Learn aboutMovie formats
Movie format refers to a cameras video resolution and frame rate. Video resolutions come in different sizes and aspect ratios. The aspect ratio, resolution and frame rate all contribute to the overall quality of a video. Standard video sizes range from a minimum resolution of 320x240 up to 1920x1080, frame rates range from 15 to 30 frames per second and finally aspect ratios are typically 4:3 or 16:9.
Previously most DSLRs did not come with a movie mode but that is changing, currently many SLRs have movie shooting capabilities. Almost every digicam now ships with a movie mode. SLRs tend to have more advanced movie shooting capabilities beside those represented by the movie format. In general the movie format of a camera is just one element contributing to the quality of the movies.
The rest of the section goes over the movie capability in detail, covering resolution, frame rate and aspect ratio.
We have found (as seen in our review of aspect ratios, video resolutions and frame rates below) that 720p (1280x720) at frame rates of 24fps or higher offers the best compromise between high def and ease of use. Here are some great cameras that shoot at least 720p.
The aspect ratio refers to the ratio of width to height of the image. You'll notice that in a movie theater they tend to have really wide screens, some wider than they are tall. The reason for this is its a lot closer to the aspect ratio of human vision (which must be very wide (2:35:1) to capture all of our peripheral vision but not very wide (4:3) to capture our high res center vision ), by filling up all of our vision with the video it becomes more immersive. Theatres got this right in the 1950s. To create that cinematic feel with your digicam you need to go wide wide wide.
16:9 is a ratio of 1.78:1, that is the width of the video is 1.78X wider than the height. This is the aspect ratio you're likely to see when you walk into your local electronics store and check out the latest TVs. 16:9 (aka sixteen by nine) is the international standard format for HDTV, that means your videos will display well at home and overseas as all HD TV sets have been standardized around this aspect ratio.
4:3 is a ratio of 1.33:1, that is the width of the video is 1.33X wider than the height. This aspect ratio dates back to the invention of the television. Up until recently this was the aspect ratios for TVs and TV programming, but that is quickly changing. 4:3 (aka four by three) can in some way be thanked for the move to wider formats such as 16:9. Back in the 1950s when TV threatened cinema attendance Hollywood developed the widescreen aspect ratios to differentiate themselves.
The only difference is width but that doesn't tell the whole story when comparing them. Here are two copies of the same image (shot on a Canon EOS XTi), but formatted to different aspect ratios. We're using a high quality image to best illustrate the differences vs a video frame grab which tend to not illustrate the difference as well.
You can see the wider 16 by 9 format feels more natural, displaying more of the scene and capturing a better balance. So the wider format gives you different creative options. More importantly though is to consider what TV you're going to be displaying the video you shoot on your digital camera.
As you can see if you own a 4:3 TV and you shoot 16:9 video you're going to end up with a lot of your screen getting wasted, if you have a giant TV this might be okay but in general it is best to pick a video aspect ratio that matches what it will be displayed on. That being said many people love the look of the 16:9, widescreen format so the loss of display space may be worth it.
As you can see if you own a 16:9 TV then 16:9 video really looks the best, it fills the space up nicely and just looks better than the 4:3 video. If you do happen to shoot 4:3 video most 16:9 TVs are pretty big and 4:3 ends up looking good.
The resolution of the video refers to the size of the video, which is often related to the display resolution (the display resolution is the resolution of what you'll actually watch the video on: TV, monitor, projector, etc). The bigger and higher resolution of your TV the more important it is to have higher resolution video to show on it. Just like a camera's rating resolution rating, video is rated for the number of pixels. The more pixels the bigger you can make the video and still have it sharp and clear. Here's an overview of the different resolution options.
640x480 (480p) is the resolution that almost every camera can shoot at, most digicams from the last two years shoot at least 480p. Although there are lower resolutions (typically for high speed video), 640x480 should really be the lowest resolution to consider. 640x480 is a pretty good resolution, its not HD but its the resolution of standard definition television (SDTV) and a good quality source at 480p can look pretty good. Most people will be happy with this resolution but those who love the idea of widescreen, high definition home movies will want to venture into the two HDTV options.
1280x720 (720p) is the lowest of two HDTV resolutions. The ability for digital cameras to shoot high definition video started to pick up in 2009 and is now available on many cameras. 720p provides fantastic video quality that is perfect for large screen TVs and high definition home movies.
Shooting 720p doesn't have to be expensive, you can shoot 720p video on a small budget - here are some different low cost 720p digital cameras:
Fujifilm XP90from $110
Learn more about the Fujifilm XP90
Nikon Coolpix A300from $137
Learn more about the Nikon Coolpix A300
Canon PowerShot ELPH 180from $119
Learn more about the Canon PowerShot ELPH 180
Nikon Coolpix A100from $117
Learn more about the Nikon Coolpix A100
|See more of the top affordable 720p digital cameras|
1920x1080 (1080p) is the highest of two HDTV resolutions. 1080p is also known as Full HD and is very high resolution video. Because of it's extreme size it requires more storage space, faster computers to edit, more powerful camera processors and a very large TV to notice the difference. Currently 12 of 500 cameras released in the last 2 years shoot 1080p
Shooting 1080p doesn't have to be expensive, you can shoot 1080p video on a small budget - here are some different low cost 1080p digital cameras:
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IVfrom $832
Learn more about the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV
Nikon Coolpix B700from $389
Learn more about the Nikon Coolpix B700
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300from $493
Learn more about the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300
Nikon Coolpix A900from $299
Learn more about the Nikon Coolpix A900
|See more of the top affordable 1080p digital cameras|
The following three images demonstrate the relative differences between adding more pixels. Each image is exactly the same but scaled to show how each different resolution captures more pixels and thus more details. These show the exact difference in size between the 480p, 720p and 1080p. Each using successively more pixels and capturing more detail.
These images are designed to help you understand whether you can tell 480p,720p and 1080p apart given your viewing environment. Is there really a big difference by using 1080p? Take into account that your TV won't change size based on the video your watching, instead the video will just be scaled to fit your TV. Consequently, the best way to understand the differences is to see 480p,720p and 1080p scaled to the same display resolution. 1080p is being showing at 100% crop full resolution and 720p and 480p are both being scaled up.
Look at these images and walk away from your screen - when does 720p look basically the same as 1080p - how far are you from the screen. Remember two things when doing this mini test
We think what you'll find is that 480p is pretty good, 720p definitely makes a difference if you're close enough and 1080p really isn't such a big deal despite the quoted 2X resolution advantage.