I have to admit that 4K video is a little alien to me. I enjoying editing video, but it is rarely footage that I have shot myself, and I certainly have never tackled any moving footage of wildlife.
What I quickly found was that the basic principles were very similar to shooting stills. While out at a nature reserve, my first subject was a common blue damselfly that was sitting on a leaf. This was the ideal opportunity to see how 25fps was able to capture the damselfly’s sudden movement to flight.
After a few seconds of waiting, the damselfly darted off, and I quickly went back to review my 4K footage on the back of the camera. Reviewing it frame by frame, I found that the four images of the damselfly launching into flight were all blurred. While 25fps may be enough to capture the movement for video, I needed to remember the basic principles of photography for capturing still images.
I promptly increased the sensitivity to ISO 1600 and reduced the shutter speed to 1/1600sec, and waited patiently for another damselfly. This time I had much more success. A small fly landed on the damselfly, causing it to suddenly flick its wings to remove it. The movement was quicker than a blink of an eye, but the frame-by-frame footage revealed four images showing just how the wings moved and bent slightly when flicked.
A few seconds later and the same fly returned, but this time the damselfly leapt into flight to try to eat it. The fly got away, but I had around a half of a second of footage of the action – 12 frames showing the very intricate movement of the flight of the damselfly.
Exporting the still frames as 8-million-pixel images from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 was straightforward, but there were a few issues with the quality. Pushing the sensitivity up to ISO 1600 meant that fine detail was lost to noise reduction. I also could have done with an even faster shutter speed to increase sharpness, but this would have to be at the expense of the depth of field, which at f/5.6 on a 100-300mm micro four thirds lens, was shallow enough already.
Shooting wildlife with 4K video: Conclusion
What I have learnt is that you need all the same skills and photographic knowledge to shoot 4K video as you do standard images.
The difference is that you have an impressive 25fps at 8-million-pixel resolution to capture really intricate movements that wouldn’t usually be possible when shooting still images. Sure, you may get one or two perfectly timed shots, but extracting still images from video footage takes a lot of the guesswork and quick reactions needed out of the equation.
You do end up with a lot of footage of animals just sitting around while you wait for something to happen, which can be a chore to sift through, but worth it for that fraction of a second when you get the small moments you really want.
In terms of image quality, for wildlife, 4K doesn’t quite match what you would expect from a still image. The 8-million-pixel still images are a little too compressed when shooting at high sensitivities, but they are certainly usable for smaller sizes, and are definitely fine for viewing on-screen.
However, as cameras get more powerful processors, and higher bit rates of data can be dealt with, I’m sure that the still images for wildlife will get even better. And with 8K video and its 33-million-pixel still images currently being trialled by some broadcast companies, we could see a big change in how wildlife photographers capture still images in the next ten years.