Take care of your videotapes and they’ll reward you.
With summer right around the corner, many of us are making preparations
for a busy season of video production. We’re getting ready for family vacations
and reunions with loved-ones. We’re cleaning our camcorders in anticipation
of the exciting parade of beautiful weddings and receptions. Our video equipment
gleams with cleaned lenses and glistening record heads. Our lights have
new lamps in them and our batteries are charged. But wait; let us not forget
the most important part of the video production kit: the tape. There is
nothing worse than going home, slipping a newly shot tape into the VCR and
watching as dropout and deadly creases fill the screen. The only sound you
hear is the hiss of the tape rolling through the VCR and your own grumbling
voice as you express your dismay over missing a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Follow these videotape storage hints to avoid this sad scenario.
Videotape Storage: Buying Tape
When camcorders and VCRs became a common household item, many fly-by-night
manufacturers began producing videotape of questionable quality. They sell
this tape for a couple dollars cheaper than the major brand name tapes and
unsuspecting videographers buy the tape thinking they are getting a good
deal. Buyers beware! These tapes not only record poorly, but they can also
damage your camcorder or VCR by jamming the mechanisms or damaging the video
heads with their low quality, highly abrasive tape surfaces. It is best
to spend a couple more dollars and start with quality brand name tapes.
Videotape Storage: "Packing" Tape
Once you buy some quality tapes, take them out of their wrapper and "pack"
or "cycle" them. Do this by fast-forwarding the tape to the end
and rewinding the tape back to the beginning. Packing tapes helps care for
them and your equipment in two ways. First, it removes excess oxides that
might be on your new tapes. These oxides can temporarily get lodged in the
video heads of your equipment and cause drop-out, a tiny interruption in
the recording and playback of a tape which shows up on your screen as little
dots or lines of light. By packing your tapes, you allow this excess oxide
to fall off the tape, thus making the tape clean and ready for use. Second,
by packing your tapes you are smoothing out any variations in how tightly
the tape was wound by the manufacturer. These variations could lead to recording
problems by causing the tape to flutter through the tape transport mechanism
if wound too loosely, or pull on the mechanism if too tight.
Videotape Storage: Recording onto Tape
Before you begin using your prepared tapes, make sure the video heads on
your camcorder or VCR are clean and in good working order. If the heads
have dust or a smoke film on them, this could cause drop-out to appear on
your tapes. A particle one twentieth the size of a human hair can cause
drop-out on a tape, so it is very important that your tapes and video heads
are kept clean and free of dust and other residue. It is also important
to keep the entire tape transport system clean and tuned up. If your VCR
and camcorder get a lot of use, have your local VCR repair technician clean
and maintain them at least once a year. Ask him to check the rubber rollers
that pull the tape through the mechanism; they should be replaced at regular
intervals. While recording, you can continue to care for your tape by holding
off the pause button. When you put your camcorder or VCR in pause, the video
heads continue to roll across the surface of the tape. If you leave it on
pause too long, the internal mechanism can scrape some of the oxides off
the tape and gum up the video heads. This will permanently damage the tape.
If you know it will be a while before you begin recording again, stop the
Videotape Storage: Traveling with Tape
When going to and from an event, remember to store your tapes where they
will be safe. The glove compartment and trunk in your car can easily exceed
150 degrees during the summer months; enough to destroy a videotape. The
best place to keep tapes temporarily while on a trip is under the car’s
front seats (if you’re comfortable, your tapes will be comfortable). If
you leave your car for any extended period of time, take your tapes with
you. The same advice is true in winter, although it’s possible to thaw out
frozen tapes. Warm them up gradually over a 24-hour period before use. Cold
tapes are brittle and droplets of frozen moisture on the tapes will cause
Once you’ve shot your footage, videotape storage becomes very important. There
are a number of things you can do to make sure your video recordings are
around for a long time:
- Label your tapes with the name of the event or production, the date,
and the length of footage on the tape.
- Remove the record tabs on the tape to prevent accidentally recording
over footage you want to keep.
- Store your tapes in a location in which you would be comfortable. Tapes
last longest in temperatures between 59 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
They also last longest in areas with a relative humidity of 40-60%. This
means that you shouldn’t store them in hot dry attics or cold damp basements.
Exposure to high humidity or temperature over long periods causes the tape’s
natural contaminants to rise to the surface. This will cause drop-out or
clog your video heads. Running the tape through a professional tape cleaner
will restore the tape, but it is best to avoid the problem in the first
place. High humidity can also increase the chance of fungus growth. While
this too can be cleaned off, it will have an effect on the quality of the
recorded image. If you live in an area with high humidity, tape manufacturer
Maxell suggests you store your tape in foil-lined corrugated boxes. Put
the tapes in a plastic bag with a desiccant (calcium chloride) inside each
bag and seal it with tape or a twist-tie. Avoid storing tapes where they
will be subject to direct sunlight, moisture, smoke or excessive dust.
Avoid magnetic fields such as speakers, motors, high-voltage transformers
or any other device that generates a strong magnetic field. Magnetic fields
can realign the particles on a tape and effectively erase what you have
- Storing your tapes without their cases, on their side or with many
tapes stacked on top of one another can distort them and crease the edge
of the tape. Store your tapes in their cases in an upright position. Also,
while traveling, storing them in their cases in an upright position will
prevent damage to the tape due to vibration.
- Store your tapes fully wound, either on the take-up reel or the supply
reel of your tape. Not only is it polite to rewind tapes before returning
them to your local video rental house, it makes good sense to do it with
your own tapes. By completely rewinding them, you will prevent some portions
of the tape from stretching due to pressure exerted on the it from an uneven
- Fast-forward and rewind your tapes every three years. This will prevent
any sticking that may occur and will effectively air-out your tapes.
- After five to seven years of storage, it is a good idea to transfer
the footage to a new tape. Video tapes have lasted for fifteen years under
good storage conditions but they gradually begin to fall apart and can
damage your equipment.
For those tapes you no longer wish to keep, you may want to recycle them.
"First pass tapes" (only one recording) can be used again with
little or no loss of video and audio quality. If your VCR or camcorder
is in good working order and you’ve kept the erase heads properly aligned,
you can tape over anything that may already be on the tape. If your tapes,
however, have recorded every life event for the past five years, it may
be time to retire them. The more times a tape goes over the video heads,
the more chances there are of oxides being scraped off and drop-out occurring.
Videotape Storage: Enjoying Your Tapes
Proper care and storage of your tapes should provide years of viewing enjoyment.
The simple things such as labeling, storage and equipment care enable us
to view tapes shot many years ago. If you prepare for the future by taking
care of the present, the past will unfold before you and present you with
many hours of memories and rare moments.