My Rebuttal to DV Magazine Column on 24p

Here’s my official rebuttal to Stefan Sargent’s column about the supposed evils of 24p (24p refers to the ability of video camcorders to shoot 24 frames a second, progressively captured. Motion picture cameras shoot at 24 frames a second and of course, each frame of film is a progressive frame, as opposed to the interlaced video frames of traditional television and video).

I found the DV Column via the Fresh DV blog and was appalled to see such a poorly thought out column. It will unfortunately will go a long way to confusing the readers DV Magazine serves.You should first be aware that these issues have been addressed in far greater depth and insight by numerous people and many of these idea were captured in a thread I started on DVInfo.net in 2002, six years ago when “24p” was arriving via the Panasonic DVX100. It’s a long thread but worth perusing (http://dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=3659)

“p” not “i”

Let’s start with one word in the column title: “24p”. The first thing it failed to note is that “24p” contains two aesthetic technologies, entirely independent of each other with profound implications. 24p means 24 frames per second captured as progressive frames. By making “24p” the entire the of your column without referring to either “frames per second” or “progressive scan”, it misleads readers lacking that technical understanding while looking uniformed to those that understand frame rates and scanning methods.

Progressive image capture is a vastly superior means of image capture for motion images verses the interlaced imaged capture in 60i. Interlaced video loses resolution, causes problems with graphics, titles, VFX work, compresses poorly, reducing the quality of DVD, web video and more. Interlaced image capture was developed to deal with bandwidth and display limitations in the advent of television but offer no other real advantages.

However, today, except for the need for backwards compatibility, progressively captured video is superior to interlaced video capture in every way. As more cameras offer 60p as opposed to 60i (and the HD broadcast standards expands to include 1080p in the future), interlaced video will be relegated as a backwards-compatible stop-gab, finally to end up on the technology standard scrap heap.

Anyone shooting video today should be well aware of the tremendous advantages of shooting progressively scanned video, regardless of the frame rate. 24p, 25p, 50p, 60p, all are to be chosen over their “i” counterparts whenever possible. Of course, there are times when 60i (or 50i in PAL) are the only option based on output, but a good understanding of the compromises inherent in interlaced, especially complications with VFX, compression and encoding are very important considerations. The advantages of progressive scanned images verses interlaced are separate topic well-covered online and in print.

Magic at 24 frames a second

Which brings us to perhaps the most misunderstood issue out there – frames per second and specifically motion picture films rate of 24 frames a second. I have argued that frame rate is the most important aesthetic decision made when shooting moving images. I’ve yet to be convinced by arguments to the contrary. A simple example:

Consider the case of home movies. Home movies, shot by total amateurs who only turn on a camera for minutes a year, look completely different if shot with a 18fps Super8 camera vs. a 60i HD camcorder. Each has roughly similar amounts of resolution and latitude. Even if you tweak the HD color to match the super 8 stock and add grain, scratches etc, it looks totally different from the Super 8 footage. Why? One reason and one reason only: frame rate.

Film and video are time-slice based perceptual mediums. When images are captured at 24 frames per second, you are capturing movement at 24 frozen moments per second. Capture at 60 frames per second, and those are different moments in time. And speaking of frozen moments, frame rate affects something called “motion blur” – created by the shutter speed of the camera. When you shoot at 60 frames per second, obviously, the slowest shutter you can choose is 1/60th of a second. Most 24 fps material uses a 1/48th shutter, meaning more motion blur in images.

People who come from a broadcast, engineering or primarily video based backgrounds often wonder why filmmakers love 24 frames a second. “It’s jerky, it strobes, it only exists because of old sound camera speeds, etc. etc.”. These are tired, old arguments that continue to be raised as if they were new thoughts, but in reality, they mean nothing to anyone who chooses to shoot 24 frames per second.

Filmmakers shoot narrative material at 24 frames a second because it’s not “real”. The very “artifacts” that are complained about are actually highly desirable to narrative (and many documentary) filmmakers. And it’s not just filmmakers – Douglas Trumball’s 60fps Showscan film system from decades ago found audiences lukewarm on narrative material. It takes skill to shoot at 24 fps, to avoid unnecessary artifacts and take advantage of the inherent desirable qualities of “non-real frame rates”.

While we all may love our sports and live events to have the “real, looking glass” feeling of 60 frames a second (or even maybe 120 frames a second in the future), for narrative and many other forms of filmmaking, the slight slow-motion “artifact” of 24 frames per second is ideal. Sure, the actual number of 24 is accident of sound sync speed (23, 24, 25, 26, 27 – all would have been fine). But once you get to around 30 fps, the effect fades. At 18 fps, the effect is too much, a little too jerky. 24 fps, to quote Goldilocks, is just right.

