At a CSC meeting in November last year at Eyes Post, Jim Hardie mentioned about the importance of proper framing chart information when transferring film to video. After that meeting, Richard Stringer CSC did some research and realized proper pre-made charts were hard to find, so he set to work developing his own framing or “rack leader” chart (see product release). He had already designed a resolution chart system in 1997, so he used the same name - Target - for this new product. This article reviews some points Richard discovered while developing his chart, which CSC members might find useful.


- To define the principal frame format being recorded so that the frame composed during production is properly rendered in the many steps encountered in post production.
- To match camera framing on multi camera shoots, especially when productions are shot by different crews, in different locations using different cameras, or separated over a long time.
- To get feedback on any cutoff or loss of information caused in post production or transmission.
- To set guidelines for any format combination you have to deliver - for example, shooting widescreen but also composing for 4x3 TV.
- Troubleshoot problems within a viewing system, like ground glass selection errors, mismatches on multi camera shoots, improper mounting of the ground glass, and inaccurate or wrong choice of video viewfinder markings.
- To compare reflex or video framing to other non reflex or optional viewfinder systems.
- Film production insurance policies require that all equipment be fully tested before production begins. Shooting frame tests is the best way to establish proper image references before any costly misunderstandings occur during the post path.


Film people have always looked at frame or aspect ratios in how much longer the horizontal length is compared to the vertical sides. If the frame was a square box it would be described as one to one (1:1). When 35mm was invented, the frame worked out to be 1.37 to 1 - this was called “academy frame”. When shooting for TV, framing was adjusted to television’s 1.33:1 format. Some other significant film formats are Super 16mm (1.66:1), standard widescreen at 1.85:1 and anamorphic widescreen at 2.35:1.

Video engineers thought they would try to be different. They looked at the TV’s 1.33:1, and thought “if we call the vertical side 3 units, that makes the horizontal 4 units” - so they called it 4 by 3 (4x3). Same thing (4 divided by 3 = 1.33) - but different. When television decided to go widescreen, they also wanted to be different from the film standard of 1.85:1. So they picked 16x9. If you do the math 16 dived by 9 equals 1.777... or 1.78:1 in film language - not quite as wide as 1.85:1. One wonders why it’s not written 16/9 (dived by), but the accepted standard form is 16x9 with the multiplication sign. The common TV frames are 4x3 (1.33:1), 14x9 (1.55:1) which is a more in-between widescreen used in letterboxing, and 16x9 (1.78:1).

One thing going for the film system is accuracy. Any format can have a number. If video people wanted to define 1.85:1 in video terms, it would be 16.65x9! This might seem very confusing, but it keeps students who are new to the industry busy having to learn all these numbers to be accepted into show bizz!


Framing charts are a traditional tool for the motion picture industry. Originally the term “rack leader” was given to a frame chart on film prints so the projectionist could “rack” the proper fame into view as the projector did not discriminate which of the four perforations was the frame edge. Without a frame reference, the projectionist would not be sure where the exact edge of frame was or which projector mask (the format “window”) to use.

Now, with film transfer to tape or digital, frame charts are even more important, as there are many formats within the “canvas” of a film frame, especially in 35mm. Frames can be allocated to the Academy area (off to one side), or the Super 35 area (using all the space into the sound track area).

There are many ground glass framing options for Super 35mm: you could choose 4x3 TV frame or widescreen, either centered vertically or “offset” to use a common top of frame. You might shoot Super 16mm 1.66 but only compose for 1.85 within that frame. You must define the limits of your framing with a chart.

The issue of more than one format being used in one production calls for major compromises and this becomes an operator’s nightmare. So the operator has to keep the main action in the primary coverage areas and minor details in other areas. Mark Woods, a DOP in California, who has written articles about formats, has heard rumours about a new standard to avoid multi framing problems called “K” frame. This involves a fixed frame format halfway between 16x9 and 4x3, then squeezing the image for NTSC 4x3 broadcast and stretching out for widescreen 16x9 distribution. Actors would probably not like to have pounds added on like that, so I doubt it will ever happen!


Video production has not been in the habit of using frame charts. The belief is that the frame is defined and set in place - unlike film which has many frame boundaries. But now that video is using a variety of frame formats, a frame chart is more useful. First of all, it defines the format you have chosen and communicates this to post production. An accurate frame chart will help in marking special limits on the various monitors used in production and post production, and therefore keep everybody on the same page. A frame chart is essential when transferring video to film, because the specific film format should be defined and there can be additional cutoff during the transfer process which should be evaluated with a chart.

