Behind the Scenes | Naturally Country image

Behind the Scenes | Naturally Country

Travel and editorial photographer Lauren MacNeish discovers small-town USA

Flying over the Grand Tetons, as the small plane began to land, was one of the most beautiful views I had ever seen. Later, I’d realise that this was only the beginning of a week filled with sights I’d only ever seen in photographs before.

© Lauren MacNeish

On August 5th 2016. I began my journey to Jackson, Wyoming from Edinburgh airport, a mere 4,500 miles away. Boarding the first flight of three, I was filled with sheer excitement.

I had only ever seen this part of America in photographs and in movies. It’s a difficult place to imagine for a small-town Scottish girl. I guess it’s a bit like trying to explain the Scottish Highlands to someone who has spent their days in NYC. I was travelling 4500 miles, but I was going to be a world away from home.

Let me paint you a picture: arriving in Jackson Hole airport. Now when I say ‘airport’, we think Edinburgh or Heathrow, with their never-ending corridors, gates, terminals, people…! But nope, none of this at Jackson Hole. Think log cabin, but on a slightly bigger scale, seated in the shadows of the Grand Tetons. The airport itself is an attraction for someone like me.

I approached the town of Jackson Hole and I was in complete awe by this utterly parallel universe to my own. While stopped at traffic lights, a horse and carriage passed me by, followed by a guy in full cowboy attire crossing the road in front of me. Let me say, these are not sights you see in Edinburgh. Or Scotland for that matter. Or even the UK. I was overwhelmed with excitement at finally being in American country territory.

© Lauren MacNeish

On this first day of arrival, I took a leisurely walk around the town square and watched as a country singing busker entertained a crowd – five bucks well spent. The tiredness was setting in and I was ready to lie down for the night but curiosity got the better of me as crowds began to form on the streets. The annual town shoot-out was getting underway and I knew I had to watch. When I say shoot-out, obviously I don’t mean a real one. It was actually quite enjoyable to watch, and I learned a lot of history about the town.

© Lauren MacNeish

I spent the following day at T.A. Moulton Barn (America’s most photographed barn, apparently), which is nestled in the ‘gardens’ of the Grand Tetons. This is a tourist hot-spot and I had to wait patiently for this ‘person-free’ photograph. Ain’t got time for the clone stamp!

© Lauren MacNeish

Bizarrely, although there were many tourists at the barn, there was a calm silence. I sort of felt like I was in the middle of nowhere – which, I guess, I kind of was.

In this digital age where we continually upload photographs on social media, it has become very easy to view photographs of some of the most magnificent sights the world has to offer. Sometimes, these photographs are so far from our realms of imagination that they become fairy tale-esque. We see these beautiful photographs and sometimes find it difficult to believe that these places really do exist. Seeing the reflections of the Grand Tetons at Schwabacher’s Landing was one of those places. I had often seen postcard-style photographs from this viewpoint, and I can’t tell you how surreal it was to physically be standing in that spot – I even look back at my own photograph and don’t think it looks real!

© Lauren MacNeish

If you look at my landscape photography, you’ll see that I primarily focus on how light affects the shapes and textures of each scene. I am fascinated by the natural shapes that surround us, and the different textures of each landscape. I don’t use HDR or over-edit landscapes, because in a way I feel like I would be breaking some unwritten contract between photographer and Mother Nature. As a photographer, I want to take photographs of how the scenes make me feel – I want to feel connected to what I photograph, so it is important for me to stay true to the scene. I am fascinated by the natural world, and while I don’t necessarily take photographs that will look good hanging on walls, I try to take photographs that show the way light, shape and texture forever change the landscapes around us.

On one evening, just before sunset, storm clouds began to envelope the rough textures of the Grand Tetons. It was astonishing. I think the only editing I did to this photograph was reducing some shadows.

© Lauren MacNeish

The otherworldly sights of Yellowstone are breathtaking. Watching the Old Faithful geyser erupt its hot-water in Yellowstone is one of those things I had only ever heard about – it was just amazing to witness.

© Lauren MacNeish

Walking on the boardwalk that leads through Grand Prismatic Spring to view its colourful canvas was mind-blowing.

