MiniDV Video head always dirty.Anyone else with this problem

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    • #42507

      Look, I know this is more of a camcorder discussion issue but this is more about making money so please bare with me.

      Here are my questions first off, then you can read the description afterward, if you wish.

      1. Do any of you have problems with having to clean your MiniDV tape heads on a regular basis?
      2. If you don’t clean them immediately following the error message, does your MiniDV cam record absolutely nothing?
      3. When cleaning tape head, are you supposed to clean while in record mode as well as in playback mode, either/or, or just playback? I only use head cleaner in playback mode. Is that correct?
      4. Are there any MiniDV tape player on the market? So that I don’t have to use my camcorder to play back the tapes such as with VHS-C tapes? I have seen MiniDV rewinders but that’s it although I haven’t really looked yet.
      Description of my problem.

      I have had the biggest problem with MiniDV video heads getting dirty. I (Unfortunately) used to own a JVC consumer camcorder GRD-73us about a year and a half ago. The heads got dirty and would not get cleaned. Eventually it just conked out on me. I did not immediately put a cleaning cassette in the first time when it asked for it, and NOTHING was recorded after that. I lost hours of home video footage (luckily nothing important). My thought was from my experience with Hi8 cams or VCRs. If you don’t put a cleaning tape in right away, the picture won’t get bad for a couple of days or will gradually degrade. The JVC lost its picture immediately.

      I recently got a consumer Panasonic PVGS150. I have owned it since October and have never had a problem with it until this weekend. I also own 3 other prosumer camcorders which I have had for a while. 2 new (new from box) VX2000 and 1 VX2100 All MiniDV’s, obviously.

      Here is my big problem. Murphy’s Law of course. They don’t act up until I need them. I don’t use the prosumer camcorders for playback. And with all my cams I follow the manufacturers recommedations for cleaning with a cleaning cassette (All except the very first one … the JVC. I kind of learned my lesson with cleaning on that one).

      I was filming a wedding this weekend and the miniDV cams kept telling me that I needed to insert a cleaning tape, about half way through the wedding. Then 2 of them asked for it about half way through the reception. After I inserted the cleaning tapes, they worked fine until the second time. Then I put it in again… and again it kept working fine.

      I haven’t checked the footage yet. I am dreading it because I don’t know what I am going to see.
      I figure if this is the problem I am going to continually have, I might just switch back to Hi8 or VHS-C. At least they are a little more consistant. I have had a Sony Hi8 for nearly 12 years now and it still works as if it were brand new. Picture quality is good to. I only have to clean heads on that maybe once a year. And then only for routine maintenance.

      Please help!!!

    • #178492


      You know, if you wanted to get really fancy, you could go tapeless. There are boxes out there that strap to your camera and record directly to an onboard hard drive. The nice thing is that you can record several hours on these things at a time (e.g. no tape switching/running out of tape at the wrong moment), there’s less degredation of your video, and when you get back to the editing suite, it takes a lot less time to transfer video to your computer. The downside is that they cost a lot of money. But they’re still cheaper than the infamous MiniDV VCR’s on the market, so if you can actually afford that, give it a thought.

      I’ve never had any major problems with MiniDV. Okay, not true. Once upon a time, I sent a cheap consumer grade JVC camera with my wife when she went on tour to Cambodia with her musical group. Anyway, the stinkin’ camera died, giving her several enigmatic error messages, and because of some issue on the JVC recording heads, I couldn’t pull the little footage she did get off the tape using my pro gear. Apparently that particular model of consumer camera, while still DV25 format, has a different head angle, so it was incompattible with pretty much all other cameras out there. That camera is siting in the closet 10 feet away from me, waiting until he day I have time to dismantle the camera for my own personal enjoyment (and maybe to steal a few parts for an electronics project I’m tinkering with).

      But seriously, aside from that, I never have serious problems with MiniDV, and I’ve been using it for years and years. Sure, I will get a tick of dropout from time to time, but nothing major.

      Here are a few troubleshooting questions:

      -Are you mixing tape brands? If so, that’s probably most of your problem right there. MiniDV tapes are coated with a thin lubricant to keep things running smoothly and keep damage to a minimum. this lubricant rubs off on the head, spindles, control arms, and pretty much every moving part of your camera as you use tapes. Every tape manufacturer on the market has their own proprietary tape lubricant, which can make matters somewhat sticky, literally.

      Have you ever seen how epoxy based chemicals work? A great example is JB Weld. The stuff comes in two seperate tubes that you mix together. By mixing them together, these two soft, pliable liquid chemicals become as hard as steel, and create an ultra hard bond. (True story-I once used JB Weld and a strip of aluminum to patch a 2 ich wide 8 inch tall gash in the side of an engine due to the timing chain restraints breaking. I drove 50,000 miles on the car and sold it, still running properly!)

      Anyway, The same chemical reaction happens with tape lubricants. When you’ve put A JVC tape in your camera (for example), their lubricants coat all the internal working. Next, you drop in a Sony tape (again, for example). The lubricants mix on the heads, forming a tacky surface that actually attracts debris. And because every company out there has it’s own lubricant, you can never tell what will happen if you mix brands. So find one brand you like, and stick with it.

      -Are you over-cleaning your heads? I might run a dry cleaning tape through the system once per quarter, if even that much. Overcleaning can be as bad, if not worse than switching tape brands, because you can cause permanent destruction to your tape head.

