What may be the single most important aspect to video can often be the most confusing. Frame rates. They lay the foundation for how a video – or film – looks and more importantly how it feels. There is a lot of information on the interwebs (and probably in books) about frame rates, but for our purposes we’ll keep things simple.
What You Need to Know
Just want answers? Stick to this frame rate guide:
- 23.98 FPS – The best frame rate for video that looks like film. Buttery smooth and delicious. My favorite.
- 29.97 FPS – Best frame rate for video that needs more detail like sports or reality shows. Crisp and flavorful.
- 59.94 FPS (and above) – High speed frame rate(s) great for shooting slow motion. Speed up to slow down.
Still hungry? Keep reading!
The Frame Rate Definition
FPS. Frames per second. The frequency (speed) at which frames in a video sequence are displayed.
…Thanks for the definition, but what does that mean?
Think of each frame of video like a single image. The more frames (or images) squeezed into a single second, the more detail and clarity a video will have. Does that mean that higher frame rates equal better video? Not necessarily. Below are some common frame rates and how they’re used.
Common Frame Rates
Just a quick note that the frame rates listed below are a select few of the main frame rates you’ll run across using American standard frame rates, but if you’re really interested in learning more about their PAL counterparts, check this out. Lastly, let’s assume we’re only talking progressive frame rates and not interlaced (told you this can get complicated).
- 23.98 FPS – This is the Mac Daddy of frame rates. Used widely in commercial film and television, the 23.98 frame rate is responsible for the “movie” look your eyes are used to seeing when watching a film or TV show. Anything slower than 23.98 fps is generally considered a form of stop motion.
- 29.97 FPS – Have you ever watched TV? Sure you have. This is the standard broadcast rate for television. Even TV shows that were shot at 23.98 fps are converted to 29.97 fps meet broadcast standards. The extra 6 or so frames that 29.97 provides over 23.98 gives the picture a bit more detail, making it great for sports. This extra detail is also why most reality TV shows, the news, and soap operas have a certain look or feel to your eyes. Why is 29.97 the broadcast standard? Well that’s got quite a bit of history to it.
- 59.94 FPS – Now we’re starting to have some fun. At 59.94 fps we’ve entered the high frame zone. High frame rates provide a ton of detail and clarity to video and are ideal for sports video and other fast-paced things. Conforming these higher frame rates to a slower frame rate gives us the silky slow motion we all like.
Why the Weird Numbers?
You’re a smart cookie and are probably wondering what’s with the decimal numbers. Why aren’t frame rates represented with nice round numbers like 24, 30, and 60? Well the truth is that 24, 30, and 60 are real frame rates themselves and that makes sense if you think about our original definition of frame rates: sequential images. If one image is one frame, on say a roll of film, it’s impossible to have “.98” of an image …at least without an accidental scissor mishap. (unrelated – accidental scissor mishap is a great name for a punk band)
Now what doesn’t help is that manufacturers often use these frame rates interchangeably, like 24 meaning 23.98 or 30 meaning 29.97. Not much we can do about that, but now you know!
Anyway, the decimal numbers come into play because of American broadcast history. Broadcast engineers back in the day had to create a way to squeeze color information down a pipe that was only big enough to hold transmission for black and white images. It gets even more head-spinning when moving from analog to digital signals and keeping sync with time. The short of it is the few hundredths shaved off the round frames solved a multitude of issues for video engineers. Learn more here.
Shooting Vs. Editing Frame Rates
In pre-production, before shooting begins, it’s a good idea to nail down the frame rate for your project and stick to it until delivery. Though simple in thought, depending on the project and distribution, this can get incredibly complex. In general, you’ll edit in the same frame rate you shoot in.
Where this doesn’t apply is when shooting at high frame rates, like 59.94 fps and above. These frame rates like 120 fps, 240 fps, 1000 fps, etc must be conformed to a more common frame rate like 23.98 or 29.97 to squeeze out their magical slow motion juiciness.
Conforming (You Will Be Assimilated)
Any Next Gen fans here? Hope you liked that. Anyway, conforming is the process of making the computer treat footage shot at one frame rate like it was shot at another. Example: Conforming 120 fps to 23.98 fps. The result is the footage slows down!
What’s happening? Think about it. If a 1 second clip has 120 frames and now the computer thinks it can only place 24 frames in a second, those other frames have to go somewhere and so they stretch out. Now those 120 frames stretch over 5 seconds instead of 1 second.
Boom: slow motion.
These days conforming generally happens in camera and the resulting clips are already slowed down. It just depends on how the footage was shot though. In many instances it’s still beneficial to conform in the NLE, like using Premiere Pro’s Interpret Footage option.
The Best Frame Rate
Here we are, the answer you’ve been waiting for. The best frame rate for editing video is 100% project dependent. I’m sure you didn’t like that answer so with that said, my preference is editing in 23.98 because I love the look and feel of it. Others may disagree and that’s ok.
So according to this blog post, 23.98 is the best frame rate!