We talk a lot about trail cameras on this site, but you don’t hear frame rate talked about too often with trail cameras because it isn’t much of an issue since so many trail cameras have similar specifications. However, with the advent of trail cameras that are capable of recording videos in 4K the number of frames per second, or fps, is starting to be mentioned more frequently.
So let’s unravel some of the most common mysteries or questions that most people have about frame rate so you can make an informed decision as a consumer when you shop for trail cameras or any other camera that can record video.
So What is Frame Rate?
When we talk about frame rate, we are referring to the number of images or “frames” that are being captured per second. You can think of frame rate like a flipbook where the individual pictures appear to be one continuously moving image when you flip through the book fast enough. If you are not familiar with what a flipbook is here is an example:
In the world of digital cameras, higher frame rates mean that the camera is capturing more individual frames (images) per second.
What Frame Rates Are There To Choose From?
When thinking about videos and frame rates most of use think back to the movies and television shows that we watch for entertainment as a reference. The most common frame rates that you come across as you watch television are 24fps, 30fps, and 60 or more frames per second. There are also some lower frame rate options that are used in things like security cameras.
The correct frame rate to use when recording video depends on what you are recording. So let’s dive a little deeper into the different frame rate options so you can better understand what they mean and when to use them.
When you think of movies you are thinking about 24fps. This has been the standard since the 1920’s and while people have experimented with making theatrical films with faster frame rates, such as Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit in 2012, which was shot at 48fps, they have usually received mixed reviews.
While some people say that movies shot at higher frame rates seem more real and immersive, especially during action scenes that are less blurry, other people say that higher frame rates make the film look like it is shot on a camcorder and makes the sets look bad. There were even those people who reported getting motion sickness when watching The Hobbit in 3D. Either way, either because it is better or because we are used to it, 24fps seems to be the frame rate that is preferred by most people for movies.
In any case, 24 frames per second provides pretty good quality video as many television shows are made at this frame rate and it is regarded as the frame rate that looks the most cinematic.
This is the standard for live soap operas and live television shows including sports. Most trail cameras and video recording apps for smartphones will have 30fps as their default frame rate.
The additional frames per second, as compared to 24fps, allow you to record faster action without the subject looking blurry or the video feeling choppy.
60fps or Higher
Typically 60fps and higher frame rates, like 120fps and 240fps, are reserved for slow motion video. Once the videos at these higher frame rates are recorded they are played back at 24fps or 30fps to give you that smooth feel as you watch it in slow motion. The higher the frame rate of the original recording the more you can slow the video down before it starts feeling choppy or blurry.
Frame Rates of Less Than 24fps
If you look around you can find lots of examples of video that is recorded at less than 24fps, such as 15, 8, 10, and even 1 frame per second. These slow frame rates are often found on security cameras that have to record and save immense amounts of video. Recording fewer frames per second helps to reduce the amount of storage space needed to save all the video files.
Videos at less than 24fps are certainly not as pleasurable to watch as they will look increasingly choppy the more the frame rates are reduced. However, the key thing you want to remember, especially if we are talking about security video, is that you want to have enough frames per second to allow you to pause at the exact moment that shows you the details you are looking for. Having a video with too few frames per second may prevent you from doing that.
Can You Really Tell a Difference Between Different Frame Rates?
If you start with a frame rate as low as one frame per second and then go up to 8fps, 10fps, and 15fps you will notice a significant difference as you step up to the next higher frame rate. This is especially true if the camera is trying to record any fast moving objects as the higher frame rate videos will have a lot less shudder to them and have a lot more clarity.
Once you get up to 24fps most video looks pretty smooth and crisp. As you move up to 30fps and beyond the differences between frame rate speeds become smaller and smaller with some people being unable to detect or appreciate any differences at all.
To illustrate the difference that frame rates can make to a video recording we have an example using a camera that is watching traffic. It recorded four different video clips, each at different frame rates. The examples used are at 8fps, 15fps, 30fps, and 60fps.
The other interesting thing you will notice if you try and stop the videos is that regardless of how many frames per second you are recording at, the quality of the image remains good, despite and shuddering that you might see when watching the lower frame rate videos. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
Here is an image that was captured from the 8fps video:
Here is an image that was captured from the 60fps video:
So as you can see even when the individual frames are good quality images, the viewing experience when watching a video can be negatively impacted if the frame rate isn’t fast enough.
Do Trail Cameras Record Video at 60 fps or Higher?
