It may have been the prophecy of trade magazines’ most prescient pundits, but the real story at NAB this year wasn’t 8K. Sure, there were flashes of 8K éclat. Sharp demoed its new 8K camera to much fanfare and Digital Projection International debuted its 32 million pixel 8K projector to a catered lunch (thank you kindly), but 8K wasn’t the real story.  The real story, as I’ve been proclaiming from the rooftops for at least two years, is HDR.

More than greater resolution, larger sensors, and a reworked Blizzard shake at Dairy Queen, we need HDR. We need it because our audiences demand it. And they demand it because they can see instantly, in the most dramatic way, the improvement in picture quality over artifact-ridden, blown-out 8-bit SDR. As artists and craftsmen, broadcasters and content creators, we need the chaos of HDR cleaned up pronto. Moving in and out of SDR and HDR is a colossal mess, as no system or metadata protocol exists to ensure HDR detail is preserved at all stages of a production. Yes, 202 nits is dutifully displayed at 202 nits, but the approach doesn’t work because it doesn’t consider ambient viewing conditions.

Canon Digisuper 66 product shot

Canon Digisuper 66

Given this negativity, cinematographers/DPs/shooters can still do our best to facilitate HDR downstream transcoding. We can do this by capturing 4K images as cleanly as possible with minimal flare and noise, and with good contrast to the edges of the frame. It means eschewing crappy low-cost solutions, including shoddily-built and under-performing cameras, and utilizing the appropriate professional optics. Both Fujifilm and Canon emphasize the increased demands of HDR in the 2/3-type format. Canon, for its part, introduced the 4K Digisuper 66 box zoom with improved coatings and stabilization, and Fujifilm showed off its new 4K UA24x7.8 zoom. Both lenses were designed specifically to address the rigors and increased scrutiny that come with HDR.

Ikegami UHK-430 product shot

Ikegami UHK-430

The new 4K lenses are designed to produce the quietest images possible in the suddenly desirable (again) 2/3-inch format. Many sports and wildlife shooters, who rely primarily on longer focal length lenses, have turned away lately from their highly-touted large-format cameras to re-gain the greater depth of field they enjoyed previously in their small-sensor cameras. The 4K 2/3-inch sensor in cameras like the Ikegami UHK-430 introduced at the show restores much of the former depth of field we enjoyed historically, albeit not completely owing to the reduced circle of confusion in the 4K sensor compared to FHD.

Look, there’s no point calling your senator about this, but we do need a clearer definition of HDR, along with some modicum of standardization upstream, downstream, and all along the way. HDR is the key to the whole shooting match, and there’s only so much we can do as image creators and irate bloggers, no matter how talented and frustrated we are.

On the other hand, maybe I should just calm down and apply a little noise reduction to myself. It’s been a very long week and that Dairy Queen Blizzard is looking a lot more appealing.