When watching old movies, you probably notice that they play with black bars on either side of the screen. That’s because the aspect ratio they were shot in was vastly different from that of the modern screen you’ve watched it on recently.
Or when you want to play your favorite DVD and accidentally pick the full-screen option, you’ll soon realize you can’t see half of the movie as it cuts out. But if you change to a widescreen format, you won’t have to miss a thing.
Aspect ratios determine how a video appears on the screen, be it a good old TV or a new social media platform like TikTok. The right aspect ratio can positively affect the viewer experience.
Today, as viewers, we use several devices with different aspect ratios. As more businesses invest in and broadcast video content, it’s essential you know about aspect ratios to choose the correct one for each device and platform.
That’s why we’ve prepared for you the ultimate guide to video aspect ratios. Keep on reading to find out about the most common aspect ratios, why they’re important, which one is best, how to resize your aspect ratios, and more.
So, let’s get started!
What is video aspect ratio?
A video aspect ratio is the video width in proportion its height. It simply indicates the dimensions and orientation of the video as well as its final shape: horizontal, vertical, or square.
Aspect ratios are usually written as x : y and read as ‘x by y’. The first number (x) refers to the width. The second number (y) refers to the height. For example, if the video aspect ratio is 4:3, the number 4 is the video’s width, while 3 is its height.
This is exactly the same when it comes to the aspect ratio of an image. The image’s width would be 4 and the height of an image would be 3.
It’s important to know that neither of the aspect ratio numbers represent the resolution of the video.
Aspect ratio vs resolution: What’s the difference?
Aspect ratio and resolution are closely related metrics, but there are differences between the two.
Essentially, aspect ratio describes the video’s shape, whilst resolution refers to the number of square pixels in the video. The higher the number of pixels, the better the video’s quality.
Here are some key points to differentiate between the two:
- Aspect ratio determines the shape of the video frame, specifying the proportional relationship between width and height. Resolution quantifies the level of detail by specifying the number of pixels in each dimension.
- Aspect ratio remains constant throughout a video, ensuring consistent visual proportions across all frames. Contrastingly, resolution can vary from one video to another or within a video if different parts were shot in different resolutions.
- Aspect ratio affects the overall viewing experience and compatibility with different screens or platforms. On the other hand, resolution impacts the image’s clarity, sharpness, and detail.
Higher resolutions are especially noticeable on larger screens or when viewing content up close. Still, it’s worth noting that resolution alone doesn’t determine the overall visual quality, as other factors like bitrate, video compression, and color accuracy also play significant roles.
Sometimes it might be handy to stick to the lower quality if you need a smaller file size. If that’s the case, you’d record your video at the highest HD streaming quality and use encoding software to make copies at a lower resolution.
There is an easy way to calculate the aspect ratio of a video by dividing the video’s width by height. There are handy aspect ratio calculators out there to help you.
If you wish to calculate video resolution, you simply multiply the video’s width by its height.
When you come across video resolutions, you’ll see numbers like 480p, 720p, 1080p, or 2160p. They can all have the same aspect ratio of 16:9. The only difference between them all is the number of square pixels.
A video shot in 1920 x 1080 resolution would have an aspect ratio of 16:9 as 1920 pixels is 1.7 times the height of 1080 pixels – more commonly written as 16:9. So, a resolution of 500 x 500 would have an aspect ratio of 1:1.
What are the most common aspect ratios?
Depending on where your video will be played, its purpose and intended audience, you’d record it in a different aspect ratio. There’s no one-size-fits all. Video aspect ratios used by marketing professionals for social media will be different to the ones used by filmmakers to create a cinema movie.
It’s unlikely you’d have to use custom aspect ratios as most videos today are played through standard online video platforms.
Here are the most common examples of aspect ratios you can use for your video creation:
The most common video aspect ratio is 16:9, also known as APS-H, with the ‘H’ denoting ‘High Definition’.
Commonly referred to as 1.77:1/1.78:1, this aspect ratio originated during the 1980s and the ‘90s. It gained widespread adoption as the standard for HD TV sets and computer monitors in the 2000s.
Its wide rectangular shape works perfectly with many devices and platforms.
The 16:9 video aspect ratio is classed as the international standard format for online streaming platforms, computer displays, cinemas and TVs. It’s also the standard aspect ratio for YouTube.
If you ever have to live stream your content online, this is the aspect ratio you’ll probably use.
As most devices are compatible with 16:9, including DSLR cameras and camcorders, you’re likely to find it the most cost-effective to create videos using this aspect ratio.
When it comes to resolution, the best one for the 16:9 aspect ratio is 3840 x 2160, otherwise known as 4K or Ultra HD.
A 9:16 aspect ratio is used for vertical videos.
