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A Beginner’s Guide to Frame Rates

Kavon Zamanian

There are a handful of commonly used frame rates, each with their own purpose. Here is a quick guide to the industry standard frame rates and their purposes.

Top image ‘NTSC / PAL Color Test Chart’ via Shutterstock

Different mediums and different regions all demand different frame rates for different reasons. Let’s take a brief look at what it all means so you’ll be prepared to pick which frame rate is right for your next project.


Film

A Beginner's Guide to Frame Rates: Film

24fps, 48fps

Movies and other cinematic productions are generally shot at 24 frames per second. Only recently did Peter Jackson push toward double this frame rate when shooting The Hobbit Trilogy.

The 48 frames per second format received mixed feedback, and has not been used elsewhere yet — though James Cameron is reportedly shooting his upcoming sequels to Avatar at 48fps. While the higher frame rate has been criticized for breaking immersion, it does provide a sharper image with less motion blur.


Video/Television

 A Beginner's Guide to Frame Rates: TV

NTSC: 30FPS, 60FPS PAL: 25FPS

The American standard for video has long been 30 frames per second, though for broadcast television it is actually 29.97 (see drop-frames below for explanation). 30fps was chosen for ideal synchronization with the 60Hz power standard of the United States.

This format is known as NTSC. In Europe, the video standard is 25 frames per second due to their 50Hz power standard. This format is known as PAL. Online video is often uploaded at 30fps, and sometimes even at 60fps for action-heavy content.


Drop-Frame Timecodes

Framerate Demo GIFThe above example compares the Drop-Frame timecode (left) to a Non Drop-Frame timecode (right), slowed down. If you watch the 29.97 example, you’ll see that it skips two frames at the 1-minute mark.

23.976fps, 29.97fps, 59.94fps

When color television was first introduced, the added signal caused interference with existing black and white televisions. Known as the Color Subcarrier, this signal provided hue and saturation levels, but was unfortunately visible on black and white televisions as a form of static. Slowing down the frame rate to 29.97 eliminated this static, and it has since become industry standard to broadcast in this format. This format is known as Drop-Frame, whereas 30fps would be called Non Drop-Frame.

In order to compensate for this frame rate offset, a Drop-Frame’s timecode must skip frames 00 and 01 once a minute, with the exception of multiples of ten minutes. There are also Drop-Frame variations of 24fps and 60fps (see above). While this should be kept in mind when working with any video content, it is absolutely crucial in broadcast video.


There is a lot more technical detail to how frame rates work, but with this knowledge you can at least identify them and choose which one is right for your current project. Did we leave anything out? Let us know in the comments below.