As discussed earlier, recording at something that will be viewed in slow motion requires frame rates of 60 fps or greater. So unless you are recording videos of very fast action that you are planning to watch exclusively in slow motion, paying extra for a camera that has the capabilities to record at 60 or more frames per second is probably overkill. You simply won’t appreciate or need it.
Furthermore, having a trail camera that can record video at 60fps or higher frame rate would have other unintended consequences.
First of all, each of the additional frames (images) that you get in higher frame rate videos need to be stored. This means that the SD cards will fill up faster, which can be an even bigger issue with 4K cameras where each frame contains a lot more information. So if you were to have a trail camera that could record at these higher frame rates you would need to check your trail camera a lot more frequently, which isn’t always the best idea, or buy more much expensive memory cards that can store a lot more data (assuming the camera would support these higher capacity cards).
Beyond any possible storage issues, another unintended consequence is that if you were to manufacture a trail camera with the capability to capture video at 60fps or greater you will have to put more expensive components into the camera. Using these higher-end components would obviously drive the price up. The problem with this is that since most trail camera users would never need this higher frame rate capability they really don’t want to pay extra money for it.
Why is Frame Rate Important for 4K Trail Cameras?
If you are buying a 4K trail camera, you are probably doing it because you want or need a trail camera with the clearest video you can find. As we have already learned, the frame rate of a video doesn’t impact the clarity of individual frames within it, but it can impact the “watchability” of the videos, especially if the frame rate is below 24fps.
That said, most people who are recording videos with their 4K trail cameras look forward to being able to view crisp smooth videos. People who have made the additional investment to buy a 4K trail camera typically want more than needing to stop the video in order to be able to get a clear image. If that is all they wanted they would probably just set their camera to photo mode and be done with it. So getting a trail camera with a frame rate that is fast enough to produce clear videos that don’t look choppy is pretty important for most buyers.
What to Look For When Buying a 4K Trail Camera?
There are lots of things to consider when you are deciding which trail camera to buy. There are a ton of possible features and specs to consider and choose from and the ability to record video in 4K is just one of them. However, if you are looking at buying a trail camera that has 4K capabilities there are two things that you should pay special attention to.
Frame Rate (fps)
As we have been discussing, even with all of the pixels and detail that can be captured in each frame of 4K videos, the “watchability” of these videos can be poor if the frame rate is too low. Obviously, it would be nice to have 4K videos that don’t “shudder” or look “choppy” when you watch them so look to see what frame rate the camera is capturing video in.
As we mentioned above, you really want to have a camera that can record video at 24fsp or faster if you want the video to look smooth (ideally 30fsp). Luckily, most trail cameras these days record 1080p videos at 30fps, with a few even offering the option of 60fps at 1080p. However, things start to change in terms of frame rate once you take a step up to cameras that can capture 4K video.
When looking at 4K trail cameras you will see all sorts of frame rates when recording in 4K. You will see 30 and 24 frames per second, but you will also see frame rates as low as 15 and 10 frames per second.
The thing to be aware of is the fact that 4K cameras with lower frame rates will probably have a higher frame rate, typically 30fps, when recording 1080p videos. So knowing that when you set up a trail camera you have different options to choose from when deciding what resolution you want a trail camera to record video in, you want to confirm that when you see the frame rate listed for a 4K camera that it is referring to the frame rate for when it is recording video in 4K.
What Size Memory Cards It Can Accommodate
Remember that 4K videos contain a lot more information that needs to be saved. That means that the camera’s memory card will fill up storage space a lot faster when storing 4K videos. If the camera can only accommodate the standard 32GB memory cards that most rail cameras use you will find that you will constantly have to check the camera so the card doesn’t fill up. This is especially true if you plan on posting the camera in a busy area and/or set it up to take longer video clips.
You will find 4K trail cameras out there that can accommodate SD memory cards up to 512GB, which will allow the camera to be left a long time unattended without having to worry about the memory card filling up. Regardless of how large of a memory card your camera can use, our suggestion is to buy the largest capacity card your camera can accommodate.
Final Thoughts – What Frame Rate Should Your Trail Camera Have?
There is nothing the matter with getting a trail camera that records video at less than 30 or 24fps. You just need to be aware of the performance limitations of a camera that records videos at a lower frame rate, just like you would want to know how any other feature or spec impacts what a trail camera can do.
So if you are planning on posting a lower frame rate trail camera by a food plot, feeder, or other places that don’t have a lot of fast-moving action you will probably be just fine with the results it gets for you. However, if you are not sure about the setting where you plan on using the camera or know that there will be a lot of fast-moving objects in the area you plan on placing it you will probably be happier with a camera that records at 30 frames per second.