23.976 is the best frame-rate and here's why

As an editor I think you should shoot at 23.976 for most projects. Obviously there are exceptions and it's not even that I like 23.976 more than 29.97 or 59.94. In fact I prefer to watch content at higher frame rates. It is because 23.976 has so much room to move to other formats.

As we all know NTSC video is 29.97 frames-per-second (since the invention of colour TV) and film is 24 frames-per-second. The first interlaced, and the latter progressive. This gives us the frame-rate of 23.976 (however for brevity we’ll call it 23.98) which is used for converting film into video. What’s my point? 23.98 seems to be the most flexible frame-rate you can use. Why you might ask? The reason is simple; it is the best frame-rate available to us right now, that has the best quality across multiple delivery formats.

Let’s say you’re shooting a documentary. Being a documentary you’re going to get footage from everywhere. Archival footage, newly shot interviews, what have you. Now in an example with the archival footage (23.98) you would convert it to 29.97i with pull-down for broadcast delivery.

(an image of 3-2 pulldown)

(an image of 3-2 pulldown)

Then you’ll proceed to edit with everything at 29.97 and finally mastering in 29.97. Doing this prevents you from being able to do the; following.

  • You can’t make a progressive scan Blu-Ray, because the format doesn’t support 29.97p, only 29.97i
  • You can’t convert the master to PAL without introducing serious motion artifacts, even on the best conversion hardware. 
  • You would’ve “baked in” the 3:2 pulldown pattern of the archival footage and that cannot be removed on playback, leaving repeated fields, or ghost images. (This gets even worse when you convert the frame rate to 25 for PAL).

Or you shoot all your new stuff at 23.98 (and obviously don’t convert the film footage). Edit and master in 23.98 and by doing this it lets you do the following.

  • Deliver an NTSC DVD that will play progressive scam.
  • Deliver a progressive scan PAL master to non-NTSC countries by speeding up the 23.98 master to 25fps - with this method you have *no* motion artifacts because you’re doing a 1:1 frame mapping, just playing it faster, effectively.
  • Create a Blu-ray with a progressive-scan frame rate (23.98) that will play worldwide.
  • Create 29.97i masters for broadcast, simply by adding 3-2 pulldown when the master is dubbing to tape.

Now there is a lot of resistance to working in 23.98. I am not sure why. Working in 23.98 is easy to convert to PAL, 24 and 29.97. I guess it’s just an old rivalry between film and TV in North America. You could just move to PAL land and your life will be so much easier.