December 7

Video and Film Frame Rates: What Are Frame Rates?
Why Do They Matter?

Have you ever heard films or TV shows referred to as “moving pictures, or motion pictures?”  Maybe, maybe not, but it helps to know the meaning behind the term if you want to learn how to make videos yourself.

When film was first invented, people were absolutely enthralled with the magic new technology, so “moving picture” was a more common term decades ago than it is today.  Moving picture was shortened to just “movies,” and by now, TV and films are so common they have lost their magic luster and almost seem mundane for most of us.

However, over 120 years ago, when the photo below was taken, everyone was mesmerized.  Only one viewer at a time could use a kinetoscope, and they had to crouch in an awkward position to peer through a tiny eyepiece, but folks loved them and viewing parlors sprang up in large cities.

Publicity image of Edison Kinetoscope, c.1895.  It was the first device to be able to show moving pictures.  About a year later, the motion picture projector was invented and the kinetoscope became obsolete.  

Thinking of film and video as moving pictures will help you understand how it all works. 

(Keep in mind that on a technical level, film and video are two entirely different things, even though the two terms are often used interchangeably, and most viewers don’t realize the difference.)

Genuine MOVING pictures are actually only part of the magical world of Harry Potter, where portraits on the wall can move and speak.

What if I told you that “moving pictures” in films and videos don’t move any more than a still image does?

It’s true.

Harry Potter
AI generated image.

The “magic” of moving pictures here in the real world is based on fooling your perception, just like any magic trick.  Movies only move because your eyes and brain are being deceived by rapidly changing still pictures that are all just a tiny bit different.  Those tiny differences help create the illusion of movement as they speed by at whatever the FRAME RATE is set to.

Each still image is referred to as a FRAME.  The frame rate is the number of still images that go by in one second, abbreviated fps, or frames per second.

Look close at the image below.  Do you have any idea what it is? I wouldn’t expect you to, since “old-fashioned” can definitely be used to describe it.



It’s a closeup of a filmstrip where you can see the individual frames.  As you can see, each individual frame is separated by a small horizontal black line.  You never see those black lines when watching a movie, unless the projector is not working properly.

The edges of the filmstrip have small, square holes, called sprockets.  The sprocket holes were used by rotating sprocket wheels on the projector, which moved the filmstrip forward.  It made a distinctive clicking sound.

The amount of film shown in the photo above would only last about half a second going through a projector.

film projector
An old-fashioned film projector. The film itself was loaded onto the silver reel you see in the front.  This reel moved the film past a light and each frame was projected out the lens onto a large screen at 24 fps.

How many of those still images the viewer sees every second is known as the FRAME RATE.

Frame rate is variable.

How high or low the frame rate is can significantly affect how fluid the movement seems to the viewer.  

It was discovered that anything less than 12 frames per second led to unacceptably choppy movement.  15 fps gave fairly smooth movement.  The higher the frame rate, the smoother the movement appears.  Gorgeous, incredibly fluid slow-motion can be shot at frame rates as high as millions per second.

24 frames per second was agreed upon in the early days of Hollywood as a compromise between the budget-conscious who thought a little choppiness was OK and the artistically-conscious who wanted the gorgeous smooth, more realistic depiction of movement that comes with a higher frame rate.

If you watch a very old film from the silent movie days, you will notice some choppiness.  Now you know why!  The frame rate was too low.

For modern films, if they are indeed shot on film, 24 fps is still common, but it’s no longer exclusive.  Today, many cameras give you the ability to change the frame rate.   Shooting at 60 fps has become quite popular, and is considered the lowest frame rate you’d want to use if you intend to slow the motion down in post-production.

If you want to use slow motion in your video, you should shoot it at a frame rate as high as your camera will allow.  Then you play it back at the regular frame rate.  All those extra frames extend how long the action appears to take.

When video was invented, the standard became 30 fps.  Most viewers won’t notice much of a difference between 24 and 30, but many people insist on shooting video at 24 and believe it better mimic the look of film.  I disagree, but to each his own.

Many modern video cameras can easily be adjusted to shoot at various frames rates, up to thousands of frames per second.

To shoot using such a high frame rate takes much more light.  In my experience, you need about twice as much light to get the same basic exposure with a higher frame rate.


comical illustration of an eyeball on the TV


Animation Relies on Knowing Frame Rates

Any animated movie you have ever seen is created frame, by frame, by frame.

Needless to say, this can be a tedious process.  At the standard film frame rate of 24 frames per second, or 24 fps, a 10-second film would need 240 images.   A one-minute video, a mere 60 seconds of entertainment, would require 1,440 individual frames.

The filmmakers must create each individual frame, and then arrange them in order to depict the movement and activity they wish.  Snow White was the first full length animated movie released by Walt Disney in 1937.

The 83-minute film took about three years to produce.  It took a staff of 750 artists, and they created almost two million individual paintings.  Most frames are a composite of two or more paintings.  Backgrounds and individual characters are drawn separately.  Today, they sell for a small fortune.

snow white drawing
This framed drawing, purported to be an original, was listed on eBay for $9,999.

(83 minutes comes out to 119,520 individual frames.)

Disney’s Snow White was made long before computers were invented.  Today’s powerful computers make animation much easier, but it is still a frame-by -frame process.

However, there is a fun style of animation called Stop-and-Go animation that makes a fantastic project for beginning filmmakers.



  • In your experience, how common is the phrase “moving picture?”
  • Define the word FRAME as it relates to film and video production and described in the article.
  • If you saw a film shot at 10 fps, would you expect the movement to look choppy or smooth?


film images
AI generated image


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