Talking About Video Frame Rates

written by Kris Caballero (January 14, 2018)

Don't kid yourself: if you can succintly tell the motion of video, from consumer-based video cameras to cinema, film-like video, you likely have asked yourself what it means to acquire a "cinematic" look—as seen on big films and/or on DVDs/Blu-Rays. This was my big topic of research back in college, until I realized it is the type of video camera that supports various frame rates when recording. Now, granted, today's digital cameras, no matter how expensive it is, CANNOT AND WILL NEVER perfectly replace actual film. In other words, if you ever want that elusive yet beautiful "film look" that amateur (non-serious) filmmakers never stop whining about, the only way is to learn how to shoot on film, not digital video. Since this website is all about video, you're in luck.

For those wanting that "film look," which, by the way, is a subjective phrase describing cinematic video, ask yourselves: Why do you need it? It's like asking to professionally style and plate your homemade meals to make it presentable and "eatable." Professional culinary plating takes years of training and is very much exclusive to chefs who can turn a dish into an artform, to be sold at a staggering price to artistically, picky eaters. That's what I hear when someone asks about getting a "film look," because there isn't a definitive description of a "film look" other than making it look like video shot on a big-budget production. In addition, there are various types of "film looks" depending on the story, the shots, the scenes, as they tell the video editor and/or colorist—you—how to properly present and organize specific scenes. Some love a higher contrast, some like lower saturation.

There's no "film look" because there's too many types of them; It all rests on the visual creativity of the editor and what the producers, directors and/or writers have drawn up. I'm not saying you don't deserve getting the "film look," but it's best to explain what it is you're trying to accomplish with your video/film project. I ask because that's why YouTube is brim with no-talent schlogs who don't deserve all that money, views and subscribers, kicking away the talented filmmakers with solid, creative skills that I'd rather watch than watching someone headbutt a table over a $50 dare. Seriously.

What I'm trying to say is know what it is you're asking for. It's like a carnivore asking he'll eat anything because he's hungry, then is served vegan food. Chances are so-so that they'd eat it, but he most likely won't. It's the same when demanding to get that "film look"—it's not about being careful what you ask for, it's about knowing what you're asking for. In summary, it's all aesthetics which is why there are too many color choices to acquire that "film look."

(For me personally, anyone who has to ask/demand to get a "film look" probably is hanging around in the wrong industry/business, and ought to pursue something else. As cold as that sounds, it's true because creative artists invest more than half their lives to express themselves through various forms of art, in exchange for having a social life and a 9-5 job to name a few. In that case, don't ask for something you're only going to use to get money with.)

When it comes to frame rates of video, what you use depends on your project (that was why I went all out to ask why people really need the "film look"). The most common frame rate, shot on consumer HD video cameras and cell phone video, is 29.97. When rounded to the nearest ten, this is 30i/30p. Under the assumption that there's no slow-motion video involved, video playing at a normal, real-time pace, this frame rate is the most common. Perhaps some of you may not tell the difference, after all, video is just video, right? Wrong. To openly demonstrate, I composed a horizontally-scrolling ticker (silent radio) to see the "stutter" of the motion. (Source: SportsCenter from ESPN, taken from a broadcast aired in June 2013.)

In the case for sports broadcasts, where slow motion video/replays are a huge part in their games, adding bottom-line tickers has been a big thing. Therefore, scrolling, yet "stuttering," text would make your broadcast bosses purple in anger. Nevertheless, even if it's not text, watch any cell phone-based video and you'll see a bit of "stuttering." Some are subtle than others, that's because the final video can have implemented some frame blending to reduce the "stuttering," but the video frame peepers can still see it. (It also depends on the lens used and the shutter speed, which varies from camera to camera.)

Alright, so what do the sports broadcast network use to get that silky, smooth scrolling in ties with their in-game, live slow motion video? I figured it out as recent as 2011, and they use 720p60—high definition 720 progressive video with a full 60 frames. Ever watch a sports game on TV thinking it's shot on a regular home video camera? That "consumer" video is shot on 60-frame progressive video which is why you don't see jagged edges during their slow motion replays. Compare this to the 29.97 video above:

HUGE difference isn't it? Once again, it all depends on what you had during your pre-production plans as to how your final project should turn out. It depends if your project is to be uploaded on YouTube or on online/TV networks (network standards vary, so you may want to ask about their broadcast requirements for airing).

