As you get started with video, you may hear intimidating, super-technical terms like frame rate. What is frame rate and why does it matter?
What is frame rate?
Remember those cool little flip books where a pad of paper had an image on every page, and when you flipped through the pages quickly, the image would appear to animate and move? This is essentially how video works. Whether digital or old-school film, video is a series of still images that, when viewed in order at a certain speed, give the appearance of motion.
Frame rate is the speed at which those images are shown, or how fast you “flip” through the book and it’s usually expressed as “frames per second,” or FPS. Each image represents a frame, so if a video is captured and played back at 24fps, that means each second of video shows 24 distinct still images. The speed at which they’re shown tricks your brain into perceiving smooth motion.
Why does frame rate matter?
Frame rate greatly impacts the style and viewing experience of a video. Different frame rates yield different viewing experiences, and choosing a frame rate often means choosing between things such as how realistic you want your video to look, or whether or not you plan to use techniques such as slow motion or motion blur effects.
For example, movies are usually displayed at 24fps, since this frame rate is similar to how we see the world, and creates a very cinematic look. Video that’s broadcast live or video with a lot of motion, such as a sporting event or video game recording, will often have a higher frame rate, as there’s a lot happening at once and a higher frame rate keeps the motion smooth and the details crisp. On the other hand, people who create animated GIFs will often sacrifice detail for a smaller file size and choose a low frame rate.
How do I choose the best frame rate for my video?
First of all, there is no best frame rate. As I pointed out above, different frame rates yield different results, so to choose the best one means going with the option that best fits what you’re trying to create. Even though frame rate is a pretty straightforward concept, there’s a fair amount of controversy around which rates provide the best viewing experience, and there’s research that builds the case for just about any frame rate. Controversy aside, here are four things you need to keep in mind when choosing a frame rate.
The frame rate of a video greatly impacts the look and feel of a video, which in turn determines how realistic the video appears. This concept is tied directly to how we naturally see the world. When we see motion, such as a person throwing a ball or a car driving by, we naturally see a certain amount of motion blur. Ideally, the frame rate you choose will mimic this motion blur, keeping the experience as realistic as possible. If you choose a frame rate that’s too high, things will start to look unnatural and the video will suffer from what’s called the “soap opera effect.” Essentially, the video actually shows too much detail, which makes the video look unnatural. On the other hand, if you choose a frame rate that’s too low, the video will start to look choppy and will provide a poor experience. To help figure out which frame rate is best for you, let’s look at a few common options and how they’re used.
24fps – this is the standard for movies and TV shows, and it was determined to be the minimum speed needed to capture video while still maintaining realistic motion. Even if a film is shot at a higher frame rate, it’s often produced and displayed at 24fps. Most feature films and TV shows are shot and viewed at 24 fps.
30fps – this has been the standard for television since the early days, and is still widely used despite producers moving toward a more cinematic 24fps. Videos with a lot of motion, such as sports, will often benefit from the extra frames per second. The reasons for using 30fps is strangely complicated and it mainly has to do with television and electricity standards set a long time ago. If you want learn more, check out this article on frame rate and jump down to the section titled “modern video standards.”
60+fps – anything higher than 30fps is mainly used to create slow motion video or to record video game footage.
The next key variable to take into consideration when choosing a frame rate is the amount of motion in your video. This one’s pretty straightforward. If you have a lot of motion in your video, you’ll probably want to capture at a higher frame rate. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to produce at a higher frame rate, but capturing at a higher frame rate ensures a higher level of detail for the amount of motion captured. The higher frame rate also allows for more flexibility when editing. To help you decide what’s best for you, here are a few common options.
24fps – as stated above, this is the minimum speed needed to capture video while still maintaining realistic motion. If you capture a really busy scene at 24fps, you’ll see a lot of motion blur.
30fps – with six more frames a second than 24fps, you’ll see more detail during scenes with high motion, however, the motion will start to look a little unnatural and suffer from the “soap opera effect.”
60+fps – anything higher than 30fps is usually reserved for recording busy scenes with a lot of motion, such as video games, athletics or anything you want to show in slow motion. Video gamers record at this rate because there’s a lot happening on their screen at once and more frames equal more detail. Sports are often recorded at a high frame rate so they can be slowed down to show replays, while still maintaining crisp, clear video.
The way a video is delivered, such as YouTube or broadcast television, and the device a person uses to view your video can greatly impact the options you have for frame rate. Not all devices and delivery methods support all frame rates and so it’s best to look in to this before you start filming. To help tackle this, let’s look at a few of the most common places people watch video and how the video is delivered.
Streaming video on the Internet: This is quickly becoming the most common way to deliver video and many streaming services support a wide array of frame rates. People tend to be a little more relaxed about frame rate online, however, it’s important to keep in mind that older TVs and computer monitors might not have a screen refresh rate that can handle higher frame rates.
Television: When you produce video for television, it’s best to stick between 24 and 30fps. This ensures your videos look realistic and fit what people expect from broadcast television. Live broadcasts, such as the news and sports are almost always shot at 30fps, where TV shows and movies are usually shot at 24fps.
Film Projectors: Movie theaters and projectors in general are still an incredibly popular way to consume video, and like TV broadcasts, the frame rate should be kept to 24fps. This will give it that “cinematic” look and you can feel confident the video will show properly with most projectors.
File Size & Export Times
The final things to consider when choosing a frame rate are file size and export times. These two are pretty straightforward. The higher the frame rate, the more still images are packed into each second of video. More images means more information. More information means bigger files and longer export times. This is especially important to consider when uploading videos to online streaming sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Screencast. Higher quality video is always the most desirable, but larger file sizes require better internet connections and computer hardware to stream at its highest quality. This means that people who aren’t on the most modern equipment or fastest services might suffer from a poor experience.
Choosing a frame rate requires some thought and if you take into consideration the four key points outlined above you should find success. If you’d like to play around with frame rates and see a little more about how they work, this site offers some fun ways to experiment.
If you have further questions or just want to offer suggestions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.