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Jem Schofield
Jem Schofield

Jem Schofield is the founder of theC47, an online and offline resource that is focused on teaching the craft of video production and filmmaking.

Understanding 4K Production with the Cinema EOS System

January 02, 2013

"the reality is that we continue to move away from film-based acquisition to acquiring content on digital cinema cameras "
This article has been updated on May 30, 2013 to include current product information.

In today’s production world the vast majority of content that is acquired, edited and distributed to broadcast television and the web is in Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixel resolution at a 16:9 aspect ratio). For broadcast television, and to a large degree the web, it’s today’s standard for delivered content. The “ecosystem” to support this is well established and Full HD will probably be the preferred resolution for content distribution and delivery, in these areas, for the short-term future. This is especially true in the living room where most of today’s televisions are optimized for this resolution and aspect ratio.

That said, an increasing amount of today’s content captured for feature films, episodics (for television and the web), sporting events, commercials and visual effects are being acquired with digital cinema cameras at resolutions higher than Full HD (2K & above). While some of this content like episodics, sporting events and commercials, is being delivered to broadcast and the web in HD resolutions, the actual “digital masters” for most of this content is usually finished, output and archived at much higher resolutions so as to “future proof” the content for current and future distribution channels.

Acquiring images at resolutions well above Full HD, such as 4K (4096 x 2160), also allows for greater creative opportunities in post production, especially when delivering Full HD content to both broadcast television and the web. When content is finished for Full HD distribution, but originates as higher resolution “negatives”, creatives gain the ability to reframe, zoom and manipulate that content for motion graphics, visual effects, green screen, background plates and sporting events.

This high-end content has historically been captured on film, but now digital cinema cameras are starting to replace film very rapidly. Camera systems like the Canon EOS C500 that are capable of outputting 2K (2048 x 1080), 2K (1920 x 1080), Quad Full High Definition (3840 x 2160), and full 4K (4096 x 2160), images with extraordinary latitude and detail offer a very attractive, high-resolution alternative to film production.

This article will discuss digital acquisition at resolutions beyond Full HD and will focus on explaining 4K origination and capture with both the Canon Cinema EOS C500 and EOS-1D C camera systems.

Film, Full HD and Beyond

One of the reasons that film has been the gold standard for high-end cinematic and television acquisition is that film contains so much information in its image. It can be scanned digitally, at very high resolutions, and distributed as Full HD, 2K, Quad Full High Definition (Quad-HD) or full 4K content.

The virtues of film and it’s inherent qualities will be discussed for decades to come, but the reality is that we continue to move away from film-based acquisition to acquiring content on digital cinema cameras that can today, arguably, start to rival film in both latitude and raw image data (especially on camera systems that can capture in “RAW” formats).

RAW formats are like the digital versions of film negatives. With the EOS C500, which can output 4K uncompressed images in Canon RAW with Canon Log gamma applied, you have a digital cinema camera that can be seriously considered in high-end content acquisition for features, episodics, visual effects work, and pretty much any other type of production.

While wide spread Quad-HD (targeted at TV distribution), and 4K distribution is clearly some time away, it is obvious that people producing content today that want it to have shelf life need to acquire that content at a resolution well beyond Full HD (much the same way that film has allowed us to repurpose content as new distribution options become available).

Having digital cinema cameras like the EOS C500 are essential to this new workflow. The question isn’t if we’ll move from Full HD to Quad-HD and 4K consumer based content distribution beyond the movie theater in the future, it’s when?

In the standard consumer (television and web), and professional production and post space there are already Quad-HD & 4K panels in existence (with at least four times the resolution of Full HD). Coupled with the huge number of high-end 2K and 4K digital projectors already in existence, and that are being installed in theaters worldwide, it is very important to make sure content created today is ready for these distribution channels.

Studios, producers and networks are already starting to shoot and capture in 4K to protect and preserve the content they are now creating so that content can last well beyond our current standards for delivery and distribution. If you are creating digital content that you want to survive, this is something that is very important to consider.

That said, at over four times the resolution of Full HD, 4K content produces A LOT of digital data. As a result, when considering 4K acquisition it is important to understand your options. That is the focus of the rest of this article.

While the C500 is capable of outputting uncompressed 2K and Full HD images, this article will primarily focus on the 4K origination, output and recording options using the Canon EOS C500 and the Canon EOS-1D C.

