What Is the Real Difference Between Film and Video?

What is a video? When do we speak of film? Is it the recording technique that makes the difference? The final technical format? Or the quality? This article highlights differences, origins and terminology. He explains how the two terms are properly applied today. And shows why Wikipedia’s definition for videos is a nonsense.

what is the difference film to video
Quentin Tarantino during the shooting of the feature film “The Hateful 8” | © The Weinstein Company

The word video is Latin. It means: I see. The English word film (German: Beschichtung) originates from the time of the founding years of cinema, when film negatives made of nitrocellulose could be coated with a light-sensitive photo emulsion for the first time.

In one case, the carrier material (film) served to name the medium. In the other, the way one consumes the information (by seeing). Technical developments since the eighties have shaken up this clear demarcation between film and video.

This article explains what the differences are between film and video today.

The difference between film and video

With the invention of video, a technical alternative to recording moving images on negative material was created for the first time in film-making. The development of the films in the laboratory became superfluous. This shifted the boundaries between the two definitions of the term.

Movies have a past. Videos have a future.
Ralph H. Baer, 1994

In commissioned films, video was able to quickly conquer its place due to lower production costs compared to shooting with film as the image carrier. Video films therefore quickly became synonymous with commissioned films. Only in the case of feature films was the technical quality of a video production still considered insufficient for great cinema.

The image film showed a more differentiated picture. There, the question “What is a video?” in the practice of communication, PR and marketing established a dichotomy. Commissioned films for image advertising with high quality standards continued to be called image films. After all, these were produced at the same level and with comparable means as feature films and commercials. In contrast, simpler works with deeper technical and content-related demands were called image videos.

Thus, it became common to refer to high-quality works as “film” and lower-budget video productions as “videos.” At the same time, however, a consensus has been established across the board for some genres to always speak of video: for example, testimonial videos or CEO statements.

Technical quality as a distinguishing feature

Until late in the nineties, the rule was: if you can afford it, you produce on 35MM film. Not on inferior magnetic tape. At that time, video cameras provided a contrast range that was up to a factor of 40 (!) lower than images shot on coated film material. The difference in quality between video and film was immediately apparent.

That’s why video producers were given a lower value in the pecking order of the film industry than film producers. With the shift from analog video to digital video, this perception changed.

On the one hand, physical film definitely disappeared from the manufacturing process. Until a few years ago, it was common to shoot works that had to meet the highest standards on coated polyester. And then, after development, to digitize for further processing. For projection in cinemas – which, unlike today, was still done in the classic way using a film projector – the magnetic tape was then exposed again in the laboratory on physical image carriers using a film imagesetter.

What is a video definition
What is a video? What a movie?

On the other hand, increasingly powerful chips in video cameras also forced established camera manufacturers such as ARRI to switch completely to the new, better technologies. This along with new players in the camera hardware space, for example RED. Motion pictures could now suddenly be produced completely digitally.

The feature films in the cinema thus became video films in technical terms. The use of the two words to distinguish the radiance and the aspect of “what is a video?” had thus become meaningless, as had the calls for differentiation. Both were suddenly the same.

Media masses instead of mass media

Interestingly, the terms film and video have been increasingly distinguished again since around 2014. This time, however, no longer because of the technical specification. But again driven by content quality. This is because of the ever-increasing and ever-easier availability of more and more moving images.

Mass media have given way to media masses. On smartphones, tablets, at the POS and on the Internet, the consumer is really flooded with moving images. This makes it more and more important for filmmakers and video producers to focus on quality – and thus to distinguish high-quality moving images from mass-produced goods again with the label “film” or “film production”.

Distinguishing characteristics and perceptual differences of video and film as seen by the general public:
  • Video films are filmed on the fly.
  • Real movies, on the other hand, are lavishly staged. They have the potential to be art.
  • Video productions are made by small crews with a deep division of labor. Their realisers are moving image craftsmen – and often also cameraman and producer in one.
  • Film directors – conversely – are talents who, with a crew of many, make a motion picture unique and distinctive.
  • What costs nothing is worth nothing: millions of videos are available for free on YouTube.
  • Feature films are not available for free because they are “worth something”. To see them, I have to buy a ticket. Or I have to pay on subscriber platforms like Netflix, Zulu, iTunes or Google Play.

What is a video?

Wikipedia 1 defines video as a film that has been loaded onto amagnetic tape or disc.

By that definition, anything uploaded to YouTube channels, regardless of duration, whether VLog or fictional in nature, would be a movie. And at the same time a video. That’s a lot of mischief! The correct approach is to omit the mode of dissemination from the definition. In the long run, one can also ignore the aspect of how a moving image production is technically processed.

What is a video?

  • Both terms are used today solely to distinguish content appeal. The designation is only an indication of the value.
  • The question of what a video is used to be fundamental. Due to the technical development the terms in the linguistic usage differ less and less.
  • To this day, the term film still resonates with something of Hollywood and the glamorous feature film world. This is how motion pictures are titled as movies. Film is a more valuable term. A brand charged with higher value. Who wants to watch a “video” in a movie theater and pay for a ticket?
  • Conversely, videos on the Internet are rarely called movies. The exception that confirms this rule are, for example, elaborately produced image videos that are conceptually upgraded to image films.
  • From a technical point of view, the terms are no longer linked to a type of production, but are synonyms.
  • High production valus are nevertheless instinctively attributed to the genre of film, even among professionals.
  • Conversely, when referring to YouTube, people almost always talk about cat videos, not cat movies. Other genres make use of both terms without losing their reputation. Is a wedding video better quality than a wedding film? Probably not.

1 Retrieved: April 12, 2016

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

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