By Don Lindich
Week 31, 2007
Q: I have been looking for the right digital camcorder so that I can do the pass through method to put analog to DVD after editing. I’d like to go with MiniDV as it has been recommended by you and an Apple Pro, but most of the Mini DV camcorders don’t support pass through. When I go to Circuit City or Best Buy, they all tell me pass through can’t be done at all. Then they direct me to the Pinnacle converter and software that the Hi-8 camcorder plugs into, and then into the Mac for editing and burn to DVD. A little research showed me that Pinnacle isn’t even compatible with Mac!
Please set me straight on what to do. I do want to get a digital cam even if the pass through isn’t the answer.
-Joanne Fisher, Pittsburgh, PA
A: I do think a MiniDV camcorder with pass through is the way to go. Besides offering great value for the money, the MiniDV format offers great image quality and by using tape you automatically get an archive of all your raw footage simply by saving your tapes rather than reusing them. Many people record over their old tapes after they download the footage and make DVDs, and I think this is often a mistake. Besides memories that are lost, the raw footage can always be used to make new DVDs if originals are scratched, and the footage can be used in future projects.
For readers who are unfamiliar, “analog pass-through” is a feature once offered on almost all digital camcorders, but is a bit harder to find today. To use analog pass-through, you take the same analog cables you normally hook up to the television and connect them to the outputs of an analog video source such as a VCR, analog camcorder, or cable box. A FireWire cable is then connected from camcorder to computer. You select import on the editing software and press play on the analog device, and the digital camcorder translates the incoming analog signal to digital and sends it to the computer for editing. After editing you can use it to make DVDs, web videos, or whatever other project you may have in mind.
Some camcorders will work as a digital VCR as well. This mode simply records the incoming signal on MiniDV tape. After recording you connect the camcorder to the computer and download the footage.
I’ve used camcorders both as pass-through devices and as digital VCRs and I find the digital VCR mode to be the most reliable way to transfer the footage, though it involves two steps (record and download) vs. the pass-through’s single step. Sometimes when using the camcorder as a pass-through device the computer loses its lock on the signal and the transfer is interrupted halfway through.
Canon HV20 HDV camcorder- records standard and high definition video on MiniDV tape
My top recommendation is the Canon HV20, a camcorder which can record either as a high definition HDV camcorder or as a standard definition MiniDV camcorder, all on MiniDV tapes. It supports analog pass through and has an Optical Image Stabilizer, a very important feature that will keep your videos looking stable even when hand-holding the camera. It retails for $1,100.
If that is out of your budget, check out the Canon’s standard definition ZR700. It features pass through for only $349. If you are willing to try refurbished, the best overall value right now is a refurbished Canon Elura 100 for $399 at amazon.com.