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In the early days of cinema, the frame rate of a film was dependent on how fast the camera operator hand-cranked the camera. Frame rates are no longer manually regulated, but filmmakers still choose different frame rates to achieve specific effects.
What Is Frame Rate?
Frame rate is the speed at which a sequence of images is displayed on a screen. When cameras record video, they rapidly snap still photos that can be played back in sequence to create the appearance of motion. High frame rates capture more images per second, which makes for smoother video. Low frame rates capture fewer still images per second, which makes for choppier video. Frame rate is measured by the number of frames per second, commonly abbreviated to fps.
In the silent film era, filmmakers shot movies between 16 and 20fps, which was why the motion appeared fast and jerky. Today, filmmakers typically shoot video at a minimum of 24fps because this is believed to be the lowest frame rate required to make motion appear natural to the human eye.
3 Standard Frame Rates for Film and TV
Three frame rates are standardized by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Editors, also known as the SMPTE.
- 24fps is the standard frame rate for movies. In the era of streaming media when the line between movies and television is more blurred than ever, many television shows also use 24fps to achieve a more cinematic look.
- 25fps is the standard frame rate for television shows broadcast in the Phase Alternating Line (PAL) format. PAL is the official color-encoding system for TV broadcasts in most countries outside of North America.
- 30fps is the standard frame rate for television shows broadcast in the National Television System Committee (NTSC) format. NTSC is the official color-encoding system for TV broadcasts in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and some parts of Central and South America.
How to Choose a Frame Rate for Your Film Project
Frame rate impacts an audience’s experience of watching a movie. While there's no single best frame rate, the standards set by the SMPTE for movies and TV shows are a great place to start.
- Generally, stick with 24fps: This classic frame rate is the one that audiences are familiar with—it creates a slight motion blur in live-action films that can feel cinematic.
- Choose a high frame rate for slow-motion sequences: One of the most common stylistic reasons to shoot in a higher frame rate is to produce a slow-motion effect. You can achieve this by capturing footage at a frame rate higher than the rate you use during playback. For example, shooting a movie scene at 120fps and then playing it back at the standard movie frame rate of 24fps produces slow motion.
- Choose a high frame rate for a smoother picture: Footage with lots of fast motion, particularly sporting events, may look better at a higher frame rate like 60fps because unnatural motion blur is eliminated. Director Peter Jackson shot The Hobbit trilogy at a higher 48fps rate because he believed it would solve the complaint that 3D movies cause eyestrain; unlike the standard 24fps, 48fps eliminates film artifacts like strobing, flicker, and motion blur.
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