Ideal Camera Measurements for Your DSLR Filmmaking Project - dummies

Ideal Camera Measurements for Your DSLR Filmmaking Project

By John Carucci

Unlike still photography, DSLR films adhere to a specific resolution, with full high-definition weighing in at 1920×1080 pixels. That measurement refers to the number of pixels that make up the image, measured horizontal by vertical. But although that’s direct, the numbers that follow require some examination. For example, what exactly does 1920×1080/60i refer to? Glad you asked!

Sensor resolution for movies

Take a look at resolution first. It’s the measurement of the detail that makes up the image. Here are the common sizes for making movies found on a DSLR:

  • Full high-definition (1920×1080): Like the name implies, full high-definition is the big kahuna of movie resolution. Image size is composed of 1920 horizontal pixels and 1080 vertical pixels. This file naturally has a 16:9 aspect ratio, which puts the wide in wide screen. Aspect ratio basically describes the difference between the height and length of the image.

  • HD 1280×720: This is the old standard for DSLR HD capture, if two years old qualifies as old. Although it’s still fairly high quality and better than standard definition, it is lower quality than full HD. Using the television analogy again, this was the old standard for HD and is still seen advertised as 720 in some TVs.

  • Standard definition (720×480): Standard definition is the 4:3 format used on DV video camcorders. Many models included an anamorphic setting that changed the pixel shape, producing a widescreen 16:9 movie.

  • Standard definition (640×480): Standard definition was the predecessor to high definition and was that slightly square 4:3 frame size that your camcorder would produce. This setting is found as the lower resolution variation on many DSLR cameras.

DSLR frame rate

Frame rate pertains to the frequency with which the camera continually captures a scene and is usually the numbers that succeed the resolution. For example, 1920×1080/30P means the frame rate is 30 frames per second. The P refers to the scan type. Frame rate standards in the United States differ than those in Europe.

For example, NTSC, the U.S. standard frame rate, is 29.97 frames per second, whereas the European standard, PAL, captures and plays back at 25 frames per second. That gets more complicated to play back effectively because some older DSLR models provided frame rates inconsistent with the broadcast standard.

From lowest to highest, here are some examples of frame rates along with a brief description:

  • 24fps: Motion pictures capture movies at a rate of 24 frames per second, whereas television plays back at 29.97 frames per second. Sometimes video is transferred to film. It’s not like fitting six pounds of sand in a five-pound bag, but it doesn’t quite match either.

    Enter the 24 frames per second frame rate. Relatively new to video, this progressive format is used primarily for shooting video with the intent of transferring it to film. That’s because it matches the rate of motion picture projection and provides a smoother conversion to film stock. Its purpose is to capture the sequence at the same frame rate as film for video that will be translated to film.

  • 25fps: This frame rate is used by some camera makers for HD video. It suffices for high-quality video, but the frame rate is still inconsistent with the 29.97fps used for broadcast in the United States. If you’re editing in PAL, that’s another story because it’s the common frame rate for it. Otherwise, avoid using it if your DSLR captures a frame rate of 30fps.

  • 30p: Actually, this frame rate is more like 29.97fps, but let’s not bicker over who added .03. Video capture in the United States has used this frame rate for years in the NTSC standard, but that doesn’t mean that all DSLR cameras with full HD capability include it.

  • 50i: This is a higher-quality interlaced version of the PAL television standard.

  • 50p: 50p is a higher-quality progressive version for HD capture and playback that follows the PAL and SEACAM broadcast standard.

  • 60i: This is a higher-quality interlaced version of the NTSC television standard.

  • 60p: Here’s a higher-quality progressive version for HD captures and playback that follows the NTCS broadcast standard.

DSLR scan types

The letter that succeeds the frame tells you whether the mode captures in interlaced or progressive scan:

  • Interlaced scan: An interlaced scan is best described as those vertical lines on your old television set. The process essentially provided the illusion of better quality by doubling the perceived frame rate by slicing the image into spate fields made up of odd and even lines. In record and playback modes, it’s denoted by a lower-case i.

  • Progressive scan: Progressive scan is an improved version of interlacing. The scanned lines are displayed in a sequential order, meaning they do not alternate. This creates a smoother playback. In record and playback modes, it’s denoted by a lower-case p.