Almost every day I hear someone say “let’s film that” or “how hard would it be to film that?” or other similar questions. Even though it’s a minor detail, I feel that it’s important to explain the difference between shooting film and shooting video.

I have several STILL film cameras. I have only owned one motion picture film camera: an old super 8-millimeter camera that my dad used to shoot home movies back in the early 70s. I’ve been around and used many motion film cameras over the years, but in the end, I’ve never shot a motion picture film for profit…


Now, I’m talking about film here—NOT video. There’s a big difference—actually a huge difference—between the two. I’m not so sure that most people realize this, but here are some reasons why understanding the difference is important.


Motion picture cameras were developed back in the late 19th-century. Cameras use light to expose chemically treated plastic, called celluloid, to create an image. A strip of film is comprised of hundreds of individual frames that are stored on a reel. Each frame on the real is moved through the gate of the camera, which is exposed to the subject in front of the lens. The differences in the light and darkness of the subject is what creates the image on the celluloid.


Once the entire real has been exposed it is sent to a lab to be treated with chemicals in a darkroom to become negative or a print. The print is then restrung into a movie projector and played back at the same speed it was originally exposed at. A super cool illusion called the “phi phenomenon” tricks the mind into believing that the moving frames and the image on them are moving when they aren’t actually moving at all.

Video on the other hand, does not use celluloid, does not use chemicals, does not require a lab and creates a digital image that is able to be seen immediately.

Instead of film, digital video cameras have a sensor that captures the light coming through the lens, which then turns the analog light into electrons that create a compressed digital image. The images are contained in a digital file using a compression logarithm known as a codec. Once the file is created, the image can be viewed on any camera or computer that can read the codec format.

Now, you can see why it’s important to know the difference between video and film. For the user, video is much easier to use and manipulate than film. However, this isn’t the only difference and certainly not the only difference beyond the actual process of creating film vs. creating video that makes it more attractive to most people and to contemporary motion picture creators.

Here are four more reasons why it’s important to understand the difference between film and video:

  1. Costs – The cost of film and developing is expensive, so are the cameras.
  2. Personnel – Pictures shot on film rely on the operator to get the exposure, the focus, and the entire image exactly right in real time. If any of those three components are “off” in any way, then the shooter won’t know until after the film is developed. For this reason, film shoots usually require at least two people: one to operate the camera and another to focus.
  3. Retakes/Duplicate Shoots – It’s common to find out days or weeks after a shoot that the film was out of focus, over or under exposed and, therefore, not usable. When this happens, a retake or duplicate shoot is needed until the film focus is just right.
  4. Hazards – Developing film has its hazards as well. Film is delicate and can be easily damaged or ruined during the process. Damage from dust, scratches, heat, and water can all affect the film.That said, the vast majority of motion pictures, TV shows, documentaries, commercials and home movies are now shot on digital video cameras and not motion picture film cameras.


So you see there is a certain amount of risk-taking involved in shooting film—even by the best and most experienced shooters and filmmakers. But with the development of digital video most of these problems have been resolved for good.

Sure film is cool and has a certain artsy look to it when complete but there’s a whole lot of risk taking that goes along with film. However, when all the pros and cons are compared side-by-side, digital video simply blows film away…


For small businesses and video producers like me, making the decision to shoot film or to shoot video is a no-brainer. So, next time you hear someone talking about filming, you’ll know that they are actually probably talking about shooting video. For all the reasons mentioned above, the art of filming is becoming rare as we continue to expand and improve our digital society. These days, video is king.