Film vs Video vs Digital Media

Defining the terms.

People don’t understand the difference between the three. Do you? If you are talking about film, video, or digital media, then this article will help clarify the these terms are different.

I have been teaching filmmaking for almost twenty years and experienced the change-over from film and video to digital.

There is still a lot of confusion about the use of the terms film, video, and digital media. The terms have combined in our vernacular to refer to almost the same thing. But they aren’t necessarily the same, even though I hear people use them interchangeably.

By being specific in how we use these words, we help shape the use of ‘film’, ‘video’, and ‘digital media’ in popular language.


A film is a story. It could be a narrative, a documentary, or experimental art.

A story on film is shaped by the various elements of moving pictures, photographs, motion graphics, text, music, dialogue, and location sounds.

The term for film comes from a time when we used celluloid (actual motion picture film) with the camera. Film cameras have been around for over 120 years. Using film was expensive because every frame could only be used once and filmmakers had to pay for the developing, workprints, and for the final conformed projection print. The more we shot, the more it cost to make the film.

Then we started using video and terms got convoluted.

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A video camera records audio and pictures in motion. Video cameras are not generally used to take a single picture, as are the primary functions of SLR and DSLR cameras.

When people ask to video something, they want to record an event. Video is simply an inexpensive means of preserving a memory. This could be a family reunion, volleyball game, proud parental moment, or time with friends.

Video cameras first emerged mid 20th century and became commonly used for factual television (news), some documentary, and soap operas. Video cameras were not used for theatrical or most dramatic narratives.

Video was shot on tape until the mid 2000’s, including Beta, VHS, High8, and finally digital tape (which was a nightmare because even a grain of sand could spell disaster for everything recorded on the tape).

Video footage was also edited on tape. The problem was that editing was linear; if you wanted to drop a shot into the middle a sequence, you had to start your edit over from the beginning. And when you edited from tape to tape, the quality lost a generation.

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Digital media is a relatively new word that refers to most recording mediums, including motion pictures. When we say we are going to film or videosomething, we are almost always using a digital device for recording.

Without going into a long explanation, digital media refers to the way content is stored based on a binary recording (1’s + 0’s). Because the audio and visual is broken down into pixelated details, everything about the image can be manipulated.

Not only are cameras and storage now light weight and very affordable, digital media is a revolution because the camera is only the first step in capturing and re-representing the image. No longer are we at the mercy of physical reality to tell a story because we can change, shape, and distort anything that has been digitally captured.

When we ‘video’ or ‘record’, we are doing it on a digital medium. The same is true with professional filmmaking cameras. All of our edited is done digitally on computers. Digital is a revolution that will go down as one of the most significant eras in human history, like the Renaissance and Industrial Revolutions.

Digital mediums have democratized media. We all have the ability to capture anything on digital devices (our phones), edit, and share (through digital networks) photos, video, audio, and text that reflect our experiences (or what we wish our was our experience).

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Note: Can you tell the difference between the three camera? While digital is smaller and lighter, the overall approach and use from film cameras to video cameras to digital cameras hasn’t changed.


To film is to tell a story.

To video is to record an event.

Both are done on media that capture motion pictures and audio digitally.

Murray Stiller,