Q. I recently converted a clip from S-VHS to DV using the Canon GL1, and I was wondering if there is any way to "doctor" the clip so it would look clearer using the video filters in (Apple) Final Cut Pro. I would appreciate the help.
A. The resolution of S-VHS is 400 horizontal scan lines, which is less than the 500 lines available for DV. This inherent difference makes it impossible to make the S-VHS video match the potential quality of DV, meaning that S-VHS video is slightly less clear and shows marginally less detail than equivalent DV footage. There is nothing that Final Cut Pro or any other media cleaner or filters can do to change this.
Many editing applications, including Final Cut Pro, have a number of filters that clean up bad video. For example, hue, tint or color-balance filters can improve color. A brightness and contrast filter may enhance dark video, although graininess associated with dark video is hard to remove.
There are a couple of issues that you may notice that are particular to converting older analog formats to DV. For one, older tapes may become visually noisy (i.e. have random static) with age. In this case, a blur or average filter may get rid of the noise, at the cost of softening the image. Another issue may be a visible horizontal line across the bottom of the DV frame. This line will not be visible on a television monitor due to masking, but may be visible in the full frame as viewed on your computer. The importance of this depends on the final destination of the video, since it will be cropped out on a television monitor. If you want to display this video on a computer monitor, you can use your editing application to crop out the line. Finally, check out the article entitled Making the Most of Bad Footage, the Computer Editing column of our September 2001 issue. It offered some specific advice for particular situations that may help you out.
Surprisingly however, much of the video’s image quality has little to do with the format. A well-lit scene shot with an ancient S-VHS camcorder locked down on a solid tripod may look much better than a hand-held shot by an untrained guest at a poorly-lit wedding reception, even with the latest and greatest DV wonder. So, although DV is a technically superior medium, the quality of the actual footage has little to do with the format. This is little consolation when converting archive material today, but it is useful to keep in the back of your mind for the future. Who knows what format-to-end-all-formats we’ll be transferring our ancient DV footage to in 10 years?
Q. My father used an Akai 1/4-inch video camera to take family videos of my brother and I in the early ’70s. He no longer has the camera, but still has the 1/4-inch tapes. Unfortunately, we have no way to watch them or transfer them. This is the only footage of my brother and I as children and I am desperate to find a solution to get the footage transferred to something I can see.
Do you have any suggestions or information? I don’t know where to find this sort of info.
A. The Akai 1/4-inch video cameras from the 1970s were inexpensive, small and very popular at the time, and your question is not as uncommon as you might think.
Unfortunately, Akai has not made machines that play back this format for a couple of decades. We contacted the company and it doesn’t know of anyone who offers this service. There may be a transfer service out there, but it is going to be tough to find one that has the ability to do 1/4-inch video.
Another option might be to watch eBay or one of the other online auction services. A surprising number of vintage machines, including Akai video cameras, show up at very reasonable prices, often less than $150. Make sure you check with the buyer to make sure it is the model you need before you bid, as Akai made quite a lot of hardware over the years. Also, verify that the camera has all of the power cables and connection cords necessary for operation, since these items will also be very difficult to find separately.