It became popular thanks to smartphones with video capabilities and Snapchat. When Snapchat first introduced vertical video as its default format, it led to the standard adoption of the 9:16 ratio for mobile video content.
So, whenever you watch TikToks or Instagram Stories on your iPhone, know they were likely filmed using 9:16 aspect ratio.
Interestingly, a survey conducted in selected countries worldwide revealed that watching videos ranked among the top activities on smartphones. 61% of respondents reported using their mobile devices to consume video content.
That said, shooting content 9:16 aspect could be beneficial for social media marketers and content creators.
The 1:1 video aspect ratio is the perfect square.
Traditionally, it was used for square television sets (do you remember those?). Now, it’s not so much relevant for film and TV.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s a retired aspect ratio. Thanks to social media, the 1:1 video aspect ratio can often be seen on platforms like Instagram or Facebook. Many users are also sharing videos on LinkedIn using this format.
The 1:1 aspect ratio gives an image its square format. A 1080 x 1080 px image would therefore be a square image with an aspect ratio of 1:1.
The 4:3 video aspect ratio used to be the go-to for TV and computer displays back in the 80s and 90s.
As technology advances and smartphones and HDTVs are the new mainstream, the 4:3 aspect ratio is becoming less common.
However, videos on iPads are still recorded by default in a 4:3 aspect ratio.
Professional photographers will sometimes use a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camera system as a smaller and more compact alternative to full-frame DSLRs. The MFT system uses a Four Thirds sensor, which has an aspect ratio of 4:3.
Interestingly, newer film productions such as “Justice League: The Snyder Cut” were adjusted to a 4:3 aspect ratio for an immersive viewing experience on IMAX screens.
The 21:9 aspect ratio is often referred to as ultra-widescreen or cinematic widescreen as it’s used for movies with an anamorphic format.
21:9, or the anamorphic aspect ratio, gives a film its super-cinematic feel and allows viewers to fully immerse themselves in the 360-degree content they watch.
If you were ever watching a movie and felt like you’re part of it, it was almost definitely filmed in the 21:9 aspect ratio.
While the 21:9 aspect ratio provides an expansive viewing experience, it may require special considerations when displaying content on standard 16:9 screens.
Letterboxing or cropping may be necessary to fit the wider frame into a more common aspect ratio, potentially resulting in black bars on the sides or loss of content.
The 5:4 aspect ratio is commonly used in large and medium format photography.
Some larger computer monitors are also equipped with 5:4 aspect ratio.
The 3:2 aspect ratio has roots in 35mm film and photography. It’s used by crop-sensor and full-frame DSLRs, and for print sizes.
When you’re next buying a photo frame, you’ll probably come across one that’s 6” x 4”, otherwise known as 3:2.
Some small film cameras, consoles, and laptops are still using the 3:2 video aspect ratio, but it is a retired ratio for many broadcasters today.
The 14:9 aspect ratio serves as a compromise between the 4:3 and 16:9 ratios.
Developed based on audience tests conducted by the BBC, its primary use is ensuring adequate picture quality on 4:3 and 16:9 TV.
It’s important to note that you cannot record video in 14:9 since 14:9 footage usually stems from a 16:9 or 4:3 frame.
16:10 was a popular aspect ratio for computer displays and laptops before the universal adoption of 16:9.
It provided a slightly taller display area, which was beneficial for tasks requiring vertical screen real estate, such as document editing, web browsing and coding.
However, in recent years, the 16:10 aspect ratio has become less common in mainstream devices as 16:9 has become the standard.
This shift is largely due to the extensive availability and affordability of flat panel displays with 16:9 aspect ratio.
While 16:10 is less popular now, you can still find some computer displays and tablets on the market utilizing this ratio. For instance, Apple’s MacBook Air still comes with a 16:10 aspect ratio as of 2022.
70mm’s recognition in the late 1950s can be largely attributed to its use in the award-winning picture “Ben-Hur.” Unfortunately, its appeal diminished over the following decades.
Yet, directors such as Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino have spearheaded the resurgence of the 2.76:1 ratio, which displays flawlessly on IMAX screens.
2.35:1 to 2.66:1 (Cinemascope)
Cinemascope was created by the head of research at 20th Century Fox in 1935, revolutionizing the widescreen format. The format pioneered the anamorphic lenses, streamlining the projection process to a single projector.
2.59:1 to 2.65:1 (Cinerama)
The Cinerama format premiered as a response to the rising acclaim of television in the 50s.
In an effort to entice audiences out of their homes and into theaters, Hollywood film distributers introduced Cinerama—a captivating widescreen format that employed three 35mm cameras to project movies onto a curved screen simultaneously.
Remarkably, the Cinerama Dome Theater in Hollywood, CA remains operational to this day, serving as a testament to this cinematic experience.
