You might not think of it all that too often but most images are cropped in a specific way. What I mean by that is that they have a set aspect ratio that their dimensions respect. There are tens of different aspect ratio they have been (or are) used in analog as well as digital media. Today, I wanted to write an article to goes over the 5 most popular aspect ratios in photography and cinematography and what they are used for. An aspect ratio is the relationship between the height and the width of an image. For example, a 1:1 aspect ratio gives a perfectly square outcome because, for each pixel of width, there is one of height.

16:9

16:9 is probably the most prevalent ratio in today’s day and age. Most phones, tablet, TVs, and other computers have screen of 16 units of width for each 9 units of height (in a landscape setting, that is). It was first introduced by Dr. Kerns H. Power, who was working at the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers), in the 80s. What’s more is that most cameras these days have the ability to shoot in 16:9, which works wonder to playback on the screens of our lives. The numbers were chosen because the committee had to make a compromise to allow for a more dynamic composition and to allow for a bigger picture with the same height (as opposed to 4:3) If there was one aspect ratio to retain, it would probably be 16:9.

3:2

This one is very dear to the heart of many photographers as it is the original 35mm film’s (or modern full-framers’) aspect ratio. At 24mm x 36mm, full-frame sensors sport this aspect ratio in order to maintain the legacy set by Oskar Barnack - the “father” of the 35mm film who created the first Leica between 1913 and 1914, the first camera to utilize 35mm film. He arrived to using 24mm in height and 36mm in width by simply doubling the height of the regular movie image of that time (4:3 went to 4:6, or 3:2 when turned 90°). Every single full-frame DSLR that are set in RAW capture will output a 3:2 file. That’s why the format is still in such usage even a little more than a full century after it’s creation. 3:2 is “squarer” than 16:9.

4:5

The aspect ratio was used primarily by yesterday’s large (view) format cameras who worked with sheets of film that were, you guessed it, 4x5 inches or even huge 8”x10” ones, which has the same aspect ratio. If you don’t shoot with a cumbersome large format camera, you can still find the ratio in the print industry, where it is still frequently used along with 11:14 and 5:7.

Some cameras allow you to change their aspect ratio, like this Sony a350

4:3

Is an aspect-ratio mainly put to profit in today’s lower-end point-and-shoot cameras or more advanced micro four-thirds or simply four-thirds devices (such as the Panasonic GH4, or the Olympus OMD-EM1). The ratio was worked into these cameras in order to fit the computer monitors of the time, which were exactly 4:3. It is also found in lower-end 645 medium format cameras like the fairly new Pentax 645Z or 645D bodies (keep in mind, however, that digital medium format is overall very high-end). Nevertheless, it first saw the light of day in the 40s and 50s as a movie aspect ratio (referred also as NTSC). Nowadays, analog cable TV channels are still using 4:3 and it is considered as the “Standard” movie format.

2.35:1

The last ratio is employed in the anamorphic film technique. The anamorphic process is anything that requires to stretch a filmed image optically in order for it to fit in a traditional 35mm sensor. Anamorphic lenses are different from their regular counterparts in the sense that they stretch the scene by two times vertically. When imported into a video editor and corrected for the image to look natural (stretching the horizontal by 2), the aspect ratio will be said as “2.35:1”. This one is used in theatrical films almost solely. When you say that something usually has a “movie look”, it may be caused by that quite wide aspect ratio. When an anamorphic film is played back on a regular 16:9 screen, letterboxing will need to occur (letterboxes are the black bars on the top and bottom of your screen when you such movies). A synonym often pronounced to refer to 2.35:1 is CinemaScope because the ratio comes directly from the anamorphic technique pioneered by Century-Fox in starting in 1952 called CinemaScope.

These five aspect ratios are very alive today. You see them a lot more than you might think and they are so prevalent that an image not projected in these would maybe seem kind of odd to a viewer. There are a lot of different aspect ratios, some used, some not much so.

Which aspect ratio would you say is worth adding to this list? Tell me below!

Cheers,

Tristan