Is 4k Footage Print Quality? Ask Vogue . . .

The idea of printing still photos from 4k video frames is nothing new. Acclaimed photographers like Vincent Laforet have been boasting about the potential of ultra-high-definition frame grabs for years.

What has changed is that 4k is now far more accessible than it was when Laforet covered it as a potential photography killer way back in 2011. Since then, motion cameras capable of capturing footage in ultra-high-definition 4k have become a lot smaller, a lot more affordable, and a lot more commonplace. As a result, their presence among photographers is rising.

If it’s Good Enough for Vogue, GQ, and Esquire . . .

RED Digital Cinema has been pretty vocal about the advantages of using their motion cameras to extract photo-quality stills. Particularly in the world of fashion, they see a huge advantage of being able to hit record for a few seconds and simply pull the best frame.

Accordingly, they’re eager to boast that frames from their cameras have been used as the cover photos in print magazines like Vogue, Esquire, Time, and GQ—and they back this up with some very impressive samples.

From a pixel perspective, of course, there’s little room—or need—for subjectivity. Professional printers might have varying answers as to their preferred resolution for an 8×10 print file; however, they all seem to agree it’s far below the 4,000+ horizontal pixels native to 4k. Adorama suggests 2,400 pixels across for maximum 8×10 print quality, while B&H says the human eye can’t tell the difference above 2,240.

Meanwhile, cinematographer Abraham Joffe took a different approach to this question, seeing just how much he could enlarge a print from a 4k frame and retain professional sharpness. His answer: a gigantic 55 inches—and that was back in 2012 before his camera had RAW capability . . .

[Image: Red Digital Cinema]