EOS C500 Origination and Output

The Cinema EOS C500 is based around Canon’s 4K, Super 35mm CMOS sensor and has two forms of 4K origination. The choice of which to use is based on the specific needs of a production. A user can choose the Digital Cinema Initiatives/DCI SMPTE 2048-1:2011 standard, which is based on a 4096 x 2160, 1.896:1 aspect ratio image, or the alternative, TV-centric Quad-HD SMPTE 2036-1:2009 and ITU-R BT.1769 standards, which is based on a 3840 x 2160, 16:9 aspect ratio image (exactly four times the resolution of Full HD).

Images and audio produced by the C500 can then be output using one or both its two built-in 3G-SDI connectors (the industry standard for high-throughput data output from high-end camera systems), in a selection of 4K Bayer RGB RAW 10-bit, 4K Bayer RGB HRAW 10-bit, 2K RGB 444 10/12-bit, 2K YCC 422 10-bit, and Full HD digital sampling formats and captured using one of the third party external recorders that support the C500. Coupled with the camera’s ability to also record 8-bit, 4:2:2 MPEG-2 Full HD internally to CF Cards (ideal for proxy based workflows in post production), the C500 is one of the most flexible 4K digital cinema cameras available today.

Additionally, when outputting uncompressed 4K Canon RAW files, the C500 can also output the 4K Cinema RAW images at up to 60fps and the 4K Half Cinema HRAW at up to 120fps. Recording these higher frame rates is dependent on the external recorder/s used.

For 4K based capture, the C500 outputs bayered 4K images as both 4K Cinema RAW and 4K Half Cinema RAW (at half the vertical resolution), at a 10-bit resolution. These images are output as Raw Media Format (.RMF) file stacks. These stacks (created for a given recording take) contain individual .RMF files for each frame and each .RMF file is about 12MB in file size. This translates into approximately 16GB per minute or close to 1TB per hour (if the final images are captured by an external recorder in a 4K, 10-bit RAW format at 24p).

C500 External Recording Options

While the C500 offers a myriad of output options for external recording, each solution that is provided by a manufacturer has it’s own options and workflows that are best suited for particular types of productions.

For example, while certain EOS C500 compatible recorders will capture 4K, 10-bit RAW files, the AJA Ki Pro Quad works differently in that it internally records 10-bit debayered images from the C500 (to extract the highest amount of detail information from the camera's sensor), as ProRes 4444 files. The resulting ProRes files recorded to the Ki Pro Quad’s SSD drives are much smaller than the original RAW files.

Additionally, the Ki Pro Quad can also pass the RAW camera data from the C500 through its Thunderbolt connection to a computer and on to an external storage device (sample workflow here). This could be used when a true digital master archive is desired, but not necessarily needed for the current post production of a project.

Recorders such as the Codex Onboard S are for productions that support working with native 4K RAW files. As an option, Codex offers a modular docking station called the Vault, which is capable of backing up and distributing a multitude of file formats. The Codex recorders offer recording solutions for every output mode that the C500 produces (sample workflow here).

The Convergent Design Gemini 4:4:4 recorder contains a built-in 5” monitor and can record a variety of resolutions including 4K, 10-bit RAW images on SSD drives (at frame rates up to 30fps), with a debayered preview and playback. Higher frame rates (60fps 4K RAW, 50fps, 60fps, 100fps and 120fps in certain 4K QFHD/HRAW, 2K and HD shooting modes) can be achieved by recording to two Gemini 4:4:4 units simultaneously (sample workflow here).

As stated, each will have their advantages in particular production environments. They are each engineered differently and offer a variety of solutions in terms of recording options when used with the EOS C500.  While beyond the scope of this article, each company providing EOS C500 compatible capture solutions do so in their own way. They offer extensive information about each of their solutions on their web sites.

For current, detailed specifications and workflow explanations about each manufacturer’s EOS C500 compatible recording solutions, please click the links below (and also consult your production-based reseller/solution provider):

AJA (Ki Pro Quad)

Codex (Onboard S)

Convergent Design (Gemini 4:4:4)


Astrodesign (HR-7510)

C500 Cinema Raw Development Application

Accompanying the EOS C500, Canon released Cinema Raw Development, a software application designed to play back RAW clips and preview them on a PC monitor. It also works with the C500‘s RMF files to create and export industry standard files such as DPX, MOV (Mac version only), and Proxy (HD and SD size) files.

