Video Quality HD Vs 4K?

If you’re buying a drone for video or photography, one of the questions you might ask yourself beforehand is, what resolution does my drone need to have? 4K resolution is becoming the standard in drones today, but does resolution actually matter?

What’s the difference between 4K and 1080P video?

To clarify, resolution is the total number of pixels that can be displayed on a monitor. Essentially, the more pixels within an image, the sharper the image will be. 4K (known as Ultra High Definition) resolution is 3840 x 2160 pixels, resulting in an incredibly detailed image. 1080P (High Definition) has a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels.

Most people are familiar with HD resolution as it is the resolution of LED and LCD televisions, Blu-Ray videos and many DSLR cameras. The hard fact is, in a 16:9 ratio, 4K is almost four times the resolution of 1080p. With only that information, the decision seems obvious, but before you rush out to buy a drone with 4K resolution, consider the broader pros and cons.

What are the pros and cons of buying a drone with a 4K vs. 1080P camera?

Pros of 4K

  • In comparison to 1080P, 4K results in a finer and more intricate image. The enhanced details of your footage can be viewed at a close range, allowing the viewer to be positioned much closer to a large screen and experience a clearer picture. The superior clarity of 4K footage can still be recognised from further away but it is best enjoyed up close.
  • You have the option of filming in 4K and then downscaling your files to 1080P, the downscaled picture is noticeably (albeit only slightly) more detailed than footage originally recording in 1080P. Touching on this point, 4K will give you more freedom in post-production. This means you will have a heightened ability to digitally stabilise video, pan, insert motion, and crop. With four times the number of pixels, 4K video allows you to edit your footage in a more versatile way.

    Drone flying through city at night

    This time-lapse night shot shows what’s possible when purchasing a drone with a high-quality 4K camera.

Cons of 4K

  • Be aware of the capability of the computer software you’ll be using for your drone footage. Editing 1080P HD video has always demanded a computer with considerable processing power. You’re going to need something even faster if you’re editing 4K video. There’s more data to handle and you need a computer that can cope with it. If you’re working with an older computer and/or you don’t have programs for video optimisation and editing, you will find it difficult to process the volume of data that’s required from 4K video. You will also want to consider the large storage space required for 4K videos.
  • The stunning detail of 4K video will be lost on screens that aren’t made to accommodate it; you really need to view your content on a 4K monitor or TV to appreciate the difference between 4K and 1080P.
  • Further to this, if the destination of your drone footage is Facebook, Instagram of Twitter and it’s likely that your content will be viewed on a phone screen, the difference in quality between 4K and 1080P will not be noticeable.

Pros of 1080P 

  • As the size of the files are smaller, 1080P is quicker to edit, and as previously mentioned it’s more likely that the computer you’re using can process 1080P files with more ease that it could than 4K files. On small screens like phones, laptops or tablets, the details between 4K and 1080P are almost indistinguishable. If you’re posting your files on Facebook, then 1080P may be preferable for uploading and distributing. 1080P files will also take up less space on your memory card than 4K.

    As well as being cheaper, drones with HD cameras can take high-quality aerial shots that are indistinguishable to 4k images if viewed on a smaller screen.

Cons of 1080P

  • Viewed on a large screen your 1080P video is not going to have as shaper image as footage shot with 4K. If you’re going for a cinematic, full-impact style of filming, (and arguably, that is the aim of drone videography) you may feel that 1080P does not quite deliver the stunning visual effects you were hoping for.
  • Something to consider is the question of whether you’d be foolish not to take advantage of the most cutting-edge technology available to amateur video makers, the assumption beig that to shoot in 4K is to be at the forefront of stunning video quality. But of course, technology moves quickly, and it’s enormously costly to constantly buy the latest, most up-to-date gear. Once 8K lands within the consumer market, 4K could be lumped in with 1080P as resolution that is considered second-rate.
  • So before deciding that 4K is the only resolution you’ll accept in you drone’s camera, make sure you’ve considered exactly what you want your videos to achieve, where they will be viewed (and if the difference in quality will be appreciated) and whether you have the computer and storage space to handle it. If you’re shooting videos to share on social media, and to be viewed on phones, tablets and laptops screens, 1080P HD quality is more than enough to impress audiences and take incredible footage with your drone.

Hopefully this article’s helped explain the pros and cons of both 4K and HD cameras, and given you some ideas around what to consider when picking the best drone for aerial photography.  If you’ve enjoyed it, you’re welcome to subscribe to our newsletter for more drone related guides and info, or if you’re ready to take things up a notch, check out our Best Drones Under $200 Buying Guide for some information on our highest-rated starter drones of 2018.

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