Here are the differences between 24 FPS, 30 FPS, 48 FPS, 60 FPS, and 120 FPS in movies:
In movies, higher frame rates lead to smoother playback, so higher numbers tend to look better.
That said, 60 FPS has been the standard for playback speeds for more than 30 years, and it’s probably what looks most comfortable to viewers.
Very high recording speeds are what allow for slow-motion sequences.
So if you want to learn all about how 24, 30, 48, 60, and 120 FPS in movies differ from each other here, then this article is for you.
What Does FPS Mean? (2 Scenarios)
This journey to learn about film has an easy beginning.
We need to establish what FPS really means in order to inform the discussion around specific numbers.
So, here’s the starting point.
FPS stands for “frames per second,” and it’s a way of measuring videos.
If you think back to the early days of film, videos were made by taking lots and lots of pictures.
Then, those pictures would be played back in order, at a speed fast enough that they trick your eyes into seeing constant motion.
The FPS is telling you how quickly those images are moving.
Really, the industry uses FPS to measure two different things: recording speeds and playback speeds.
When recording, the FPS number is saying how many still pictures are taken each second.
In playback, the number tells you how many individual images your eyes see each second (we’ll get deeper into these concepts in a moment).
The idea of frames per second was developed with actual film, but it still applies in the digital age.
Even though we don’t use physical film anymore (for the most part), digital recordings are still made by taking lots and lots of still, digital pictures and then playing them back quickly.
The concept remains exactly the same, even if technology has changed a lot.
#1 Recording vs Display
I mentioned the basics of recording and displaying fps, but it’s important to delve a little deeper into the concept for the sake of this discussion.
The FPS number for the recording does not exactly dictate the FPS number for playback, and this is because there are filming and playback techniques that allow you to record at one FPS and play the film at a different rate.
Slow motion is probably the most prominent example.
To record slow motion, filmmakers ramp up the FPS during a recording.
As a common example, they might record at 120 FPS.
Then, when they play the movie, it plays at 60 FPS (this is not always the case, it’s just one specific example).
In order to play the recording at 60 FPS, the film will actually skip every other frame during playback.
Because of this, the film looks normal, and everything behaves just like you would expect if you were watching a live performance instead of a film.
But, there might be a scene where the director wants to put things in slow motion.
To do that, the slow motion scene doesn’t skip any frames.
When that is played, there are suddenly twice as many frames to cover, but the playback device is still running at 60 FPS.
That means it takes twice as long to play the scene back.
You get a slow motion effect.
This can be done at a lot of different rates, and we’ll get into some of them as we go.
#2 Movies vs Other Videos
One other thing we need to discuss is that common frame rates for movies don’t always match other video media.
In Cinema, there are some standards that show up a lot.
This is why most movies look similar in quality.
I’m not talking about special effects or anything, but most movies play at the same speed and you kind of know that you’re watching a movie at a glance because of these standards.
It’s actually why you can recognize home movies at a glance.
Something looks fundamentally different, and that difference is actually mostly due to frame rates.
We’ll get into the numbers a little later.
So, movies are mostly recorded and played at standard rates.
Meanwhile, you have something like video games.
Video games have variable playback rates, and the very hardware in your computer can change what FPS you see.
On average, games try to play video at the highest frame rate possible (with some exceptions).
That’s just one example.
The point is that the numbers we go through for movies won’t necessarily apply to other recordings, even things like TikTok and YouTube.
What Are Common FPS Numbers and What Do They Look Like? (8 Things)
With all of that background information, you’re ready to learn about exact FPS rates.
The movie industry has been around for more than 100 years, and as you might imagine, technology has changed in that time.
As a result, FPS rates have fluctuated over the years, and we can look at the standards that have come and gone.
You can then look at films from different eras and see what different FPS rates really look like.
The earliest movies—I’m talking silent movies here—were often recorded somewhere between 16 and 26 FPS.
Cameras in those days were actually hand cranked, so you might get different speeds in the same movie.
In those times, the movies were played back at the same speed they were recorded.
People were starting to experiment with tricks that could play the film back at a speed other than was recorded, but it wasn’t standard yet.
When movies started recording sound, crews had to figure out how to record things in a way that didn’t make them look or sound weird.
Variable recording speeds were no longer ok, as it would alter the pitch of the recorded sounds.
Ultimately, the industry averaged things out and settled on a standard of 24 FPS.
Around the time of movies with sound, though, is when playback tricks started becoming common.
That’s because 35mm cameras of the day started using two shutters.
So, a shutter speed of 24 FPS actually recorded 48 frames each second.
Both shutters could go off every second.
Because of this, different playback speeds became available.
30 FPS playback does not fit nicely into the history I just set up.
It actually became standard outside of movies.
There has never been a time when 30 FPS playback was standardized.
On the other hand, 30 FPS recordings were very common for anything that was intended for TV broadcasts.
I’ll get into this more a little later, but common TV broadcasts were at 60 FPS.
So, if you were recording a TV show, a presidential speech, or anything else for TV, you might use a 30 FPS camera with two shutters.
That would produce 60 playback frames for every second, and you could match the TV standard.
Getting back to film history, 48 FPS became a very common playback speed after sound was added to movies.
As I already showed you, the crews would film at 24 FPS with two shutters, and that allowed for 48 FPS playback.
