Video conversion to images in FFmpeg

FFmpeg, a powerful multimedia processing tool, provides developers with the capability to convert videos into a sequence of images. This process is useful for tasks such as frame extraction, creating image datasets from videos, or generating thumbnails. In this detailed guide, we will explore how to use FFmpeg to convert videos to images, breaking down the process step by step.

  1. Installing FFmpeg:
    Ensure that FFmpeg is installed on your system before proceeding. You can download the latest version from the official website ( or use package managers like Homebrew on macOS or APT on Linux.
  2. Navigate to the Video File Directory:
    Open a terminal or command prompt and navigate to the directory containing the video file you want to convert. Use the cd command to change the directory:
   cd /path/to/video/directory
  1. Execute FFmpeg Command:
    Use the following FFmpeg command to convert the video into images:
   ffmpeg -i input_video.mp4 -vf fps=5 output_%04d.jpg

Breakdown of the command:

  • -i input_video.mp4: Specifies the input video file.
  • -vf fps=5: Sets the frame rate of the output images to 5 frames per second. Adjust this value based on your preference.
  • output_%04d.jpg: Defines the output image filenames. The %04d is a placeholder for the frame number, and the images will be saved as output_0001.jpg, output_0002.jpg, and so on.
  1. Adjusting Parameters:
  • Frame Rate (-vf fps): Modify the frame rate to control the number of images extracted per second from the video.
  • Output Filename Format: Adjust the output filename pattern based on your requirements. The %04d placeholder ensures sequential numbering.
  1. Executing the Command:
    Press Enter to execute the FFmpeg command. FFmpeg will process the video and extract images based on the specified frame rate. The progress will be displayed in the terminal.
  2. Viewing the Output:
    Once the process is complete, navigate to the output directory where the images are saved. Open the generated images using an image viewer to preview the frames extracted from the video.
  3. Customization and Additional Options:
    Explore FFmpeg’s extensive documentation for advanced options, such as specifying a range of frames, setting image quality, or choosing a specific codec. Customizing the command allows you to extract frames with specific characteristics.
  4. Handling Variable Frame Rates:
    If the video has a variable frame rate, use the setpts filter to normalize it before extracting frames. For example:
   ffmpeg -i input_video.mp4 -vf "setpts=1.25*PTS,fps=5" output_%04d.jpg

This command normalizes the frame rate to 5 frames per second.

The video file is composed of the frames that can be saved into the image files with one command, the number of resulting images is a product of the video frame rate and its duration in seconds. For example, if the clip.avi file have a 1-minute duration and its frame rate is 25 fps, then the following command will produce 60×25=1500 images, 25 for each second

ffmpeg -i clip.avi frame%d.jpg

The output directory will contain 1500 files named like frame1.jpg, frame2.jpg, etc. To keep the same length for all file names, we specify the number of appended digits with a number after the % sign:

ffmpeg -i clip.avi frame%4d.jpg

Resizing, cropping and padding images

Images can be resized in a similar way as videos, for example the output of the color video source has 320×240 pixels resolution and can be enlarged to VGA resolution in 2 ways:

  • using the s or size parameter of the color video source
  • using the -s option for the output

For example the next two commands have the same result, orange rectangle of a CIF (352×288) size:

ffmpeg -f lavfi -i color=c=orange:s=cif orange_rect1.png
ffmpeg -f lavfi -i color=c=orange -s cif orange_rect2.png

Converting videos to images using FFmpeg provides a flexible and efficient way to extract frames for various purposes. By following this comprehensive guide, you can use FFmpeg to process videos, extract frames at a specified frame rate, and customize the output based on your specific requirements.

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