STOCK DIARIES - Panasonic GX8 and Canon primes - Hybrid - Stills from video sucks (at the moment)

Hybrid (combined still and video output from one camera) is the order of the day. And Panasonic embrace it more than most, putting 4K video and photo options in all their latest cameras. 

All above 4K 'video grabs' from moving footage

WHERE - Evesham Light Railway

WHEN - February 2016

WHAT - Panasonic GX8, Metabones Canon EF > m4/3 speed booster, Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS lens

HOW - iMovie for the video, stills grabbed by using the 'Snapshot' function in VLC video player

So, is this the future? There are already rumours about 6K, producing 18MP stills and 8K, with 33MP stills. Some are suggesting this will be the end of stills photography as we know it. I think I might have written something similar. But for me and I believe a lot of other photographers, this has been exaggerated and what in theory seems a good idea, is in fact nothing of the sort. Because the 4K reality of those 8MP 'frame grabs' is pretty poor. And this will only be the future of photography if you're happy shooting in 16:9 horizontal format and are prepared to tolerate soft files full of motion blur. Because that's what 4K photo basically comes up with. Panasonic does allow some different frame sizes, but most other 4K cameras don't. 


I'm shooting a lot of 4K footage stock clips these days. However, for the majority of this work, I'm shooting my stills separately. Apart of course for examples like above with the small narrow gauge train. I can't ask the driver to some back again so I can get some stills. I have to choose between shooting stills and video and if I'm shooting the latter I'm stuck with the video grab (or 4K Photo) option. And in terms of web publication these 'frame grabs' are OK, or at least they are with some Photoshop work. But a lot of stock libraries reject them out of hand. And I can see why. Despite being around A4 size, the quality of the files is some way short of what we now expect from digital cameras. I suspect that it won't get that much better with 6 and 8K. Larger certainly, but probably just as soft. Below is an example of what a 100% blowup from my GX8 footage looks like.

Not exactly that great for an 8MP file is it? My smartphones can do better than this. 

As a web image or in a situation where there isn't a better alternative, this might do. But as a serious way of producing stills, it's not something I would do deliberately. Simply because these days, the very best digital stills cameras produce files of incredible resolution and quality and I for one have no intention of swapping that for what is a second rate alternative. 

There is also a misconception about the future of imaging. Any notion that says images will only be published electronically and viewed on smartphones or tablets is misleading. Sure convenience works for many, but print media won't disappear and huge 4K wall mounted monitors are very demanding in terms of the quality of the content they display. And much of the current 4K output from the cameras and smartphones we use currently, flatters to deceive. And in terms of the internet, I've just got superfast broadband, which allows me to do things like upload 37GB of images to the cloud in a few hours, which I did yesterday, but still struggles to play a 4K video off YouTube flawlessly without stuttering. Because unless governments finance the ripping up of their countries phone cables and replacing them every few years the internet will remain 'clogged up' for the foreseeable future. There are already warnings that the fibre optic cabling BT are rolling out in the UK is out of date before it's even been installed everywhere. And just how many more selfies can we store on server farms?

I guess the 8K vision is tempting for many, but is this going to turn into another megapixel race? The bulk of TV and movie making isn't suddenly going to move to 4K / 6K / 8K in terms of output and getting the media consumer movie and broadcast industry to do what magazines do with high resolution stills, isn't that easy. 4K is already demanding enough, how on earth are our broadband lines going to cope with 8K? Plus as potential creators of this material, what are the implications for the computers and storage we'll have to buy to cope with the massive file sizes of this material?

It's all moving a bit fast and as far as I can see way ahead of what is needed to make something like 8K viable. Plus there is already a lot of cropping in camera going on with 4K, will this get worse with 8? And what are the implications for battery life? We could be changing batteries after each video clip!!

Manufacturers will do this because they can. And it does grab headlines. But the reality is probably nowhere near as exciting as the hype would lead us to believe. So, I don't expect that I'll be shooting video only and pulling my stills off that in the future. It sounds like a good idea, but there's still an awful lot of potential left in the way we create still images currently. At least there should be if we continue to make quality output a requirement of what we do.