You Don’t See in 12K: URSA Mini Pro 12K Footage

The URSA Mini Pro 12K is the most advanced camera for digital cinematography that has ever been created, so much so that our eyes can’t even see it.

The quality, dynamic range, and frame rates that the URSA Mini Pro 12K is capable of are amazing, and the early samples that Blackmagic has released are nothing short of stunning. But, all that image detail got me thinking: Isn’t all this resolution wasted on on us?  Well as it turns out, under normal viewing situations the human eye completely lacks the ability to see the full detail of not only 12K footage, but 4K too.

The human eye doesn’t operate in megapixels and frames per second like a camera, but there is an upper limit to the quality we are able to perceive directly at a glance, and also the number of frames per second we are able to differentiate depends on how alert we are at the time. 

Let’s examine this footage with the help of an old but good and informative video from Knowing Better that takes us through some of the history of video resolution, and explains how vision works in the human eye.

*He kicks things off with the history of video resolution, but jump to around 11 minutes where he discusses vision.

When talking about image quality, people often say “It’s like looking through a window.” I definitely enjoy the irony in the fact that peering out of a window seems to just be the maximum capability of our eyes.

I have a fantastic 4K HDR display in my home, and I often can’t tell the difference between HD and High Resolution 4K content when I’m sitting on my couch. The added color from 4K REC2020 content is easy to spot, and I love the increase dynamic range of Dolby Vision, but I often don’t notice the fine details of a 4K signal.

So why do I need to start shooting in 12K then? Wouldn’t it just be pointless? 

Rods and Cones

Similarly to how a camera sensor uses photosites to record an image, the retina in our eyes use 2 different types of photoreceptors to allow us to see. These photoreceptors are called rods and cones.

Each eye contains around 6-7 million cones, and 120 million rods, which are not sensitive to color. These receptors are density packed around the very center of the eye in an area known as the fovea, which has a diameter of around 1 mm.

As a result of this, our vision is clearest and contains more color information in the very center of what we see in our 1 degree wide focal area and our brains approximate the remaining detail, giving us the illusion of uniformity in sight that we all believe we have.

In fact, the clarity of the way we see looks a little more like this:

A Pool Of Blood

In addition to having vision that is clearest in the center, the photoreceptors in our eyes are supplied with oxygen by blood that flows over their surface. This means that when we look out into the world, we’re really seeing everything through a pool of blood and, again, our brains correct for this to give us the illusion of clear vision.

On top of that, this blood has to go somewhere too, which means we all have a hole or blind spot  in our vision where the optical nerve meets the retina that is filled in by our minds – similar to the way the Content Aware Fill in After Effects works.

Our Optical Resolution

We don’t see in pixels, and it is nearly impossible to make a direct comparison between our eyes and a display screen. Many people have tried and have come up with numbers varying around 576 megapixels for our entire perceived visual area, noting however, that we only have the ability to resolve about 5-15 megapixels at a glance.

Can you make out a single dot on a piece of paper from the other side of the room?

Since the majority of us sit about 10 feet or so from our television screens, this means that we likely couldn’t see the added resolution of anything above 3K when viewing content at home, which is what most people do.

Is 12K too far?

When I was a kid, all TVs had a 640 X 480 resolution and I didn’t feel like I was missing out not seeing a 12,288 x 6480 picture. It didn’t matter to me if Luke Skywalker looked like he was standing in the room with me, I still wanted to be him and fight Darth Vader and the stormtroopers.

I chose this old video (which is only 3 years old, btw) because I felt it was pretty amazing how far we’ve come in such a short time. In 2017, Knowing Better made this video to discuss whether or not 4K would materialize as a standard, and now in the middle of 2020, just as it is becoming more often the norm, we’re shooting in 12K?

To get the full benefit of 12K resolution, given the limitations of human vision, you would have to sit at a distance of about 18 inches from a 50” 12K TV set, or view content on a Jumbotron sized display in your living space. 12K is absolutely more resolution than any production would need given that the audience viewing it suffers from all of the limitations of human vision.

But that isn’t the idea behind shooting in 12K.  Have a gander at these amazing sample images from the new URSA Mini 12K.

Filming in 12K might have sounded laughable and a bit nutty in 2017, but 12K gives you the flexibility to digitally zoom in 3X without losing display resolution in 4K. Reframing and cropping are a standard part of modern video production.

Using a wider lens and digitally zooming in allows you to cover a lot of ground with your camera.  You can stabilize a shaky shot, more easily track for VFX, or even reframe for vertical video – meeting more deliverables for your final product.

Since our vision is so narrow, our attention spans so limited, and we’re all looking at the world through a pool of blood, fluids, and discarded cells in our eyes, the images we capture for professional filmmaking need to be the absolute best. We need to hold the audiences attention and maintain direct control of everything they see to cut through all of the muck.

The resolution might be jaw dropping, but this 12K camera also comes with outstanding advancements in color science, dynamic range, and frame rates – all of which can make a viewing experience more enjoyable.

The URSA Mini Pro 12K will be assisting us in capturing the world in great detail for some time to come, and the next time you hear someone say ‘it’s like looking through a window’ you can respond with “Isn’t it sad how little our eyes can see?”

[source: Knowing Better]

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