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Frames per Second
Why it matters for sports

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October 2014   Better Pictures   Nikon   Canon    Fuji    LEICA   All Reviews


Our eyes perceive time in windows of about 1/30 of a second. These windows have blurry edges, so unlike a camera shutter's instant opening and closing, we see things moving slower than about 30 frames per second as discrete events, and things moving faster as just blurs. (See also Best Shutter Speeds for Water.)

Ideally we'd shoot sports at about 30 frames per second, and we'd catch most of the poses though which we see life happen. At 30 FPS, we'd usually be able to pick out the exact pose we'd like from all those frames.

Hollywood movies are shot at 24 frames per second, which is why we have slight jumpiness. Video is shot at about 60 fields (TV) or frames (HD) per second, which is why live sports events seem to have fluid motion on TV, while NFL newsreels shot on film at 24 FPS have jumpier motion.

When we shoot sports, even shooting at the fastest frame rates offered by DSLRs, 12 FPS in the Nikon D4S and Canon 1D X, we still can't catch every facial expression and juxtaposition in our sports shots. Even at 12 FPS, each frame is completely different.

This is why the more frames we can shoot per second, the more likely we'll be able to catch the front-cover shot we want.

When we cheap-out with consumer DSLRs that only run 6 FPS, we only have half the chance of catching that once-in-a-lifetime action shot as we would at 12 FPS.

Here's a series shot at 8 FPS on the Nikon D2Hs, the best low-budget sports camera available today (about $300 used if you know How to Win at eBay):


Katie playing Pickleball Katie playing Pickleball Katie playing Pickleball Katie playing Pickleball Katie playing Pickleball


These 5 frames were shot at 8 frames-per-second. The last frame was shot 500 milliseconds (a half-second) after the first. Each frame is 125 mS or 1/8 second apart, and of course you get the last frame at the end.

Each frame is completely different from the others. As you can interpolate mentally, even twice as fast at 16 FPS every frame would still be completely different.

If DSLRs could shoot at 24 FPS or 30 FPS, pro sports shooters would buy them as fast as they could.

For now, we make do with 12 FPS, and know that the more FPS you get, the more great sports shots you'll get.

This is why the Nikon D2Hs at 8 FPS is such a bargain for sports shooting, and why the new Canon 7D Mk II at 10 FPS is going to be such a head-turner for sports shooting for everyone who doesn't want to pony-up for a genuinely pro DSLR.

Consumer DSLRs like the 5D Mk III and Nikon D750 are for landscapes and portraits with the occasional amateur sports shoot thrown in, but if your subject is in motion, more frames per second always beats more pixels or dynamic range or higher ISOs.

What's in your picture is always more important than how clean it is. If you have to compromise, always get a camera with as many FPS as you can afford for sports.


Katie tries out Noni's new pickleball court.

Katie tries out the new pickleball court, 26 October 2014. (Nikon D2Hs, Nikon 70-300mm VR at 85mm, f/9.5 at 1/350 at ISO 200, NEF processed in Apple Aperture 3, Perfectly Clear V2.)


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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

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28 October 2014