Simply Explained: What Is the Difference Between Film and Video?

What is a video? When do you talk about film? Is this about the recording technique? Or just about the final format? Or about the form and thus the question of whether or not to make a feature film? The distinction between these two technical terms once had its origin in technology. Today is different.

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

The word video is Latin and means: I see. That alone is of course no answer to your question, what is a video? This article will show you if there are differences and if so, what they are.

You have to know that

  • The question of what a video is used to be fundamental. Today, due to the technical development, the terms are less and less different in language usage.
  • But the term film still evokes something of Hollywood and the glamorous world of feature films. That is why cinema films are usually still titled as films. At least until they are available online as video.
  • Conversely, videos on the Internet are rarely referred to as films. The exception that confirms this rule is, for example, elaborately produced image videos that are upgraded to an image film.

What is a video?

Until the turn of the millennium, it was common practice to refer to high-quality works as “films” and simpler productions as “videos”. The English word film (German: Beschichtung) comes from the time of the early years of cinema, when film negatives made of nitrocellulose could be coated with a light-sensitive photo emulsion for the first time.

With the invention of video, the first movie-making created a technical alternative for recording moving images on negative material. The development of latent negatives in the laboratory became superfluous. But that was only the beginning:

Videos stink. Movie’s cool!

Video was able to quickly establish itself in the commissioned film business due to comparatively lower costs for film production. The video film therefore quickly became a synonym for commissioned films.

But it’s different with image films. There, the question what is a video became established. a split. Commissioned films for image advertising with high quality standards continued to be called image films and were produced on the same level and with comparable means as feature films and commercials, while simpler works with more profound technical and content requirements were called image videos. Other genres, such as testimonial or CEO videos, are still only called video.

In between there are conceptual head births like video films. These do not make it easier to understand what a video is.

First, the technical quality…

Until late in the nineties, the rule was: If you can afford it, you don’t produce inferior video.

Until the mid-90s, video cameras provided a contrast range that was up to a factor of 40 (!) smaller than that of recordings shot on coated film material. The difference in quality was immediately apparent.

This is why the pecking order of the film industry gave video producers a lower value than film producers. With the change from analogue video to digital video this perception changed.

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

On the one hand, the physical film definitely disappeared from the production process. Until less than 10 years ago, it was common practice to shoot works that had to meet the highest standards on coated polyester (see above, note on contrast range) and then, after development, to digitize them for further processing. For the projection in the cinemas (which, unlike today, was still done classically via a film projector), the video tape was then re-exposed onto physical film in the laboratory.

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

On the other hand, increasingly powerful chips in video cameras forced even established camera manufacturers such as ARRI to switch completely to the new, better technologies. This together with new players in the field of camera hardware, such as RED. Cinema films could now suddenly be produced completely digitally.

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

… then suddenly the content counts again!

Interestingly, however, the terms move apart in the investigation of what is a video, since 2014 increasingly. But this time not because of the technical differences. Rather, they are driven by their content-related characteristics (in new German: by the content).

This is due to the ever increasing and easier availability of more and more videos. The action cam is also partly responsible for the fact that videos again have less to report than once.

Clients, as well as filmmakers and videoproducers, are now again charging their works with different meanings.

Content is King. Distribution is Queen.

Different values from the view of the viewer

The user and viewer today differentiates as follows when asking “what is a video?

  • Videos are quickly filmed by video journalists.
  • Films, on the other hand, are deliberately staged and have the potential to become art.
  • Video productions are made by small crews with a deep division of labour.
  • Video producers are moving image craftsmen (and often also cameraman and producer in personal union).
  • Film directors are talents who, with a large crew, make a feature film unique and unmistakable.
  • Videos are available on YouTube for free. Calls are possible at any time via any Device.
  • Feature films are in a league of their own. To see her, I have to buy a ticket. Or I have to pay on payment platforms like Netflix, Zulu, iTunes or Google Play. Because: Entertainment is not free.

In other words, the production values play an essential role in the question of whether to make a film or a video.

Content is and remains king - it defines the terms of quality
Since 2010, the formula has applied: valuable content = film

Again, what is a video?

As is well known, mass media have given way to media masses. On smartphones, tablets, at the POS and on the Internet, the consumer is flooded with moving images. This is how the trends storytelling appear in practice. More beautiful television than promises. New on all channels, not just TV.

The attention span is just 8 seconds. 3 seconds more than pre-roll clips in online advertising on YouTube, 2 seconds less than the memory of a goldfish …

If the viewer does not succeed in generating attention and motivation for watching on during these 8 seconds, the viewer is gone. This notwithstanding What is a video?

It will therefore be very exciting to see how individual publishing houses can survive the battle for attention without having to copy the extremely cost-intensive editorial and production processes of television stations. Particularly since their implementation can then ensure the quality of the impact to a certain extent. At the same time, this often prevents the necessary flexibility to keep up with the rapid developments in online video communication.

Quite simply: the two species will be more different again in the future.

The Definition of Video

Wikipedia defines video as film loaded onto a magnetic tape or data carrier.

According to this definition, everything uploaded to YouTube channels, regardless of duration, whether VLog or fictional in character, would be a movie and a video at the same time. This may be one of the reasons why this article (as of April 2015) on Wikipedia is currently marked for “term clarification”. It is correct to permanently omit the distribution from the definition in the article, users note this correctly in the source code.

In the long run, in the context of “what is a video?” one can also ignore the aspect of how a moving image production is processed. The same applies to navigation and the difference between calls and retrievals being made only when viewing or before. Also on which medium you choose for the distribution. This is because these processes today are all digital without exception. Codes and source code do not interest. Moving images are not books that can be classified with an ISBN number.

Well, what is a video? The honest answer as to what a video is:

  • From technical point of view, it is the same today as a filmed production.
  • With reference to the content, the designation is a matter of valency.

Film is a more valuable term. A brand loaded with higher value. Who wants to watch a video in the cinema and pay a ticket for it?

Even among professionals, high production values are less trusted in a video. Conversely, in connection with YouTube, one almost always speaks of catsvideos, not of catsfilms. Other genres make use of both types of designations without their reputation suffering as a result. Is a wedding >g id=”gid_0″>video of better quality than a wedding >g id=”gid_1″>film? Probably not.


The technical synchronisation of production processes represents a great opportunity, not only in the clarification of “what is a video”. But only if we remember what the long-term task of moving images in marketing and communication is. to create an effect.

Regardless of how one wants to name the child and detached from what a video is: Both terms are only used to distinguish the attractiveness of the content.

The commissioned film can learn a lot from the feature film here. Feature films have always been content-driven. Wherever technology is or was decisive in feature films (digital effects etc.), it has always served a larger whole: the transport of the plot and the increase of the effect.

Wherever things are changing rapidly, it is not only important to determine what is changing and how, but also to find out how it is changing. But also the one after that, what remains.

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.

About Editorial Staff Filmpulse 211 Articles
Under the designation Editorial Staff Filmpulse, articles appear that are created or edited jointly by several members of the editorial staff.

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