Burning Question: What do the Numbers Mean in Aspect Ratios? (Updated)
Aspect Ratios may seem mundane, however, it’s really important for anyone creating content. Whether it’s video, film, or social media, the standards change over time. In this article, we dive into the numbers mean. Plus, learn about a couple of tools that can help with converting to different aspect ratios. Then, a few fun facts for the cinephiles out there!
Updated 8 Feb 2023 with The Fascinating History of the Aspect Ratio from Envato Tuts+.
So, what do the numbers mean?
Simply put, the aspect ratio is the screen proportions, or the width:height of the image. If you’re new to video and film, there’s no shame in not knowing. Some of us out there are not numbers people, and that’s okay. But if you are, Wikipedia explains the math behind the ratio. Below, see a few common ones that you will encounter.
|Standard Full Screen/Computer Displays||4:3 (1.33:1)|
|IMAX||1.43:1 or 2.76:1|
|Social Media Vertical Video||9:16|
For LOTS more including the resolutions, see Aspect Ratio Cheat Sheet v2 from Firehouse.
Pixel Width and Height calculator
Most host applications have presets for common aspect ratios. However, if you need to create something at a certain aspect ratio but don’t know the pixel size, check the handy Aspect Ratio Calculator link below.
NEW The Fascinating History of the Aspect Ratio
Envato Tuts+ takes you on a wild ride through the curiously interesting history of aspect ratio. Read the accompanying article here.
Changing the Aspect Ratio: Retargeting and Reframing
Changing the aspect ratio from one size to another is known as retargeting or reframing. Below, check out a couple of tools that you may find useful for this task.
Boris FX Reframer
Reframer is a tool in Continuum, and also the Image Restoration Unit, that takes vertical video and duplicates it, scales it, and then blurs it behind your clip.
Boris FX Continuum Unit: Image Restoration
The must-have 'fix it in post' toolset
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The Swiss Army Knife of Plugins
Meeting tight turnarounds just got easier. The post-production industry’s most complete plugin collection delivers nearly 350 creative effects in 20 categories, 4000+ presets, built-in Academy Award-winning Mocha planar tracking and masking, a Beat Reactor that drives VFX to music, and the FX Browser. Busy editors and artists rely on Continuum to get the job done.
Learn MoreTry Boris FX Continuum Annual Subscription for free!
Freebie: Atomic Stretch for Retargeting
Atomic Image Labs created a FREE plugin called Atomic Stretch that enables real-time video retargeting in After Effects and Premiere Pro. It converts video from and to any aspect ratio.
The Changing Shape of Cinema: The History of Aspect Ratio
John Hess traces the evolution of the screen shape from the silent film days through the widescreen explosion of the 50s, to modern digital cameras.
The Changing Shape of Cinema: The History of Aspect Ratio from FilmmakerIQ.com on Vimeo.
For more, see the FilmmakerIQ course: “Everything You Need To Know about Aspect Ratio“
For Cinephiles Only
It’s interesting how the aspect ratio of films has changed over the years, but it is also used to set a mood or make it feel like a film came from a certain time in history.
The film X (2022 film) is an old-school slasher film about adult filmmaking in the late 70s using 1.90:1. Believe it or not, this is also a common ratio used in the Marvel Universe films. Check out ShotOnWhat.com to see what aspect ratio your favorite films were shot in.
Also set in the 1970s, Licorice Pizza mixed up aspect ratios, using 1.33 and 1.1 (some scenes) and 2.20. Some are really complex-looking numbers, like 1.85:1, 1:33:1, or 2.39:1. Now I’m reading about 2:1 (aka Univisium) being the hottest aspect ratio in cinema!
Robert Egger’s The Lighthouse, a very dark art film starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Defoe, used 1.19:1 to make it feel like a black-and-white German Expressionism film. [Source: ‘The Lighthouse,’ ‘The Witch’ and the Horror of Robert Eggers, Hollywood Reporter, October 29, 2019]
Fun Fact: Napoléon (1927) used 3 projectors lined up to create an aspect ratio of 4.00:1 (3× 1.33:1), only used in the final sequence of the film. This aspect ratio was coined ‘Polyvision’ by French film critic Émile Vuillermoz. [Source: Wikipedia: Napoléon (1927 Film]
Want to know what aspect ratio a film is in?
if you’re curious about the aspect ratio of a film you’re watching, go to IMDB and look under “Technical Specs” where they list it.
Resources and Interesting Related Articles
- In Depth: Upscaling or Upsizing Video
- Burning Question: How Do I Quickly Give My Project a Letterbox Look?
- Things to Consider Before Making a DCP: Aspect Ratio & Frame Size, Aaron Owen, Cinematiq, Aug 14, 2020
- Aspect Ratio Cheat Sheet v2 from Firehouse
- Why The 2:1 Aspect Ratio (UNIVISIUM) Is Now The Fastest Growing Format In Cinema, by Noam Kroll
Posted by Michele Yamazaki