Basic Cinematography

Is Scope 2.4, 2.39 or 2.35 to 1?

Is the cinemascope widescreen format 2.4, 2.39 or 2.35 to 1? What’s the easiest way to remember it, which one should I use for my project, and why?

Is Cinemascope 2.4, 2.39 or 2.35 to 1? Which one should you choose for your project, and why? Let’s find out.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.


The Journey

Complications arise through nefarious decisions and poor compromises. If you don’t care and just want to know the answer, scroll to the next section. Otherwise read on, history in a nutshell:

  • The original motion picture aspect ratio was 4:3 or 1.33:1. Movies were shot this way, and television was designed to conform to this standard.
  • When television threatened cinema, many ideas floated around, one of which was the use of anamorphic lenses to double the size of the frame. 1.33:1 became 2.66:1.
  • To add the audio track on the same print, the ratio had to be trimmed down to 2.55:1.
  • Due to the images being too close together, splices crept in from the negative assembly process (putting the real negatives together for the final print, not the work print). So they trimmed the image further, and got 2.39:1.
  • Since it’s so hard for some people to remember 2.39:1, they also started calling it 2.40:1.
  • What about 2.35 to 1? In between, that too, was used. And since it rhymes so well with 35mm and Super35, most people ‘chose’ to remember that even though widescreen was 2.39:1.

So what is it, 2.40, 2.39 or 2.35 to 1?

Today, it is still 2.39:1. This is all you have to remember. 2.39:1 was ratified as the official widescreen format by the SMPTE in 1970.

To hammer the point home, DCI specifications are pretty clear:

  • DCI 2K Scope: 2048 x 858 (2.39:1)
  • DCI 4K Scope: 4096 x 1716 (2.39:1)

The other DCI profile, called ‘Flat’, is 1.85:1. There’s nothing else. If you’re having trouble remembering 2.39, like many before you, then remember that it is NOT 2.40 or 2.35. It is not the easy numbers. It’s the hardest-to-remember number of three.

Side note: For some strange reason, Red Epic 2K is 2048 x 854 (2.40:1). I wonder why? How does Red expect filmmakers to fill in the extra four lines of pixels for theatrical distribution? If you know the answer to this, please tell me.

2.39 to 1

How does it work with 16:9 HDTV?

If you’re shooting a project for 2.39:1 theatrical distribution, on a camera that doesn’t have that preset built in, then you’re forced to crop to 2.39:1.

However, if your movie is for HDTV television or the web, it has to conform to 16:9 or 1.78:1. In that case, it would be best if you shot on 16:9 (assuming the camera doesn’t have 2.39:1), and just masked off the portions you don’t want. This way, you can slightly reframe on a shot by shot basis.

You also have the advantage of choosing your aspect ratio for aesthetic reasons. Want 2.618:1 (the golden mean)? 3:1? Vertical video? No problem!

That’s all there is to it. To recap:

  • 2.39:1 for Widescreen
  • 1.85:1 for theatrical distribution
  • 1.78:1 (16:9) for HDTV or Web HD

Forget everything else.

Do you have trouble remembering what the widescreen aspect ratio is? How do you deal with it?

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

8 replies on “Is Scope 2.4, 2.39 or 2.35 to 1?”

Hey Sareesh!

Love this article! It helped me clear up some confusion I was having when trying to search for ways of shooting Scope. That said, I would love if you could write something specifically about how to approach shooting in Scope. I’m specifically interested in framing subjects, close-ups, mediums, wides, twos and threes, etc.

Hi Sareesh,

Thanks for your helpful articles. If I wanted to use letter boxing in post afterwards to create the 2.39:1 look from 16:9 footage, are there any practical considerations to keep in mind while shooting? For example, should I leave more headroom so the image, with the black bars put in afterwards, doesn’t look too squished? Or do you shoot and compose as normal with the 16:9 aspect ratio, and then reframe after in post for the widescreen look? I’d appreciate your help on this. Thank you!

Thanks for the write-up. I get so frustrated with half of the filmmaker world thinking 2.35 is 2.39 and vice-versa. I even had a friend try to correct me when I said 2.39! Even Sony can’t figure out that 2.35 is a more than 40-year-old standard, as they include 2.35 frame guides on their mirrorless cameras. On that note, do you happen to know whether the 2.35 frame guides on Sony cameras are indeed 2.35, or rather a mislabeling of 2.39? Thanks for all you do!

Thanks a lot for this useful recap ! There is just one thing that I don’t fully understand (that may be because I’m french) : what is theatrical distribution ? Well, I suppose I see what it means but what is then the difference with widescreen ?
Thanks !

Awesome article, thanks! But following the previous question, when it supposed you have to make the difference between Widescreen and TD? I know the TD is the Academy standard but when we should attend one over the other? Thanks again!

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