Which shooting frame rate should I use, and when should I use it?
The first phones that came with a camera that could capture video were an amazing breakthrough. No longer did you need to lug around a second camera if you wanted to make sure you could grab a quick video of something memorable or cool. Sure, the quality was pretty bad, but it was a whole lot better than nothing.
Today the cameras in phones like the iPhone 8 or Google Pixel 2 can grab amazing video. It’s clear, smooth, and almost as good as a standalone mid-range video camera. They also have a lot more options than the older models did, and now things can get even more confusing with the ability to shoot at 24FPS (frames per second), 30FPS, or 60FPS. When should you use each?
Don’t overthink it
Here’s the best place to start. If you scour the web while asking this very question, you’ll find a million different answers, but one piece of advice always stands out:
Shoot everything in 30FPS or 60FPS all of the time.
This is because only very expensive cameras can truly shoot video at 24FPS, and the processing programs we have now are designed to convert higher speed videos into 24FPS “cinematic” mode. If you plan to do any serious editing and your camera can handle 60FPS for the full length of the video you’ll be taking, use it. If not, use 30FPS. If you need that cinematic look of 24 frames (actually 24.9 or 25FPS in countries that use the PAL format for video), you do it in your video processing program.
Video shot at 30 or 60FPS and then converted will look better than video shot in a 24FPS mode. Only use 24FPS for special effects once you learn what the raw video looks like from your camera.
Wait. Explain these different speeds or modes to me!
Right! The advice we started with comes from folks who frequent groups and websites dedicated to videography, and the people giving it are pros who know the what, why, and when. For the rest of us, let’s try to explain it a little bit.
Whether you are talking about 24, 30, or 60FPS you’re considering a number of video frames that will be recorded per second. The higher the number, the smoother the action is, and things like walking or running or anything else that is in motion will look familiar to us. But it doesn’t exactly look natural because we’re used to seeing film viewed at 24FPS with a certain style of effect added to it.
24 frames, when combined with selective editing, makes any video have that classic “film” look.
At least we used to be accustomed to this. When you go to an actual movie theater and watch a film, you’re probably seeing it at 24 frames per second with very specific coloring and grain effects added during production. But when you watch a video or television show, you probably notice it looks a bit different because they are often playing at 30FPS without any of these effects. Our eyes can see a slight difference and even though 30FPS actually shows more information and is more realistic, many of us aren’t in love with that smooth TV look. And no matter which you prefer, it’s pretty easy to see a difference.
24FPS (actually 23.976FPS) is what video professionals ages ago determined to be the slowest playback rate that still looks smooth enough to feel real. It’s also a lot cheaper to produce the final product and even DVD and Blu-ray support 24FPS instead of 30FPS because of costs. According to most pros, without any extra processing or effects, we really can’t see much difference between 24 and 30FPS.
So why do we need 30 and 60FPS if 24 looks good?
Because of a phenomenon called “rolling shutter.” All cameras are different (even digital cameras like the ones in our phones) and will have a variable amount of what’s called wobble or skew when you move the camera during filming. It all depends on how fast the actual sensor can capture movement in the frame while the sensor itself is moving.
The more frames you shoot, the more good footage you’ll have.
The slower the filming speed, the more pronounced any rolling shutter effects will be. It’s really that simple, and you can test it yourself. Grab your phone and take a video of the same thing in motion while moving the camera to capture more of the scene. Shoot each video at a different speed, then play them back. The higher speed video will look smoother, usually a good bit smoother.
Shooting (or filming if you go really old school) at 30FPS or higher, then converting to 24FPS if you want that special look is what is usually recommended. The processing will intelligently cut the extra 7-ish frames per second and produce a video that plays back at the same rate it was recorded. You have the benefit of shooting at 30FPS to fight blur and rolling shutter effects, but you’ll get that “cinematic motion” look by exporting at 23.976FPS.
Of course, this all applies to anyone who is going to export and process their video. When you view a video on your phone or a computer, it plays back at the rate it was shot unless you edit it.
So what speed should I use?
It depends on what you’re planning to do. Pros know what speed to use for most any situation, but the rest of us only have a few things to consider.
If you plan on exporting your videos to a DVD or Blu-ray disc, it’s going to be converted to 24FPS. We saw that shooting at 30FPS then exporting at 24 is fine, but there can be issues exporting 60FPS to 24FPS. Your video will still play back at the right speed, but the reduction of each second in the timeline isn’t even. That means certain frames will have to be skipped or repeated and there can be a choppy feel if you don’t take the time to manually edit every frame. Common advice in this situation is to shoot at whatever speed is closest to the playback rate of your distribution media. Only use 60FPS or higher if you plan to use effects like slow motion or still frame capture in your project.
Simply put — if you’re going to make a DVD of your vacation videos or your kids first birthday, shoot it at 30FPS. If you want to get fancy at a specific place with slow motion (imagine a slow shot of the kid blowing out the candles on the cake) shoot it at 60 or higher and take the time to edit it in your self with a proper video effects program.
Many of us will want to put a video clip on Facebook or Twitter. When you’re doing that, file size matters to both the company hosting the video and the folks playing it back. Mostly to the company hosting.
Your video will be compressed and displayed at a low quality but might be a one-to-one copy if someone were to download it. You want to shoot good video, but you don’t want enormous file sizes because it’s going to be compressed and be a low-quality in then end.
Just like a DVD, cutting from 60FPS to whatever format is being used on your social media site can cause some issues. Shooting at 30FPS is a safer bet. Your video will look good if someone were to download a copy at the original quality, and since it’s going to be converted in your timeline, it really doesn’t matter.
YouTube (or any other video sharing websites like Vimeo) will be able to play your video at the quality and speed you shot it in. It will also be able to be viewed at a lower resolution and compressed format without any intervention on your part, and this can be automatic based on the viewer’s internet connection speed.
Film your videos at the speed you like to view them if you’re going to put them on YouTube. Usually, the highest resolution and fastest frame rate are best here, as many other people will be able to view them at that quality. A specific framerate and format really only is necessary if you plan to distribute your video on physical media. Computers and phones are great at making everything work and showing us a good video when we tap the play button.
Most of us also have a collection of videos and clips we’re keeping because they are special to us. We’ll view them from time to time, but probably won’t be building the collection into a feature-length film.
Always shoot these videos at the highest quality your camera supports. You’ll be viewing them on your phone or a computer, so the playback speed and format isn’t an issue, but quality can be and will be in the future. I know I can’t be the only one with horrible 320 x 240 .3gp video files saved in the cloud somewhere. We still watch them because they are special, but it would be nice if they looked better.
Any video you shoot today will never get “better.” As tech advances and we move to 8k displays with newer screen tech to support them, we want the old videos we watch on them to look their best. These are the videos you shoot in 4K at 60FPS.
Back to not overthinking it
What’s important is that your videos look good to you. These rules are meant to be broken as needed.
In the end, you should just play with your camera. Try all the features and different shooting speeds, then see what you like. That’s the speed and format you should use.
If you ever need to turn out a Hollywood production with them, you’ll have a team of pros that can make everything work.