A huge selling point for cameras in recent years has been their video capability. This is a result of the megapixel war being over, and manufacturers perceiving the need to sell their products with some magic number. For a while, it was “full HD” video, but now it’s “4K.” In the near future, we can expect “8K” to show up in our lexicon as well.
For those of you who don’t know, 4K doesn’t express resolution the same way “megapixel” is supposed to express resolution in a still camera; it represents the fact that the long dimension of the recorded and projected image is approximately 4,000 pixels.
Cue the eager reviewer in Hong Kong or London or Las Vegas, talking about bit rates and autofocus and color styles and F-log. Cue millennial in skinny jeans and pretentiously ironic Fedora, leaping from the railing in a parking garage in super-slow-motion, super-high-resolution. The reviewer’s voiceover says something like, “The new XQJ-37 makes a striking 4K video.”
What’s missing from all of these reviews? All of them? A script.
Essentially, 99.99 percent of all 4K video is demo reels that don’t tell any story of any kind. It’s another seriously misplaced priority in the imaging world.
Buying a 4K camera doesn’t make you a cinematographer, any more than buying an airplane makes you a pilot.
So what else do we need before we consider buying a 4K or 8K camera for making movies?
• A decent microphone is a game-changer; getting good sound is very difficult. The great news about this is the abundance of wireless Bluetooth and WiFi microphones coming on the market in recent years.
• Editing software and the intention to use it: You might be proud of your grand-nephew in that 90-minute junior high band concert, but no one else will ever watch it. Find a way to cut, cut and cut, with the intention of delivering 90 seconds of video instead of 90 minutes. I have an audio cassette tape of my own seventh-grade band concert, and even though it brings back a million memories, it is still unlistenable.
• A heavy tripod, a steady-cam, or someone with very steady hands: Nothing turns people off or makes them actually physically ill like jiggly, unsteady video, and it definitely interferes with telling your story.
• Getting closer: Even if you think you’re close enough, you’re not close enough, both for audio and composition.
• Awareness that most devices, flat-panel televisions, laptop and desktop computers, and tablets, are set up to show video in landscape mode, horizontally, and literally all professional video productions, television and motion pictures are set up this way: The only reason I can imagine that so many people make vertical video is that most people make video with their phones in the same fashion that they make selfies, vertically. Consider turning your phone on its side to create a more cinematic look that matches the way movies and television look. (When was the last time you watched a professional film or television program that was vertical?)
Filmmaking is a more complex and involved process than making still frames. It requires using more tools from our storytelling toolbox. Take a basic film class. Read a few film scripts. There’s a lot of room to grow with filmmaking, and there’s also a lot of potential.