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4:3 vs 16:9 – Which Aspect Ratio is Best for Videos & Photos?

Are you undecided between shooting in 4:3 vs 16:9? These two aspect ratios seem to divide photographers and video-makers.

If you’re on the fence regarding which one is better for your videos, photos and social media posts, this article can help. 

Let’s take a closer look at these two aspect ratios 4:3 vs 16:9 in our guide below.

Which is Better Aspect Ratio: 4:3 or 16:9?

There isn’t one correct aspect ratio. You can use a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio when you shoot a video or take photos, and neither choice is wrong.

The decision is made depending on what you want to fit in the frame, your artwork’s final support, and ultimately, your style.

So, let’s see how you can choose between both aspect ratios.

Photography

While 3:2 is the standard for a 35mm film and, therefore, a full-frame sensor, the aspect ratio 4:3 is more common for taking photos. This is the aspect ratio of micro four-thirds cameras and some compact ones. 

Some cameras allow you to choose which aspect ratio you prefer. One of the best ways to decide is to know what you will do with your images. If you’re going to print them, what size will they be? If you’re going to share them on social media, which platform will you use?

For example, if you intend to share them on Instagram, that favours a 1:1 format – so something more squared, like the aspect ratio 4:3, would be better. This will allow you to crop less information in the end.

The same happens when you want to print a photo and the original image has a different aspect ratio to the paper and the frame. The difference in width or height needs to be solved in one of two ways:

The first one is to fill the paper, which means cutting parts of the photo. The other one is to keep the entire image and have two white stripes either on the top and bottom or left and right of the picture – depending if it’s landscape or portrait oriented.

On top of the final support, you should also consider what are you shooting. 4:3 is ideal for shooting close-ups and single-person portraits. It also works well for two-people portraits – especially if they are a couple, because it gives an intimate shot. 

Also, because you can fit more information vertically, it’s a good format to give a sense of depth.

Of course, you can always make the photographs with the full resolution of your camera and crop the photo in post-processing to fit the paper or platform you’re aiming for.

However, this can mess with your original composition, and you might lose some valuable information if it was close to the edges. 

You should also read our guide on the most common frame size for photos so you can choose the right aspect ratio when printing and framing your favourite pictures..

Video

On the other hand, a 16:9 aspect ratio is more common for video because, as a general rule, this is the most popular aspect ratio of computer monitors, tablets, smartphones, TVs, etc. 

This wasn’t always the norm. If you’ve ever seen home televisions from before the early 2000s, you’ll notice they’re almost squared – they had an aspect ratio 4:3.

So, when you see an old TV show on a new TV set, you’ll notice black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. You can also see the black bars when a filmmaker shoots in the aspect ratio 4:3 for artistic reasons.

In any case, a widescreen format became the norm after the 1960s, and the 16:9 aspect ratio became the standard definition for digital HDTV Full HD and SD – which is why all displays are now like that.

Since you can fit more information horizontally, this is better for when you shoot video establishing scenes and groups with more people.

This also means that when you have a single person or element in the frame, there will be a lot of background. To solve this, you can use set design and composition – for example, frame within the frame or over-the-shoulder shots. 

  • Are most TVs 16:9 or 4:3?

TVs had a 4:3 aspect ratio in the past. If you remember seeing one of them, they look almost squared. However, most TV sets sold today are 16:9.

YouTube has an aspect ratio of 16:9 to fit most computer screens and smartphones. You can upload a video with a different aspect ratio, but it will be automatically changed to fit the viewer’s device, and this could mean that important parts of the image might get cut off. It’s better if you upload it directly at 16:9.

Why would you use a 4:3 aspect ratio?

The 4:3 aspect ratio is still used in photography because it’s used in Micro Four Thirds cameras, some medium format film cameras (6cm x 4.5cm), and some compact cameras. 

Most DSLR cameras have a 3:2 aspect ratio, but some allow you to change to other aspect ratios. You can choose 4:3 if having a shorter – more squared – composition benefits your subject. This is often the case in landscape photography when you want to show depth. It’s also perfect for single and couple portraits. 

The 4:3 aspect ratio is often referred to as 1.33:1 when discussing film and TV, mainly when it was produced before the 1950s. This was when the term 4:3 became popular in the movie business.

A 4:3 aspect ratio is used to evoke those times of classical films or because it’s better for the composition and the story.  

