Opinion: 24p Must Die!

VHS, NTSC, and 8mm film are all technologies that I’ve been happy to see the back end of. They’ve been surpassed by newer technologies that have vastly improved motion picture image reproduction. No one is pining for the days of VHS anymore, or artificially degrading their pictures down to 240 lines of resolution to achieve that VHS look.

There is however one ancient technology that is still seriously impairing the quality of video these days and that is 24p. Frankly 24p deserves to die and be buried in the obsolete format graveyard where it belongs.

The problem with 24p, isn’t the “p” part. Everyone agrees that all things being equal, a progressive scan gives you better resolution and detail than an interlaced image. (Interlaced video is also one of those ancient video relics that deserves to be beaten to death, and I’ll be the first one in with a baseball bat.) There’s just no reason for interlaced video anymore in a world of flat panel displays.

No the problem with 24p is the 24 part. 24 frames per second is just to slow and juddery for good motion reproduction. We need to collectively make the jump to 60p and do it now.

Now before a thousand people yell at me on the internet, keep in mind, I know all about the film look, and how making video look more like film is the holy grail for some people. I have shot 35mm, I’ve cut major features on 35mm. I hate 24p all the more.

24 frames per second was chosen originally because film is expensive, and that is the absolute lowest frame rate possible to use and still have some semblance of fluid motion to the eye. The less frames per second (fps), the less film you used, and the more money you save. There are set limitations on how fast you can pan or tilt at 24fps to make sure you don’t break the illusion of movement. We need to stop thinking of this as an aesthetic. We need to realize that 24p is more rightly considered a technical limitation that we long ago had no need to adhere to.

But isn’t 24p a critical part of that elusive, magical, all-powerful film look that everyone is looking for? Well let’s get one thing clear: when we say film look, what we’re really talking about is a film transferred to video with a nice telecine look. Not film shot out of a projector and reflected back off a large white screen in a dark room look.

When talking about a film transfer look, we’re trying to get all the best attributes of film, the tonal range, the resolution, into a largely inferior video signal. However the one area where video has an advantage over film is frame rate. Yet we artificially want to handicap ourselves to the limitations of 24 fps film, even when we have the ability to shoot 60fps on video. If you really want the film look why not add projector registration errors into your video (the image slightly moving up and down as film passes through the gate)? Why not add artificial grain to your video? Embracing 24p for video is embracing the worst parts of film. It makes no sense to bring the worst parts of the film look to video when there are better options available.

Defenders of 24p will argue that the 24p frame rate is more cinematic, in that major feature films are shot at 24fps, and that associating your look with high budget features makes your video feel more high end. Their counter argument is that 60p looks too real and too much like video. But the argument that looking too real as a detriment is absurd when you realize that the entire flow of technological advancement in filmmaking is to better represent the real. I’m sure there were people that thought these new fangled camera motors were too real, and that the hand-cranked look was more cinematic. That this crazy idea of sound in a motion picture was too real, and that silence was more cinematic, and of course color, who would want color when black and white was more cinematic.? The point is, what is cinematic has never been a constant and is always moving towards a more real representation and not away from it.

Regardless of our feelings and what looks like a film, I think everyone agrees that objectively, 60p handles motion much better, and has more temporal resolution than 24p. And from that fact, the rest just follows. What we should be striving for is a video image that has the tonal range of film, the resolution of film, and the frame rate of video.

Currently out of the common ATSC HD formats 720p60 is by far the best looking. When 1080p60 becomes available it will be better still. We, as video producers, need to simply open our eyes, turn back from nostalgia and perceived quality just let 24p die.

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Dan Bruns is an award winning cinematographer and editor.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I have thought this all along. However, shooting in 30p or 24p with My Canon HV30 seems to allow a slower shutter speed and therefore more time to process in low light situation. Processing about 2 million pixels at 60 times a second, as in 1080p/60, would require a lot of processing Power and good low light sensors–if this can be done in a camcorder costing 1 or 2 thousand dollars, I would be thrilled.

    Meanwhile, there doesn’t seem to be any good 720p/60 camcorders on my radar.

    (By the way, is there some weakness in the audio, endemic to the HDV format ? Running manual audio in my Sony TRV 900 is much more forgiving than doing the same in my Canon HV30–don’t know if it is the Canon or the HDV format that is to blame.)

  2. THANK YOU! I thought I was the only person who hated 24p! I’ve never thought of the points you’ve made before though.

    My argument against embracing 24p is that you have to do MUCH more when you’re shooting your video to make it look like film. I see so often people who shoot 24p “to be more cinematic,” but they don’t follow through with the rest of the attributes of feature films. For example, instead of dollying, they zoom. Instead of using a tripod, they camera is shaky when the shot doesn’t work shaky. Instead of lighting like film, they wash out the scene. Basically, everything else that needs to be done to make video look like film, never gets done. People think “24p?! BAM my image looks like film,” when in reality, 24p does the least in trying to make video look like film…in my opinion.

    I guess your arguments come into play if someone were to follow up on everything they should do to make video look like film.

    I disagree on your “interlace must die” comment though. I’ve read that interlace is better for fast motion than progressive unless you’re shooting 60p. A lot of people don’t have 60p; hell, I don’t even have an HD camera. I think it’s too soon for me to buy one. And not everyone has a flat panel display. Maybe one day interlace will be useless, but it’s too soon to do away with it now.

    Great article though. I’m glad to see I’m not the only person who doesn’t like 24p.

  3. good post informative

    I am doing mostly interviews and still video where is isn’t a big thing. 30fps is fine for me, but I can sure see where the HD is going to require more.

  4. “Certainly 60p does make a subject look more real. But when coupled with extensive lighting, doesnt 60p then lose its strength of recording reality? Maybe well have to unload our light kits as we unload 24p.”

    With the real intensity of professional light, the amount of light getting put into the camera results in over-exposure more often than it does under-exposure. Beginning hobbyists (as well as professionals) are the ones that chase the fantasy of 24p. Hollywood still uses it, and so does any serious movie making corporation. So why not choose 24p as an entry-level step if every company is producing it? The general popularity has labeled it as “magically acheiving a better film look” – it’s the psychological affect. It took a lot of effort establishing in order to compete with film, and it will take a lot of effort (and enough people realizing) in order to “make the switch”.

  5. Firstly, I neither love, nor hate 24p. It has been irrelevant to me since the days when I used to shoot in film (and in widescreen), in the late 1970’s. Using 16mm on a restricted budget would have made a slower speed more desirable for some purposes, but I stuck with the (then) standard because I used magnetic-stripe. Of course in our country, New Zealand, it is not 24p anyway, as PAL delivery calls for 25fps in the name of common-sense. Shooting documentary, as I am able to do on a full-time basis, (being retired) and in these days where the capture medium is virtually barely a ‘consumable’ anymore, cost-wise, in the interests of better image quality, I have been using 50fps as standard for quite a number of years. I guess that equates to the ’60p’ of American users and I heartily endorse it, as it allows for a great deal more ‘leeway’ and a greater number of options come image-preparation and editing time. However, when I belonged to a club, I could not persuade anyone else to make the switch, even after demonstrating the advantages with finished footage. Unfortunately the amateur video-making game is beset, to this day, with a culture of ‘time-will-not-change-thee’. Their choice, but I was at odds with so many people on aspects of contemporary video-making, that in the end I quit, and returned to working on my own. The best choice I ever made.

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