The moment you've been waiting for: the "film look" video. In 60i video, it's possible to shoot progressive and the that option is 23.98, or when rounded up, 24p video. Since 29.97 (30p) video is half of the full 60 frame video, 24p is 40% of 60. This is possibly what you're looking for. Take any of your favorite films, be it digital, on TV, or on DVD/Blu-Ray, and watch the moderate motion scenes where the actor(s) run or the camera pans. Pause the video and go frame by frame slowly. Notice a bit of a skip, and/or frame blend, through the motions? This is the rough, or digitally accurate, emulation of film. There's no solid explanation as to why this is highly considered, other than because films in Hollywood made it look good, or made it the epitome of theatrical filmmaking. My personal theory is it's the dramatic, somewhat relaxed, look that eases the audience's attention. On the actors' side, it's the portrayal of showcasing their perfectly honed talents in hopes to financially carry their careers and impress fans and critics without plunging back into the real world, working in customer service. Nevertheless, I feel it's the visual tonality that's pleasing to the eyes, enough to get you to sit down and pay attention to what the story is telling you. Here you go:

See how slow, yet "relaxed" that scrolling looked? It's almost like a scene showing some news anchor with all these on-screen graphics doing their reporting, integrating with the movie (including cinema-like music videos). Why can't editors do 60p for that one scene, while on a 24p film? Editing critics are mixed with this. I say so because big companies specializing in post production claim their editing software allow you to mix frame rates on the same timeline. The process is too advanced and tricky to demonstrate and explain on here, but it involves matching everything in one type of video frame rate shot while most of the movie are shot in a "wrapping" of that frame rate. For example, some cameras shoot 24p wrapped in a 60i video. We call that 24p with pulldown. Explaining all that is enough for another Talk About Video article, so let's not get ahead of ourselves again.

Whether it's for TV broacast or a series that borderlines on cinema-like but also online based, we recommend the 30p (29.97) frame rate option. Depending on the scenes or the story, you can get by with a simple 30p video without too much hassle. If you're working at or venturing into news-based or sports-based broadcasting, you may want to capture every last frame of the action, and thus, we recommend 60p video. Even though news anchors are simply "talking heads" with little to no motion, you may get by with 30p video, but whether you have the choice or not, it all depends on the broadcast requirements of your network. Some shows pull off 60p video with no problem—ones not related to sports or TV news, and that's okay too! It's all on your visual creativity and what you see fits best with your project.

If you're doing special effects, namely green screen (Chroma Keying) stuff, making sure your full motion is in tact when "keying out" the background, and that's why we also recommend 60p video. What if you shot a movie, 24p, that required green screen á la The Matrix? Since the industry has high-end professional software/hardware where some aren't available to most regular consumers, some of these visual effects artists can properly key out 24p without video conversion (this is so since 24p video has motion "smearing" that's not recommended for green/blue screen video). Usually, you shoot at 60p, key out the solid chroma, THEN output the final keyed-out video into 24p to be mixed with the rest of the 24p film. The only hardware I know that can pull that conversion nicely is a device called the Teranex, and if you can afford it, more power to you and much more.

Some TV series are able to pull off 24p video, namely drama series, competition series, and/or reality shows just fine. Why some series look more theatrical/dramatic than others depends on the shooters' shutter speed, as mentioned earlier. Some 24p look more fast paced, while others seem more frame blended. Your shutter speed, depending on your video camera, makes a big difference in the type of 24p you want. All cameras are different, but look for shutter speed to see what best fits your project.

There's more to frame rates that meets the eye. In PAL broadcasts, 25p and 50p are the norm there. Another one that's garnered some popularity is the 48p frame rate. Once again, if it fits with your project, use it. This is where you flex and flaunt your creative muscles and what you can make. If you're well aware of what to use without begging the community all these useless questions, to the point where you may just want to hire your own editor (if you have a chunk of cash to afford them), then by all means get your project off the ground and start shooting.

Show off your videomaking skills over at Vimeo! Go ahead: go viral: