All about aspect ratios

Aspect ratio for video can be a hard concept to grasp. There are many different standards and depending on where you are showing your film, whether it be a theater, television screen, or social media, they all have different requirements. It can be hard to know what aspect ratios are meant for what place.

In this guide, we will define what an aspect ratio is and list all the different formats you might come across when shooting and showing your video to an audience.

What is an aspect ratio?

Aspect ratios
Image courtesy: Calculate Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio is the relation of the width to the height of an image or screen. Oftentimes, you will see it written with a colon or with an x between the two numbers. There are different types of aspect ratios when we talk about video. Let’s go over them:

Display aspect ratio

Usually, when you hear aspect ratio, this is the kind that’s being referenced. It’s referring to the shape of the video frame in its final form. Here are examples of how it would be written: 4:3 and 16:9.

Frame aspect ratio

The frame aspect ratio refers to the width in pixels and height in pixels in the video. The frame is calculated through the pixel resolution of a video. For instance, a 4:3 video could have a frame aspect ratio of 640×480 or 1440×1080, depending on resolution.

Pixel aspect ratio

This is defined as the width and height of a single pixel when it’s being displayed. Some of the more common kinds are 1:1 and 4:3.

Different distribution methods have different aspect ratio requirements

Depending on where you’re planning to show your video, the format requirements will vary. So for instance, the aspect ratio will be different for showing a video on a TV versus on Instagram. If your video is shot for TV, parts of the video will be cut off if you try to upload the video to Instagram in the platforms favored 1:1 aspect ratio.

Essentially, knowing the size standard of the video’s destination will help you better connect with your audience.

Aspect ratios you should know

4:3

4:3 is known as Full Screen. Back in the 1950s, it became the standard because it matched with film stock measurements. Television followed the aspect ratio and created TV sets that matched the ratio. However, eventually, widescreen televisions (16:9), came into prominence. Television productions had to edit their shows to meet the new 16:9 standard.

16:9

Fullscreen vs widescreen
Image courtesy: StudioBinder

As stated before, 16:9 is known as widescreen. This is the standard widescreen aspect ratio that is all over the web and TV today. It’s the standard that’s smartphones and tablets use to record by default. It’s also the format that DSLRs and most camcorders use. It didn’t become the standard for televisions and computer monitors until 2010. Now it is the standard for many platforms, including Netflix.

2.35:1

Moving on, the 2.35:1 aspect ratio gives a video a much more cinematic look. Most of the time, films today use the 2.35:1 size. It is the most popular choice for widescreen. However, there are more variations depending on the production, like 2.59:1, 1.85:1, 2.76:1 and 2.20:1.

Try different formats

A lot of times, videographers shoot wider shots as higher resolutions video clips so they can crop in for different angles of the same shot. If you have that option with your camera, shoot at a higher resolution that your output format so you can adjust the aspect ratio if needed in post. This is especially handy when your video is destined for several different platforms.

It’s important to keep the aspect ratio in mind when you’re shooting as well. You don’t want something very important to the plot cropped out of the image because the frame is too wide for the delivery platform. It’s common for a video will be shown in many different places that all require different aspect ratios. It is crucial to understand these different requirements so your audience can fully enjoy the experience.

Image courtesy: The Beat

1 COMMENT

  1. The use of the 2.35:1 (or scope width) by filmmakers trying to make their work look like a Hollywood film when the final presentations will mostly be on a TV screen with a ration of 16X9 bothers me a great deal. At film festivals where a film that will mainly be released as a disc or streamed for a TV will have the anamorphic 2.35 format and I will ask the director why they chose that format. The answer usually is simply that it is their preference but most of the time the use of that format hurts their presentation rather than giving it a Hollywood look. Alfred Hitchcock (one of the great masters of cinema) never used the anamorphic 2.35:1 format and he was a master of visual framing. There is a time and place for the wider format but there should be a good reason fro using it — not just because it makes the filmmaker feel like a Hollywood filmmaker.

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