A: Please bear in mind that a Rank-Cintel film-to-tape machine is a monstrous behemoth that takes up the better part of a room and costs around $150,000 used. It's the sort of thing that one only finds in big post-production houses. If you want to see how it performs, rent a DVD of the latest Hollywood hit--it's very likely that a Rank-Cintel machine was used to make the transfer. Limitations include the quality and format of your film, so if you've got an old, battered Super 8 film you want to have transferred, you'd want to make sure the service you contracted was able to handle Super 8 transfer and restoration. Availability would be more a question of finding a service near you that will transfer your film to video at a reasonable rate. A Google search we performed turned up 175 post-production houses that use Rank-Cintel machines, at rates of $150 to $300 per hour--much more money than the typical Videomaker reader is willing to spend on a film-to-tape transfer. This is why we attempt to provide you with low-cost, do-it-yourself solutions, such as setting up your own projector and screen, then aiming your camcorder (on a tripod) at the screen. The results aren't perfect, but they are acceptable, and perhaps better than you think.
Q: I am hoping someone can please help me to videotape my 3-year-old son. I have been researching camcorders for months but a lot of the reviews are non-technical. I need something inexpensive for low-light indoor shots, because I often videotape my son when he's sleeping and I don't want to turn on all of the lights and wake him up. Is it true that inexpensive analog camcorders do a better job in low light than inexpensive digital camcorders?
A: No, there's nothing about analog video that makes it better at recording in low light as a rule. In fact, the opposite is true--the robust signal-to-noise ratio of digital video makes it much better at picking up faintly lit scenes. It's entirely possible that a certain inexpensive analog camcorder could perform better in low light than a certain inexpensive digital camcorder, but in general digital camcorders are superior in this respect. If taping in low light is important to you, consider purchasing a camcorder that features some kind of night mode for shooting in very low (or no) light.
Q: How do you erase a Mini DV Tape? Is it necessary to tape to a black screen or can you just record on top of the old video over and over again?
A: It isn't necessary to erase or re-black the tape. You can (and should) just re-tape over the old material. After a few passes, you may experience dropouts--little glitches that make the screen flicker for a second. Re-blacking the tape will make the dropouts appear sooner, so don't do it. Mini DV is a very robust format, but one of its drawbacks is the narrow width of the tape itself. Because there is so little surface area for the digital video and audio information, the tapes are somewhat less resistant to multiple recording passes than formats which use a wider tape to record the information. The best policy is to use a fresh tape every time you record.
Q: I'm trying to figure out if a lesser-quality camera used strictly for digitizing is a good or bad idea. Someone told me that any camcorder that uses the same tape format, regardless of its quality or price, will do as sort of a VCR for digitizing and recording. Is this true? I have seen decks that are dedicated to just this purpose, but they seem rather pricey. Can't I just buy a new cheap camcorder, or better still, find a used camcorder?
Santa Monica, California
A: Using a lesser camcorder as a VCR is a good idea, but most inexpensive camcorders can't withstand the punishment that a DV deck can handle. Especially problematic is the tape door/eject system, which is often the first thing to break down on a consumer camcorder.
Joe McCleskey is Videomaker's Technical Editor.
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