Those '8K' sports cameras really aren't 8K
There's a reason why sports highlights look good on your phone
Welcome back to Multicore for Thursday, April 20th.
I write this in the spirit of education, with no desire to scold. The evolution of language is a beautiful thing and no-one should be criticised for using words in new ways. In this hyperconnected world, semantics can be transmitted and modified faster than anyone could ever hope to track, and this is usually all for the better.
That said, people on the internet really ought to stop calling everything "8K cameras".
You probably know what I'm talking about if you've watched online sports highlights in the past couple of years. There's a certain kind of camera shot that's been rising in popularity in sports broadcasts: a medium close-up focusing on a single athlete with shallow depth of field from a fairly low camera position. These clips are invariably flooded with comments and tweets along the line of "Damn, they broke out the 8K camera!"
Examples I've seen just this week include footage of Toronto Blue Jays closing pitcher Jordan Romano, whose walk-up against the Tampa Bay Rays got the cinematic treatment from Sportsnet. (Kaitlyn McGrath at The Athletic has a good behind-the-scenes piece on this.) Pro wrestler Shinsuke Nakamura's return to WWE Smackdown also sparked similar online odes to 8K technology.
Just to explain this bluntly, nothing about these cameras is 8K. They're not filming in 8K, they couldn't film in 8K, and even if they could that wouldn't be what makes those shots look the way they do. The term "8K" purely refers to resolution, i.e. the number of pixels that make up the image, and sports are rarely even filmed or broadcast in 4K — especially if you're watching the clip on your phone. On satellite TV, you're often lucky to get a solid 1080p feed regardless of what cameras are being used.
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The misconception has been around for a while: here's a 2021 article from SBNation headlined "The NFL's 8K camera makes real life look like a video game". The article mentions that the camera in question is a Sony A7R IV and even points out that the broadcast itself is in 1080p, but still suggests that the "8K camera" is responsible for the image quality.
The Sony A7R IV is a great camera, but it’s not an 8K camera — it maxes out at 4K. There are two main reasons you'd use a camera like this for these "8K" shots: its full-frame image sensor, which allows for shallower depth of field, and the fact that it's small enough to be mounted on a handheld gimbal, which enables the smooth movement and dramatic framing.
Traditional broadcast cameras are much bulkier, usually shoulder-mounted, and have smaller sensors. But as TV networks started being open to more modern camera technology, shots like this started to get more popular. If they depended on 8K cameras, you'd need an 8K TV to see the difference, not to mention a media company actually willing to transmit sports in that resolution. (Right now, none exist.) And many actual 8K cameras — like, say, any flagship Samsung phone from the past few years — couldn't produce footage that looked anything like these shots.
The 8K meme may have originated with an errant Fox Sports tweet, and Fox camera operator Jarrod Ligrani addressed the 8K mixup in an interview with Sportico. "It confused me honestly," he said. "If anything I would have thought that viewers would complain because parts of the image are out of focus. I tell people, it’s not an 8K camera, it’s an $8k camera." But a lot of people don't seem to have got the message more than two years later.
This is obviously not something with important stakes, and I get why people aren't going to start saying "Damn, they broke out the full-frame mirrorless camera on a handheld gimbal!" even if they read that interview or this article. But as someone into cameras who follows a lot of sports, it is one of the weirder, more persistent examples of tech-related misinformation I come across.
I'm also not sure it helps the already-dubious outlook for 8K TVs. If people think they can watch “8K” footage on Twitter, why would the TV matter?
Okay. Time for news.
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