  • Why do film-makers shoot 4:3?

The 4:3 aspect ratio is making a strong comeback. Each film-maker might have a different reason to use this aspect ratio instead of another. 

For example, the film The Artist uses the aspect ratio to complement the style of black and white silent movies it references.

The same goes for the film The Grand Budapest Hotel – it tells a story in three different timelines. The one set in the 1930s is filmed in a 4:3 aspect ratio. This serves to reference the historical period and help the viewers keep track of the timeline they’re watching. 

  • What is 4:3 aspect ratio in pixels?

The aspect ratio is the proportion between width and height, regardless of the number of pixels. Some popular aspect ratios 4:3 in pixels are:

  • 160 x 120 
  • 320 x 240
  • 640 x 480
  • 800 x 600
  • 1024 x 768
  • 1152 x 864
  • 2048 x 1536
  • 3200 x 2400
  • 4096 x 3072
  • 6400 x 4800

What are Aspect Ratios?

 

The aspect ratio is the proportion between the width and height of the frame. It applies to camera sensors and film in photography and cinema/video/TV. 

  • What aspect ratio are most movies?

The most common aspect ratios in movies depend on when they were made. 

Silent films from the beginning of cinema history were made in 1.33:1. When audio was added, the aspect ratio changed to 1.37:1.

From the 1950s, most films became of a wider format to be more suitable for movie theatres. This gave way to the 2.6:1 aspect ratio of Cinemascope and eventually a variety of aspect ratios. After a while, 1.85:1 became the recommended format.

Nowadays, 1.78:1 has become the standard – you might know it as 16:9. This is the aspect ratio of HDTV and smartphones.

Of course, this isn’t as smooth as it seems. While the differences were solved for television, movies still keep a different resolution and aspect ratio. Most movies are filmed in 21:9, but IMAX uses 14:10 and IMAX digital has an aspect ratio of 19:10.

So, that’s how most movies are currently made unless the filmmaker chooses a different aspect ratio for narrative reasons or personal style. 

  • What is the best video aspect ratio?

The best aspect ratio for video compatibility is 16:9 because most computer monitors and smartphones use it. So, you can be sure that most viewers will see the video as intended. 

However, in terms of storytelling, there isn’t a single best aspect ratio. Some authors prefer 4:3 vs 16:9, and others prefer the opposite – it’s a matter of style.

  • Which aspect ratio is best for monitors?

For monitors, a 16:9 aspect ratio is best. 

  • What aspect ratio are social media videos?

For social media, a 16:9 or 9:16 aspect ratio is recommended to maximise compatibility with mobile phones and computer screens.

  • What aspect ratio is our vision?

It’s difficult to find a definitive answer on this one: some people say it’s closer to 4:3, and others state is closer to 16:9. The best explanation I found for the discrepancy is that the aspect ratio depends on depth. Far peripheral vision is not the same as mid-peripheral vision or near peripheral vision. Also, there’s a variation from person to person. 

  • What aspect ratio is best for gaming?

The best aspect ratio for gaming is considered to be 16:9 due to its wider frame. Of course, it depends on the game. For example, if you’re on a battlefield, you’d want to see the opponent coming at you from the side. A 16:9 aspect ratio allows you to notice this sooner. If you want to go more in-depth about the ‘4:3 vs 16:9 for gaming’ debate, I recommend this article. 

In conclusion, 16:9 aspect ratio or 4:3 – what are the differences?

The first difference is the media. For video, the 16:9 aspect ratio is a more popular choice mainly because it will match most devices where you could play it, thus resulting in a better viewing experience. However, 4:3 is more popular to capture photos. 

That said, we also see images on our devices, so you might consider the 16:9 for certain photography uses – for example, as a banner on a website that occupies the entire width of the screen.

The next difference is your camera – the sensor will have different sizes and aspect ratios. For videos, high-definition cameras will have a 16:9 aspect ratio because that’s the international standard. 

Another one of the differences is the amount of information you can fit horizontally and vertically. The 16:9 ratio has a larger width, making it perfect for group and environmental shots, both for videos and photos.

This is compared with a 4:3 aspect ratio which is ideal for showing depth, framing single subjects, and giving a sense of intimacy.

The last difference is really around style and storytelling.

So, there you have it – you can use either one of these aspect ratios (or even another), as long as it works for you.  


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