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Hi-8 and Other Pre-Digital Camcorders: The Dilemma

June 26, 2012

Does this sound familiar?

You’re going through an old box of possessions and come across a bunch of camcorder tapes. They could be Hi 8, Digital 8, VHS-C or whatever was popular 15-20 years ago.

Lo and behold, you even have your old camcorder – which has an output plug that formerly allowed you to play the tapes on TV, but now allows you to take everything one step farther and digitize those analog tapes.

Or so you think.

You reserve a weekend, plug in the camcorder, attach it to the computer and insert a tape. The camcorder powers on – and may even play for a few minutes. But then it suddenly stops or goes black,

Fine, you think. I’ll jiggle the plug a little. Or clean the tape heads. Maybe that’ll work.

Actually, it probably won’t. Because the problem is deeper than that.

Let us introduce Brian Tiede, a technician at Ann Arbor’s Harves Electronics to explain things. (By the way, Harve’s – located off South Industrial at 1155 Rosewood next to Roos Coffee, is one of the only places in town that services electronics. It is also the only place we at Priceless Photo Preservation use).

According to Tiede, camcorders of all kinds have about 30-80 capacitators, the key electronic components that allow them to run properly. And over time, particularly as the camcorders are not used, they dry out and become pasty. It’s akin to a bike with a rusty bike chain.  Riding that bike becomes much harder, if not downright impossible, because that chain isn’t in proper working condition.

And just like a bike that needs to be ridden regularly, the only way to prevent capacitor problems is by using the camcorder frequently. Which, if you are like most people who made the transition years ago to digital devices, simply hasn’t been the case.

Larger appliances such as VCRS have capacitors too – and Harves will replace them. But camcorders are a different matter. Tiede said the parts inside the camcorder are so small and so intricate that even manufacturers such as Sony have problems replacing them. So Harves and most other places don’t service camcorders anymore.

So what do you do? You could buy another used camcorder. But even if you check it out and everything seems fine, the kind of problems outlined above may surface later. If you look on places like eBay, analog camcorders that are guaranteed to function properly will cost $200-$300 or more. Decks will cost $1,000 or more.

Suddenly, that simple weekend project doesn’t seem so simple any more. Right?

That’s where we (hopefully) come in. Because all our players work properly and have been properly serviced. Plus, because we are using the equipment all the time, we never run into problems with capacitors drying out. We will also do extras, such as give you the digitized tapes as both playable DVDS and archival MOV files on a separate DVD. We will also insert titles that include whatever is written on the tape case or the dates when the footage was captured. Furthermore, if your collection is large enough, we will create a finding aid that will allow you to keep track of  key moments on each DVD, such as little Jimmy’s first steps.

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