Intro to Video Frame Rates and Frames Per Second Shooting Speeds

Intro to Video Frame Rates and Frames Per Second Shooting Speeds

A frame rate refers to the number of individual frames or images that are displayed per second of film or TV display. The frame rates for TV and films are standardized by The Society of Motion Picture and Television Editors, also known as SMPTE.

pal-ntsc-secam-compared

There isn’t technically a “best frame rate” for shooting video. It is based on the look you want to achieve. Movies and films are almost exclusively projected at 24 frames per second. Television does not have an internationally accepted frame rate. PAL and SECAM use 25 FPS in Europe and in Japan they use 29.97 NTSC.

Breakdown of Frame Rates from Final Cut Pro:

24 FPS Film; High Definition Video This is the universally accepted film frame rate. Movie theaters almost always use this frame rate. Many high definition formats can record and play back video at this rate, though 23.98 is usually chosen instead (see below).
23.98 (23.976) FPS Film; High definition video with NTSC Compatibility This is 24 FPS slowed down by 99.9% (1000/1001) to easily transfer film to NTSC video. Many HD formats (some SD formats) can record at this speed and is usually preferred over true 24 FPS because of NTSC compatibility.
25 FPS PAL; HD video The European video standard. Film is sometimes shot at 25 FPS when destined for editing or distribution on PAL video.
29.97 FPS NTSC; HD video This has been the color NTSC video standard since 1953. This number is sometimes inaccurately referred to as 30 FPS.*
30 FPS HD video, early black and white NTSC video Some HD video cameras can record at 30 FPS, as opposed to 29.97 FPS. Before color was added to NTSC video signals, the frame rate was truly 30 FPS. However, this format is almost never used today.*
50 FPS PAL; HD video This refers to the interlaced field rate (double the frame rate) of PAL. Some 1080i HD cameras can record at this frame rate.
59.94 FPS HD video with NTSC compatibility HD cameras can record at this frame rate, which is compatible with NTSC video. It is also the interlaced field rate of NTSC video. This number is sometimes referred to as 60 FPS but it is best to use 59.94 unless you really mean 60 FPS.
60 FPS HD video High definition equipment can often play and record at this frame rate but 59.94 FPS is much more common because of NTSC compatibility.
*You might be tempted to round 29.97 FPS up to 30 FPS but this can lead to confusion during post-production. Today it is still very rare to use a frame rate of 30 FPS but very common to use 29.97 FPS. When in doubt, ask people to clarify whether they really mean 30 FPS or if they are simple rounding 29.97 FPS for convenience.

You may ask yourself “how many frames per second is best?” The higher the frame rate, the more film or digital storage space for video you’ll use up. Think about is the cost and size of your shoot. The more you have to edit and have storage for, the more difficult it is to wrap the project, so plan well ahead about the look you want to achieve and how feasible it is to complete in post.

Virtual snapshot of bulb explosion with glass fragments

Cameras are becoming more and more capable of filming at faster and faster frames per second speeds but at the expense of resolution (though the technology keeps improving).

Slow-motion effects are created by recording hundreds of frames per second and then playing them back at a slower rate. An example would be a bullet shattering a light bulb. It may only take a fraction of a second but if the camera records the light bulb a thousand times per second and then plays back at 24 FPS, the movie onscreen will take almost 40 times as long. If you shoot the bullet at 1000 FPS and then play it back at 24 FPS it will take nearly a minute to watch the video even though the scene only took a second to shoot (1000 FPS / 24 FPS = 41.6 seconds).

Here’s a breakdown of how different frame rates can be used:

  • 1 frame per hour: Extreme time-lapse photography.
  • 1 frame per minute: time-lapse photography and stop-motion animation.
  • 18 frames per second: Early motion picture films.
  • 24 frames per second: Worldwide standard for movie theater film projectors.
  • 300+ frames per second: high-speed cameras for very slow-motion photography (used for miniatures to make models seem larger on screen).
  • 2500+ frames per second: very high-speed camera for special effects such a pyrotechnics and explosions.

Some of our “fastest” cameras in terms of frame rate for slow motion work include the Sony RX10 III (1000 FPS), Sony FS700  or Sony FS5 (960 FPS), RED Weapon 8K (300 FPS), Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 (240 FPS), GoPro HERO5 Black (240 FPS), ARRI Alexa Mini  or ARRI Amira (200 FPS), Sony a7SII (120 FPS), and many others (resolution support at these speeds varies).

Are you going for a slow-motion effect or a cinematic look? This will determine what frame rate you want to record at. Important to keep in mind is when you shoot video at 24 FPS you need to avoid quick pans and tilts because they may cause an image to stutter. At 12 FPS or lower, your brain begins to differentiate the individual frames and they no longer seem seamless. Once you get up to 18 FPS, your brain can process the frames as fluid animation. Early films were often shot at 16-20 FPS but then played at faster rates, which is why many silent films have a characteristic “jerky” look.

In case you are wondering if frame rate is the same as shutter speed when shooting video on your DSLR, the answer is: no, it is not the same! Below we’ve provided a very handy video demonstrating the differences, you can use our guide on the best DSLR camera for video for more information.

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Cherish Ortiz

Cherish received a BFA in Cinematography from the Academy of Art University. She has gone on to work as a freelance 1st camera assistant under award-winning directors of photography and continues to crew on high production films and commercials.

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