How Many Frames per Second Is Best?

When recording an object in motion, there are practical reasons to limit the camera frame rate:

Recording High Frame Rates for Slow-Motion Effects

Despite the increased cost and effort, there are cases where shooting higher frame rates is useful. Slow-motion effects are created by recording hundreds of frames per second and then playing the same frames back at a slower rate. For example, a bullet shattering a light bulb may take only a fraction of second, seeming almost instantaneous to anyone watching. If a camera records the light bulb a thousand times per second and then a projector plays the frames back at 24 fps, the movie onscreen will take almost 40 times as long (1000 fps ÷ 24 fps = 41.6 seconds). The higher the frame rate, the more temporal (time) resolution your footage has, which means it can be slowed down to show detailed moments that would otherwise be a blur. Shooting at high frame rates also requires more light, because there is less time to expose each frame.

Recording Slow Frame Rates for Time-Lapse Photography

Slow frame rates are used for time-lapse photography, in which a scene is recorded relatively slowly, perhaps one frame every second, hour, or day. This is useful when you are trying to capture gradually changing events, such as growing plants, the movement of clouds, or the rising and setting of the sun. When played back at standard frame rates, events occur rapidly onscreen and otherwise undetectable patterns emerge.

Stop-motion photography, traditional drawn animation, and computer rendering take a similar approach. The point here is that the rate of creating a frame does not necessarily correspond to the rate of playback. This is one of the most exciting propositions of motion pictures and their ability to manipulate time: you can create images at whatever rate suits you and play them back at a totally different speed.

Examples of How Different Frame Rates Are Used

Film is especially flexible in that it can be photographed and played back with a diverse range of speeds. Some examples are:

  • 1 frame per hour: Extreme time-lapse photography.
  • 1 frame per minute: Time-lapse photography and stop-motion animation.
  • 18 frames per second: Early motion picture films.
  • 24 frames per second: Worldwide standard for movie theater film projectors.
  • 48 frames per second: Slow-motion photography (because it takes twice as long to play back in a 24 fps projector, the motion is twice as slow).
  • 300+ frames per second: High-speed cameras for very slow-motion photography (often used for miniatures to make models seem larger on screen).
  • 2500+ frames per second: Very high-speed cameras for special effects such as pyrotechnic photography and explosions.