© Lauren MacNeish

It’s difficult to provide a true representation of Yellowstone over such a short period of time. But, if something is to be learnt from here then it is that: nature is a force to be reckoned with and it is still very much bigger than all of us. Richard Feynman put it better when he said: “I think nature’s imagination is so much greater than man’s, she’s never going to let us relax.”

© Lauren MacNeish

Besides any technicalities photography-wise, my biggest difficulty when photographing a place I’ve never been to before is to try to not always romanticize it. There were things in Jackson that I did not agree with, namely: the attitude to guns and the political ideas. However, it’s the nature I fell in love. And I think that if you find nature, then beauty is not far away. I guess we always have an objective to what we photograph. We can manipulate scenes to suit the story that we are trying to tell. I suppose that’s another unwritten contract; this time between photographer and viewer. I seek the stories I wish to tell, but I try to keep it real. Photography is one of the greatest sources of expression, so a lot of what I photograph is dependent on my feeling at the time. Sometimes the ‘romanticised’ photographs are taken because that’s exactly how the scene made me feel or that’s the mood that I was in. If the ‘cons’ to a place outweighed the ‘pros’, then it would be a completely different gallery of photographs to view.

So what are these photographs? Snapshots of a trip? A depiction of a place? Romanticised landscapes? I would say, all of the above and then some.

This trip was truly incredible and if there’s one thing I am learning, it’s that: when I visit places that are so different to where I call ‘home’; my mind changes. And that’s changing everything.

You can view more of my images from this trip on my SmugMug site:

© Lauren MacNeish

Lauren MacNeish is an editorial photographer with a passion for travel. You can visit her website at

Behind the Scenes | An Arctic Adventure image

Behind the Scenes | An Arctic Adventure

James Morgan tells us about a recent photographic assignment that had him braving the bitter cold on the Arctic Ocean.

You can’t always tell when an assignment will turn into an adventure but my latest brief had all the right ingredients. I was set to be joining an Arctic research ship on a trip around Svalbard.

When the first day of my shoot arrives, we set off from Longyerbyen, heading north. The ship we’re on is an old prawn trawler, but it’s been kitted out for science. The landscape is incredible, I stay on deck until I can’t take the cold any more, then I go inside until I can’t take the sea sickness.

morgan1 © James Morgan

The purpose of the trip is to conduct research trawls and sampling to monitor how climate change is affecting fisheries ecosystems. With ice retreating and the potential for new fishing grounds moving further north, the Norwegian government are keen to inform their policies with as much hard science as possible.

morgan2 © James Morgan

A few days later we arrive at Ny Alesund. With claims to be the most northerly settlement on the planet, Ny Alesund was established originally as a whaling station, then later a coal mining town. It’s now an international research centre run by the Norwegian Polar Institute. A lot of the world’s leading climate scientists do stints up here.

This is the view out of the canteen window:

morgan3 © James Morgan

Across the bay a network of glaciers are slowly melting. The next morning we head out by rib to get a closer look. On the way we pass an iceberg the size of a small house and as cyan blue as a chewing gum advert. Travelling over mirror flat ocean, there’s a strange optical illusion; the glacier seems to retreat further and further away until about a kilometre out where the size of it suddenly becomes apparent.

morgan4 © James Morgan

We arrive just in time to see a large shelving take place. This is where the glacier collapses into the ocean, sending waves for miles out across the fjord. It’s become the de facto image for climate change (along with the one of the polar bear stranded on the iceberg).

That afternoon we fly over the glacier to get a full sense of its size and, comparing with old data maps, the full extent of its retreat.

A glacier melting into Kongsfjorden bay outside Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard. A glacier melting into Kongsfjorden bay outside Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard | © James Morgan

Later that night, the coastguard pick us up for a demonstration of how they’re policing these waters. We get in the ribs and head out to sea. We pull up alongside a navy ship, a hook is winched down from above, attached to the rib and we shoot fifty feet out of the water up to deck level.