1.37:1 (Academy ratio)
The Academy ratio offers a subtle variation from the 4:3 aspect ratio dominant during the era of silent films. It was established as the standard film ratio in 1932 with the debut of sound feature films (“talkies”).
Today, it continues to find occasional use in the works of modern filmmakers like Andrea Arnold or Paul Schrader.
Back when cinemas were becoming big, Hollywood shifted to widescreen aspect ratios in attempt to separate the film industry from television.
Therefore, the 1.85:1 aspect ratio is a conventional choice for the majority of feature films and is especially prevalent in the American film industry.
It provides a wider cinematic look while still maintaining a moderate level of vertical space.
The 2:1 aspect ratio made its debut in the 1950s when it was used for the RKO Superscope format.
In 1998, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro suggested a new 2:1 film format called “Univisium” as a compromise between the cinematic 2:39:1 ratio and the 16:9 standard ratio for HD TV.
You can recognize the 2:1 aspect ratio by its ultrawide shots, resulting in a panoramic scene view.
Although it did not gain much recognition, viewers can still notice the 2:1 aspect ratio even in newer content such as Netflix’s House of Cards.
What is the best aspect ratio for your video content?
The most common and optimal aspect ratio is 16:9, however, this doesn’t necessarily and instantly make it the best one. It’s a popular ratio for almost all devices, streaming platforms like Netflix or YouTube, and high definition TVs.
To determine which aspect ratio is the best one for you or your particular content, it’s best to consider where it will be used and who the final audience is.
If your target audience primarily uses mobile devices and social media apps, consider using vertical or square ratios to optimize the user experience.
What’s more, given the rapid changes in technology, it’s wise to consider future compatibility. While 16:9 is widely accepted now, newer aspect ratios may emerge.
If you want your content to be adaptable, consider shooting in a higher-resolution format and leaving room for cropping or letterboxing.
JWP’s solution allows you to set up a fixed or responsive web player for your page. By setting your video player to be responsive, it will automatically adjust its width to match the width of the page it is embedded in.
Subsequently, the height will adapt to the width of the player and keep the aspect ratio intact.
What is the best aspect ratio for social media in 2023?
Each social media platform requires a different image or video size. Here’s a handy cheat-sheet.
Instagram and Facebook
In a global survey conducted in November 2022, 86% of marketing professionals revealed they use Facebook videos as part of their marketing strategy.
When posting photo or video content on social media apps, it’s essential to maximize screen coverage to grab users’ attention. Meta(formerly Facebook) recommends the following ratios for Instagram and Facebook videos:
- Facebook and Instagram Feed posts:
- Use the 1:1 aspect ratio for images.
- Upload videos in 4:5 aspect ratio.
- Stories and Reels
- The majority of social media consumers hold their phones vertically, making 9:16 the ideal ratio.
- Video carousel posts
- Maintain consistency across all videos in a carousel by shooting square videos in the 1:1 aspect ratio.
- Instream video ads
- To fit your ads seamlessly into your videos, Meta recommends using the horizontal 16:9 aspect ratio.
- Meta Audience Network posts
- The vertical 9:16 aspect ratio is optimal for placements within the network.
- Instagram Shop
- Use the square 1:1 aspect ratio when showcasing products on Instagram Shop.
Additionally, Meta offers some useful templates to use across its different platforms and make your content strategy easier.
Similar to Twitter, Threads is a social media app developed by Instagram that focuses on sharing text updates. Nevertheless, Threads users can share visual content.
To achieve the best quality in your Instagram Threads posts, upload videos and images in the 9:16 aspect ratio. In terms of size, your visual content should measure 1080 x 1920 pixels.
TikTok is a video-sharing app created with mobile devices in mind. Currently, the majority of its users access the app through their smartphones. As a result, TikTok suggests that videos uploaded to the platform adhere to dimensions of 1080 x 1920 pixels.
These dimensions correspond to aspect ratios of 1:1 or 9:16, which are the default portrait sizes for most smartphones.
YouTube adjusts the display of videos to accommodate various aspect ratios, depending on the platform and video format. The YouTube video player seamlessly adapts to the size of each video, ensuring optimal viewing.
The common aspect ratio for YouTube videos on a computer is 16:9. Nonetheless, if your video is in a different ratio, the YouTube player will auto-adjust the size to match the video and the respective device.
In some cases, such as vertical videos shot in 9:16 aspect ratio on computer browsers, you may notice white padding added by YouTube, or dark grey if you use the Dark theme.
For ideal results, refrain from adding black bars or padding on your own. This can restrict YouTube’s process of adjusting the video player to the user’s device.
LinkedIn accepts the following aspect ratios for posting video ads:
- Square (1:1): The minimum dimensions should be 360 x 360 pixels and can reach up to 1920×1920 pixels.
