Ten Rules for Great Hi8

The Hi8 footage Ron gathered on his video shoot looked great when
he viewed it in New York, but was ruined when he played it back
at home in San Francisco. Tom’s once-in-a-lifetime Hi8 120s from
Africa jammed and tore in the edit deck, which destroyed 50% of
the footage. Kelly’s video was fine when she logged it, but full
of dropouts when she tried to edit. What went wrong?

"Hi8 is a consumer format," says independent film and
video producer Paul Lundahl, owner of Practical Productions in
San Francisco and self-described Hi8 fanatic evangelist. "There’s
a reason why Hi8 camcorders cost $2,000 and professional equipment
costs $30,000-$40,000. You have to find workarounds for the limitations."

For years, Lundahl has been finding those workarounds. His Hi8
documentary "Anatomy of a Spring Roll" was broadcast
nationally on PBS–no small achievement since PBS has a technical-specifications
manual the size of the Columbus, Ohio phone book.

"[With Hi8,] we’re dealing with technical tolerances so
precise, it borders on the realm of spiritual," Lundahl says.
As a teacher at a Bay Area video organization, he offers spiritual
guidance for those seeking the elusive "broadcast quality"
in the form of ten rules for the preparation, use and storage
of Hi8 tape and equipment.

  1. Avoid 120-minute Tape

    Many Hi8 users solve their problems of excessive dropouts and
    tapes jamming in professional machines by following this advice
    alone. Most 120s are nine microns thick, while many 90 minute
    tapes are 12 microns thick. Some professional machines don’t compensate
    well for the thinner tape and different-sized reels, and they
    may jam or cause tearing with thinner tape stock.

    Lundahl also advises against using metal evaporated (ME) tape
    while editing. While it does provide improved image quality, it
    is more fragile, and like 120s, more prone to dropouts and problems
    during editing.

  2. Pack your Tape Before Shooting

    Hi8 tape has a coating of metal-oxide particles which may become
    brittle and loose during storage. "Packing" the tape
    (fast forwarding to the end and then rewinding) causes loose particles
    to fall off. Without packing, it’s likely that you’ll record images
    over loose plates of oxide. During playback, the loose plates
    may fall off, leaving painful-looking dropouts. With a packed
    tape, you’re still recording images over the area of missing oxide,
    but the dropout is minor and a time-base corrector (TBC) will
    usually compensate for it.

  3. Test Equipment and Tape Stock

    Before you shoot, record five minutes of black and play it back,
    preferably in another machine. This will assure that the head
    alignment on your camera is correct and that you are not experiencing
    tracking problems.

    When viewing the five minutes of black, you should also be watching
    for dropouts, which will appear as breaks in the flow of black.
    The first two minutes of a tape are the weakest. While some dropouts
    are inevitable, you may wish to reconsider using a tape or batch
    of tapes if you are experiencing more than two dropouts per minute
    after that.

    Shoot some establishing shots when you first get out in
    the field, and then use the footage to check dropouts, white balance,
    and to monitor audio.

    Finally, if you have access to such equipment, have your video
    signal tested on a waveform monitor and vectorscope. The waveform
    monitor, which provides a graphic depiction of the video signal,
    helps you find the optimal contrast range. The vectorscope is
    a test instrument for adjusting color. Contact a production facility
    or the place from which you purchased your gear to learn who can
    perform these tests.

    Lundahl likes to have 10 tapes packed, tested, striped with color
    bars, and ready to go. "It doesn’t take much time and it’s
    worthwhile, especially in situations you’ll never be able to shoot
    again–which is the case nearly every time you shoot."

  4. Always Transport Tapes in Your Carry-on Luggage

    When you check a bag at the airport, it goes into the aircraft’s
    cargo hold, where temperatures can plummet below zero during flight.
    If you put your videotapes into such a bag, you’re potentially
    subjecting them to extreme changes in temperature. During such
    temperature changes, the oxide and tape backing contract and expand,
    but by different amounts. This difference in contraction and expansion
    is significant enough to actually flake off whole sheets of oxide.

    When Lundahl and his associates returned from Vietnam with the
    footage for "Anatomy of a Spring Roll," they carried
    50 tapes in their carry-on bags and on their bodies.

    "That’s another advantage to Hi8," he says. "All
    of your equipment can be packed in a small, very portable package."

  5. Put Black or Color Bars on the First Two Minutes of Tape

    If you plan to broadcast your tape or simply are concerned about
    color accuracy during the transfer, stripe the first two minutes
    with color bars before going out into the field, where time or
    equipment may not be available.