24p – the best feature(s) ever on a video camera

Which brings us to why that column is in fact, completely misguided. It’s not that we just disagree about frame rates and progressive scan, it’s the hard evidence of sales of cameras. The DVX100 is arguably the most influential and one of the best selling miniDV cameras ever. One reason (remember it’s actually two reasons), 24p, 24 frames a second plus progressive scanning. The next camera that has caused a huge impact in terms of influence and sales, the HV20, the first sub $5000 HD camera with 24p – it goes for $700.
In both cases, the camcorder market already had models before they arrived that shot 60i with just as good resolution, glass, color etc. But lacking true, full resolution progressive scan and 24 frames per second, they failed to capture the imagination and wallets of camera buyers. Of course, broadcasters and event shooters don’t care as much about 24p and those segments are not the focus of my discussion. But the use of 24p in image making is increasing in all areas of the markets – from amateur video to high end video. I see no sign that 60i usage is increasing.

And don’t forget the extra bonus benefits of 24 frames a second – better compression than 60i or even 30p which means better web video, better DVDs etc. Faster renders (less frames per second to render) and seamless outputting to film.

The simple fact is that the vast majority of motion picture creators and audiences require (not prefer) 24 frames per second, progressively captured images. Of course, people are free to disagree and hold any opinion. However, in the case of the column in debate, as well as many others, they failed to fully address the aesthetic and technical arguments at the core of the issue.

Until such time as someone presents a convincing aesthetic and technical argument on why 60i is superior to 24p, I think the world of cinema has spoken – 24p wins.

PS.

I’m aware the article also talked about filmlook plugins, color, gamma curves etc. As I pointed out in the thread years back, each of these aesthetic and technical qualities is a seperate issue, some fall under “film look”, some fall under “professional look”. The poor results people get from software are most likely due to a good understanding of how best to obtain these seperate qualities and when they are needed for a particular project. 24p video is not 24p film, but that’s actually is just fine. Trying to make 24p video look exactly like 24p film is most likely a waste of time. But it’s a huge logical fallacy to then say that 24p video is waste of time. Let it stand on its own merits.

15 Comments
  • Christopher Ruffell
    Posted at 15:39h, 21 March

    Good stuff. I think it’s all subjective, but true 24P on video cameras is a blessing as far as I’m concerned!

  • stephenv2
    Posted at 16:20h, 21 March

    Thanks. I do agree that much the preference for one format over another is subjective, but some areas of the discussion are more objective e.g. frame rates and human vision, motion rendering, camera sales figures etc.

  • Jack Beckett
    Posted at 19:32h, 06 April

    Cool, my thoughts completely. What do you believe is the importance of our historic relationship with film. When I was a little boy my mother brought me to the theater and told me to shut up and sit there in the dark and watch. I can’t believe that the motion blur etc. made those pictures somehow more important. So when I see motion pictures in 24 fps they seem more demanding. I don’t know maybe thats bunk.

  • stephenv2
    Posted at 20:05h, 06 April

    It’s an excellent point to bring up. I’ve heard various theories as there is clearly something going on but it’s never been well-tested that I’m aware of. Perhaps the slightly un-real motion, blur and large images in the dark affects our brain wave state as one test indicated.

    If I were a cognitive neuro-scientist, I would study it, but alas I’m just a hack filmmaker.

  • Robert
    Posted at 21:44h, 17 April

    Ye gods, man. Would you please go back and proofread this thing. There are so many spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, I can barely make sense of some of your paragraphs.

    Really, let a little of the professional aesthetic you claim to love rub off on your writing.

    Yeesh.

  • stephenv2
    Posted at 21:52h, 17 April

    I’m a truly terrible proofer and don’t earn a living as writer, so I have no one to proof my blog nor the time to do so myself. I apologize but that’s that way it is. Most people seem to be fine with it. Plus, I’m always suspicious of people who go criticizing spelling and grammar in others.

  • Jack Beckett
    Posted at 22:11h, 17 April

    Robert, whats with the attitude. Is the grammar so important. Have you lost your way? this is a discussion of things film etc. Maybe you should be in the self-loathing, underachieving, bitter blog.

  • Robert
    Posted at 00:05h, 18 April

    Jack,

    There’s no self-loathing, or underachieving, here, just a desire to understand what the author is trying to convey, and a frustration that said author can’t take five minutes to go back over his statements (that were obviously written in a rush), and check to see that his points were clear and concise.

    You know… much the way a director, D.P. camera operator, screenwriter, editor, grip, gaffer, hair/makeup, wardrobe, sound mixer, sound engineer, foley artist, prop person, art director, etc. all check to make sure that they’re doing what they can to make sure that the project they’re working on is as clear and concise as it can be (unless obfuscation is the goal).

    I’m always amazed when someone in the “creative” world will go on as you did Stephen about aesthetics, and the importance “doing it right”, or at least well, and then will blithely toss off any responsibility or concern for their written work.

    “Most people seem to be fine with it”? Then why bother with this rebuttal at all? “Most people” are probably fine with whatever the hell frame rate they’re watching. Clearly you are not fine with it. So much so you wrote a great big rebuttal to it.

    A rebuttal, I will remind you, that began with these words: “[I] was appalled to see such a poorly thought out column.”

