The World at 24P

A few years ago, I made the decision to produce all my work at 24 frames per second, or, as it’s known in drop frame lingo, 23.976 or 23.98.  I did this because I had originally come from a film background and automatically assumed that something shot at the same frame rate as film would be superior to something shot at the standard video frame rate of 29.97.  After all, if it’s using the same frame rate as film, then it must look more like film, right?  Now, this isn’t a post about whether 24P is truly superior to 30P.  I’ll leave that to the experts to debate (though, in all honesty, sometimes I can spot footage shot at 24P, and sometimes I can’t; the footage I shoot now doesn’t look more “like film” because it was shot at 24P — other factors go into whether or not footage appears cinematic).  I suppose I shoot in 24P because I’m used to it, because the film snob inside me thinks I ought to, because it’s cooler to say 24P than 30P, and because it saves me money.

It really does save me money.  Honest.  If you shoot in native 24P, you literally shoot 20% less footage in terms of hard drive space needed once you convert to ProRes.  And your finished projects will be 20% smaller, and take 20% less time to render.

So, for me, it’s a no brainer.  What about stock footage, you ask.  It’s true that the majority of stock footage for sale on Getty One or iStockvideo was originally shot at either 25 or 30P.  But this makes absolutely no difference to me.  I download the clip, make a copy of it, change the name of the copy to reflect that it will play back at 24P, and then open it in CinemaTools.  You can hit the Analysis Tab if you want to see what its native frame rate was, or you can simply jump straight to the Conform button.  Choose 23.98 (you only need to do this once — the software will remember the last frame rate you conformed to), and hit Conform.  Done.  Your clip is now 24P.  Congratulations.  You don’t even need to save it (that’s why you should make a copy), and there is even a batch conform option for folders.

No, that can’t be, you say.  The speed of your stock footage will be all wrong.  Well, I guess that’s technically true.  But if we’re talking about making a 30P clip play back 20% slower than it was originally intended, I say great!  Most stock footage looks fantastic with this subtly introduced slow motion, especially considering that you’ve managed to do it without creating any jerkiness in the footage usually associated with post production frame rate shifts.  And if we’re talking about 25P footage, then it’ll play back .04% slower than intended.  Good luck spotting the difference.

What about sound, you say?  Won’t that screw up the sync?  Well, this is stock footage we’re talking about.  There is no sound.  And even if the track you’ve bought contains audio, you were probably going to discard it anyway.

It turns out that Quicktime doesn’t really care what your playback frame rate is, and will simply play your clip at 24P because you’ve instructed it to.  That’s how people are shooting 60P on their 7Ds (in 720P) and turning that footage into gorgeous slow motion (a full 60% slower at 24P!).

So there it is.  24P.  It’s fun to say and will save you money to boot.

However, there still remains one problem with all of this: I can only shoot 24P on higher-end prosumer cameras like the 7D.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this is the case.

I don’t work for a camera company, but if I did, I imagine it would be a no-brainer to create a cheap model that would do the following: shoot 24P with manual controls in video mode.  Canon did this with the 7D, and the response has been nothing short of revolutionary.  Canon’s new T2i will now do the same thing for half the cost of the 7D (about $900)!  I must say I’ve been perplexed over this past year why other manufacturers haven’t done the same thing as Canon (and, yes, I know that some Nikon DSLRs shoot video at 24P, but I don’t know a single video producer who would trade their 7D or 5DmkII for a Nikon).  When Canon recently updated the firmware on the 5DmkII to shoot at 24P, you’d have thought the sky was raining happy pills.  People were ecstatic.  Again, my intention here is not to extol the aesthetic virtues of 24P footage over 30P footage.  In fact, before I went independent, I produced two videos with the 5DmkII when it was still “only” shooting in 30P, and was blown away by the quality of the footage.

