Capturing Old Footage

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the September, 2008, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]


Don Riley sent me these questions a while back about how to capture old, archived footage. He writes:

I have a collection of over 100 tapes of Big Game fishing which I’ve been doing for over 40 years and include famous people, world records (with many fish in excess of 1,000 pounds}. After being pestered by everyone I finally made a few DVD’s with iMovie and won first prize at the Miami International Boat Show in 2005, if you can believe that. It was the content, of course, not the editing.

in 2006 I was struck with cancer and my activity ceased but since last Dec. I’ve recovered and to keep my mind active I bought a MacBook Pro 2.6GHZ 4GB RAM etc. My goal now is to capture, log, catalogue and create a library that can access any scene needed for editing, i.e. heavy seas, underwater reef, sunsets, giant marlin, the list goes on. I’ve run into a problem — my old sony DV camera was able to convert all the Hi-8 film until it finally died. I need something to get it on on my scratch disk.

In addition, I’m leaving in Sept. for the Great Barrier Reef and will be there till next Jan. The skippers and crews of the Marlin fleet will give me all their tapes — you can imagine the media I’ll have. They are like family to me. I’ve been going there for 25 years, they don’t part with their tapes. So the task is to capture all this. Any guidance would be appreciated.

Larry replies: Don, you have lived an incredible life…! Thanks for writing.

You have several issues here:

  1. You need to capture the tapes at the same quality at which they were shot. However, since you are dealing with a potentially vast array of video formats, it is critical that you capture them at the highest quality and NOT compress them too soon.
  2. You not only need to capture them but to log them and make them accessible to others.
  3. You need to archive this footage so that it doesn’t get lost.

Capture – Catalog – Archive.

All this is doable, but it is not inexpensive or fast. All this can be done by one person, but it is a LOT of work and may exceed what you are interested in doing.

Here’s a short summary of what you need to do:

  1. DV video takes 13 GB per hour to store. Buy enough hard disk space to store everything, plus leave about 20% free on each disk. DO NOT compress the video – you will regret it as soon as you start to edit. Capture DV as DV. For safety, and assuming you have reasonable AC power, I recommend a RAID 5 from Dulce Systems, or CalDigit.
  2. Dub all VHS tapes to DV using a time-base corrector – like the DataVideo TBC1000

    This allows you to return the original tapes to the people that contributed them. You can make a higher quality copy than the source tape, then capture it frim DV using FireWire at high quality for editing.

  3. Cataloging is where the most time will be spent — making sure clips are properly entered, tracked, and metadata entered. Final Cut Server can be used, but it isn’t cheap and it takes a professional to install. You might also look at CatDV or Apple Filemaker as a temporary workaround.
  4. Archiving – short term, this means making copies of all your hard disks – in case a disk fails, you don’t lose media. This covers you for a couple of years. Longer term, you need to archive to tape – ideally, LTO-3 or LTO-4 tape.

    When archiving, do NOT create a video DVD – you are losing quality. DVDs are for final distribution, not archiving.

Finally, get some help with this project. You can have some people dubbing, while others are capturing and others are cataloging.

It sounds like a great project – I wish you tremendous success.

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