  • stephenv2
    Posted at 07:26h, 18 April

    I’m amazed to see such a poorly thought out comment… 😉

    Grammar has little to do with clear thought, skill or any other such crap (other than the skill of good grammar). I did take more than 5 minutes proofing it but I suck it at. My wife, friends and colleagues know this and usually proof for me on important stuff. But they have better things to do than proof my blog posts.

    Despite have a few grumpy English teachers who pulled their hair out at my grammar, most thought I was a decent writer. Many great novelists, writers etc. are also terrible at grammar, spelling etc. They depend on the many great, unattributed editors (just like film directors depend on film editor who in turn depend on post-people colorists, negative cutters and more.

    Your analogy of grammar to film crews “knowing what they are doing” makes little sense to me and seem like a painful stretch at best. And you missed the comparison of written grammar to film grammar – an analogy we could have discussed (did Cassavettes have “good film grammar” or was he messy and sloppy compared to say Eisenstein)

    And “Most people get it” means most people enjoyed my article – that’s why I wrote it. That should be obvious by the comments here and back at FreshDV.

    So, let me summarize my article in a sentence so you don’t have to read the above: Stefan’s poorly thought out article is filled with numerous factual misrepresentations of the concept of “24p” while ignoring the desire of filmmakers and audiences to experience motion pictures at 24 frames a second”.

    Happi know thet i lernt how to spel?

  • Robert
    Posted at 10:14h, 18 April

    Stephen,

    Wow. You actually have the gall to defend your crappy composition skills while at the same time seeking donations from people to help finance your film.

    So let’s consider for a moment… why would I want to give money to a man if he has so little pride in his public statements that he not only doesn’t care enough to spend an extra couple of minutes proofreading, but, in fact, stands up and loudly proclaims his right to do “just good enough.”

    In fact, Stephen, you are a professional writer, because you’re using your blog — a vehicle for the written word — to solicit money for your film (god help us all if it actually has words to be spoken by actors, ’cause we know how much attention to detail you’ll bring to that).

    I love it when people use the analogy of great writers being lousy at grammar. Yes, they were. But at no time did they consider putting their material in front of public eyes because they knew it wasn’t ready to be read. You can damn well bet that if Hemingway or Faulkner were going public with something, they would have made sure that it was proofread.

    Put simply Stephen, you’re an amateur, and a lazy one at that. I read filmmaking books, articles, blogs, etc. to learn from professionals. I don’t ask that they be perfect, but I do ask that they give a damn. That they’re constantly trying to learn more, and do better, and wouldn’t accept “good enough” in anything they’re putting in front of the public. I don’t care about one or two or three errors, but I do care when it’s a minefield of fucking laziness.

    I certainly hope the man who signs your paycheck doesn’t read your defense of the mediocre. If he has half an ounce of self-preservation, he’ll fire you as fast as he can ’cause here’s a real simple fact of life: how you do any one thing, is generally indicative of how you do everything.

    Oh, and one last item, referring to your “about me” page: “ubergeeks” give a damn about composition. That’s why they’re called ubergeeks.

  • stephenv2
    Posted at 10:56h, 18 April

    Well, at least you read a bit of my site but you’ve decided to resort to personal jabs, profanity and character attacks to defend your position but want us to respect your arguments. You can’t have it both ways.

    But I actually like be called an amateur – it’s not an insult to me, it’s a compliment. The original meaning and definition of that word is precisely the spirit behind this project. As for lazy, I call it “effecient” 🙂

    My friends and colleagues are amused by my poor grammar (there’s actually a reason for it but no matter) and several have volunteered time to proof the press kit, main pages etc for which I’m grateful. This blog is mostly for existing supporters of the film (there’s a long list of them on the site), especially now that enough money has been raised to start production.

    I’m sorry my poor proofing so deeply offends you, but I would offer that it’s difficult enough to make a film or any complex creative project. My time is best spent in the many thousands of hours of work in animating the film, not in improving my grammar and proofing skills.

  • JACK BECKETT
    Posted at 16:18h, 18 April

    Stephen:

    Robert”s focus on trivial issues in order to enter the discussion is just a small diversion in what is, in my opinion, a very good blog. Your views of 24P were astute and reasoned. It is regrettable that Robert takes us away from the exchange of simple ideas. For whatever its worth, I have been a working DP in Hollywood for over forty years with four years at JPL in their CCD dept. I find your blog very informative and actually resent anyone that would marginalize that experience

  • stephenv2
    Posted at 16:30h, 18 April

    Jack,

    Thanks very much for the comments and support. I’m glad you find the blog informative. Your experience sounds fascinating – love to hear more about it – feel free to drop me an email.

    I had quite an adventure getting the CCD sizes for the Cassini camera telescopes due to the new Department of Homeland of Security regs. JPL was very helpful but it took months to get clearances.

  • JACK BECKETT
    Posted at 16:44h, 18 April

    Stephen:

    I’m looking at a Cassini CCD sitting on my desk. Sorry for not putting a period after “experience” I know how critical your readers are. Please reach out for me, as I can’t seem to find your e-mail address.

    jpb

  • stephenv2
    Posted at 20:50h, 19 April

    That’s outstanding. Sent you an email.

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