Ever since we have had digital imaging, manufacturers have wanted to put video into stills cameras. In the early days the video was pretty rudimentary, low resolution, low frame rates – in fact virtually pointless. Over time, video has improved, one of the seminal turning points being the Canon EOS 5 mkII which could produce full high definition video on a 35mm sensor at a price point that was a fraction of similarly capable video cameras. It revolutionised video and has even been used for feature films. That revolution was a few years ago now but there is another sea change taking place. It has been started by 4K video and is going to mature with 8K video in a few years time. Some people are not going to like it, some are going to love it but it is going to revolutionise stills photography.
The question is how.
Many of you are aware that 4K video is beginning to make inroads into our daily lives. Youtube allows 4K uploads, Netflix and other online content providers are experimenting with it. Whilst like me, you may not have a 4K TV or monitor yet, there are a significant number of cameras available, both stills and video that can capture 4K. Those cameras make a superb job at doing so too. Gone are the days of low res low frame rates, today you can buy a stills camera for $800 that will shoot 4k video at 30 frames per second and standard HD at 60 frames per second.
So where are we going with this?
A standard HD video still is around 2 megapixels in size. By today’s standards that is nothing. However when you step up to 4K your image size leaps from that paltry 2mp to a very acceptable 8.8mp or in other words, a similar file size to most still cameras from a few short years ago. Indeed, 8mp is more than good enough for webpages, or even printed magazines. Now take a think about how that 4K video was captured, on a stills camera using a m4/3 or APS sized sensor using standard still camera exposure controls. Aperture is set as if shooting stills, shutter speed can be set to freeze motion, ISO and white balance can all be controlled manually. In other words it is no different to shooting a still image. The difference is of course that rather than shooting a single image, or 6 frames per second for a short burst, you are capturing 30 frames per second for long periods of time. Each one of those frames is an 8mp still image.
Camera manufacturers have recognised this fact and have incorporated functions into their cameras that allow the user to lift stills from a video timeline. Of course there are some things that need to be considered, the correct shutter speed for shooting video is designed to leave some motion blur in the shot, whilst for stills we may need to eliminate that. However the point is, that you can now effectively shoot in a continuous stills mode with an unlimited buffer and at 30 frames per second and get an 8mp image in each frame.
Think of the advantages this provides to wildlife, sports and even documentary photographers.
No longer do they need to time the shot to perfection rather they can just press the shutter and compose the images on the fly, pulling the optimum shot off of the video timeline.
Now you might shout out that 8mp is nothing these days and many will laugh in the face of such a resolution. You would be right, but at the top I said 4k is just the start of this revolution, maturity will come with 8K. Now lets take a little look at what 8K brings to the table.
At the moment, there are very few 8k cameras available and those there are, are hideously expensive. However, companies such as Sony and Red are already investing in the technology. You and I will not see 8K video for a few years but this mainly because the manufacturers want us to buy into 4k before we go 8K. However, if you think about how long HD has been around before we got to 4K, you will realise that it will not take to long before 8K reaches a consumer level.
Well an 8K video file has a resolution of 7680×4320 pixels. For those of you with a mathematical bent, or a calculator handy, that translates to a 33 megapixel still image. Whats more, by the time 8K is released, cameras will be able to handle frame rates of 60 frames per second or more. In other words, in a few short years time, the Canon 5D Mk XX will be able to shoot 33 megapixel images 60 times per second until the battery runs flat. All on a full frame photographic sensor.
The implications for this are immense. The very foundations of the photographic still image will be rocked. No longer are we photographers confined to a single click or at best a short burst, we will be able to leave the camera running continuously to get the perfect moment.
What Cartier Bresson would have thought of this is anyone's guess, but the fact is, that ultimately 8k video will utterly change photography forever. I am sure a few of you will disagree with this article, some may be upset by it, however, step back a few short years to the dawn of the digital age, and you will see the same arguments. The fact is that the march of technology is always matched by those with the will to walk with it. There will always be a place for still images, it just that in the near future, many of those still images will have come from motion sequences.