This led to more stable videos and sounds, and the general quality of the pictures was improved.
You can compare a 24 FPS silent movie to an early movie with sound, and you’ll see that the silent movies are choppy in comparison.
That’s because of how your eyes work, and it brings up an important part of this whole discussion.
On average, your eyes can actually see individual frames at around 60 FPS or less.
At 48 FPS, that’s close to the human limit for a lot of people.
If a single frame of a film was out of place, you would notice, but only barely.
As an example, someone could splice a single frame of a picture of popcorn into the middle of a WWII movie, and you would notice that one frame, even though for the most part, the action scene would play out normally.
At a rate higher than 60 FPS, most people wouldn’t be able to identify that one frame.
The image would look choppy, but the majority of the audience wouldn’t be able to identify that a picture of popcorn showed up in the middle of the movie.
All of this is to say that 24 FPS is barely enough to convince your eyes that you’re watching things in motion.
Your eyes can identify gaps of motion between the frames, and the video looks choppy.
That becomes obvious when you watch something at 48 FPS or higher.
For the most part, the film industry never really operated on a standard of 50 FPS.
Instead, this became the standard playback speed for PAL broadcasts.
PAL stands for “phase alternate line,” and it was the standard broadcast method for TV in Europe.
Actually, it’s still the standard for non-digital broadcasts, but those are pretty rare these days.
Because this emerged as the standard for Europe, it eventually became a standard for most of the world.
What does this mean for movies?
Well, movies have been played on TV broadcasts for many decades.
When such a broadcast is on a PAL system, the movie is played at 50 FPS.
This requires some playback tricks.
Basically, alternating frames are doubled during playback in a way that can turn a 48 FPS recording into 50 FPS playback.
Actually, modern recordings are faster than 48 FPS (which I’ll explain next), but the point remains the same.
In order to play a movie on PAL, playback tricks have to double certain frames to match the speeds.
It makes movies on PAL subtly stutter.
You won’t always notice, but if you compare a PAL playback to a movie theater and really pay attention, the PAL will seem slightly off.
Meanwhile, PAL television broadcasts were long recorded in ways that made for steady playback at 50 FPS.
It’s specifically movies filmed for a theater production that have this issue.
While Europe adopted PAL, the United States went a different route and settled on a national television standards committee (NTSC).
The NTSC standard settled on TV playback speeds of 60 FPS.
This led to many of the same problems with movies, but the math is a little different.
More importantly, TV film production developed recording techniques that naturally fit with NTSC.
Since those crews were in the United States, and Hollywood has long dominated movie filming (and is also in the United States), NTSC standards influenced the movie industry to adopt filming methods that worked nicely with 60 FPS playback.
In fact, movies in the U.S. have been playing at 60 FPS in theaters for more than a few decades now.
It’s worth noting that the United States dragged a few other countries into this standard.
Canada, Japan, and South Korea have all used NTSC pretty much since its inception.
Now, we can get into modern filming.
Camera technology never stopped improving, and well before the takeover of digital recordings, cameras got faster.
As a result 72 FPS became a pretty common recording frame rate.
Basically, the camera records at 24 FPS, but there are three shutters instead of two, and that gets the speed up to 72 FPS.
With this many frames, film makers have a lot of freedom in how they skip and/or double frames—enabling them to effectively adjust playback speeds at will.
Slow motion, sped up moments, and conforming to things like NTSC or PAL gets easier when you have more frames to work with.
In the digital era, 120 FPS became a very common recording choice.
With so many frames, it’s very easy to cut playback to fit any standard.
On top of that, 120 FPS recording enables the option of slow motion.
We already went over how this works, but a lot of movies started recording at 120 FPS in the digital age because of space.
If you record at 120 FPS, then you have twice as much film for every hour of recording as compared to 60 FPS.
That film takes up space, and it becomes a problem after a while.
Digital pictures don’t really take up physical space, so digital recordings were bumped up to 120 FPS since it was more accessible.
Movie playback stayed at a standard of 60 FPS, but the recordings took more pictures.
At the same time, recording technology really became a lot more affordable when it went digital, and home cameras became very popular.
The thing is, home movies don’t typically use playback tricks, so it became normal for home movies to play back at the 120 FPS they were recorded in.
As a result, home movies appear very different at a glance when compared to most professional recordings.
It’s why you can recognize a movie at a glance.
Movies usually play half as many frames as home recordings.
Many news recordings, reality TV recordings, and anything that wants to emphasize “reality” will also record and play back at 120 FPS.
Crews are basically steering into the fact that you already recognize these differences.
#8 Faster Than 120
That covers pretty much everything for movies, but it’s worth noting that modern cameras can record at rates much higher than 120 FPS.
Recording at a higher rate is usually for the sake of expanding slow motion.
You can get into ultra slow motion territories, where playback runs at a crawl.
Movie recordings rarely get above 300 FPS, mostly because slow motion beyond that level can be frustratingly slow.
That said, there are applications for recording rates that get up into the millions of FPS.
Such a camera would be able to film a bullet fired from a gun, lightning racing through the sky, and other incredibly fast events.
If you want to get an idea of what this looks like, the Slow Mo Guys is a very popular YouTube channel that uses this technology to record things that are much too fast to track with the naked eye.