Should You Shoot Independent Films in 4K or 1080p?

One of the biggest discussions in today's independent filmmaking communities debunked.

So you've thought of an amazing film idea, written a script, found locations, and hired your cast and crew. Now what? Time for principle photography and gathering your film equipment.

The most important part of a film besides sound, plot, and the performances of your cast is of course the video quality of your film. You may be thinking, "Well there isn't much of a difference between which camera I use."

The unfortunate truth is that yes, there are many differences between the cameras you use for your projects. For example, a RED Epic Dragon Camera that costs over $20,000 may preserve more detail in darker environments compared to an iPhone X or a Canon T3i. This is due to the fact that the sensors have different specs that will effect the quality of the video you shoot, as well as the lens you use and settings you have within your camera's OS.

Ok, so we get it. There are many different brands, types, and specs for the many models of cameras. Some of these we may have easy access to, and others us independent filmmakers may never use. In the end for us, there is only one question we ask ourselves: Do I shoot with a 4K or 1080p camera?

Differences between video resolutions.

4K vs. 1080p. Which is better in 2017?

When it comes to resolution, it's important to note that what makes a great film is not what resources you don't have, but by the resources you do have. In today's day and age, there are movie studios and production companies releasing 4K blu-rays, 4K content on Netflix, and also 4K movies on iTunes. This may be a great approach for studios like 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., etc., but us at the independent level have a lot less pressure on our shoulders.

For us independent filmmakers, all we need currently is a camera that can shoot in 1080p. Why you may ask? 1080p is the standard in most television and movie outlets. With the low budgets we have, we don't need a 4K camera because 4K is not yet the standard at our level.

Whether you're a filmmaker who makes money from your films, or if you're just starting out (Welcome to the film world, guys!), there's no reason to worry or put focus on what camera you'll use if you have a Canon T3i, or a Canon T6i in your possession. 

You may be asking yourself, "Well what if I want to shoot in 4K?"

You can do that too! This article isn't frowning upon 4K or saying 4K should never become your own personal standard when shooting your films, it just isn't the time to say "4K at the independent level is the new standard. No 1080p allowed."

What we are saying at Apocalypto Productions is that you are free to choose which camera you want to use, whether it be one that can shoot in 720p, or even up to 8K resolution. As long as you focus more intently on the story you are creating, the camera you use will never matter (to a certain extent of course).

Always remember these truths in regards to resolution as an independent filmmaker (Low or high budget):

  1. Resolution is a matter of personal choice, a resolution someone else uses should never determine your project's resolution.
  2. If you have a 1080p camera, use it! Before reaching out to external resources, always look at your internal resources first (This includes other equipment like lighting, props, wardrobe, etc.).
  3. Sometimes 4K is used for shots that you want to look more cinematic or so you can use more of the available resolution to downsize to 1080p for online releases (If 1080p doesn't allow you enough coverage area in certain scenes you shoot).
  4. In some situations, the camera you use could be the one you have on you everyday. For example, we use an iPhone 7 Plus for our films currently and will be using it for the years to come!

At the End of the Day...

There are many things to consider when thinking about the resolution you want to use for your film projects. Some filmmakers may use 4K, and then others may use 1080p. It all comes down to personal preference, budget, and the style choice of your film.

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Should You Shoot Independent Films in 4K or 1080p?