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 to the height. It simply indicates the orientation of the video and 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.
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.
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’.
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.
So, whenever you watch TikToks or Instagram Stories on your iPhone, know they were likely filmed using 9:16 aspect ratio.
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.
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.
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.
We’ve come to the end of our common examples of aspect ratios.
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.
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.
What is the best video aspect ratio for social media?
Each social media platform requires a different video size. Here’s a handy cheat-sheet:
YouTube: The standard aspect ratio for YouTube is 16:9
Instagram: The 9:16 aspect ratio will work best for Instagram Reels and Stories; for Instagram Live consider 1:1 aspect ratio
Facebook: The best aspect ratios for Facebook are 1:1 and 9:16
LinkedIn: 16:9, 1:1 and 9:16 will all work for this platform
Twitter: The best video aspect ratios for Twitter are 16:9 and 1:1
TikTok: Similarly to Instagram, 9:16 is recommended to fill a standard mobile phone screen
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.
Video aspect ratios matter
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.