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What to Do With Old Camcorder Videos

Before the Flip and YouTube made video recording a national pastime, parents would have to lug out the shoulder-fired canon of a camcorder to capture precious moving memories. That meant tapes – and lots of them – stored in closets, attics and basements.  Unlike our shoeboxes full of photos, a box full of camcorder tape is basically useless without a camcorder or player to view them on.  But technology marches on, and many of the older camcorder formats have been passed by. If you’re sitting on older videos you want to view and enjoy again, read on.

Digitize Your Video

Older camcorder tapes have gone the way of the T-Rex – they’re a menacing fossil. To enjoy the videos trapped inside them, you’ll have to convert them to a digital format – i.e. a DVD or a video file that can be viewed and edited on your computer. So, pop open that box of tapes and ask yourself – what do you have in there?

I Dunno, Some Tape-Like Things? The common tape formats include VHS, VHS-C, MiniDV, Super8, and Digital8. How do you view them today? Well, you can drag out the camcorder (if you have it) and connect it to the TV (good luck finding the proper cables) but that’s an imperfect solution at best. Far better to take your tape formats and convert them to digital. Here’s how:

Image via ScanCafe.com

The Easy Way: The simplest way to tackle this is to let someone else do it. Video scanning services will take your tapes (or film) and create DVD movies out them. YesVideo, for instance, has partnered with numerous major retailers like Costco and Wal-Mart to offer just such a service. Hand over your tapes and in two weeks you’ll get DVD movies back. Other services include iMemories,  ScanMyPhotos, ScanCafe and MyMovieTransfer. Your local photo retailer can also provide these scanning services (find one here).

The downside is that having someone else digitize your videos is more expensive than doing it yourself. Scanning services can run $20 per every two hours of video footage burned. If you have a lot of footage, it can quickly add up.  While many scanning services offer some color correction, it’s basic. You can get more extensive fixes performed, but you’ll pay more for the privilege.

Services like YesVideo will break up long videos into chapters, but your ability to customize your final product is fairly limited. Once you get your DVD (and original tapes) back, chances are you can’t simply transfer the video from the DVD disc to your computer to view and edit on your computer (or upload to YouTube) – at least, not without a lot of effort. The videos you get back on DVD are primarily meant to be viewed on a TV through a DVD player. That’s a great solution for someone who’s not tech-savvy but it limits what you can do with those videos as far as online sharing or emailing is concerned.

If viewing your videos on your computer (and sharing them online) is important, ScanDigital offers a unique service: they will transfer your video to a hard drive (you can purchase a 500GB Western Digital drive from them for $120 or mail-in your own drive with your videos). This is a great solution, since it brings your videos into the digital age in a format that, unlike DVD, will be around for a while. But it’s pricey.

The Hard Way: If the thought of handing over your videos (and money) to a third party doesn’t sit well with you, there are plenty of ways to get that older video into the digital era yourself.

If you still have your old, tape-based camcorder: You’re ahead of the game. All you’ll need is a cable to connect it to your PC. Devices like Roxio’s Easy VHS-to-DVD ($60) combine the hardware to connect your old camcorder (or even a VCR) to your PC or Mac via USB along with software to convert that video into a file. That file can be burned to DVD or saved in a format suitable for viewing on a computer or mobile device.

While this method isn’t all that difficult, it is time consuming. Videos are usually transferred in real time – which means one hour of footage takes one hour to transfer. That’s painful,  particularly if you’re staring down a box full of old tapes.

If you only have the tapes, but no camcorder: Well, now you’re in a pickle, aren’t you? If you have a form of VHS tape (like VHS-C, a smaller version of the full-sized tape format), you can use your VCR with devices like the Roxio. Simply plug the tape into the VCR and the VCR via the cables supplied with the Easy VHS-to-DVD to your computer. But you don’t have a VCR, do you? Congratulations, you’ve now chosen the easy way. (See above)

What if You Used a DVD Camcorder: So you have the discs, but the camcorder’s long gone? Well, you’re in better shape than you would be if you were only sitting on tape. Software such as DVDx can transform your DVD footage into editable files that are stored on your computer’s hard drive. From there, you can use programs like Corel’s VideoStudio or Adobe Premiere Elements to edit and share that footage.

After It’s Digital

After you’ve successfully transferred your tape-based video to a digital format – a DVD or a hard drive – your primary goal should be to avoid a replay of this scenario in the future. That means that you’ll need to store a copy of your video in a format that will be easily accessible and viewable in the future. For that, it’s best to keep your videos safely secured as files on an external hard drive (having a separate, duplicate copy on DVD is a good idea too). While file formats do change, they do so slowly and it’s easier to convert files using software than it is to convert physical media like discs which become obsolete (along with the devices that play them).

Read More About Protecting Your Photos & Videos:
Fine Print on Photo Sites: Are Your Images Safe Online?
Four Steps to Protecting Your Photos and Videos
Make Your Digital Photos & Videos Last Forever
Why You Should Burn Photos to Gold DVDs
What Discs Are Better – Blu-ray, DVD or CD?
The Latest News on Photo & Video Backup & Protection


Author:Greg Scoblete

Greg Scoblete is the editor of Your Digital Life. He has been covering the photographic world for the past ten years for a variety of publications including PDN, This Week in Consumer Electronics and Digital Photographer.