First, what is 4k? The actual term is Ultra High Definition (Ultra HD) as oppose to just High Definition (HD). A typical HD Camera shoots in 1920 X 1080 pixels (or close to it). The Red Scarlet, a popular Ultra HD camera, shoots in 4096 x 2160 pixels. To sum it up, an Ultra HD Camera gives you 4 times the pixel output of an HD Camera, which means it is far more detailed and produces a sharper image. As another point of reference, the now almost completely irrelevant Standard Definition (SD) Cameras shoot at a resolution of 720 X 480 pixels.
Plainly put, Ultra HD is better than regular HD, much like HD was better than SD. This makes it easier to conclude that you will see major quality improvements. Here are other reasons to consider 4k:
Future proofing your content – The future is here with Ultra HD TVs already on the market. They are currently a little pricy, but you can expect prices to come down and more options to come on the market. Ultra HD players are currently being developed (no standard like Blu-ray), while YouTube and Netflix are already capable of streaming Ultra HD content. Expect broadcaster to follow suit. Even 4k smart phones are being developed like the Samsung Galaxy S5.
Reframing – Since most of the final video projects get down converted to HD, you'll have a greater ability to zoom in, crop, and manipulate your footage without degrading the quality. If you want the final video in 4k, you lose the value of this method, unless you are shooting with a camera that has a resolution equal to or greater than 5k.
Color Grading Made Easier – When cameras record highly compressed images in camera that often comes with the drawbacks of clipped highlights, crushed shadows and what is considered a "baked-in" look. Once the footage gets to post production, this can mean big problems. With 4k+ RAW files, you can make your own color choices from the source data, instead of trying to change colors that are baked into a .mov file. This can lead to much better results.
Green Screen Keying - With four times the data, your keying software should have an easier time differentiating the green pixels you want to key from the precise edge of the talent. It also makes mismatches between background and subject more obvious and motion tracking easier. There's a reason why chroma key shots are often done with UHD or higher cameras even if the rest of a movie is captured on a different (lower resolution) format.
There are more benefits I can bring up about 4k, but there are also some negatives such as price, storage, and the need to upgrade equipment to support it. Capacity and processing speed has doubled approximately every two years since the publication of Moore’s Law in 1965, some argue that it doubles faster. This means that technologies will always chase each other and that a data stream that may seem very difficult to handle today may be a smooth, simple process tomorrow. Overall, if you want to give your video, movie, or commercial a longer shelf life or you just want to keep up with the quality output of your competitors, then waiting to upgrade is not an option.
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