Monday, January 02, 2006

Video: Copy, Copy, Copy!

I shot my first videotape more than 37 years ago. For a few of those years (13+) I shot video professionally, creating documentaries, training videos and news footage. But, the bulk of these years of video production have been dedicated to capturing my family's memories for future generations.

When I see a young couple in the electronics department of a store, picking out a video camera, I can't resist giving them at least one piece of advice.... Copy, Copy, COPY your videotapes or DVDs as soon as you can. The reason is that I know, from firsthand experience, that all video media is fragile and that important family memories can and will be lost over time if copies are not made as quickly as possible.

Video tape is made by marrying a layer of oxide with a substrate to a backing of plastic. The plastic can stretch and warp and the substrate can deteriorate, releasing the oxide particles resulting in 'dropout'. DVD's are made by encapsulating a layer of photosensitive material in a plastic sandwich. Many people mistakingly believe that DVDs will last forever. But, many things can cause them to fail prematurely. Even the color of the material makes a difference in the lifespan of the DVD. Scratches, fingerprints and other abuse compound the problem.

In the years that I've been shooting video many formats have come and gone. I first shot on 1/2" reel-to-reel black and white equipment. Then came 3/4" U-Matic, VHS, VHS-C, 8mm, Hi-8, Digital-8 and MiniDV. (I do not intend to use a DVD camera for a variety of reasons.) Of all these formats, the most robust has been the VHS and VHS-C tape. The least robust has been the digital formats. 1/2" Reel-to-reel tape decks are hard to come by these days; but, I have one that will play back some of my original recordings. However, they are in pretty back condition and are deteriorating rapidly. I do not expect my digital video recordings to last anywhere nearly as long. And, in fact, have lost some portions of digital tapes in a remarkable short time.

But, tape deterioration isn't the only thing that can rob you of your memories. Theft, fire and flood are other causes of loss that are eaully devastating. My brother-in-law returned from a vacation and as he was going back and forth between house and car unloading someone managed to steal his video camera. The camera could be replaced. But, he also had left some recorded videos in the case with the camera and those could not be replaced. Among them were the only video recordings of his father in his possession.

So, I copy.

These days I like to use a standalone DVD recorder to make my backup copies becuase it's fast and convenient. But, it doesn't really matter whether you copy to a VHS tape, capture them onto a computer harddrive or copy directly into DVD format. The important thing is to make a backup of your precious videos as soon as you possibly can. I further suggest that you make multiple copies so that you can send some of the copies to members of your family that do not live in your home so that all is not lost if disaster should hit your home.

Finally, have a plan to make new copies at least every five years. This is becuase the copies, whether on DVD or videotape will, themselves, begin to deteriorate over time. Even though my current direct copies of my 1/2" tapes are sometimes barely visible, the copies I made from the VHS backup tapes and VideoCDs over the years are still in pretty good shape. Now that they are on digital format, I shouldn't have any more visual degradation as long as I remember to copy my copies to ensure that if a DVD copies begins to deteriorate all is not lost.

You bought your camera with the future in mind. Make sure that what that camera captures is there to enjoy in that future. Copy, Copy, Copy.


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