Features and Columns · Movies

Why High Resolution Shouldn’t be a Standard in Modern Filmmaking

4K should be a practical and artistic choice … not a requirement.
Blade Runner 2049 pixelized not high resolution
By  · Published on January 28th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on why a higher resolution isn’t always a good thing.

As consumers, we’ve been taught to accept that technology that is bigger, more expensive, and newer is generally better. Heck, one of the reasons that physical media is still kicking and screaming is the oh-so-marketable two-letter phrase: “4K remaster.” Did anyone ask for a high-resolution treatment of Dennis Donnelly’s The Toolbox Murders? Who’s to say?

In digital filmmaking, resolution describes the amount of information contained within a given frame. And you’d be forgiven for assuming that more pixels = better. After all, who wouldn’t want a crisper, more detailed image? But the fact of the matter is, when it comes to art, just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.

Resolution, just like other fiddly behind-the-scenes specs like focal length and lighting, is both a practical and artistic choice. Realistically speaking, not every director can afford the equipment, processing power, or storage hardware required by high-def photography. On the more artistic side of things, there are plenty of reasons why a director or a cinematographer might not want a high-resolution look.

Some movies emulate the visual look of bygone eras of filmmaking, from Mandy‘s painterly use of film grain to Guy Maddin‘s, uh, whole career. This is to say nothing of the awkward fact that a higher resolution means contending with the awkwardness of stretched pores, forgotten stunt wires, and visible wig lines.

As the video essay below argues, high resolution ought to be considered as a choice rather than an expectation. It’s just another mode of expression. And like visible film grain and simulated 8mm blow-ups, it serves certain stories better than others.

Watch “Why High Resolution Isn’t Always a Good Thing”:

Who made this?

This video essay on why high resolution in movies isn’t always a good thing is by In Depth Cine, a YouTube account dedicated to providing its audience with practical rundowns and explainers on some of the more technical aspects of movie-making. Gray Kotzé, a documentary DP based in South Africa, is the man behind the channel. You can check out Kotzé’s portfolio on their website here. And you can check out In Depth Cine on YouTube here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).