You can download Cinema RAW Development from the EOS C500's Drivers & Software section on the Canon USA website. Note the robust system requirements, as of 12/19/12:

Mac Windows
1. Supported OS: Mac OS X 10.7, OS X 10.8
2. Supported computers: A Mac computer supporting the OS above (excluding the followings where the operation is not guaranteed):
iMac : Late 2006
Mac mini : Mid 2007
MacBook : Late 2006, Mid 2007, Late 2007, Early 2008
MacBook Air : Early 2008
CPU: - Intel Xeon 2.8 GHz Quad Core or faster is recommended.
GPU: NVIDIA Quadro 4000 for Mac is recommended.
A GPU made by NVIDIA that supports Computer Unified Architecture (CUDA) with compute capability 2.0 or more is required.
The processing performance should be lower on a computer that has no supporting GPU.
RAM: 16 GB or more.
Storage read/write speed: 600 MB/s or more.
It is recommended to have save the RAW clips and developed files in two separate drives.
SDI port (required for checking the SDI output on a monitor): AJA KONA 3G (Driver V10.4.2)
There are restrictions to monitors that can be connected and output frame rates.
3. Display - Resolution: 1024×768 or higher.
1. Supported OS: Windows 7 SP1 64-bit, Windows 8 64-bit
2. Supported computers: Computers preinstalled with the OS above (The operation of upgraded computers is not guaranteed).
CPU: Intel Core i3/i5/i7, Xeon (Intel Core i7 3.06 GHz or faster) is recommended.
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX680 is recommended.
A GPU made by NVIDIA that supports Computer Unified Architecture (CUDA) with compute capability 2.0 or more is required.
The processing performance should be lower on a computer that has no supporting GPU.
RAM: 16 GB or more.
Storage read/write speed: 600 MB/s or more It is recommended to have save the RAW clips and developed files in two separate drives.
SDI port (required for checking the SDI output on a monitor): AJA KONA 3G (Driver V10.3.0).
There are restrictions to monitors that can be connected and output frame rates.
3. Display - Resolution: 1024×768 or higher.
EOS-1D C (4K Acquisition)

One of the key features of the Canon EOS-1D C is its ability to capture full 4K (4096 x 2160), 24p (23.976), content directly to on-board CF Cards. This is achieved by using an 8-bit 4:2:2, high bit rate Motion JPEG compression scheme that allows for 4K content to be acquired in virtually any shooting environment.

That said, the EOS-1D C is a very different camera system from the EOS C500 (which can produce and output 2K, Quad-HD and full 4K images). The EOS-1D C is specifically targeted to the ever-growing number of DSLR videographers and filmmakers that are looking to both future proof their content by providing 4K video, while continuing to offer Full HD resolutions in a variety of codecs. It is designed for specialized types of productions requiring the versatility of a DSLR camera, but could conceivably work in any production scenario.

Due to the EOS-1D C’s unique form factor, the camera creates 4K acquisition possibilities that are endless. For instance, it can be mounted on and in vehicles, on jibs, on airplanes and used handheld in documentary, episodic television and feature film environments. It allows you to get 4K shots that would normally be impossible, would require much larger cameras and crews or that would require specialized permits needed for larger scale productions). Shooting a large format file offers tremendous flexibility for reframing or image stabilization in post – making it the camera of choice for aerial drones. It’s also a great solution for shooting background plates, shooting in hostile environments, shooting in hard to reach locations and as a B or C camera for the C500.

1D C (4K Recording)

The EOS-1D C requires approximately 4GB of storage space for 1 minute of 4K content (although file sizes are not limited to 4GB each on the 1D C). This means that when using a 64GB CF card you will be able to record approximately 16 minutes of continuous 4K content at 24fps.

While recording 4K content to on-board CF cards, the EOS-1D C can simultaneously output uncompressed, timecode stamped 8-bit 4:2:2 Full HD signal for off-board recording to devices such as the AJA Ki Pro Mini and the Convergent Design nanoFlash. This allows for a proxy based workflow in post with the 4K content being brought in during the finishing process for final output.

For a detailed article about the EOS-1D C, click here


Both the Canon EOS C500 and the EOS-1D C provide filmmakers with the ability to create 4K content that goes well beyond Full HD acquisition.

The Canon EOS-1D C is a true hybrid DSLR camera system that is capable of capturing 4K images to on-board CF cards. The EOS C500 is a true 4K digital cinema camera, which when used with external recorders, allows filmmakers to capture and record images that rival film based acquisition.

For many, the time to consider acquiring digital content at 4K resolutions has arrived. Both the EOS C500 and EOS-1D C give storytellers the tools they need to acquire those images, in multiple formats and resolutions, so that they can distribute their content to audiences both today and in the future in Full HD and beyond.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.