In video, framing can be analyzed by checking the viewfinder and / or outputting to monitors, the larger the better. Monitor cutoff information can be noted (in underscan setting). This information will be helpful in choosing the viewfinder “safety zone” markings in the camera’s menu. If video projectors are to be used, the cutoff should be checked. The cutoff limits must be considered to be the realistic edges for the operator who is framing the shots.


“Cutoff” is the term for lost information due to various post production elements. Projector gates and theater screens can cut into the frame. Blow ups and other post processes like video to film will effect cutoff. Television images are cutoff at the edges, depending on the style of television set, video projector or computer monitor. There are many variables here and even though televisions have improved, we still use the older standards which are set at 90% safe action and 80% safe title. “Safe action” and “safe title” refers to the center area not affected by the maximum amount of cutoff. “80% safe title” means that critical information like titles should stay within a 20% boundary or you might not see all of it. Recent television sets have less cutoff, but are still unpredictable as they might be off in one direction more than another.

With letterbox distribution, top and bottom might have less or no cutoff compared to the side edges because the picture has a black matte top and bottom but the sides are still susceptible to monitor cutoff. But when that image is shown on a full widescreen TV, top and bottom will then be effected by monitor cutoff.


You have to decide on the principal format to be transferred and/or viewed in editing. This should be your primary and only frame you should shoot with a chart for use by the transfer and editing personnel. If you do not have any information, line up to the widest limits in your viewfinder and note the format details on the slate.

You do not have to record all the markings in your viewfinder. You only need to record the frame markings that will be useful in the post path or that will help you interpret specific framing issues that concern you.

If you are shooting widescreen film formats like Super 16mm, 1:85, or anamorphic, but want to distribute in 4x3 TV for now, you should probably transfer the wider format now and adjust to 4x3 in the final conform. That way, you get to review all the frame for any problems - unwanted items like equipment in the shot, etc. Sometimes the producers have decided different format priorities and that will influence the framing decisions.

You might want to frame for TV transmitted rather than the full camera frame. But be careful because choosing a smaller TV frame might cause transfer facilities to reduce or blow up the image which will effect reframing in the future. Indicate your intentions by proper slating.

Some operators might want to transfer only the principle format they are composing for - which might mean framing for 4x3 TV safe action only, especially on commercials. Sometimes a smaller inside frame like safe action is chosen to give room to recompose in post. You might require that TV safe on the chart be lined up with TV safe guidelines on the scanner, rather than the full frame.

As you can see, there are many choices, but it is essential that the selected format be clearly chosen, shot, and especially slated and/or conveyed to the transfer facility.


It is essential that the camera be centered to the chart. If your lens is not centered, you will see a “keystone” effect, where the sides of the frame are not parallel. Longer focal length lenses or the telephoto end of a zoom is best for flat line results, although be prepared for some amount of distortion, especially with the horizontal lines. Take time to line up the viewfinder markings with the chart lines correctly and always focus before lining up, as focus can change image size. With video, the viewfinder is the best framing reference - monitors might not agree.

Head slate the test roll or tape separately with details like production company, production title, test roll number, personnel and date. Examples of slating on the chart itself would be: production title, camera type or number, original film or tape format shot, specific ratio being recorded, TV cutoff margin requirements or any other special instructions.

Shoot the chart for at least 30 seconds. Tests to be projected should be 60 seconds or more. Do not simply presume that a freeze frame can be used in post - a running image is best.

Some productions require a framing chart to be shot once at the beginning of the shoot, while others might require a chart to be shot at the start of every day.

When transferring film to tape or disc, the colorist uses the chart to set up the proper framing position. The colorist should be informed of the roll # and the exact location of the chart and that section of film should be kept available for additional transfers of that show. Framing footage should also be accessible down the post path to the final online product. A film loop can be made or have a separate transferred tape always available.

Denny Clairmont of Clairmont Camera gave me a good tip for checking film print formats. After the chart is shot, the film image should be confirmed using a piece of alignment film that is a known standard like SMPTE RP 40. Use a tape splicing block that has registration pins so the alignment film and the camera test film can be compared precisely, and this way, you can confirm that the film image is in the proper position.

back to top

If you wish to post a memorial message on this site or send a message
to Richard's family, please email