Is 4K the Future of Photography?

January 12th, 2015


By Justin Miller (Zenfolio Technical Evangelist)


Today we have a new standard of video resolution. It’s called 4K. That means 4096 x 2060 pixels. That means: quite a step up from your momma’s television set.

This higher-than-normal resolution has a couple of implications to the average consumer. It’s not a broadcasting standard. It needs an expensive high-res TV or monitor, and it requires a serious computer to play games in 4K with a reasonable refresh rate. But what does it mean to a photographer?

For photo editing, it means a sharper image on your screen. If you’re shooting with a Canon 5D Mark III camera, the maximum resolution on any photo is 5760 x 3840. A Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 will give you 4608 x 3456. This will require a lot of memory cards that can record quickly and reliably. Then, if you want to view any of those photos on a monitor at 100 percent, you’ll need something that can handle that resolution. 4K gets pretty close to the resolution listed by those cameras, and you can get a camera that can do this for under a grand as long as you have a computer with a video card that can handle it. A more recent MacBook Pro can handle 4K through the Thunderbolt port, although your refresh rate might be somewhere between 15 to 30 Hz. But if clarity is what you want, check out the 27-inch iMac with a Retina 5K display. That’s an amazing 5120 x 2880 resolution. It all boils down to this: if you want to shoot 4K, you need the proper equipment to capture, store, and edit it.


The flip side is what video can do for you as a photographer. Previous HD video often meant 720 x 1280. More recently it’s been a standard 1920 x 1080, the same resolution as most monitors. Today you can get a GH4 for less than $1500 that records video 24fps at the same resolution as still images. That’s more than 4K. The GoPro HERO4 for less than $500 shoots at ultra high definition 3840 x 2160. This all translates into the ability to pull some amazing shots from frames of video. Previously you couldn’t use video frames because lower resolution wouldn’t be high enough quality. 4K changes all of that. Why miss a second when any one of those 24 frames could be photographic gold! Talk about a new crazy culling workflow.

4K isn’t a necessity. In some cases it’s just plain overkill. I’d never call 4K a game changer for photography and won’t be running out to get my hands on a camera or monitor that can handle it quite yet. The technology is improving and prices are going down. However, 2015 might be the year for 4K.



jae leeYou may have seen Justin Miller on various Zenfolio training videos, webinars or training photographers at a tradeshow. This jack of all trades lives and breathes the newest photographic technology and is part code nerd and gear geek with one mission: to make sure Zenfolio users understand how to maximize all the features and functionality available to them. If you spot him, don’t be surprised if he has a Mountain Dew in hand.