Why I pardon rounding of shutter speeds in camera menus, but not framerates!


Many ProVideo Coalition readers may have noticed that I pardon the camera manufacturers (and even thank them) when they round shutter speeds (i.e. 1/60), but I protest when they round framerates to the closest integer (i.e. when they round 23.976 to 24, 29.97 to 30, and 59.94 to 60). In this article, you’ll find out why saloon talk about 24p is okay, why the rounding of framerates in camera menus is damaging to the video production community, while the rounding of shutter speeds is harmless.

Why rounding of framerates in camera menus is damaging

Often a director sits at a bar drinking her/his favorite beverage talking with colleagues about whether s/he esthetically prefers the 24p look, the 30p look, or the 60p look. That’s okay, because they aren’t dealing with workflow issues. But it is not at all okay that camera manufacturers round numbers like 23.976 to 24, 29.97 to 30, or 59.94 to 60. Why? Because many operators take it literally, and then innocently set their project or sequence in their editing software to 24, 30, or 60. I have met far too many people who really thought that they were shooting at exactly 24.000, 30.000 or 60.000 and they suffer all sorts of problems in post as a result. In the past, I could make a blanket statement and say something like: “Any camera under US$10,000 that says 24, 30, or 60 really means 23.976, 29.97, or 59.94 respectively.” That is no longer that case, since some HDSLRs really record exactly 30.000, and even the Blackmagic Cinema camera will offer 23.976p, 24.000p, 25.000p, 29.970p, and 30.000p, although Blackmagic -like many other camera manufacturers- rounds 23.976p to 23.98p: more about that ahead in this article. My point in this section is that it is wrong and harmful to say 24, 30, or 60 when the camcorder really records 23.976, 29.97, or 59.94 because many users believe it and set the editing sequence to match the inaccurate value in the camera’s menu.

Of course, I know that even numbers like 23.976, 29.97, and 59.94 are not exact and are in themselves rounded versions of much longer numbers, but they are close enough to work properly within a workflow. However, rounding up to 24, 30, and 60 don’t work properly within a workflow.

What’s wrong with rounding 23.976 to 23.98 ?

In order to work properly within a workflow, the numbers must interchange properly. For example, when I mention that when shooting at 59.94p and then conforming the playback to 23.976p in post, we get natural 2.5 x slow motion, the numbers work. Go ahead: Divide 59.94 by 2.5 and you’ll get exactly 23.976, not 23.98. Also, when I mention that the DreamColor monitor accepts (among many other rates) 23.976 Hz, repeats each frame and then displays 47.952 Hz, the numbers are the proper ones, both in the original and in the resulting number. For those editing software that insist on rounding 23.976 to 23.98, I need to explain to people: “They really mean 23.976.”

Why I pardon the rounding of shutter speeds in camera menus

I don’t mind when a camera menu rounds a very complex fraction like 1/59.94 to 1/60 because it doesn’t mess up anyone’s workflow.

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Born in Connecticut, United States, Allan Tépper is an award-winning broadcaster & podcaster, bilingual consultant, multi-title author, tech journalist, translator, and language activist who has been working with professional video since the eighties. Since 1994,…

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You are right that the information should not be misleading, and that it’s okay to shorten values but not to round them. However, I think you are exaggerating. Anyone interested in shooting and editing a serious film should already be familiar with the concepts of frame rates, shutter speed, resolution, etc. Further more, they should know that the source material determines the project’s settings, not vice versa. You set the camera’s frame rate one time in the beginning of the production, shoot all the material, then import the files to a new project file in your favorite editing software, e.g.… Read more »