to start carrying around external hard drives, and later, portable SSDs. Even archiving projects required more storage.
High quality 8K video will, to some degree, begin this cycle over again. At least this time we’re starting out in a world in which SSDs are ubiquitous, but we’re still going to need larger SSDs and faster connections to effectively work with 8K files. The good news is that SSDs are gaining capacity as prices continue to fall, and USB 4 promises to deliver faster connections for consumers without the high cost of Thunderbolt, but early adopters will again pay a premium.
Your current video lenses might hit their limits
A single frame of 4K video delivers around 8.2MP of resolution, something that’s comfortably within the resolving range of almost any lens from the modern digital era (and many earlier ones). In contrast, 8K video delivers roughly 33MP frames.
That’s within the working range of quite a few still cameras, and many recent optics are certainly capable of resolving that level of detail. If you already have higher resolving lenses that’s great, but if you’ve been shooting video using older lenses – including some from the digital era – you may find that you need to upgrade your glass to get the most out of 8K video.
To capture still photos from video
We’ve talked about several reasons why you probably don’t need 8K video today, but let’s consider a few reasons why you might want it anyway.
One might be to capture high quality still images from video. Heck, even 4K video provides enough resolution for many purposes, and features like Panasonic’s 4K and 6K Photo modes have been useful to many photographers. Having the option to capture 33MP images from video takes this to a whole new level.
At a recent NAB Show, Canon displayed a gallery of stunning photos that were extracted from 8K video frames; the quality was so high that they could have been shot with a modern DSLR. Of course, extracting photos from video may not be the ideal workflow for all types of photography, but for some it can work very well. We may very well see 8K photo modes on some cameras. Maybe even the R5.
For video post-production
8K video will provide immediate advantages when shooting and editing 4K projects; the camera operator will be able to plan a shot knowing it will be possible to ‘punch in’ later, and the editor will have more creative flexibility when cutting the project together.
The resolution provided by 8K will facilitate 2x cropping to 4K in post with no apparent loss of resolution, making it possible to simulate longer lenses or edit out distracting elements at the edges of a scene. It will also enable editing tricks like virtual zooms and pans. These techniques are frequently employed when editing 4K footage for HD delivery, but now the entire process can be scaled up.
8K will also allow you to do better green screen work. Good chroma-keying depends on the ability to discern fine details around the edges of your subject, such as hair. The more resolution you have to play with, the better. Other factors, such as color sub-sampling, are also important to the quality of green screen work, but all else being equal more resolution is an advantage.
To create even better 4K video
4K video is impressively detailed, but oversampled 4K video is even more detailed. So, even if you don’t need to create virtual crops, zooms or pans in your video you’ll still benefit from the effects of oversampling.
We’ve already seen a number of mirrorless cameras that oversample 4K in-camera, typically from a 6K starting point. However, sampling theory says that 8K is the minimum resolution you need to correctly capture the maximum resolution that 4K can show. In effect, it’s perfect oversampling, similar to the way the original Sony a7S (above) captured 4K and downsampled it to 1080 with zero luma aliasing.
To future-proof equipment
This one is tricky because it requires us to predict the future a bit more. However, there are a couple useful data points we can look at: 1) As a consumer technology, 4K video experienced more rapid adoption than many expected, and 2) The trend among camera buyers is to upgrade their cameras less frequently than they did in the past.
This suggests that 8K technology could be widely available more quickly than we anticipate as well. In fact, it’s already showing up on some smartphones. As a result, if you plan to keep your next camera for a while and want to make sure it’s future-proof, then it may be a good idea to ensure your next purchase is 8K-ready.
To future-proof content
There was a time when widespread access to HD TVs and displays seemed a long way off, but savvy content creators, including a lot of small, independent videographers, were already producing content in HD instead of SD. Why? Because they knew that if they didn’t, once HD was more widely adopted their content would appear dated quickly (and possibly even be excluded from some platforms).
This was true during the transition from HD to 4K as well, and we’ll likely see a similar trend as we move to 8K. Whether the visual difference between 4K and 8K at standard viewing distances is as noticeable as the previous transitions is debatable: both have so much detail it might be difficult to tell them apart.
Whether the visual difference between 4K and 8K at standard viewing distances is as noticeable as the previous transitions is debatable…
However, screens keep getting larger over time: the 24″ TV that sat in a family’s living room in the 1980s became a 65″ TV by the 2010s. If screens get big enough, the difference between 4K and 8K might actually become noticeable. There’s a counter argument to this, of course, which is that many people watch more content on the tiny screen that fits in their pocket than on a TV, so it depends a lot on your target audience.
Ultimately, if future-proofing your content is important, it might make sense to begin working in 8K early.
8K is coming, but do you need it now?
The Canon EOS R5 is likely the first of many cameras we’ll see with 8K video. At a technical level, we should at least recognize that this is a pretty impressive accomplishment for any manufacturer. However, whether you truly need 8K video in the near future is debatable.
If you’re the type of person who mostly shoots video to capture your own life adventures, share movies with friends on social media, or does fairly minimal editing on the video you shoot then there’s little incentive to adopt 8K today. Chances are good that you won’t notice much difference.
If you’re the type of person who mostly shoots video to capture your own life adventures… chances are good that you won’t notice much difference.
On the other hand, if you’re serious about video and produce 4K content, 8K has the potential to benefit your workflow: cropping to 4K in post, digital pans and zooms, and downsampling to create better 4K video being just a few examples. 8K will appeal to some stills photographers as well. Do you enjoy using 4K and 6K photo modes on your camera to nail the perfect frame? If so, you’ll probably love 8K photos.
Not sure if 8K is in your future? You can watch this 8K video on YouTube while you decide. Of course, you’ll need an 8K monitor to properly watch it, which you can find here. We’ll wait while you try it out.