Detecting Frame Rates

This experiment was inspired by the shutter speed experiment. I wondered if there are other parameters of a (video) camera that I could find out with the Blinkenlight Shield.

The basic idea is similar to the power grid monitor experiment. I will sweep the LEDs with the expected frame rate. If the filmed picture stays stable then the frequency matches the frame rate. If it moves in the direction of the sweeping phase then the frame rate is below the sweep frequency. In the case it moves backwards the frame rate is higher than the sweep frequency.

As in the power grid monitor experiment this is quantitative. The motion in the film will happen with the difference of the sweep frequency and the frame rate. This will allow to infer the frame rate at a much higher precision than whatever the camera says. Thus I will be able to tell if the frame rate matches the nominal rate and if it is stable over time.

Here is the code.

//  Copyright 2012 Udo Klein
//  This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify
//  it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
//  the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
//  (at your option) any later version.
//  This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
//  but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
//  GNU General Public License for more details.
//  You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
//  along with this program. If not, see

// Configuration for supported target frequencies
// Notice that increasing the frequencies may increase the sampling error.
// Decreasing the frequencies below 13Hz will not work out of the box
// because timer1 has only a 16bit counter.
const uint8_t frequency[] = {15, 24, 25, 30, 50, 60};

#include <EEPROM.h>

uint8_t get_next_count(const uint8_t count_limit) {
    // n cells to use --> 1/n wear per cell --> n times the life time
    const uint16_t cells_to_use = 128;

    // default cell to change
    uint8_t change_this_cell  = 0;
    // value of the default cell
    uint8_t change_value =;

    // will be used to aggregate the count_limit
    // must be able to hold values up to cells_to_use*255 + 1
    uint32_t count = change_value;

    for (uint16_t cell = 1; cell < cells_to_use; ++cell) {
        uint8_t value =;

        // determine current count by cummulating all cells
        count += value;

        if (value != change_value ) {
            // at the same time find at least one cell that differs
            change_this_cell = cell;

    // Either a cell differs from cell 0 --> change it
    // Otherwise no cell differs from cell 0 --> change cell 0
    EEPROM.write(change_this_cell, ((uint16_t) + 1) % count_limit);

    // return the new count
    return (count + 1) % count_limit;

    static int8_t phase = 0;

    digitalWrite(phase, LOW);

    if (phase > 19) { phase = 0; }

    digitalWrite(phase, HIGH);

void setup_timer1(const uint8_t target_frequency) {
    // Run with n = 20*target_frequency Hz 
    // We want 20 phases per period, each phase will last 16 000 000/(n*20)
    // Since gcd(n, 16000000) == 3 for the frequencies (15, 24, 30, 60) the generator may be somewhat to slow.
    // For example for 60 Hz (the worst case) we will have 16 000 000 - 60*20*floor(16 000 000/60/20) == 400.
    // Thus the worst case error is at most 400 ticks per second or 25ppm.
    // Since 25ppm is in the order of magnitude of the crystal's deviation we will not compensate for this.
    // For the other frequencies gcd == 0 and thus there is no error but the crystal deviation.

    // disable timer1 interrupts
    TIMSK1 = 0;

    // Mode 4, CTC using OCR1A | set prescaler to 1
    TCCR1A = 0;
    TCCR1B = (1<<WGM12) | (1<<CS10);

    // Set OCR1A for running at 20 times the frequency to cater for the 20 phases    
    OCR1A = (F_CPU / (target_frequency*20));

    // enable match interrupts
    TIMSK1 = 1<<OCIE1A;

void visualize_frequency(const uint8_t target_frequency) {
    // lower decimal digit of target frequency
    for (uint8_t led=0; led<10; ++led) {
        digitalWrite(led, led< target_frequency % 10);
    // higher decimal digit of target frequency
    for (uint8_t led=0; led<10; ++led) {
        digitalWrite(led+10, led< target_frequency / 10);

void set_prescaler(const uint8_t prescaler) {
    // ensure we do not get interrupted during prescaler manipulation

    // prepare to set clock prescaler: write CLKPCE bit to one and all the other to zero
    CLKPR = 1<<CLKPCE;
    // set clock prescaler immediately after preparing to do so
    CLKPR = prescaler;


void visualize_scan_direction() {
    const uint8_t clock_prescaler_1   = 0;
    const uint8_t clock_prescaler_2   = 1;
    const uint8_t clock_prescaler_4   = 2;
    const uint8_t clock_prescaler_8   = 3;
    const uint8_t clock_prescaler_16  = 4;
    const uint8_t clock_prescaler_32  = 5;
    const uint8_t clock_prescaler_64  = 6;
    const uint8_t clock_prescaler_128 = 7;
    const uint8_t clock_prescaler_256 = 8;

    // this will take 80ms * 32 = 2.56s

void set_all_pins_to_output() {
    DDRD = 0b11111111; // set digital  0- 7 to output
    DDRB = 0b00111111; // set digital  8-13 to output
    DDRC = 0b00111111; // set digital 14-19 to output (coincidences with analog 0-5)

void setup() {
    uint8_t target_frequency = frequency[get_next_count(sizeof(frequency)/sizeof(frequency[0]))];    

void loop() { }

As you can see the code borrows heavily from the power grid monitor experiment. I only added some additional code to be able to switch between the most typical frame rate frequencies. The “get_next_count” function needed for switching is from the wear leveling experiment.

The only thing that I added for this experiment are the functions visualize_frequency(), set_prescaler() and visualize_scan_direction().

Let’s begin with the visualize_frequency() function. It will split the target_frequency value into a high and a low digit. Then it will light as corresponding set of LEDs. Thus after each reset the sketch can use it to display the new target_frequency. Otherwise it would be somewhat difficult to keep track what the current frequency setup actually is.

The visualize_scan_direction() function will use the set_prescaler() function to prescale the system clock by a suitable factor (I choose 32). Thus it will divide the system clock by 32 making everything slow down. Since it is called after the interrupts are initialized and running this will make the LEDs sweep 32 times slower and thus easily visibile, especially their direction. Notice that the 80ms delay is also slowed down 32 times thus resulting in a 2.56s delay. After this delay the prescaler is reset back to 1 such that everything runs at the usual speed.

Since I am going to to use this setup for quantitative experiments I verified the frequency accuracy with my frequency counter.

Looks like 30Hz +/- 4ppm

As you can see it deviates only about 4ppm from the target frequency of 30Hz. This is good enough for the purposes of this experiment. Now let’s see what happens if I film the output of the sketch with my DSLR with a frame rate of 30 frames per second.

The video starts with the 15Hz mode. I then reset the setup through the serial port with the auto reset feature of the Arduino till I reach the 30Hz mode (35 seconds in the video). Then it gets interesting. The picture is not at all stable. Instead it moves slowly in the sweep direction. It follows that the frame rate is to slow (40 seconds in the video). With a video editor I measured one full cycle between 0:40 frame 001 and 1:48 frame 029. Thus the cycle length is 68*30+28 frames. During that time the camera should actually have sampled 68*30+29 frames. Instead of 2069 frames it has only sampled 2068 frames. Hence it is sampling at 30 Hz * (2068/2069) = 29.9855 Hz.

This is somewhat surprising. I would have expected either 30 or 29.97 frames per second which are both typical frame rates. But 29.9855 is strange. It is almost exactly in the middle. I will have to investigate this further 😉


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