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Early 20th Century Frame Rates

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I just chanced upon the inspiring and excellent Turner Classic Movies display in Grand Central Station here in NYC, where they are chronicling the history of NYC cinematography, both on-location and in recreated sets, and it features numerous backdrops and photos taken from productions, and also has several simultaneous screenings of NYC footage dating back 100 years. Very interesting, and free!

 

My question is that the very old footage looks choppy from a frame rate standpoint (actually I like it), and I'm wondering what kind of frame rates people were shooting at back in the early days. I know there was wide variation but I'm wondering how low the rates got.

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Anywhere from 16 fps to 24 fps usually. I've seen some mid 1920's movies that should be projected at 24 fps to look correct.

 

I wonder if some of the stuff I saw was less than this. I should go back and look at the films' titles and look it up. Some looked quite choppy, but it was an interesting aesthetic when placed against the NYC settings of 100 years ago. It looked more removed from 24 fps than I would think 16 fps looks.

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Films in the mid silent era used a range of speeds, and typically were projected a little faster than they were shot. In the mid 1920s SMPTE considered setting a standard for camera speed of 60 feet per minute, and a projection speed of 80 feet per minute. (That is 16fps and around 22fps).

 

But there was no standard. In fact cameramen used to undercrank for comedy effect quite a lot. Maybe the stuff you've seen was like that - if it was only 12fps or so it would look quite jerky.

 

It also depends on what TCM had done to the footage for their compilation. If you speed-correct 16fps footage up to 24 to match modern footage, you get every alternate frame twice in a sort of 4:2 pulldown. If you convert it to 30fps, I've no idea what you do.

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Films in the mid silent era used a range of speeds, and typically were projected a little faster than they were shot. In the mid 1920s SMPTE considered setting a standard for camera speed of 60 feet per minute, and a projection speed of 80 feet per minute. (That is 16fps and around 22fps).

 

But there was no standard. In fact cameramen used to undercrank for comedy effect quite a lot. Maybe the stuff you've seen was like that - if it was only 12fps or so it would look quite jerky.

 

It also depends on what TCM had done to the footage for their compilation. If you speed-correct 16fps footage up to 24 to match modern footage, you get every alternate frame twice in a sort of 4:2 pulldown. If you convert it to 30fps, I've no idea what you do.

 

they have the stuff playing on large widescreen LCDs, so clearly in video format, i.e. ~30fps.

 

i just thought it looked cool, and would be fun to experiment with alternate shooting rates. however, i was not looking at comedies. almost looked more like documentary footage, not even narrative.

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My question is that the very old footage looks choppy from a frame rate standpoint (actually I like it), and I'm wondering what kind of frame rates people were shooting at back in the early days. I know there was wide variation but I'm wondering how low the rates got.

 

Here's an article by kevin Brownlow on projection speeds and camera speeds:

 

http://www.cinemaweb.com/silentfilm/bookshelf/18_kb_2.htm

 

There's a list at the end.

But they're all Hollywood films. I used to suspect Soviet films might have been shot at slower speeds if only to conserve film. They were still importing. This was due to finding a series of 12 frame shots of Lenin orating in 'October'

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Early hand crank cameras generally exposed eight frames per turn of the crank. I have an Ensign Cinematograph (1895 - 1910) that does. They didn't have tachometers, governors, or flywheels. Some cinematographers would hum a tune to try to regulate their pace.

 

 

 

-- J.S.

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Early hand crank cameras generally exposed eight frames per turn of the crank. I have an Ensign Cinematograph (1895 - 1910) that does. They didn't have tachometers, governors, or flywheels. Some cinematographers would hum a tune to try to regulate their pace.

-- J.S.

 

and how long was a typical crank? i'd imagine it varied depending on slow motion, etc intentions.

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