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Convert 16x9 Video to 4x3

There are two common ways to convert widescreen video into the standard 4x3 format: Letterbox and Pan & Scan.

Letterbox

The letterbox format is so-called because it creates black bars above and below the image which gives the appearance of looking through a letterbox. This is the "pure" method as it preserves the entire widescreen frame. For this reason, letterboxing is preferred by film directors and enthusiasts.

Zoomed and Letterboxed

To convert widescreen to 4x3 in a video project, the footage is simply imported and reduced in size until it fits the 4x3 frame.

Pan and Scan

Pan and Scan is the traditional method of displaying widescreen content in broadcast television and old VHS movies. The widescreen image is cropped at the sides and only the main part of the image is shown.

Pan and Scan

This method has the advantage of utilizing the entire frame, but the disadvantage of losing parts of the original image.

There are two ways to create a pan and scan video:

  1. Crop the entire video and leave the centre 4x3 image. Technically, this is not "pan and scan" — it's just a cropped image.
  2. As the video progresses, the editor constantly adjusts the cropped image left and right to display the most important part of the image (panning and scanning). This requires much more effort but results in much better framing.

Recommendation

We recommend the letterbox format in most cases. It's the only faithful way to present widescreen material in 4x3.

However there are some cases where pan and scan works quite well. If you can use this method without losing important elements of the composition, it can be worth considering. In particular, if you shoot the widescreen footage yourself, you can often shoot using 4x3 safe framing. This means you plan the footage to work in either aspect ratio (but this still often involves compromise).

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