On the other hand, I’ve made the switch.  I’m sold.  I’m a 24P believer.  It’s why I shot my first short film on the Panasonic DVX-100 years ago (I had to use a program called DVFilm Maker to remove the six unwanted frames from each second of Mini DV tape, and I had to do this with every single clip).  When I started producing video for advertising, I jumped on the HVX-200 bandwagon for the same reason (though this time Panasonic offered a “native” frame rate mode, meaning the footage wasn’t shot with any extra frames in it), and I even purchased a Canon Vixia with 24P mode for the office camcorder, even though to this day I have no idea how to successfully remove those extra frames (and yes, I’ve tried NeoScene and Voltaic; they both claim to be able to discern between necessary and extraneous frames, but I’ve never gotten consistent results and would usually end up with some horrible interlacing due to the 60i format).

I’m no rocket scientist, but even I could have told you that the first manufacturer to offer true 24P HD on an affordable prosumer camera would be hugely successful.  So successful, in fact, that many of us have had to invest in expensive new Canon lenses in order to take full advantage of the technology.  Prior to the 7D, I had personally never owned a single piece of Canon gear in my entire life.

So my one question is: why can’t I get 24P everywhere?  And if it’s offered, why can’t I get manual exposure controls?  Panasonic offers the GH1 and the GF1 micro four-thirds cameras.  I hear some good things about them, and some bad things as well.  But the GH1’s 24P is a non-native format, meaning that once again the extra frames would need to be removed in post, and the GF1 only shoots at 29.97.  This makes no sense whatsoever.  What if someone were to give me footage from both cameras; how would I intercut between them (assuming the GH1 had been set to 24P)?  And both cameras use the same expensive new proprietary lens system.  Think about that for a moment.  You could buy the same lens for both cameras, use one camera professionally and the other on the weekends, but, if you had originally set your GH1 to 24P, you couldn’t get the GF1 to match the frame rate.

It’s obviously not difficult to program a camera to shoot in native 24P — it’s not as if Canon discovered some holy grail secret that none of the other manufacturers could solve when they figured out how to add that capability to the 5DmkII a year after the camera had already been on the market.  And this has nothing to do with the prosumer versus high quality professional debate — everything anyone shoots these days ends up in either one of two places: the computer (and eventually the internet) or the widescreen HD set in your living room (movie theaters too, obviously, but that’s always shot at 24P).  Neither of these destinations requires a 29.97 frame per second signal anymore (well, broadcast HD does, but it’s done through a perfectly acceptable 3:2 pulldown).  In fact, for all the time I’ve been shooting and editing in 24P,  I’ve always known that the projects would eventually end up on DVD.  MPEG-2 compression has always done a superb job with 3:2 pulldown — if it didn’t, the Hollywood movies we’ve been watching on our DVD players all these years — shot on film, at 24 frames per second — would have looked awful.  So I can’t think of a single good reason why consumers would demand 30 frames over 24.  24P even plays directly out of the 7D onto an old NTSC 29.97 TV.  I’ve done it.  I’ve been on a set where the only playback monitor was an old CRT.  Horrifying, I know.  But the video out on the 7D has an RCA option, and the RCA plugged into the back of that clunky old set, automatically introducing a 3:2 pulldown, and all was right with the universe.

But even if consumers did demand 30 frames a second (either interlaced or not, depending on whether they would need it to conform with older footage), couldn’t the manufacturers at least offer the option of shooting at 24P?  Every available, moderately priced hybrid DSLR camera on the market today — those pocket-sized still cameras that also shoot video — from the Olympus EP-1 and EP-2 (also micro four-thirds) to the new Samsung NX-10, only shoot video at 29.97.  Pentax of all companies is offering 24P on their new K-x (at 720P), and when I first read about it I was looking forward to trying it out.  Unfortunately, when you switch to video mode, you’re stuck with their crummy low-grade video codec and auto exposure.  It’s a DSLR but it only shoots video in auto exposure! That’s like saying your brand new sports car only drives in reverse.

So, camera companies, wake up.  Has it ever occurred to you that video professionals have families, take vacations, and want to use portable, less expensive gear from time to time that also shoots beautiful footage?  Don’t you realize that a small, pocket sized camera with manual controls in video mode and a 24P option would be the must-have gadget of the year?

29.97 is a legacy frame rate.  Auto exposure is never going to cut it.  Stop pushing it on us and let us finally fall in love with a pocket hybrid camera that shoots footage I can intercut with the 24P on my 7D.

Even if I still don’t know why 24 frames is better than 30.

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