From Academic Kids

Missing image
A 32inch CRT widescreen television

A widescreen image is a film image with a greater aspect ratio than the ordinary 35 millimeter frame. The rationale is that, since the human eye has a field of view that extends further to the sides than it does above or below, a widescreen image makes more effective use of the field of view, thereby producing a more immersive viewing experience.

The aspect ratio of a standard 35 millimeter frame is around 1.37:1, although cinematographers may use only the part of the frame which will be visible on a television screen (which is 1.33:1 for standard television). Viewfinders are typically inscribed with a number of frame guides, for various ratios.



Note that aspect ratio refers here to the projected image. There are various ways of producing a widescreen image of any given proportion. These are listed below in the order of popularity.

  1. Masked: the film is shot in standard ratio, but the top and bottom of the picture are masked off by mattes in the projector. Alternatively, a hard matte in the camera may be used to mask off those areas while filming. Once again the picture quality is reduced because only part of the image is being expanded to full height. Sometimes films are designed to be shown in cinemas in masked widescreen format but the full unmasked frame is used for television. A low-budget movie called Secret File: Hollywood, often ridiculed as a collection of bloopers, is actually an example of a film that is always projected wrong. All the lights and microphone booms visible above the actors should be concealed by a projection matte, creating an image that would fill a wide screen for little money.
  2. Anamorphic: used by Cinemascope, Panavision and others. Anamorphic camera lenses compress the image horizontally so that it fits a standard frame, and anamorphic projection lenses restore the image and spread it over the wide screen. The picture quality is reduced because the image is stretched to twice the original area, but improvements in film and lenses have made this less noticeable.
  3. Super gauges: the full negative frame, including the area traditionally reserved for the sound track, is filmed using a wider gate. The print is then optically shrunk and/or cropped in order to fit it back onto release prints with an optical sound track. The aspect ratio for Super 35 can be set to virtually any projectable standard.
  4. Large gauge: a 70mm film frame is not only twice as wide as a standard frame but also has greater height. Shooting and projecting a film in 70mm therefore gives more than twice the image area of non-anamorphic 35mm film with no loss of quality. No major dramatic narrative film has been filmed on this format in almost ten years (the last being the Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet), although big release-films do sometimes strike 70mm "roadshow" prints from 35mm masters.
  5. Multiple camera/projector: the Cinerama system originally involved shooting with three synchronized cameras locked together side by side, and projecting the three resulting films on a curved screen with three synchronized projectors. Later Cinerama movies were shot in 70mm anamorphic (see below), and the resultant widescreen image was divided into three by optical printer lenses to produce the final threefold prints. The technical drawbacks of Cinerama are discussed in its own article. Only one feature film, How the West Was Won was shot in "pure" Cinerama. With the exception of a few films created sporadically for use in specialty Cinerama theaters (very few of which exist), the format is essentially dead. A non-Cinerama (due to differing aspect ratios) three-projector process was famously pioneered for the final reel of Abel Gance's 1927 epic, Napoleon. Consisting of three 1.33 images side by side, the total aspect ratio of the image is 4:1. The technical difficulties in mounting a full screening of the film, however, make most theaters unwilling or unable to show it properly.
  6. 70mm anamorphic: 70mm with anamorphic lenses creates an even wider high-quality picture. (Known as Ultra-Panavision and MGM-65, and most famously used in the 1959 version of Ben-Hur, this system is basically obsolete, although it would likely be technically easy to revive.)

Comparison of Flat, Anamorphic, and Super 35 Systems

"Flat" refers to non-anamorphic films shot with a standard 35mm gate - 1.85 and 1.66 tend to be the most common ratios.



  1. More compact visuals
  2. Sometimes better for films with many interior compositions
  3. Better depth of field than anamorphic
  4. More vertical format; better for taller composition
  5. Simplest system technically and most standardized; therefore has the most equipment at its disposal
  6. Equipment is less expensive and thus better for stunt cameras
  7. Easier to "protect" for video


  1. Inefficient use of negative space; anamorphic uses 59% more than 1.85, for example.
  2. More visible set ceilings (or lack thereof)
  3. Grainier opticals
  4. Greater magnification than anamorphic and more noticeable projector movement
  5. Incompatible with 70mm blowup



  1. Larger negative area lowers grain, improves opticals, and increases sharpness
  2. More interesting compositions possible
  3. Preferred by big action, event, or epic films
  4. Closest to normal human field of vision
  5. Less vertical set design needed
  6. Highest resolution format; still far ahead of HDTV
  7. Most compatible with 70mm blowup


  1. Format most hurt by pan and scan
  2. Close-ups on a single person leave wide areas of the frame open
  3. More action to block out within a wider frame; more extras and/or set design may be needed
  4. Too expensive to use with a stunt camera

Super 35


  1. Better depth of field than anamorphic
  2. Final ratio can be changed between anamorphic and flat later in post-production, if the frame has been adequately protected
  3. Smaller lenses than anamorphic allow the camera to go to tighter places with less weight


  1. When used for 2.35 ratio, has the smallest negative area of any 35mm format, which makes for more grain and magnification.
  2. Grainier opticals
  3. Requires an extra intermediate step of printing in the lab
  4. Prints cannot be struck from the original negative
  5. Full aperture can make dailies difficult to properly project
  6. Grain from the smaller negative must be countered with either slower film stock or overexposure of faster stock. Underexposure can be disastrous.
  7. Pan and scan from a small negative magnifies grain

Widescreen TV

Historically, consumer TVs have been 4:3 and since many U.S. TV viewers seem to prefer to see a TV screen completely filled with image, U.S. TV stations often show widescreen movies with sides truncated, using a technique called pan and scan. Because of this truncation, part of the image is lost. While many modern film viewers consider this a great loss, this has not always been the case: the original standard aspect ratio for films was 4:3 (which is why most television sets are built to that specification), and the switch to a wider format was met with some resistance within the film industry. Today, however, it is solidly the norm.

In Europe, the PAL TV format with its higher number of visible screen lines (576 vs. 483 for U.S. NTSC) means that the low vertical resolution associated with showing uncropped widescreen movies on TV is not as bad, which has resulted in most European TV stations showing widescreen movies uncropped, and in the general unavailability of cropped "fullscreen" DVDs of widescreen movies in the European DVD market. There is even an extension to PAL, called PALplus, which allows specially equipped receivers to receive a PAL picture as true 16:9 with full 576 lines of vertical resolution, provided the stations employ the same system. Standard PAL receivers will receive such a broadcast as a 16:9 image letterboxed to 4:3, with a small amount of color noise in the black bars; this "noise" is actually the additional lines which are hidden inside the color signal. This system has no equivalent in analog NTSC broadcasting.

The past decade has seen a growth in the number of 16:9 TV sets. These are typically used in conjunction with Digital TV receivers, DVD players and other Digital Television Sources. Digital material is provided to widescreen TVs either in High-Definition (HDTV) format, which is natively 16:9, or as an anamorphically compressed Standard-Definition picture. Typically, devices decoding digital Standard-Definition pictures can be programmed to provide anamorphic widescreen formatting, for 16:9 sets, or letterbox and pan & scan formatting for 4:3 sets; however the pan & scan mode can only be used if the producers of the material have included the necessary panning data, if this data is absent, letterboxing will be used instead.

See also

External links

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