The Merging of Stills and Video Tech

In the last couple of years, with the advent of relatively affordable cameras capable of 4K video, we have seen the beginning of a merging of stills-capture and video-capture technologies. Panasonic has been at the forefront of this trend and its latest camera, the Lumix GX80/GX85 has some pretty impressive capabilities based on the fact that 4K is actually the capture of 30 8Mpix still-frames per second.

The camera actually has a separate shooting mode called 4K Photo, this is necessary because the requirements for 4K Photo are different than for 4K Video. For example, when shooting video the ideal shutter speeds are on the low side as a slight motion blurring makes for smoother looking video. Not the case with stills. This mode also allows you to use aspect ratios other than 16:9. The GX85’s 4K Photo modes include the following functionalities:

  • 4K Burst, captures 30 frames per second as long as you hold the shutter.
  • 4K Burst Start/Stop, starts capturing 30fps when you hit the shutter and stops when you hit it again.
  • 4K Pre-Burst, constantly records at 30fps but then you hit the shutter, it saves the previous and following second, so 60 frames.
  • 4K Post-Focus, the camera captures a 30fps clip while racking focus across the scene.

Lumix-4K-Photo-Landing-Page-Header-640x468

The first three are variations on a theme and to me the most interesting is 4K Pre-burst. Since you would normally use 4K Photo mode to try and capture a fast event, you hit the shutter when you think the time is right and the camera captures the second before and the second after, pretty much ensuring that you will catch the decisive moment. I can think of many scenarios where this would be extremely useful: catching the moment a bird takes-off or hits the water, capturing fireworks, capturing lightning, etc.

The stated goal of 4K Post-Focus to me is not that interesting. I can’t think of a scenario where I would want to change the focus after the fact. However, since this is recorded as a short 30fps clip, you can save the clip to your computer,extract the individual frames, and use focus stacking software like Helicon Focus to merge them. That could be very useful as it makes focus bracketing child’s play!

Now, when I first heard about Panasonic’s 4K Photo I was disappointed that it only produces 8Mpixels photos, but when you think about it, that’s more than enough for online photos and small prints up to about 8″x10″. Another limitation is rolling shutter, but Panasonic is working on an organic shutter to resolve this issue.

But think about what’s coming down the road, beyond organic shutter. We’re already seeing 6K cameras coming out (GH5 perhaps?), and affordable 8K cameras are only a few years away. a 6K Photo mode would give you images around 19 Mpixels and an 8K camera would give you images of around 33 Mpixels! Just think about the possibilities. I’m sure we will see more of this merging of stills and video capture and more new creative modes.

I’m pretty sure the next generation of Olympus cameras (hello E-M1 Mk ii!) will have 4K video and if so, I can’t wait to see what enhanced stills features the Olympus engineers will come up with.

Here’s a couple of Panasonic videos explaining the various 4K Photo modes: