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Understanding Frame Rate and Shutter Speed

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Frame rate and shutter speed are two of the fundamental concepts in filmmaking. They both affect the look and feel of your movie, and it is vital to understand them fully. This guide will discuss frame rates and shutter speeds, how they work, and how to use them to create the desired effect. We’ll also look at some standard frame rate and shutter speed combinations that you can use in your films.

What are Frame Rate and FPS?

The frame rate is the number of frames per second that are recorded by the camera, and in most cases, it also represents the playback speed.

It is frequently expressed as “FPS” (frames per second), and the terms are interchangeable. 24fps is a standard film frame rate worldwide, while television has varying frame rates of 24fps, 25fps, 30fps, and 60fps depending on the region.

Why 24fps?

The adoption of 24 fps was largely motivated by two key aspects in the industry – audio synchronization and money. A frame rate of 24fps was initially agreed upon as the standard when sound films were invented. Previously, theaters had projected films at whatever frame rate they felt like; usually, this was between 22 and 26 frames per second.

With the advent of sound film, a standard needed to be found because early tests proved that the human ear was much more sensitive to playback speed changes than the eye. Thus, 24fps was chosen as a compromise that provided smooth natural motion while using the minimum amount of film possible.

What about other frame rates?

Some argue that frame rates higher than 24fps should be used for film because it makes the motion smoother and more realistic, but this isn’t always welcomed as many consider it to look cheap due to the association with soap operas and cheaper video productions from the pre-digital era.

Conversely, a lower frame rate will create a choppier look – think silent newsreel films from the 1920s. In fact, most of the comedies from the silent era were intentionally filmed at 16-18fps so that when they were played back at a faster 22-16 frames per second, the stunts and spectacles would be funnier due to the jerky motion.

So, what frame rate should you use?

The most important thing is to be consistent throughout your film. If you are going for a choppy, vintage look, then film at a frame rate below 20fps. However, if you want a more traditional cinematic look, then 24fps is probably best. Just remember that once you’ve decided on a frame rate, you need to stick with it!

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is the amount of time that each frame is exposed. For digital/video cameras, it is typically expressed as a fraction of a second, such as “1/48” or “1/60”. Film cameras, on the other hand, measure shutter speed in degrees, with 180º being the standard configuration.

A fast shutter speed will result in less motion blur, and a slow shutter speed will create more motion blur and, at the extreme, can have a smearing effect. You can use shutter speed to control the look and feel of your footage. A fast shutter speed will give the impression of a more action-packed scene, while a slower shutter speed can create a dreamy or surreal look.

Slow-motion and Time-lapse (High and Low Frame Rates)

Every video file (or piece of film) actually has two frame rates: the capture frame rate, which indicates the speed at which the camera operated when filming the footage (or the timeline settings in the case of an animation), and then there is the playback frame rate which informs of the intended playback speed.

Assuming that the footage is played back at exactly the same frame rate that it was filmed, it will have natural motion and a duration that is accurate to real-time.

Slow motion

However, if you increase capture speed – 48fps for example – then you will capture double the number of total frames. Consequently, during playback (at 24 frames per second) the duration will be twice as long, and the motion will be twice as slow, known as slow motion.

Fast Motion / Time Lapse

Conversely, if you film at a frame rate below 24fps and then playback at 24 frames per second, you will have a fast motion effect with a shortened duration.

Subtle examples, such as 20-22fps, are often used in action or fight scenes to slightly speed up the action on screen. More extreme examples, such as one frame per second, will create a time-lapse effect with all motion appearing very fast.

Frame rate and shutter speed combinations

Once you’ve decided on your frame rate, the next step is to select an appropriate shutter speed.

180º shutter

For a standard cinematic look and feel, you’ll want to maintain a shutter speed that is equal to a 180º film shutter. In digital video terms, that means you’ll want a fraction of a second that is double your frame rate.

So, if you are filming at 24fps, you’ll want a shutter speed of 1/48 of a second or as close to that as possible, given the options available in your camera’s settings and controls.

To further illustrate this point, here are a few common examples of 180º shutter expresed in fractions:

  • 30fps = 1/60
  • 48fps = 1/96
  • 60fps = 1/120
  • 120fps = 1/240

Slow Shutter

If you choose to use a slower shutter speed, such as 1/36 of a second for 24fps (270º equivalent), you will allow for a longer exposure to each frame. This will result in increased light hitting the sensor.

This is an option that will allow for boosted exposure when shooting in low light conditions, but the trade-off will be increased motion blur and the risk of a “video” or “soap opera” effect.

Fast Shutter

On the other hand, you can opt for a fast shutter when there is ample light. This is a common technique when filming in bright daylight without a neutral density filter.

A common example would be a 1/96 shutter with 24fps – the equivalent of a 90º film shutter. The effect is reduced motion blur and a staccato rhythm to the movement. This is also a choice that is made for many action scenes because the increased sharpness in each frame can intensify the sense of movement in the action.

Conclusion

Frame rate and shutter speed are two important aspects of filmmaking that can drastically affect the look and feel of your footage. By understanding how they work together, you can create videos with the desired effect. We’ve provided a guide to help you get started, but always experiment to find what works best for your project. What frame rate and shutter speed combinations have

FAQs

Are FPS and shutter speed the same?

No, but they are related. The frame rate is the number of frames per second (FPS) recorded by the camera while shutter speed is the amount of time each frame is exposed.

What’s a standard frame rate?

The most common frame rates are 24fps, 25fps, 30fps, and 60fps.

What is a good shutter speed?

There is no one shutter speed that is better than the others, it all depends on the look you are going for. That said, for a standard cinematic look and feel you’ll want a shutter speed that is equal to a 180º film shutter. In digital video terms, that means you’ll want a fraction of a second that is double your frame rate.

So, if you are filming at 24fps, you’ll want a shutter speed of 1/48 of a second or as close to that as possible given the options available in your camera’s settings. For 30fps you’d want a shutter of 1/60th, for 60fps it would be 1/120th of a second, and so on.

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