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Shooting 4K Video for Still Photographs: A Quick Test

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My day job has me using the new Panasonic GH4 for video. While Panasonic did include a 4K photo mode that can be used in a similar way with specific advantages (that’s another blog post), I wanted to test shooting for stills in regular 4K video mode. The main reason for this was to also have the actual video clip to use for other things if I wanted.

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Here are the video settings I used:

Rec Format: MOV
Rec Quality: 3840×2160, 29.97, 100Mbps

For the clip in my example, I had a Metabones Speedbooster and a Canon 85mm f/1.8 EF lens. Normally when shooting video I would select a shutter speed of 1/60 for a smoother look. Since I was trying to capture still frames I bumped up the shutter speed to 1/320. This gave me sharper still images and allowed me to have a shallower DoF by keeping the aperture at f/2.

As you can tell from this clip, my subject wasn’t going to “pose” or even hold still for more than a second. I only posted about half of it since you can get the point from this 20 seconds. I went handheld so I could react to her moving around quickly.

One drawback to the Metabones/Canon setup is the lack of autofocus. I would have more keepers if I had used, say, the Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.7 lens that has autofocus, but I wanted the look of the Canon lens and figured I would again have more keepers since I’m shooting 30 frames a second!

At 30 frames a second, I had a lot to choose from. I imported the clip into FCP X. I put the clip in the browser window and expanded it to full screen. I could shuttle through and also go frame by frame using the right or left arrows. Once I had the frame I wanted I chose to “share” as a still image. You have the option of a TIFF or JPEG. I chose JPEG and imported it into Aperture to do some final tweaking and cropping.

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The final photos are 3840 × 2160 (8.3 MP) unless you crop them. Out of all the frames from the video clip there weren’t that many more than what I’ve posted here that I liked. Even at the higher shutter speed to get a sharp image was difficult.

I’m very happy to get these four and can’t imagine using traditional methods to have this much success. For still photography purists, it is cheating of course, but I don’t think there is any way of putting this genie back in the bottle…


About the author: Mark Woodland is a photographer based in Nashville, Tennessee. You can find his work on his website and his writing on his blog. This article was also published here.

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