From tape to tapeless: a guide to storing video images

Hopefully the first installment helped clear up any questions regarding wires and cables.

Memory Storage devices

If not, feel free to write or even do some investigating of your own. This time we’ll be looking at how those precious video images are stored and saved for later viewing pleasure-because it’s always a pleasure. The science behind capturing a moving image (is a subject for another time, and) is simpler than people think, going back to the late 1800’s. If you’re at-all interested in video production, you owe it to yourself to look into the history of first film. Since I’m aiming this article more at non-hollywood types, I’m going to skip the subject of film and begin with video tape.

VHS tape

In today’s youth, the term ‘beta’ conjures up images of test programs and videogame prototypes. Ah, but the truth. Over 30 years ago, SONY and JVC went head to head much the way RedBox and BlockBuster are at it today or HD-DVD and BlueRay a few years ago. SONY was first in the mid 70’s with BetaMax, a tape recording system for home movies, but was bested in the end by JVC’s dominating VHS format (VHS was easier to copy, had longer recording times and was generally cheaper).

Beta tape

Unless you’re in the broadcasting world, Beta has probably never graced your vision, but it’s still used today among smaller news and television stations. We recently got rid of our Beta deck, but you can read our review of it at: “Confessions of a Beta Junkie”.

DVCPro tape

While great for the booming home movie scene, the more serious-minded movie makers found VHS camcorders too bulky. In time, the cameras and tapes would streamline into what we have today-the most popular being DV, miniDV and DVCPro.The machines that play these tapes are still called VCRs, and allow for capture into the computer for editing. That’s the thing about tape, though: the capturing. Every tape has to be labeled and captured through a deck which can take time, especially if you’re only looking for a specific take or are lacking the correct deck format. Also, tapes use oil, and using different brands of tape can cause the VCR heads to gum up causing costly repairs; you pretty much have to stick with one brand if you can. Finally, tapes take up space. Multiple cameras mean multiple tapes means lots of storage space needed. The positive side of this is that you’re more likely to still have the footage if the client comes back a year or two later. Broadcast stations still use tape as well, so it helps to know your stuff, regardless of if you intend to use it.
Like anything used on a daily basis, you don’t realize how much work is involved until something easier comes along-and though there’s usually a price to pay for the convenience, like buying milk at a carryout, you don’t seem to mind if it gets you home quicker. As cameras began relying more and more on internal memory storage, a whole new world of options began opening up for would-be film makers. Memory cards come in multiple formats, the most common being SD (secure disc) and it’s big brothers the SD-HC and SD-XC; all of which come in regular and micro formats and can hold anywhere from 2GB to 2TB. A card reader attaches right to your computer and copying the footage over is as easy as copy and paste. You can see why tapes are being left in the cabinet. memory cards also come in other formats such as Compact Flash and P2-each having their specific camera/purpose, but still living under the same roof of easy, faster data transfer. You aren’t buying tape stock, not cleaning VCR heads, and most cameras can access the card to see what’s on it before you even get it into the computer.

Panasonic P2 card

But as great as all of that is, the negatives are just as profound. Newer cameras that take memory cards alone may have a limit to how long they can run, or maximum file sizes for recording. Canon’s DSLRs have amazing film abilities, but can only record for 12 minutes at a time-that’s about 4GB. Filming this way can be tricky-especially action scenes or interviews. A large professional camera can use a 16GB card in minutes and if in the field, you have to have enough electricity to run both the camera, the card reader and the hardrive/computer-not always easy. Digital files can become corrupt for any number of reasons, causing everything from garbled frames to not even being identified as a file. Also, once captured, card footage is often erased quickly for card reuse-meaning there isn’t an immediate hard copy of the footage. You can always burn to a disc or tape later, but if the power surges-which it will-or your drive goes down-which they do-you’ve lost it all. If you can’t afford multiple harddrives for back up safety, you can be out of a lot fairly quickly. Interestingly enough, there are people who are returning to tape after venturing in the world of digital storage. Some claim they can see a distinct difference in quality, while others prefer the ability to manipulate tape exposure in a setting. Whatever the reason, once you find something you like, be sure to stock up on it, because in a few years it may go the way of the Beta.