The hazards of re-recording MiniDV tapes, Fuji Frontier Lab Photo Printer

Week of November 2, 2003

Q:   I was recently given a digital camcorder that uses MiniDV tapes.   I use it to videotape my grandchildren and the picture looks beautiful on my big screen TV.

I recently used my last MiniDV tape and went to Wal-Mart to buy more.   The salesclerk suggested I connect the camcorder to my VCR and copy my MiniDV tapes to VHS, then re-use them in the camcorder.   Can I do this?

-George Frank., Ridgeland, SC

A:   It is possible to copy to VHS and reuse the MiniDV tapes, but there are reasons you may not want to.   Depending on the camera you own and the tapes you use, you may run into recording problems re-using the tapes.     These problems will manifest during playback, when the picture may break up or freeze occasionally.  

The copied VHS tapes will not have the beautiful picture quality you mentioned.   Video resolution is rated in lines.   More lines mean a better picture.   VHS is a low resolution video format, recording a maximum of 240 to 250 lines.   MiniDV is a high resolution video format, with the best MiniDV camcorders recording over 500 lines of resolution.   This means VHS copies of your MiniDV tapes will only have half of the original resolution.     This loss will be noticeable on your big screen TV.  

If you want to copy your MiniDV tapes to a more convenient format, there are ways to do so without losing the beautiful picture quality. One way is to get a computer that will allow you to download and edit your videos on the hard drive, then burn them to DVD.   This may be a cumbersome process for you, especially since your question suggests you are new to videography.

The second option is to buy a DVD recorder.   DVD recorders are much like VCRs, but record to blank DVDs instead of a tape.   These will record around 500 lines of resolution and preserve much of your MiniDV camcorder’s video quality.     DVD recorders are available for $400 and up.

The final option is a VHS VCR that features S-VHS ET.   A VCR with S-VHS ET will record around 400 lines of resolution, producing a much better copy than a regular VHS VCR.     S-VHS ET VCRs are also great with satellite dish systems as they will preserve the outstanding picture quality coming from the satellite receiver.   S-VHS ET VCRs are available for less than $200.

Q:   In a past column, you recommend sending digital camera files to a lab for printing.   Can you recommend a lab?

-Will Price, Wichita, KS

A:   Labs using Fuji Frontier printers are inexpensive and do an outstanding job, up to professional standards in most cases.   Frontiers can print from both digital files and 35mm film, so no photographers are left out.

Many Sam’s Club stores have a Frontier and only charge .19 per print.   Wal-Mart sells Frontier prints for .29 per print, and some Ritz Camera locations have Frontiers as well.   Ritz is much more expensive at .49 per print.  

The Frontier machines run under tight quality control standards and are digitally controlled, so spending more won’t necessarily get you better picture quality.   I have used the Sam’s Club printing myself and have been very satisfied with the quality, which in one case was better than a pro lab I use.

Comments are closed.