As the world of video production continues to change, I enjoy reviewing the language and nomenclature that are becoming less and less intuitive. Here’s the Wikipedia entry for the word footage:
In video and film, footage is the raw, unedited material as it has been recorded by the film or video camera, which usually must be edited to complete a motion picture, broadcast show or similar creative work. More loosely, footage can also refer to all sequences used in film and video editing, such as special effects and archive material and B-roll. Since the term originates in film, footage is only used for recorded images, such as film stock, videotapes or digitized clips.

Charlie Fulton, Videomaker‘s Associate Editor, brought this term to my attention. Since motion picture film is stored on open reels, and people using film can actually unroll a few feet of film with their hands, we can easily imagine where the term originated. When videotape came along in the late 1950s, it too was stored on open reels.

In the late 60s, a new videotape format appeared: Sony announced U-matic, the first widespread videocassette. This tape width was 3/4-inch, and the cassette was the size of a cigar box. Filmmakers were still using open-reel tapes well into the 70s. In fact, my first videotaping experience (1975) was with black-and-white 1/2-inch videotape with a “portable” video recorder called the Portapak. I was also shooting Super 8mm film, which was in a cartridge. By the 90s, nearly all videotape was in a cassette.


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More recently, we have seen the arrival of DVD camcorders, which record video as bits of data stored along a track around the disc. You can measure these tracks in terms of linear distance, but no one really does that. However, when someone shoots with a DVD camcorder, many still consider it shooting footage.

As you can see, the word footage troubles me. If you can’t see the videotape footage with your eyes or hold it in your fingers and feel the footage, should we be still be calling it by the same name? I grant that, inside the cassette, there is still a linear distance to measure, but it doesn’t seem right to call it footage. This point may be debatable, but video shot on DVD or Flash media certainly is not footage.

More and more video is being stored on SD cards, Memory Stick or internal memory. These recording formats have no linear distance to measure. Shooting footage with an SD camcorder is like dehydrating water. If something is dehydrated, there is no more water, so dehydrated water doesn’t make sense.

Bittage is a more accurate term for “raw, unedited material as it has been recorded by a digital recorder, whether tape, memory, optical disc or magnetic disk.” Bittage is “a number of bits.” It is far superior to the word footage.

Matthew York isVideomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.