Which Format for Which Purpose

the agony of choice

In the past, everything used to be easier – but in this case not everything was better. Small, medium and large format for photography and 16 or 35 mm film, PAL and NTSC or Betacam, Betamax and VHS for moving images. Today there is hardly any “quasi-standard” anymore: Resolutions in the ever-higher megapixel range on different chip sizes, which can also differ in aspect ratio and frame rate.

Our specialists have compiled the most important differences for training purposes – but you don’t have to know these. You can trust us to select the right tool for your production based on efficiency and your objectives.

Photo, film and video formats – we are at the cutting edge for you

Modern digital cameras seem like all-rounders – they photograph and film – even SmartPhones take on this task today. Nevertheless, the difference between professional work and “snapping” at a high level is usually an extreme difference. But in order to understand why photography and film have always been closely connected, one has to take a closer look at the interrelationships and developments in technology and the different and sometimes similar or identical formats.

The aspect ratio is the ratio of length to width of an image, thus a rectangle. A square has a ratio of 1:1.

It is challenging for amateurs that the aspect ratio in photography is given as width to height, while for cinema formats it is rather defined as height to width. But more about that later.

Traditional photography on camera films already knew countless formats with different aspect ratios. The most widespread format, however, was 3:2 with the 35mm format 24 x 26 mm and the medium format 6 x 9 cm. However, especially in the professional sector of medium-format photography, the formats 6 x 7 cm, 6 x 6 cm and 4.5 x 6 cm were also common. 4.5 x 6 cm corresponds to a ratio of 4:3, which, by the way, was also the former standard for television in the past.

3:2 and 4:3 are still the common aspect ratios in digital photography with full-format DSLR cameras (3:2) and medium format (4:3). The APS-C format, which is mostly used in the amateur sector, measures 16.7 x 23.4 mm and is close to the 3:2 aspect ratio.

So do you still need medium format at all? Seeing today’s professional DSLR cameras already offering over 45 million pixels with ISO values of up to 25,600, at a simultaneous speed of almost 10 pictures per second and an unprecedented dynamic range of up to 14 f-stops. The future will show that.

(Soll das noch dazu?

With the variety of camera sensors (please see the overview) what defines recording quality besides the sensor’s size, is pixel density and number as well as sensitivity and speed. In general, however, it can be said that the quality of resolution increases with the size of the recording format.


Using a 1/3-inch chip, you can take pictures for private use – but in professional photography, it should be the 36 x 24 mm full format. And while video cameras for reports often still work with 2/3″ chips, the professional 4K format actually only starts with 4/3″ or APS-C. Today, Super 35 is the standard for many TV productions. This corresponds to the traditional 35mm film format, where the frame with a width of 24.89 mm was placed between the perforation of the 35mm film)


Of course, there are already cameras with resolutions of up to 10K available today – and the development will certainly go a further. But such formats will only be required for special applications for the next few years. Today, the majority of TVs, monitors and projectors on the market are HD quality – a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. UHD or 4K devices with 3840 x 2160 pixels are currently following. However, the programs of the TV stations are currently usually not more than HD. Thus, productions in 4K are still sufficient for the future of moving image media for a while.

And the visible quality and further use are not only related to the initial resolution.


Data rates and compression play an important role in the quality process due to storage and post-processing. Unfortunately, it will not get any easier for the amateur in this area – and development is also making rapid progress here.

In professional photography, compression with JPEG plays almost no role in the recording process anymore – RAW files are used almost exclusively. As the name suggests, the pictures remain in “raw” and thus unprocessed condition. For editing the RAW images, software is required.

FPS – Bilder pro Sekunde

The motion of films and videos results in a much greater number of pictures – and thereby, data rate. It is important to know that human brains can only trace objects at 7 to 13 frames per second (“motion tracking”). Starting at about 14 to 16 frames per second of individual, consecutive images of a scene, these are perceived as moving images. All films are based on this principle – it is the stringing together of individual images. At some point, 24 frames per second were defined as the standard for the cinema film. Just for comparison: Amateur films in Super 8 format run at 18 frames per second.