The bridge is dark and shady figures hang around consoles. The entire ship is run off LNG as opposed to diesel and so the ocean outside glides by in an eerie silence. It feels like the future. We get a quick briefing and then we’re taken below deck to put on orange survival suits and helmets for the operation.

morgan6 © James Morgan

Then we’re back in the ribs, winched back into the ocean and blasting across the night time sea to run an inspection of a shrimp trawler. There’s no winch this end to lift the rib out of the water, instead a rope ladder is hung down. The fisheries inspectors get off first. I pack my camera into a Peli case and walk to the front of the boat. The rib pulls up alongside the trawler and I’m told to ‘commit’. I grab the ladder as the swell lifts the rib up to the ladder. The rib backs away and I’m left clinging to the ladder, the Arctic Ocean churning beneath me and a long climb up the side of the trawler.

morgan7 © James Morgan

On board, the trawler crew are bringing up the net. The fisheries inspectors tell me that the trawl would equate to about £500 for every member of crew. They’ve done four that size today. They make good money but I don’t envy them – when the excitement wears off the sea sickness will be back. And winter is coming….

You can see more of James Morgan’s work from Svalbard on his website 

On the Trail of Iberian Lynx image

On the Trail of Iberian Lynx

Nature photographer Luke Massey goes hunting for images of one of the rarest of rare cats

© Luke Massey

I remember getting a brief glimpse of a Canadian lynx about 15 years ago, and from that moment I was hooked. Most nature enthusiasts have that one species they want to see, and for me it was (and still is) lynx. I just can’t think of a moodier but more stunning-looking cat. Leopards are sexy, lions are a bit dull and jaguars are mean-looking muscle machines but lynx just have it all: the looks, the attitude. They’re awesome.

I’ve tried to see European lynx loads of times, I’ve heard them, found fresh tracks, even fresh droppings, but they’ve continued to evade me. They’re hide and seek masters.

Alongside these lynx you’ve got the Iberian lynx, the rarest cat in the world and maybe the best-looking. An amazing beard, striking ear tufts and these piercing green eyes.

As a photographer it’s my job to educate and inspire. I once read a quote by Sir Peter Scott ‘“We shan’t save all we should like to – but we shall save a great deal more than if we never tried.” I guess I’ve taken that as my motto.

My aim of this project was to tell people about this cat, to try and raise awareness of its plight and ultimately funds for its conservation. In 2001 there were fewer than 100 roaming Spain now there are more than 400 in Spain and Portugal.

© Luke Massey


Whenever I start a new project I research like mad, it’s funny really: my school studies suffered as my photography took off. I even dropped out of university! But I’ve since come full circle and now I try and learn as much as I can about subjects, reading up on them and speaking to scientists to get an understanding of the species.

Once I’ve got that, I (if possible) head to the destination on a recce. This is usually to get the lay of the land and obviously any bonus starting photos/film for the project. I watch my subject (if I can find it) and just work out what it does, where it goes, what it likes etc.

© Luke Massey

Luckily, before I searched for the lynx I’d spent three months working with leopards in Zambia. Lynx and leopards are both secretive and are both known to ambush hunters so you see a lot of similar behaviours, which helped. The experience meant I could spot a lynx and predict almost exactly where it was going to go. On the recce we had a lynx bonanza, I think I ended up seeing 6 in 5 days, it was incredible.

The shoot

© Luke Massey

I allowed myself four months in Spain to get what I needed, but I was a little blinded by my recce’s success and I made a couple of errors. My recce was in January, peak breeding season for the lynx, and daytime temperatures reached no more than 20°C, nice and cool for a fur covered animal. Conversely, when I decided to start my project in July, daytime temperatures were hitting the mid-40s. Big mistake. Any sensible lynx (and it seems they all were) hid until nightfall. I got one usable camera trap shot and a captive-bred lynx release in 72 days, I was twiddling my thumbs and getting frustrated by the limits of what I could do. Fortunately, in early September I struck gold, I found two lynx in a bush right by the footpath.

