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Important Digital Video Terminology

Learning The Digital Video Terminology

Learning the video terms can be a little dull sometimes, but it’s very important to understand the tools you are using as a cinematographer, director and video editor.  Not knowing them will not only hurt your film but also will make you look bad in front of other peers in the industry. You can be very creative, but if you don’t know the basic digital video terminology, you might look unprofessional.

Now:

You don’t need to be afraid from the technical terms, they’re pretty easy to understand, but there are too many of them. In this cinematography lesson, I’m not going to go through all of the video glossaries, but I am going to explain the terms in great detail. If you’ll want to find out more about these stuff I recommend reading The Filmmaker’s Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age.  This book is kind of known as the bible of filmmaking. It talks about more than just technical terms, but it focuses on the technical parts just enough to set you on your way.

So let’s get started:

Aspect ratio

A term that started to be more important for cameramen these days. Aspect ratio indicates the size of the picture by stating the relationship of the width and the height size. It will be presented with two number separated with a colon. The first one will indicate the width of the frame and the second number will indicate the height of the frame.
In the aspect ratio 16:9 the 16 is relating to the width and the 9 is to the height,
but it is important to remember that the number is not declaring the size of the frame only the relationship of the with the height, so the aspect ratio 16:9 can be also represented as 8:4.5.

The Aspect ratio term used to be a simple term since they were only two – 4:3 and 1.85:1. The four to three ratio and the 1.33:1 are known as standard definition (SD) and the 4:3 is known mainly the way most of the old TV shows were shot. The 1.85:1 has the widescreen look and could only be achieved by a film.
The digital age brought different kinds of new aspect ratios, but the most important one is the 16:9 ratio wich belongs to all high definition formats (HD) and this is the ratio all TV and filmmakers are using more often this days, since it’s the only way to get the widescreen film look. And of course, the is the 4K ratio, wich is 1.9:1

The aspect ratio is very important for video editors as they define the project in these settings

Quick Tip

When shooting your video, you must take under consideration that showing your video in a different aspect ratio medium may cause loosing parts of the frame or showing parts, you didn’t want the audience to see. This is the reason that sometimes when you watch on a 4:3 TV set a film that was shot in a 1.85:1 ratio, you can see the boom mike at the upper side of the frame. If you don’t want to lose parts of the frame simply shoot within the “Safe Zone” of your camera.

Frame rate

A shot is built from frames. Frame rates, also known as FPS (Frame Per Second) is the term that indicates how many frames are shot in each second. When films first started it was 16 frames per second. Since then the frame rate has risen up a lot.  Today there are 8 types of frame rates to shoot at.
Choosing the one you want to shoot at got to do a lot with the kind of look you want your film to have and how your film is going to be shown.

HD videos can go up to 60 fps, but in the SD world, the most used frame rate in America even today is the 24 fps. Other parts of the world use 25 fps for television and 24fps for a film.

The frame rate can determine how slow or fast a camera will shoot. This means that if you shoot in a lower frame rate the shot will be fast forward.

The frame rate is very important for video editors as they define the project in these settings.

Quick tip

When shooting make sure the frame rate isn’t changing or you will have a lot of problems at the editing room, unless there it is very important for your film to do that.

Image Resolution

Each picture of the frame is built from small pixels, which are like little dots. The image resolution is usually defined by the number of Pixels in the picture and described by the number of horizontal and vertical pixels.
NTSC frames are composed define as 720X480 which means the width is 720 and the length is 480.

PAL videos are 720X576

Full HD is 1920X1080.

The bigger the image resolution is the “heavier” the file will be.

When video editing, changing the resolution by scaling the video will hurt the picture. If you shot at 720X576, you can’t turn it into HD

Exposure

You should already know that light is the main tool the camera uses to create a picture. The light is bouncing on the photographed object and into the camera’s lens. The amount of light entering the lens, will set the amount of information we’ll get, but also the mood of the shot.

This amount of light is defined by the exposure. If you bring too much light into the camera’s lens, you will overexpose the shot. If there’ll be not enough light, you will underexpose it.

You can control the amount of light that enters your camera with the shutter speed and the iris (aperture) settings. Increasing the shutter will bring more light in. Usually, you will want it in the middle- not too bright and not too dark.

Some cinematographer uses a light meter to measure the intensity of the light, but if you don’t have one, the best way to set the exposure is to get as close as you can to the object, you want to shoot. Then you move backwards into the shot you planned while setting the exposure through the way it showed you at the close-up

So that’s about it. If you want me to write more articles like this, please let me know. As I said in the home page, I would like to focus more on the creative stuff, but some of you emailed me and asked me to talk about some digital video terminology, so I did.

Again, if you want to deepen your knowledge in the digital video terminology, I recommend reading The Filmmaker’s Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age.

This book will explain everything you need to know in great detail and very easy language.