What’s Your Resolution?

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love 1080p

On set of SOUTH BEACH, which we shot on the Canon C300mkI in 1080p.

Every time a company releases a new camera we find something to complain about. “There’s no 4k!” “It has 4K but it’s only 10-bit!” “There’s no swivel screen!” “It’s not full frame!”

Recently, Canon released the 6DmkII. It seems like a pretty awesome camera: $2000 gets you a full frame sensor, swivel screen, compatibility with its EF line of lenses, shoots 1080p video, etc. I’ve had the 6DmkI for three years now and would seriously consider updating if I had the cash. All in all, for an entry level full-frame camera, I’d recommend this to people.

But that didn’t stop people from finding something to whine about, did it? What grave error did Canon commit in releasing this camera?

It doesn’t shoot 4K.

Full disclosure here: I love Canon cameras and shoot with them all the time. On occasion, Canon lends me new cameras to test out and will pay me to attend workshops and give advice to people about using their cameras. They have not done this with respect to the 6DmkII or this article. I’m writing this article for my own reasons and it actually doesn’t have a lot to do with any one specific camera. Just to get that out of the way.

So, yes, the camera doesn’t shoot 4K and I read article after article complaining about this fact and it irritated me to the point that I ranted about it on Twitter.

Beyond the fact that people seem to want a high-end feature at low-end prices, my main question was this: Why do you care?

Why do you care that Canon didn’t include 4K with this camera? With so many other options available, why are you spending your time whining about it? Why does it bother you? Why are you even giving it the time of day?

I’m so fucking sick and tired of these resolution arguments. And I think you’re bad at what you do if that’s all you base your opinion on. First of all, while it may be “4K” it may be really terrible 4K (because it has to be compressed and that has much more of an effect on quality than resolution does). And second of all, if you’re worried about whether your movie, that you shot on an entry level DSLR camera, will be turned down by Netflix because it’s not in 4K, you’re probably putting the cart before the horse and should step back and re-evaluate everything.

If your film is good enough, Netflix will not care what the native resolution is. They won’t, because they’ll want the film. If the film isn’t any good, 4k won’t save you. (I know this because my second feature Be Somebody is on Netflix and it wasn’t shot in 4K.)

And that’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it? “If I could only shoot in 4k my film would be better.” It won’t be. Resolution tends to have exactly zero effect on the quality of the film (especially since so few people in the US and around the world can actually view 4k content). You know what can have a profound effect on the quality of your film? A camera’s low-light sensitivity, which no one ever talks about because most cinematographers refuse to acknowledge that modern cameras can shoot well above 3200 ISO and maintain a near noiseless image. So, why does low-light sensitivity lead to better quality? Better low-light capabilities in a camera means less time lighting, which means more time shooting, which means more takes, which means better performances from your talent, which means better story and thus a better film. (I know, I’ve seen it first hand.)

Frankly, the easiest format to shoot in is 1080p. Pretty much any computer and editing system can handle it, you can easily color it in Resolve without the threat of crashes and you can scale up to 2k without a noticeable loss of quality. Because of all this, it is ultimately cheaper.

One of the ways I was able to do LAYOVER for $6000 was because I could do everything on my home computer. I didn’t have to rent an editing suite or buy expensive computers in order to handle the footage. I didn’t have to find an outside colorist in order to finish the footage. None of that cost me any money. So I was able to put the money into other places where it might have more impact.

Even though the C300mkII can shoot 4K I prefer to shoot in 2K because I can get a better bit-depth (2K/12-bit vs 4K/10-bit) which gives me more leeway in post and better color.

Eve Cohen, a fantastic cinematographer and collaborator of mine had this to say about it:

‘Cohen had reasons for choosing lower-res 2K technology, and they weren’t based just on budget constraints. She argued that when finishing the picture in post-production, 2K would provide more flexibility since it’s recording at a higher bit-depth and offers more subtly in the grayscale. Cohen says she generally prefers 2K for work that doesn’t require VFX. “I think the 2K 12-bit renders a better-quality image than the 4K 10-bit,” she notes.’

I also shot my third feature film NEGATIVE on the Canon C100mkII in 1080p. Why? Well, for the same reasons I did on LAYOVER. I knew I could personally handle the workflow which would cut on costs and give me greater control.

So, how does this apply to you? In all honestly, it doesn’t matter what camera you shoot on. In fact, you shouldn’t even really be worried about what camera you’re shooting on. Most of them, whether its 1080p or 8k, deliver a quality image. The ‘best’ camera is the one available to you to shoot your film without having to wait on anyone else. If you can get a RED or Alexa then fine, go for it. If you have a budget and can be testing the effect of 1970s Panchro lenses on a RED vs Alexa, good for you. I’m jealous. But many who have come before you didn’t find those cameras necessary or available. And that didn’t stop them.

Lena Dunham broke out with a film that was shot on the Canon 7D. Sean Baker shot TANGERINE on the iPhone. The team behind BELLFLOWER built their own.

So, now I’ll ask you: is shooting on 1080p stopping you from making something? Are you having to now go raise money to buy or rent a camera that can shoot 4k or 6k or 8k because you think your film will be lacking as a result? Again, you’re putting the cart before the horse.

You should be worried about your story and your characters because that’s something no camera can fix.

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Joshua Caldwell is a director, writer, producer, and MTV Movie Award Winner. His debut feature film LAYOVER was made for $6000 and had its World Premiere to sold out crowds at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival where it was nominated for the prestigious FIPRESCI New American Cinema Award. In 2015, he directed the first season of Hulu’s SOUTH BEACH and the Paramount Pictures feature film BE SOMEBODY. In 2017 his latest film, the action-thriller NEGATIVE, had its World Premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival and will be released in the fall.

For more visit Joshua-Caldwell.com!

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