Concerning television, you also have to look at history first. The transmission frequency was based on the frequency of power supply networks. In 50 Hz networks, e. g. in Europe, 50 fields per second were transmitted (in the USA at 60 Hz, it was 60 fields per second). Feature films in Germany simply run by 1 frame faster than recorded.

The fact that the images were split into two fields has to do with the available analogue transmission rates. This is called interlaced video. It’s quite clear that images from older cameras that recorded in this format were not suitable for easy printing – regardless of resolution.

Today, modern professional cameras record non-interlaced full-screen images. The frame rate can be set from 24 (23.98), 25, 29,97and 50 to 60 (59.94) full frames per second for recordings in standard speed.

This flexibility requires extreme performance from technology and software. The selected codec plays an important role here. Aside from scientific definitions, this is a whole package of compression procedure, signaling protocol and file format that is used by the respective devices. The data rate can be taken as a rough orientation for quality. A signal with a video data rate of 200 Mbps and a sampling ratio of 4:4:4 will naturally record in higher quality than one with 100 Mbps and 4:2:2. But the latter again allows for higher quality than 4:2:0 and 25 Mbps.

All codecs, which differ in name depending on the manufacturer, are too numerous to list them and overtake each other quickly – this is why we only mention ProRes for recording – on which you can see how rapidly development is progressing…

The ProRes codec was originally developed by Apple to compress HD signals so efficiently that in many cases you couldn’t see any difference from uncompressed signals. In the meantime, ProRes has been refined in such a way that cameras and recorders use it for recording. ProRes is available in different variants and data rates. Examples are ProRes 422 (Proxy), ProRes 422 (LT), ProRes 422, ProRes 422 (HQ) and ProRes 4444. Depending on the selected variant and the recording grid, this results in data rates of 12 to 315 Mbps.


A great amount of technical knowledge is nowadays required for photography and film. And it keeps changing. In this respect, it is important to have partners like AKTIV in production who keep pace with the industry and always provide a tailored solution for the required application.

After all, in addition to the codec for recording, it’s also a matter of playback and further use. Most people have probably already encountered video formats with the abbreviations MP4, ASF, AVI, MKV as well as H264, MPEG2, MPEG4 and WMV.

The Apple QuickTime based MP4 and the formats MPEG2 and MPEG4 already show the possibility of easy confusion. While MP4 is probably the most popular container format, which can deliver multimedia content with multiple audio and video tracks, subtitles as well as 2D and 3D graphics through a player or stream, MPEG2 and MPEG 4 are video formats without container properties. MPEG 2 is used for digital video broadcast, i. e. the distribution of TV signals via satellite, cable or antenna as well as DVD. MPEG4, on the other hand, was designed to support systems with less computing power and bandwidth, such as smartphones and tablets. MP4 is the corresponding container format and is often also referred to as H. 264.

There are many other formats as well. The more commonly occurring but meanwhile outdated format WMV comes from Microsoft and is called Windows Media Video. It allows for high compression to create relatively small files. It supports Digital Rights Management (DRM), which is often used as copy protection.

These video formats become important for the user when it comes to integrating movies into social media. Here, the most important rule is:: MPEG4 is supported by YouTube as well as by Facebook and Tumblr.

But that’s enough for our excursion in technology and software for the production and distribution of photography, film and video. This report is not intended to be complete and was written in 2017. Technology and especially software is subject to constant change. For you as a user, it is important to have the right partner who offers you the best solution for your application, from target setting to distribution.

And here, the AKTIV photo and film production department is an optimal solution for many. Integrated into the conceptual structure of the advertising agency, the target group approach is developed and your production is realized in line with your corporate identity. Distribution via the latest multimedia channels is ensured, as is creative integration into your trade fair booths or event productions as pre-produced programs or as live productions, including streaming services.

Talk to us about it. We are happy to get AKTIV for you.

Beispiele unserer Arbeiten wie auch redaktionelle Informationen und Beiträge zu den von AKTIV betreuten Messen finden Sie auf unserem YouTube-Kanal: xlxlxl

Werden Sie AKTIV

Kontaktieren Sie uns.

Einfach nur Hallo, oder besprechen Sie gleich ihr Projekt mit uns.