© Luke Massey

Lynx are not hunted; in fact their numbers are plummeting due to habitat destruction and a rapid decline in their main food source, rabbits. They’re so unthreatened by humans they’re relatively tolerant of us. That’s not to say they’re tame by any means – if you find a GPS-collared lynx, it’ll be gone in seconds, and if you surprise an un-collared lynx, chances are it’ll beat a hasty retreat too. However, this couple were relaxed, and I followed them as they went about their business. They stayed around all day and I got some great stuff.

© Luke Massey

Alongside wild encounters we worked with the Iberlince Project in Extremadura, attending medical examinations of captive-bred cubs and even some releases. It was important to tell the whole story of what was being done to save the lynx from imminent extinction – if humans hadn’t stepped in 15 years ago, there wouldn’t be an Iberian lynx to even do a project on.

© Luke Massey

We knew, or at least we expected, that we’d be allowed to attend the release of captive bred lynx into the wild, but we were told by multiple people that it would be incredibly unlikely we’d be able to actually enter a veterinary surgery and see the lynx be collared and have their health checked before release.

© Luke Massey

It was therefore a privilege to get this access and to watch Vicky Ascencio and her team at work, these people and their colleagues across Spain and Portugal have given this iconic species a second chance, now the next generation, and hopefully many more generations to come can head into Iberia’s hills to spot this cat.

© Luke Massey

Success and the aftermath

Despite the initial lynx drought, amazingly the project did come together. I’m really pleased with what I got and I feel it really made a difference. We got some artists on board who made lynx-themed pieces, and their endeavours have raised over 500 euros to date. We also teamed up with the charity Wild & Free, who raised £1200, and all of this money has been donated to NGO LPN in Portugal, who are creating lynx habitats.

© Luke Massey

We also had a six-page feature in Geographical magazine, which goes out to 135,000 people so it was a great way to educate people of the lynx’s plight.

Luke Massey is a wildlife and nature photographer and videographer, and he can be reached at Luke was speaking to Jon Stapley

Canon 5D Mark IV image

Close up | Canon 5D Mark IV 4K specs for video

Canon’s EOS 5D Mark IV lists video recording as one of its main features – we take a look at what it offers the videographer.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

The Canon 5D Mark IV 

Resolution and frame rate

The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is currently one of only a handful of DSLRs that records 4K quality video. This is captured in the DCI 4K format, which records at a resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels (as opposed to the more common UHD 4K format that records at 3860 x 2160-pixel resolution).

The 5D Mark 4 RAW video setting is made possible thanks to the Dual Pixel photodiode innovation. But with double imaging comes double the usual file size of usual RAW.

The camera offers the user a choice of 24fps (23.98fps), 25fps and 30fps (29.97fps), when recording 4K footage in the PAL format. The camera also offers Full HD (1920×1080) and HD (1280×720) options, at up to 50fps.

High speed shooting at up to 100fps is also possible, and this output at 25fps (a quarter of the speed).

When set to NTSC, frame rates on offer are 30fps (29.97fps), 24 fps and 23.98fps, with an additional 60fps option when recording in Full HD. High-Speed footage, meanwhile, is captured at 119.97fps and output at 29.97fps.

Crop factor

To record DCI 4K footage without pixel binning, the camera only uses a central portion of the sensor. This requires a crop factor of 1.64x, relative to the full-frame. So, using a 28mm lens when recording 4K footage will give you an effective angle of view that’s closer to that provided by a 46mm lens.

When recording HD or Full HD footage, the camera uses the entire sensor (without a crop being applied, and so that angle of view of whatever lens you’re using will be maintained). This also means that if you find yourself limited while shooting in 4K by this, you have the option of switching to Full HD (obviously at the expense of high resolution).

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV SensorThe EOS 5D Mark IV records 4K video using a central portion of its 30.4MP sensor.

Aspect ratio

As the horizontal DCI 4K resolution is slightly higher than that of UHD 4K, the aspect ratio of recorded footage is approximately 17:9 rather than the more standard 16:9 ratio. This changes to 16:9 when recording in either Full HD or HD options.


This Canon camera’s ISO range can be adjusted over a range of ISO 100-12,800 as standard when capturing 4K footage, and ISO 100-25,600 when capturing Full HD videos. In both cases this can be controlled in 1/3EV increments.

