Videos and movies are made in different aspect ratios. At present, there is no universal standard covering all the devices and screen sizes. You will possibly end up with black bars at the top and bottom of some and black pillars at the sides of other. Only they will be absent when we are viewing a video or film shot in the aspect ratio of the screen we are using.
The aspect ratio is the proportional relationship between width and height which is expressed as ratio of two numbers such as 16:9. In 16:9, the width is expressed as 16 and height as 9 inches high. 16 and 9 can be centimeter, meter, yard. It is unit independent. So aspect ratio points to the relationship of the width to the height, it does not express the true size of an image or video. The question how to choose the right aspect ratio for recording video arises as various type of displays have different ratios. Sometimes, the ratios are divided to make value of 16:9 looking like 1.77:1. Because 16 divided by 9 = 1.78. But it means the same thing.
The common aspect ratio used today in the presentation of films in cinemas are 1.85:1 and 2.39:1. Two most common videographic aspect ratios are 4:3 (1.33:1) (universal video format of 20th century) and 16:9 (1.77:1) (universal for high-definition television). 2.35:1 is known as Wide Screen.
In still camera photography, the most common aspect ratios are 4:3, 3:2, and in consumer cameras usually 16:9. 1:1 used in medium format and large format.
At first glance the digits of aspect ratios may sound like a confusing concept, especially if one is aware of how many different types of aspect ratios are currently in use. That being said rather than over-complicating the issue, it is actually really quite easy to choose the right aspect ratio to use if you understand aspect ratios in the first place.
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What is the Aspect Ratio of a Video in Respect to Pixel?
Introduction of 4K, 5K made the situation more complex. Maximum resolution of UHD is 3840 x 2160. That is for a time being. Other two high resolution formats are 4480 x 1920 (2.33) and 3072 x 1782 (1.72). Sometimes we need to think about delivering minimum 3K media.
To put it in simple terms, the aspect ratio of a video is really just the ratio of the video’s width to its height. In other words a video that has a 1920 width and a 1080 height has an aspect ratio of 1920:1080 or 16:9.
Nowadays there are several popular aspect ratios that are in use, namely:
- 4:3 is the standard that was widely used in TV in the past but has slowly but surely been phased out.
- 16:9 is the modern High Definition (HD) standard that is used in most TVs, computer displays, mobile devices, and so on.
- 9:16 is for vertical videos that is basically the reverse of the 16:9 and is used primarily on smartphones.
- 1:1 is square videos that is a compromise between horizontal and vertical videos for mobile devices.
While there are several other aspect ratios that are currently in use and have been used over the years, the four listed above are the most popular nowadays. More importantly as you may have noticed, each aspect ratio is designed for a different use.
Choosing the Right Aspect Ratio
Around the year 1932, the Academy of Motion Pictures went to wider standard of 1.375:1. That standard remained till television film studios became apparent. Eventually movies went two main standards, 1.85:1 widescreen and an anamorphic 2.39:1 widescreen. For television, the formats became 4:3 and later 16:9 with HD, later with 1.78:1 is closest match to 1.85:1 widescreen cinema format.
To avoid getting too much technical, the best way to choose the right aspect ratio is to decide exactly how you want your video to be viewed. Typically if you want to watch the video on a TV or desktop display or upload it to YouTube or other video sharing platforms then you will want to record in 16:9.
On the other hand, if you want to create videos for mobile devices or for some social platforms then you could look at vertical or square aspect ratios. Generally vertical videos are better if confined to mobile devices, whereas square videos are a bit more adaptable. Of course if you are recording videos that you want to watch on older TV sets, then you could use 4:3.
Full screen (1920 x 1080) is a commonly used aspect ratio for narrative films, documentaries, and sometimes online video. Whereas, wide screen aspect ratio gives more control over viewers’ experience. That aspect ratio is typical to deliver a cinematic effect. Cinema widescreen goes closer to 2.35, 2.39 or 2.40.
When we are releasing in 1.78 (HD and UHD), then we will probably do a lot of tilting & scanning. How the ratio is matters for maintaining the composition. How was the framing during production is big question and so as what will be the potential audience. For home video, we can shoot for 1.78 and release in 1.78.
Choosing right aspect really depend on your audience and their device.
Adjusting the Aspect Ratio
As we can see, in today’s world; one video aspect size often demands adjustment of aspect ratio to fit the audience – movie hall, HD television, smartphones, computers.
The majority of digital video cameras nowadays tend to record in 16:9 – which represents a slight challenge assuming you want to use a different aspect ratio. Needless to say for a vertical aspect ratio the fix is simple, and you just need to hold the camera vertically when recording.
However for a square aspect ratio or 4:3 aspect ratio, you will need to use either proper settings in your movie/DSLR camera or a special recording app (for smartphones) or a video resizer application to adjust the resolution and aspect ratio. If you do go down that route it is important that you do not just stretch or compress the video to fit into the new aspect ratio, but instead crop out unnecessary parts of the border so that the image is not distorted.
Depending on the captured video and/or tool that you use, you should have several options that you can use to resize videos to different aspect ratios. Some common applications for mass usage such as Movavi Video Converter will provide the most the ways to set the frame and adjust the video to fit in it without affecting its quality.
However, for professional movie production, the composition cannot be changed in post-production without some compromise in resolution. In such different aspect ratio is needed afterwards, the only options are cropping or padding.
If you capture at 4K, downsize 2X then you can output to 16.9 (1.77 or 1.78).
If you capture at 16:9, crop vertically then you can output to 1.85:1.
If you capture at 2:1, crop vertically then you can output to 2.39:1.
Some cameras provide frame guides in menu options to visually understand the composition out of such changes.
At the end of the day it should not be too difficult to make sure that your video is in the right aspect ratio for your main purpose. More importantly, after reading this article now probably you understand exactly what the aspect ratio is and why you need to think about.