      VCR Heads, whether they’re top of the line MiniDV units or the 30 year old VHS VCR in my basement, have a special protective coating applied to them when manufactured. Because the head spins at high RPM’s this coating allows the head to smoothly pass over the tape without destroying it before tape lubricants smooth the operation. This coating is essential for a properly working head. Without it, you change a lot of variables in your tape. The distance from the head to the tape even changes. Though it’s only a tiny difference, on DV format, that can cause tapes to track poorly if they’ll play at all.

      This is one of the reasons I never use alcohol-based cleaners on a head. Alcohol will break down this coating quickly, especially if it’s considerably watered down (as most rubbing alcohol is), which allows the alcohol to remain in a liquid form longer, and do more damage. If a head is gunked up to the point where dry tapes won’t clean it, I might use 94% pure rubbing alcohol as a last resort, but I would never do this on a MiniDV unit more than once in an 18 month period. Your head would have to be VERY junked up to deserve this, and if you’re not totally, 100% positive you know what you’re doing, take it in to be serviced, because you CAN very easily kill a head with alcohol.

      But dry tapes are just as bad if you overuse them. Dry tapes, or so they’re called) still use a chemical on them. This chemical is specially designed to clean lubricant off the head, spindles, and other internal workings. But because the head coating is delicate, overuse will again eat up this layer, causing the head to fail. Most head cleaners should be used once per every 50-100 hours of use, give or take. If you work in extremely erratic conditions, you might consider it every 25 hours, but I’m thinking areas with lots of debris in the air, sandy environments, places that are extreme, e.g. not 80% of American soil. Alaska, Arizona and other deserts, and the extreme southern parts of the country are the only places on the top of my head where I would even consider cleaning them that much, which is still no more than once a month if you use the camera regularly.

      I would also advise you to buy the same brand dry cleaning tape that you use for recording, as the people who designed the cleaning tape do so based off the chemicals in their tape brand’s lubricant.

      Cleaning a head too much is worse than letting them get mucked up, because once that coating on your head is shot, the VCR unit is toast.

      BTW, Hank, the heads are all alligned on the same servo, so by just engaging the play head, you will clean all of the heads on the VCR unit simultaneously, which is why you don’t need to be in record mode to clean a tape.

      Also, brandon, keep in mind that MiniDV is a sensitive beast. The recording track is finer than a human hair, which means the slightest issue cripples te unit. Hi-8 and other analog recorders use a much wider signal track, which does mean fewer noticable glitches, but also substantially lower quality. I would reccomend against using Hi-8 or VHS for pro work.

      There are some first steps. Let me know if that helps any.

    • #178493

      Thanks for the advice guys. That helps alot in understanding the problem.

      Why I actually used the Cleaning Tapes
      This weekend, the only reason I used the cleaning tape on the camcorders was because, the display actually popped up a message, "Insert Cleaning Cassette." otherwise I would not put it in. I am always nervouse about that getting that message and not doing anything. Last time I ignored the warning message, I lost everything I filmed for an entire day.

      Is there a place to find out what kind of lubricant each tape company uses so that if I do have to mix brands, they are at least comparable?

      thanks guys

    • #178494

      Is there a good brand everyone recommends?

      So far I have seen:


      I keep hearing people on the forum talk about TDK. I always saw this brand as being a generic brand.

      Does the brand really matter or should I just pick one, and stick with it… because of all the chemical mixing that could happen from switching all the time?

    • #178495

      No one else mentioned this, but you may very well be using your cleaning tape far, far too often and prematurely wearing out your video heads.

      If I think of it, I clean my heads once every 100 tapes.

      Steve M.

    • #178496

      Hi Brandon –

      I had this same problem with my Sony HC40 but I finally figured out that it was those cheap eBay tapes that caused the problem. The knockoffs were cheap (about $1.50 each in quantities of 10) but they caused a $400 problem for me (I need new heads at some point). I am trying to put off the inevitable (I am actually hoping to save enough for a good 3ccd camera) by using a cleaning tape when the camera compains plus only using name brand tapes bought in a major store (I currently use TDK purchased in Costco for about $3 each).

      Also, find a brand and stick with it. There are two types of tapes (as previouly mentioned) and it is not advisable to switch back and forth between them. As rule, pick one good (Sony, Maxell, TDK all come to mind) brand and use it exclusively.

    • #178497

      "Welcome back, Steve! Where ya been, man?"

      Incredibly busy. But I am still searching for that business model that makes money. Actually, I have decided to focus on what I do well – live production and theater performance video production. I’ve removed all other types of videography from my website and now promote myself as a specialist in this area.

      On topic:

      I go through about 150 tapes a year but I stumbled across an unbelievable sale at Fry’s last year where they were selling their carded stock of Sony tapes for a little over $1 per tape. I bought all I could at that price and I am still kicking myself for not going back the next day and repeating the buy.

      Anyway, those tapes are running out so I am thinking seriously about buying a DTD device for each camera. There’s a new player coming to market sometime this year – tomorrow couldn’t be soon enough – that I would like to buy. It’s name is the "Catapult", and is expected to sell for "under $300" which is marketspeak for "299.99". But the best thing promised about the Catapult is that you use your own HDD or even an iPod to capture your video.

      OTOH, laptops are getting so cheap (under $500), I may just go that route for DTD captures if Bella, Corp. doesn’t release the Catapult for sale soon.

      Steve M.

    • #178498

      Do you have link to the website of this particular product. I would love to get my hands on one.


    • #178499

      The license fee is collected from the media manufacturer. It’s been this way since the days of the first audio recordable tape diskettes.

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