If you want the camera to automatically select higher ISOs, this needs to be enabled through the menu system beforehand. The options here allow you to set a range of ISO 100-Hi1 (51,200 equivalent) or ISO 200-Hi2 (102,400 equivalent).

This extended Lo setting, which is equivalent to ISO 50, is not available when recording 4K or HD footage. This means that in the particularly bright conditions in which you may want to use it, you will either need to stop down your aperture or use an ND filter.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IVThe camera’s ISO can be directly controlled from a button on its top plate.

File formats

The camera records in both MOV and MP4 formats and is one of only a handful with built in GPS. When recording 4K footage it employs the Motion JPEG codec, which records at a bit rate of approximately 500Mbps. When recording HD or Full HD footage, however, you have the option of choosing ALL-I and IPB compression options, with a further IPB Light option if recording using the MP4 setting.

As there is no way to record 4K footage at a different level of compression, Canon recommends using a CompactFlash memory card rated to UDMA 7 with a write speed of 100Mbps or faster. It also states that UHS-I Class 3 SD-format cards can be used, although these only guarantee a transfer rate of of 30Mbps.

If you use a slower-than-recommended memory card to record video, the camera may display a five-bar indicator as the card fills up, eventually stopping video recording. The camera will also notify you if the sensor becomes too heated through prolonged use.

Card formats

As with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, the model is designed with dual card slots: one for SDHC and SDXC media and one for CompactFlash. The SDHC/SDXC slot supports UHS-I cards (but not UHS-II) while the CompactFlash slot supports cards conforming to the UDMA 7 specifications.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IVThe camera accepts both SDHC/SDXC and CompactFlash media.

Chroma subsampling

The camera records with YCbCr 4:2:2 chroma subsampling when shooting in 4K, and 4:2:0 when recording in HD and Full HD formats. When outputting HD footage via the HDMI output, this is set to 4:2:2.

Frame grabs

While it’s not possible to capture images while recording movies, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV allows you to extract individual frames from 4K footage and save them as JPEG files in camera. This happens at a resolution of around 8.8MP – slightly higher than other 4K-enabled cameras on account of it recording in the DCI 4K format (rather then UHD 4K).


The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV follows the EOS 1D-X Mark II in offering a touchscreen on its rear, and this can be used for a variety of purposes when recording video.

At a basic level this can be used to select options on the screen, such as ISO and the Q menu that brings up the audio recording level and volume for external monitoring although, perhaps more usefully, this can also be used for focusing (explained below).

Canon EOS 5D Mark IVThe camera’s touchscreen can be used for a range of purposes, including shifting the focusing point while recording.


One of the advantages of the camera’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF system is that it can continue to focus using phase-detection AF (performed on the main imaging sensor) while recording videos. This also allows for continuous autofocus while recording, with control over tracking speed and sensitivity offered to better suit your subject.

The partnership of this technology with the camera’s touchscreen allows for two key things. First, you have the option of keying the subject on which you want the camera to focus on the screen, prior to recording. It has 61 AF points selectable distributed on the viewfinder. Here, it focuses it swiftly but fluidly, much more so than with a standard contrast-detect AF system. This also means that you can use it in live view while capturing stills.

Another benefit of this is that you can use this touchscreen functionality while the camera is recording videos, which means you can shift focus from one subject to another simply by touch. This means that you don’t need to physically pull focus using the lens.


The camera is equipped with a monaural microphone, which is positioned just beneath the camera’s name badge on the front plate, although any professional that wants to record sound at its best possible quality will no doubt use an external microphone. This can be connected to the camera though a 3.5mm stereo mic port at its side.

Both wind-cut and attenuator filters are selectable through the camera and control over audio levels can be set to manual (over 64 levels) or auto options. A headphone socket is also provided for monitoring audio, and the camera allows you to adjust volume here too.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

The EOS 5D Mark IV is compatible with external stereo microphones such as Canon’s own DM-E1 model.

