Choosing the Right Video Resolution and Frame Rates

By Taylor Quintanar

| Camera, Video Tips


With all the options available, determining the right video resolution and frame rate for your project can be confusing. However, picking the optimal settings based on your goals and distribution channels is key to achieving the best quality and maximizing compatibility. In this article, we’ll overview common resolutions and frame rates, when to use each, and how to choose the best combo for your needs.

Common Video Resolutions

Resolution determines the level of detail and sharpness in a video by setting the number of horizontal lines displayed per frame. Higher resolutions equal a clearer picture but also larger file sizes. Common distribution resolutions include:

720p – With a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, 720p is a dated format that should be avoided, in general.

1080p – The 1920 x 1080 resolution gives a true high definition viewing experience. 1080p looks sharp on medium-sized screens and is well-suited for general distribution.

1440p – At 2560 x 1440 pixels, 1440p “2K” resolution provides a sharp image but is odd and not commonly used.

4K – With nearly 4000 horizontal pixels, 3840 x 2160 4KHD or UHD resolution produces an extremely detailed image even on large screens. 4KHD can result in very large files that may be best suited to major projects.

Keep in mind higher resolutions require more processing power and storage capacity to edit and play back smoothly. A good rule of thumb is to shoot at the highest resolution your camera allows, then size down as needed for delivery.

Typical Frame Rates

There are two types of frame rates; project frame rate and over or under cranked frame rate AKA slo-mo or fast-mo. A typical scenario would be to record all the footage with on-screen interviews, performances, or dialogue at 24fps with a timebase of 24fps so that everything is in real-time. But often for the same project, one would switch to 60fps slo-mo onto a timebase or project frame rate of 24 for all the “b-roll” or any additional elements without on-screen live audio. This results in 60/24 being 2.5 times slower than real time and is a common tactic on set and capability of most cameras. One other thing to be aware of is that in many other parts of the world, 25fps and 50fps is standard. Also, the following numbers are approximations, technically, 24 = 23.98 in many cases, as well as 30 = 29.97 and 60 = 59.94. Increasingly though, the industry is moving toward whole numbers when possible.

24fps – The standard frame rate for cinema is 24 frames per second (fps). This frame rate provides a natural, cinematic look.

30fps – Traditional frame rate for TV broadcasts, 30fps delivers smooth motion for live action. This is the default frame rate for most camcorders but not for most “cinema cameras.”

60fps – A higher frame rate of 60fps is commonly used for sports, gaming and modern genres where smoother motion is beneficial. 60fps video can also be slowed down 40% and played back smoothly at 24fps as mentioned earlier. Just mind the difference between project frame rate and clip frame rate.

120fps/240fps – Super slow motion frame rates like 120fps or 240fps allow flexibility to achieve dramatic slow motion effects during editing by playing back at 24fps, 30fps or 60fps. Be aware that each time you double the capture speed, you also double the amount of lighting required, e.g. 240 fps requires 4x as much light as 60 all things being equal.

Choosing a Resolution

When selecting a resolution, key factors to consider include:

– Screen size and viewer distance – Higher resolutions best maximize larger screens viewed up close. For smaller screens or farther viewing, lower resolutions like 1080p will probably suffice.

– File sizes – Higher resolution greatly increases file size. Evaluate if your workflow can handle the larger file sizes through editing, storage and distribution. 

– Playback device capability – Mobile or older computers may lack graphics capability to smoothly play higher resolutions. Test playback to ensure compatibility.

– Output platforms – Certain social media or web hosts constrain maximum resolution and aspect ratios. Create files tailored for your end platforms.

– Requested deliverables – If a specific resolution is requested by a client or platform, meet that deliverable specification. 

For most online videos today, 1080p is the sweet spot balancing quality and file size. For very large presentation screens or theatrical release, 4K ensures maximum impact. Check your distribution channels for recommended specifications as well.

Choosing a Frame Rate

Factors to consider when selecting a frame rate include:

– Video content – Higher frame rates like 60fps help capture fast action like sports. Standard 24/30fps works for interviews, cinematic footage, and scenes with normal motion.

– Camera capability – While most cameras today offer 24/30/60fps, not all support high speed 120fps or 240fps capture needed for super slow motion. 

– Editing/playback systems – Higher frame rates demand more storage and processing power. Ensure your NLE software and systems can edit the frame rate you shoot.

– Look and feel – Cinematic projects typically stick to 24fps. Documentaries and more “live” looks work well at 30fps. Evaluate the desired aesthetics and genre.

– Output needs – Web videos often stick to 30fps. 60fps benefits YouTube gaming/sports content. Television broadcasts use 30fps. Theatrical is 24fps.

If unsure, 30fps is the safest default frame rate for capturing good motion while preserving compatibility across most systems. Mixing project frame rates in one project can cause problems, but having different scenes captured in different slo-mo settings is common.

Resolution vs Frame Rate

Striking the optimal balance between resolution and frame rate for your project depends on your content and goals:

– Action scenes – 60fps frame rate takes priority over maximizing resolution for slow motion ability. 1080p60 is a common setting.

– Cinematic film look – 24fps frame rate is standard. Resolution can push maximum levels like 4K.

– Interviews, controlled environments – 30fps frame rate works well. Priority lies with 1080p or 4K resolution for sharpness. 

– Web distribution – Often limited to 30fps and 1080p resolution. Getting 1080p crisp footage trumps pushing for 4K here.

– Mobile viewing – Frame rates of 24/30fps are usable, but resolutions at 1080p are recommended for compatibility.

– Screen recordings – 60fps capture is preferred to keep motion smooth. Default to the actual resolution of the screen being recorded.

When undecided between a higher frame rate or resolution, lean towards getting the frame rate right first, then maximize resolution. You can reduce resolution later, but lacking the optimum frame rate could require re-shooting footage.

Testing is Key

There are always exceptions to the rules, so it’s impossible to provide one “best setting”. The type of camera and sensor, lighting conditions, computer processing power, and unique project needs all impact results. 

Be sure to test your selected resolution and frame rate early in production using the same type of camera, lighting, and computer/NLE setup you’ll use for the full project. Verify the complete workflow from production to final distribution looks and performs as intended – and adjust settings as needed until you optimize for your production environment.

The combination of resolutions, frame rates, and codecs available today provides amazing flexibility – and complexity! – when crafting video content. Keep the options in perspective by focusing first on your creative goals, intended distribution, technical capabilities, and target audience needs. With testing and practice, you’ll learn how to utilize resolution and frame rate choices to maximize quality and enhance your videos.

Determining the ideal video resolution and frame rate for your production ultimately comes down to finding the sweet spot between quality, capability, and compatibility for your goals and audience. With a grasp of the different options and how each contributes to your final product, you can confidently sort through the settings to define an optimal configuration. While the abundance of choices may seem daunting at first, the ability to customize your video’s resolution and frame rate to perfectly fit your creative vision and technical needs provides invaluable versatility. With strategic testing and practice, you gain the knowledge to take full advantage of these powerful tools to maximize quality and enhance every video you produce.

Leave a Comment