4K has more and more iterations now, with XAVC and XF-AVC. And it’s getting more efficient and easy to handle, with more and more possible ways in which you can edit. But as processing power catches up with high resolutions, you still need to be thinking about two things: getting the best from your camera and reducing bottlenecks in your workflow.
New codecs and iterations of 4K are throwing us into another steep learning curve of codecs and bitrates. Just like when HDV allowed us to shoot HD footage on DV tape, you need to be thinking about what you are shooting, how to get it looking the best for the way you plan to process it, and the type of look you need. Quick turnaround video will obviously need a lower rate of compression compared to a more conceptual piece. Also, more cameras are putting out a Wide HDR Gamma, which is great as long as you’re shooting in a format which you can grade a bit in post. There’s no point having the widest DR for your shoot with even, flat images and shooting in a codec that can’t stand up to the rigours of a bit of work in post.
It’s important to bear in mind that each shoot will require a subtly – though sometimes drastically – different approach, and most of us don’t have the budget to have a camera cupboard that looks like the gun cupboard from Men In Black. So often we temper our wants to our needs to get a camera to use like a multi-tool.
Something like the XC-10 is a great example of the new generation of videographer multi-tool cameras: medium to large sensor, fixed lens, HDR Gamma, 4K Native, multi-media recorders. There’re always trade-offs with any camera that tries to keep budget over features, and with this camera, it’s XLR inputs and size that you trade off to keep the budget down. But it’s always a tipping point and complex balancing act, so the key now is to find the shooter for you and fill its gaps with accessories.
So take the XC-10 again, for example. Add a set of Tascam pre-amps and you have your XLR control back. The next thing to consider is media – the phenomenally expensive CFast. Which brings us to looking at codecs, as that relates directly to workflow.
The balance struck between codec, recording media and workflow would be amazing if it was always one of creativity. However, it isn’t. It’s often one of money and time. It needs to be affordable and it needs to be time efficient, otherwise we would always shoot RAW and always shoot 4K because it looks sexy and, in this ideal world, populated by faeries and uni-kitties, there would always be time to get everything 100% perfect and how you wanted it.
In the real world, “films aren’t ever finished, only ever abandoned” (to drop in a Richard Curtis quote, and one I’ve always identified with). Time runs out, and the more space you can give yourself, the better chance you have of getting everything perfect before the client comes knocking and it’s deadline day.
Shooting native codecs can give you one of the best chances of this. You have the camera that can do everything you need, but you want to cut down on rendering times and minimise processing power. Coupling the Atomos Shogun to the XC-10 will give you immense flexibility in post, as it gives you the ability to shoot and edit in a native codec, and four varying profiles of native DNxHR, for example.
With increased resolution comes increased bandwith strains and higher complexity compression. Take H.265 for example, which requires around three times more processing power than H.264. Using a DNxHR workflow in Media Composer gives you several things when you use the Atomos Shogun with the XC-10 or another camera to record 4K.
First, it gives you a much greater capacity to make the most of your HDR Gamma curves when grading your finished footage. Then it gives you a much less processor-intensive workflow when cutting than the internal codecs, driving down render times and therefore increasing the time you can work creatively to meet your delivery dates.
So, when looking for a camera and considering how to spend your budget to meet your needs, think beyond the camera into the workflow, and how additional accessories such as the right DTE recorder can increase creativity in shooting and flexibility in editing to maximise how you’re spending your budget.