HDR movie function

A feature that appeared on the recent EOS 760D and EOS 80D is HDR Movie Recording, and this has made the cut here too. The Canon 5DMK4 video specs is designed for the same kinds of conditions as you would use it when shooting stills – ie. scenes with a naturally broad dynamic range, which may exceed the sensor’s capabilities. This option records at 60fps and outputs footage at 25fps (PAL) and 29.97fps (NTSC), although only at Full HD resolution.

HDMI out

The camera is equipped with a Type C, HDMI mini port around its side, and this allows you to output clean (uncompressed) footage to an external recorder. The only caveat here is that this is only possible at a maximum full HD resolution, as opposed to 4K.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IVThe camera is fitted with a The Canon 5D Mark iv ports: The camera is fitted with a Type C HDMI mini port, along with USB 3.0, microphone, headphone and flash-sync sockets.

Time-lapse footage

You can also use the EOS 5D Mark IV to for time-lapse recording, with the individual frames stitched together in camera and output as Full HD files.

As with the HDR movie option, this is output at 25fps (PAL) and 29.97fps (NTSC), and control is provided over the interval between each frame and the number of images captured in total. Usefully, as the camera is stitching together the time-lapse video itself (rather than just capturing the individual images), it will also inform you of the length of time required and the length of the final movie in advance, as well as whether you have enough room on your card to achieve this.

Time limits

As with other DSLRs, the maximum length of footage than can be recorded without interruption is 29mins and 59 seconds. When using the camera’s High Frame Rate mode, this is reduced to 7 mins 29 seconds.

Crash Course: 4K Video

Crash Course: 4K Video

Know nothing about 4K video but want to give it a shot? Get up to speed with our crash course on 4K video recording.

No longer just a feature confined to pro-grade, video-centric models, 4K video recording has filtered down to many DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. If you have this functionality at your disposal but you’re unclear on the terminology or the various benefits of shooting in 4K, read on.

What is 4K?

Broadly speaking, 4K refers to one of two resolutions found on capture and display devices.

The most common resolution is known as Ultra High Definition 4K (4K UHD) which records at a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. It is often used on cameras, television and other consumer devices. In the same way that 1080p (the vertical display resolution) has come to refer to Full HD, 2160p is a term that’s used to refer to 4K UHD.  It can also be called Quad Full HD (QFHD).

The other is known as DCI 4K, a system developed by the motion picture industry and refers more broadly to a set of specifications for standardising recording and display. This records in a slightly higher resolution of 4,096 x 2,160. Given that both have approximately 4000 pixels across their longest side, they fall under the 4K umbrella.

It’s usual for a camera to offer only one of these options. Canon’s EOS-1D X II and EOS-1D C each offer DCI 4K, for example, while Nikon’s D5 offers 4K UHD instead. However, some models such as Panasonic’s Lumix GH4 and Samsung’s now-retired NX1, offer both.

Nikon D5
The Nikon D5 offers 4K video recording at the 4K UHD resolution of 3,840 x 2,160

So how is 4K different to HD and Full HD recording?

The main difference between HD and 4K formats is resolution. 4K UHD footage uses four times as many pixels as Full HD recording, thus producing an image with far more detail. There are a number of additional benefits of 4K recording. If you record 4K footage with a view to output it at a lower resolution (say, Full HD), the extra detail you’ve captured provides you with plenty of latitude in post production. You can crop away peripheral areas and zoom into details in the frame, for example; or zoom with a view to panning across the scene, knowing that you’ve retained sufficient resolution for output. Obviously, if you make these kinds of adjustments but subsequently output your footage at the same 4K resolution in which it was originally recorded, fine detail is like to be compromised.


Panasonic GH4
The Panasonic GH4 can have individual frames from 4K footage saved as images

One further advantage is that a number of recent cameras that record video in 4K quality can have a frame extracted and saved as an image. At a Full HD resolution, this would work out at just over 2MP (1,920 x 1,080), meaning obvious limits with regards to how it can be used. A frame from 4K UHD footage, however, increases this to around 8.3MP (3,840 x 2,160), while a frame from DCI 4K footage ups this to around 8.8MP (4,096 x 2,160) and these are far more suitable for printing and other uses. Of course, for a frame to be usable the shutter speed used at the time of recording needs to be high enough to capture it sharply. This may well work for largely static subjects, but less so for moving ones.

