Lo-Fi vs Hi-Fi: Which is Better?

When working on a video or photography project, budget and time are often the key factors determining the quality of your end result. It can be totally fine to grab a quick, unplanned shot here and there for b-roll or a social post, but higher quality video and photography are usually expected without realizing what goes into capturing and editing. That’s where the concept of lo-fi vs hi-fi comes into play.
Photographer Taking a Photo of B Roll

The above photo is an example of a lo-fi image. It was shot on an iPhone behind the scenes of our hifi shoot and was not edited. We use this type of lofi imagery in assets like social posts.

What Does Lo-Fi Mean?

Lo-fi, or low fidelity, isn’t necessarily low-quality; it’s a more relatable, DIY-style video or photo that usually takes less effort to capture and edit. With lo-fi, you can still use good equipment, but your team won’t be incorporating a lot of the planning and set-up necessary for commercial-grade production.

For example, if we’re capturing video of a soccer game to use for a quick social post, we wouldn’t show up to the game with a full set of lights, tripods, audio recorders, and our boom mic. It would be a simple production that involves a camera and stabilizer for smooth camera movement. As a result of this simplified process, we wouldn’t expect to end up with perfect audio or some of the more cinematic shots that would be better used for something like a commercial.

Despite what’s implied, lo-fi video and photo isn’t completely unplanned; it’s simply less-planned. We would still always make a quick shot list before going on a lo-fi shoot, just so we know we get everything the client could benefit from.  We also shoot anything we come up with on the spot. You can never have enough backup b-roll or photos for social media, so grabbing shots on the fly can lead to some unexpected results!

For instance, we were on a monthly b-roll shoot for The Hearing Place and Dr. Mathisen started explaining how to clean the wax trap in a set of hearing aids while we were getting some quick shots of the process. We decided to leave that audio in and post it as a lo-fi social media video and people really responded to it. We didn’t bring our audio recorder or a mic; it was all in-camera and shot with one of our more simple stabilizer rigs. Sometimes you get those happy accidents with lo-fi that you don’t achieve with a more planned setup.

LoFi Video

The above video is an example of a lo-fi footage. It was shot on an iPhone with a gimbal as Miles was talking to a client. We use this type of footage as social posts or as b-roll in hifi videos. 

When to Utilize Lo-Fi

Deciding on lo-fi vs hi-fi can be challenging. Sometimes, clients don’t know what would be more beneficial. A great example of this is assuming hi-fi video would perform better on social media. In fact, it’s often the lo-fi videos that receive higher engagement, since they tend to read as authentic or relatable. People don’t always gravitate toward corporate-looking, polished content on social media, so utilizing lo-fi video or photography can end up resonating better with your audience.

Something we do at OTM is keep a library of b-roll and photography for our clients so we aren’t re-using the same video clips or photos over and over for social media ads and posts. In this case, since we batch-record monthly or quarterly, we’re looking to get a decent amount of unique shots with several variations and aren’t necessarily trying to make a massive production out of it, so lo-fi is perfect. We can pack up the stabilizer and camera and go solo to shoot video and photos, as opposed to bringing more equipment and needing an additional photographer to help with the production. This not only benefits us in the form of minimal resource use, but the client sees those benefits as well. Nobody wants to pay extra for video clips or photos that will need to be replaced in a few months with fresh content. We do sacrifice a little bit of quality for a long term goal when doing this, but if your videographer and photographer know how to use the equipment and adjust for lighting issues that may arise when depending on natural or indoor lighting, the results will still be great.

OTM Hi Fi Image of a keyboard

The above image is an example of a hi-fi image. It was shot with a Sony A7, 24-70mm lens and professionally edited. We use this type of imagery in our proposals, print pieces, website and any other marketing platform where we need high-quality imagery.

What is Hi-Fi?

Hi-fi, or high fidelity video or photography, is the alternative to lo-fi. It’s a higher-quality production which takes more time and resources. This often requires additional lighting, audio recording equipment, and much more planning than you would think goes into a video project. Before we even touch a camera, there should be a shot list, storyboard, call sheet, and a script, if applicable. We know exactly what the video will look like when it’s complete before we hit record. A great example of this is a company anniversary video, customer or employee testimonials, and anything you’d want to have a cinematic feel.

When to Utilize Hi-Fi

When deciding between lo-fi vs hi-fi, there’s a pretty simple rule of thumb: If you want your content to look highly polished or corporate, you’ll want to utilize a hi-fi production. While you can sometimes get a professional feel to lo-fi video or photography, you’ll notice the depth of field, framing and composition, lighting, and audio quality all improve exponentially when they have been properly planned and the appropriate equipment is set up with care. Sometimes, that means taking half an hour to adjust a lighting scheme when an interviewee unexpectedly walks in wearing glasses (glare can be a big distraction). It includes audio tests so appropriate levels are recorded and sometimes incorporates a studio setting with a specific backdrop that will also need to be set up prior to shooting.

The above video is an example of a hi-fi video. This was storyboarded, scripted, set up with professional sound and lighting and professionally edited. (You will also notice the lo-fi b-roll from above is incorporated into this video.) 

Why Does it Matter?

You may or may not have heard the phrase, “fix it in post,” which means the editor can make adjustments and fixes during the editing phase of the project. While this sounds great, it’s honestly an editor’s nightmare and ends up costing more money and time in the end. It just means someone is spending time fixing mistakes that could have been prevented during the pre-production and production phases (and those fixes usually would have looked/sounded better if they were corrected during shooting, anyway). When choosing lo-fi vs hi-fi, keep in mind that hi-fi provides the opportunity for more planning and troubleshooting in advance, which can save you the headache of adjusting your budget to “fix it in post.” You’ll be able to do it right the first time.

If you find yourself wanting a hi-fi production but have the resources for a lo-fi version, talk to your video and photo team. Have them perform a quick audit and come up with a plan that addresses your concerns. The concept of lo-fi vs hi-fi is not concrete and, as with nearly everything in life, there are always more options than those presented to you. For example, we might want to grab simple b-roll at a doctor’s office but the overhead lighting is unflattering and makes the doctors look a little creepy. Instead of drawing a lighting map and bringing a ton of extra equipment, we could grab one of our studio lights and a softbox and use them to fill in some of the trouble areas. That’s a quick fix that would only take an extra ten minutes to get right. As a bonus, it would save the video editor time trying to lighten harsh shadows later on.

You can make a great production, regardless of your lo-fi vs hi-fi choice. The best way to decide what you need is to have your marketing team assess what is needed, what your expectations are, and what resources will be applied to the project and you’ll find a solution that works for your specific goals. When you understand what goes into each type of production, it’s easier to make a decision you’ll be happy with when your deliverables are ready.

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