    The first and last two minutes are where most tape stretching,
    and therefore most dropouts occur. Recording black or bars on
    the first two minutes and watching the tape-remaining indicator
    will prevent you from recording anything of vital importance in
    these vulnerable sections.

  6. Check Playback on Other Machines

    The tracking signal on Hi8 tape occupies the same tape area as
    the video signal, and the tracking mechanism is small and precise.
    For these two reasons, the tracking sometimes slips.

    The videographer may be unaware of the problem, as the footage
    will play back properly on the camera that recorded it. But, when
    played on any other machine, the dubbed or edited video signal
    might appear shredded, distorted, or accompanied by warped-sounding
    audio. If this is the case with your camcorder, then you’ll either
    have to use the camcorder as your source deck, or copy the footage
    to another format for editing.

  7. Use Desiccants

    When transporting your gear from an air-conditioned hotel room
    to a hot, tropical environment, or from a warm house to the ski
    slope, pack your camera in a sealed plastic bag with desiccant.
    Let it change temperature gradually before removing it to shoot.
    Generally the wait is no longer than 30 minutes.

    "I know filmmakers who abandoned video because of dew problems,"
    Lundahl says. "It’s the condensation-on-a-glass-of-iced-tea
    factor. Desiccant is cheap and a great security blanket."

  8. Use Work Dubs

    You should treat your raw footage like precious stock. To maintain
    the technical integrity and image quality of your original tape,
    your goal should be to play it as few times as possible. The first
    pass after shooting should be to create a work dub. Your work
    dub can handle the abuse as you log and make edit decisions, leaving
    your original pure for the edit master.

    If you’re editing at a post-production facility, you can save
    time and money by transferring to the editing format (bumping)
    only those shots that you’re going to use to make the edit master.
    Lundahl shoots on Hi8, post-stripes the footage with time code,
    and then makes a window dub of all the original footage with time
    code burned in.

    After creating an edit-decision list, he bumps up the selected
    shots to the editing format (Betacam) through a transcoding TBC.
    This process costs $110 an hour and up at most reputable facilities.
    If your shooting ratio is a carefully planned 10:1–10 hours of
    footage for a one-hour finished piece–you can save a significant
    amount of money.

  9. Use the Y/C Connectors and a TBC

    Hi8 machines have Y/C connectors for transferring the brightness
    and color portions of the video signal separately from one machine
    to another. You should use these connectors instead of the standard
    composite connectors. If you don’t, you lose the improved quality
    of Y/C that keeps color information separate from black and white.
    "You’re taking the beautiful, clean, separated signal, squashing
    it all together, and expanding it again," says Lundahl.

    When editing, you should also run the signal through a TBC–especially
    if you’re bumping up to a better editing format. "If you
    bump all of your source material through a transcoding TBC and
    edit in a true component format, you don’t appear to go down a
    generation. Your edit master and finished dubs are almost identical
    to the original footage. Color or luminance problems also will
    look better."

    So what if you don’t plan on using a post-production facility?
    A good TBC will still help, as it will get rid of most of the
    dreaded dropouts that Hi8 users often find themselves stuck with.

  10. Store Your Tapes Safely

    In the 60s, video artists knew that storing big reels of 1"
    tape flat on a shelf led, in time, to creases on the edges. While
    the problem is less severe with smaller, lighter 8mm tape, the
    rule still applies: store upright in a vertical position, fully
    rewound, with the full reel on the bottom.

    While few videographers would store tapes in glaring sunlight,
    some do not take into consideration the movement of the sun during
    the day and the changing position of the sun throughout the year.

    "It happens all the time," Lundahl says. "You
    put your tape on a table one beautiful morning and over the course
    of the day, the sun goes by burning holes in your tape. It can
    get up to 110 degrees inside that little case."

    He also recommends repacking videos every six months to maintain
    tape quality.

Rules to Live By

Following the ten rules of Hi8 guarantees that high-quality productions
are the norm instead of the occasional miracle.

"The thing that most excites me about Hi8, besides its image
quality, is the fact that the low price changes the economic dynamics
of a project. If you’re shooting in Betacam or a traditional broadcast
format, you need a serious amount of money up front. With Hi8,
that curve is changed."

"Most great ideas never meet their audience," Lundahl
says. "If you have a good idea, that idea deserves the widest
distribution possible. Utilize the capabilities of Hi8 to work
out your ideas and you can achieve a high-quality final piece."

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

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