Many cameras that record 4K video are also capable of recording footage at particularly high frames rates, such as 120fps, and outputting this at a lower frame rate in Full HD quality, thus creating slow-motion footage. While slow-motion recording is not new, previous camera generations could not output this at a usable resolution, making it little more than a novelty. We’re also starting to see products such as Sony’s AXS-R7 that allow for footage to be both recorded and output in 4K at such fast frame rates.

Do I need a 4K display to view 4K footage? 

You can view 4K footage on a non 4K display – you just won’t be seeing it at its actual 4K resolution. Instead, this footage will be downsampled to match the resolution of the display. This has the advantage of making subjects slightly out of the plane of focus typically clearer and sharper than if they were viewed on a 4K display, in the same way that low-resolution footage upscaled to a higher-resolution display will appear softer and less detailed than if it were viewed on a display matching its resolution.

Are there any downsides to 4K over Full HD?

The main advantage of 4K footage, namely that it records far more information than Full HD, is perhaps its most obvious downside when you consider the implications this has on performance, storage and editing.

When recording to a memory card, you will need to ensure that it is fast enough to record footage without interruption. Memory cards marked with a UHS speed class are generally the minimum recommended for 4K footage, with U1 guaranteeing a minimum sustained write speed of 10Mbps and U3 cards upping this to 30Mbps. Professional bodies, however, may require the faster transfer speeds of CFast or XQD memory cards, particularly when recording high-bit footage at faster frame rates.

Lexar CFast card
CFast memory cards, such as those from Lexar, are well suited to the demands of 4K video recording.

The SD Association recently announced a new Video Speed Class system, which makes things somewhat easier to understand. Here, the convention sees cards marked with a ‘V’ followed by the minimum sustained write speeds in Mbps. So, a card marked with ‘V60’ will indicate a minimum sustained write speed equivalent to 60Mpbs.

4K footage also takes up more space on cards and hard drives than Full HD footage, although the extent to which this is the case will depend on factors such as frame rate and the compression method used.

With editing, you may find that software that can edit Full HD video files without issue may struggle with the higher resolution of 4K footage. Newer computers equipped with superior processors and graphics cards, and fitted more RAM, will stand a better chance of handling this smoothly. It may also help to create proxies of your original files and edit these instead, before using the full resolution files prior to exporting. This is known as offline editing and is explained in more detail here.

Premiere Pro
You may find editing 4K footage taxes your computer’s capabilities

What other limitations are there that I might need to know about?

Your camera’s manual may point out any specific limitations with your model, although there are a handful of common ones.

Some 4K-enabled cameras only allow you to record 4K footage for a few minutes at a time, while others can continue for thirty minutes or so. It’s possible to get around time limitations by recording footage directly to an external recorder rather than to a memory card inside the camera.

Some cameras also use their full sensor to record 4K footage while others use the Super 35mm format, which uses a central portion of the frame that’s slightly larger than APS-C. The latter approach will clearly impact on the effective focal length, which may or may not be seen as a bad thing depending on the desired framing. Some cameras, such as Sony’s A7R II, give you the option to choose between the two formats.

Sony A7R II
The Sony A7R II records 4K footage in both Super 35mm and full-frame options.

Should I record my 4K footage to a memory card or to an external recorder?

Many cameras allow you to record 4K footage either directly to the memory card inside the camera or to an external recorder plugged in via the HDMI output, and some allow you to do both simultaneously.

Recording to a memory card has the advantage of convenience, and for many applications this approach is perfectly suitable. However, you may be restricted by the level of the control that has been determined by the manufacturer with regards to recording time limits, compression methods and so on.

An external recorder will allow you to bypass these time limits and may also provide you with a wider variety of codecs for recording. If your camera has a clean HDMI output, you may be able to output your footage without any of the compression that internally captured footage may be subject to. Some recorders, such as Atomos Shogun, also have a built-in display to view your footage while recording at a much larger size than your camera’s LCD panel, thus allowing you to use features like focus peaking with greater accuracy.

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