About Timecode

Timecode is a signal recorded with your video that uniquely identifies each frame on tape. When you capture video or audio in Final Cut Pro, you also capture the timecode signal, which is displayed in Final Cut Pro when you play back your clips. Timecode allows you to recapture your footage from tape and always get the same frames. Final Cut Pro uses SMPTE timecode (developed by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers), which is represented in hours, minutes, seconds, and frames, using the following format:

Figure. Diagram showing the hours, minutes, seconds, and frame numbers of SMPTE timecode.

In Final Cut Pro, timecode is used for synchronization between video and audio clip items, project interchange (such as Edit Decision Lists), and recapturing clips from tape. When you play clips, Final Cut Pro displays the media file timecode. Timecode also allows you to navigate through your sequences, and see how long your edit is.

For more information about timecode, see Working with Timecode.

About Drop Frame and Non-Drop Frame Timecode

With the exception of timecode used with NTSC video, all video formats use non-drop frame timecode, which simply counts at the frame rate of the video itself. For example, PAL video runs at 25 fps, and it uses 25 fps timecode.

When working with NTSC video, you have the option to use drop frame timecode to compensate for the fact that NTSC video has a frame rate of 29.97 fps, while the timecode runs at 30 fps. Timecode can only be represented by whole numbers, so drop frame timecode periodically skips numbers so that the timecode count and the amount of actual time passed stays in sync. This way, the timecode count matches the the number of hours, minutes, and seconds that it takes for your video footage to play. NTSC video can use either drop frame or non-drop frame timecode.

Important: No video frames are dropped when you use drop frame timecode. Only the associated timecode numbers are skipped.

Here is how to determine the type of timecode used in Final Cut Pro:

  • Non-drop frame timecode has a colon (:) between the seconds and frames fields, and no numbers are dropped from the counter.

    01:16:59:29, 01:17:00:00

  • Drop frame timecode has a semicolon (;) between the seconds and frames fields, and two timecode numbers are skipped from the frames counter each minute (except every tenth minute).

    01:16:59;29, 01:17:00;02

A clip’s timecode comes directly from its media files. To set sequence timecode, you can use the Drop Frame checkbox in the Timeline Options pane of Sequence Settings. For more information, see Changing Timeline Display Options.

How Drop Frame Timecode Works

When you use drop frame timecode, numbers :00 and :01 are skipped at the beginning of each minute, unless the minute number is exactly divisible by 10. The dropped numbers do not appear in the timecode fields in Final Cut Pro because they’ve been dropped and are not on your tape.

If you’re entering timecode to navigate and inadvertently type a timecode number that doesn’t exist in drop frame timecode, Final Cut Pro automatically moves forward to the next available timecode number.