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The Truth about 2K, 4K and the Future of Pixels

COW Library : Cinematography : John Galt : The Truth about 2K, 4K and the Future of Pixels
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Water droplet, courtesy Julian Evil.
Water droplet, courtesy Julian Evil.


SPEED AND RESOLUTION

I subscribe to Jim Cameron's argument, which is that we would get much better image quality by doubling the frame rate than by adding more pixel resolution.

[Ed. note: Although John wrote this for us a couple of years ago, Cameron discussed his plans for higher frame rates in a presentation at the Churchill Club in San Jose, CA in October 2010: "The only sweeping [technological] change between now and when we release the second Avatar film, is that I want to natively author the film at a higher frame rate and project it at a higher frame rate. I want to get rid of the motion artifacting associated with 24 frame display. Because movies are way behind, they're a century out of date."

To many cinematographers, this is sacrilege. You often hear cinematographers saying, "there's something special about movies at 24 frames per second." But there are problems with 24 fps. It's the reason we watch such a dim picture on a movie screen: if you pump up the screen brightness, you would notice the flicker from the 24 fps motion capture.

When you are watching in a dark movie theater, the eye and brain get into a state called mesopic, that is neither photopic, [which is full color vision in bright light], or scotopic [which is night vision and no color]. It's the inbetween state, between full color and no color vision. What happens there, the brain takes longer to integrate an image, so it fuses the motion better. We are less sensitive to flicker, but we also lose color acuity.

But we have to remember that 24 frames was never designed from an imaging standpoint. It was designed for sound. When sound came along and they couldn't make it intelligible at 16 fps, they went into the next sub-multiple of 48, which is 24 frames with a 2 bladed shutter: 48 flashes of 24 frames per second.

Now, if you take a still picture of somebody walking in front of you at a 48th of second, you know that they're going to be blurred. But if we were to record 48 frames per second with a 2-bladed shutter, then the integration time would be only a 96th of a second, and each of the images would be sharper.


Vision Research Phantom camera.
Vision Research Phantom camera.


We've recently been renting a camera from Vision Research called the Phantom, which easily shoots at over 1000 fps. When you see a drop of water in a commercial fall slowly and create a lovely little splash of bubbles, that's the sort of thing shot by these high speed cameras. They are actually quite low-resolution, but because they're shooting at such a short shutter speed, they look much much sharper than cameras that have four times the resolution.

This is why I honestly think that in the future, one direction we're going to have to go is to higher frame rates, not more pixels.


 


 

John Galt.

John Galt,
Woodland Hills, California USA


John Galt is currently the Senior Vice President of Advanced Digital Imaging at Panavision's corporate office. His responsibilities at Panavision include the development of digital imaging technologies in support of Panavision's core motion picture and television production business. Find his original article in Issue 12, New Visions : The truth about 2K, 4K & the Future of Pixels.







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