- Landscape (16:9): The recommended dimensions range from 640 x 360 pixels to 1920 x 1080 pixels
- Portrait (9:16): The dimensions should fall between 360 x 640 pixels and 1080 x 1920 pixels.
Even so, there is some flexibility within these ratios, as videos can deviate by up to 5% and still fit within the scale.
Conversely, the restrictions for shared videos that are not part of advertisements are less stringent. They can have any aspect ratio between 2.4:1 horizontally and 1:2.4 vertically, allowing for greater creative freedom.
On Twitter, you can share in-feed videos in a landscape or portrait format. However, these formats are only applicable to videos shared directly to Twitter, as opposed to sharing videos from YouTube or Vimeo.
The ideal aspect ratio settings are 16:9 and 1:1. That being said, 1:1 is recommended for optimal rendering and best video output.
The best aspect ratio for Snapchat is 9:16, which corresponds to a vertical orientation.
When it comes to video ads on Snapchat, the platform uses the long-form video format. If you’re a business owner, you have a partnership option that will put your ads in the app’s Discovery section for increased visibility.
Streaming platforms and video aspect ratios
For live streaming, the 16:9 aspect ratio is usually best, but it will depend on the platform you’re using.
When planning on live streaming, bear in mind you’ll have to consider and follow the video streaming protocol, which demands a small file size and a universal playback. You’ll also have to ensure your equipment is compatible with the streaming platform you’re about to use.
You can meet these demands with the 16:9 aspect ratio for TVs, laptops, mobile devices and HTML5 video players.
How to change the aspect ratio of a video?
If your video isn’t compatible with the device or platform it’s going to be viewed on, you’ll want to change it. For example, you may want to change the original aspect ratio of your Instagram Live to repurpose it on TikTok.
There are two ways to change the aspect ratio of your video:
1) Adding black bars
If you want to change your aspect ratio from 16:9 to 9:16, you’ll need to add black bars above and below. This is called letterboxing.
If you want to change a portrait video to display on wide screens or 16:9, you’ll have to add black padding on the left and right. This is known as pillar-boxing.
Whilst you get to keep the entire video during resizing, this might not always look appealing. As such, you may want to go for the second option.
To crop your video, you’ll need an editing tool with cropping capabilities.
You’ll likely choose a preset aspect ratio from the menu and then move the box around to decide which area to display.
This will unfortunately mean you’ll lose parts of the frame from either the sides or the top/bottom borders.
Creative uses of aspect ratio in cinematography
Filmmakers are constantly pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling. Traditionally, filmmakers adhered to the 16:9 aspect ratio, but in recent years, there has been a surge in creative uses of aspect ratio to enhance the narrative.
Here are some innovative applications of video aspect ratio in modern cinematography.
Breaking traditional conventions
Nowadays, directors are breaking free from the confines of standard aspect ratios. By using wider aspect ratios like 2.35:1 or ultrawide ratios like 2.76:1, filmmakers create a larger canvas that immerses viewers.
Contrastingly, narrower ratios such as 1.85:1 or 4:3 can be used to generate a sense of intimacy or claustrophobia, thereby enhancing the emotional impact of the story.
Enhancing visual storytelling
Movie makers are now utilizing different ratios to signify shifts in time, location, or perspective within a narrative. For instance, the Netflix series “The Crown” effectively employs different aspect ratios to distinguish between historical and contemporary timelines. This technique not only helps viewers orient themselves within the story, but also adds depth to the narrative structure.
Evoking emotional responses
As previously mentioned, a vertical aspect ratio is associated with smartphone screens and social media platforms. Contemporary filmmakers often leverage this association to create an immediate connection with the audience, eliciting a sense of intimacy. This technique has been particularly effective in movies like “Tangerine” and “Searching,” which were shot entirely using smartphones and computer screens, respectively.
Aspect ratios can also be employed symbolically to reinforce thematic elements or character perspectives. In the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” director Wes Anderson used three different aspect ratios to represent different time periods and evoke nostalgic feelings associated with each era:
- 1:37:1 for scenes set in 1932
- 2.40:1 for scenes set in 1968
- 1.85:1 for scenes in the modern era
With the rise of VR and AR, aspect ratios have found new applications in creating immersive experiences. Filmmakers and content creators are experimenting with wide, panoramic ratios to enhance the sense of presence and transport viewers to otherworldly realms.
- The aspect ratios of your videos, and equally digital images, are important as they impact your visual storytelling.
In our era of 8K TVs, smartphones and social media platforms, nearly every imaginable aspect ratio can be used to capture memories and nail-biting movies. Whether you pick a cinemascope or the perfect square, always have your audience, device, and channel in mind to provide the best viewing experiences.
So, after all of this, we hope you feel a bit more confident about video aspect ratios.
Consult one of our experts to find out how you can set up a responsive video player with JWP.