A Beginner’s Guide To Aspect Ratios

The aspect ratio of an image describes the proportional relationship between its width and its height. It is commonly expressed as two numbers separated by a colon, as in 16:9. For an x:y aspect ratio, no matter how big or small the image is, if the width is divided into X units of equal length and the height is measured using this same length unit, the height will be measured to be Y units.

In, for example, a group of images that all have an aspect ratio of 16:9, one image might be 16 inches wide and 9 inches high, another 16 centimeters wide and 9 centimeters high, and a third might be 8 yards wide and 4.5 yards high.

Some common examples

The most common aspect ratios used today in the presentation of films in cinemas are 1.85:1 and 2.39:1. Two common videographic aspect ratios are 4:3 (1.33:1), the universal video format of the 20th century, and 16:9 (1.77:1), universal for high-definition television and European digital television. Other cinema and video aspect ratios exist, but are used infrequently.

In still camera photography, the most common aspect ratios are 4:3, 3:2, and more recently being found in consumer cameras 16:9.[2] Other aspect ratios, such as 5:3, 5:4, and 1:1 (square format), are used in photography as well, particularly in medium format and large format.

With television, DVD and Blu-ray Disc, converting formats of unequal ratios is achieved by enlarging the original image to fill the receiving format’s display area and cutting off any excess picture information (zooming and cropping), by adding horizontal mattes (letterboxing) or vertical mattes (pillarboxing) to retain the original format’s aspect ratio, by stretching (hence distorting) the image to fill the receiving format’s ratio, or by scaling by different factors in both directions, possibly scaling by a different factor in the center and at the edges (as in Wide Zoom mode).

Practical limitations

In motion picture formats, the physical size of the film area between the sprocket perforations determines the image’s size. The universal standard (established by William Dickson and Thomas Edison in 1892) is a frame that is four perforations high. The film itself is 35 mm wide (1.38 in), but the area between the perforations is 24.89 mm×18.67 mm (0.980 in×0.735 in), leaving the de facto ratio of 4:3, or 1.33:1. A 4:3 ratio mimics human eyesight visual angle of 155°h x 120°v, that is 4:3.075, almost exactly the same.

With a space designated for the standard optical soundtrack, and the frame size reduced to maintain an image that is wider than tall, this resulted in the Academy aperture of 22 mm × 16 mm (0.866 in × 0.630 in) or 1.375:1 aspect ratio.