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How to Choose Digital Video Tapes

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/15/2010

Choosing the correct DV tapes is just as important as choosing any of your equipment. Here are some things to consider before making that next purchase.

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    An Important Choice To Make

    Home digital video production relies on several pieces of equipment, both large and small, to be successful. Your camera must be working, any microphones or lights being used must be set up and prepared for, and the editing software you use for post-production must be in working order. Ironically, one of the most neglected components of the average digital video shoot is the DV tapes. Many people do not spend the time researching and purchasing the correct DV tapes when entering into a project. Since these are what your film will be recorded on there is nothing more important than choosing the correct DV tape.

    The most standard thing people need to be aware of is what type of DV tape their camera supports. Though most cameras now shoot on the tiny Mini-DV tapes, there are still digital cameras out there that use larger tapes. If you are using a higher-end digital video camera you need to know if it uses more professional formats like DVCPRO50 or DVCPRHD because they may not be able to support the standard Mini-DV tape. Be careful when deciding what brand of Mini-DV tape you are using because each tape, and tape deck used for capturing footage, functions using a unique type of lubrication. Some tapes use a liquid, oil based lubrication, while other use a powder form. When the two combine they can become a thick paste, damaging tape heads and decks. Though this problem has “officially” been fixed according to most manufacturers, it is still noted as a common problem by most professional digital video producers. This is one of the more common sources of video “dropout,” which is where the camera loses connectivity for a brief moment with the tape and you lose some of the recording. The best way to do this is to know what type of lubrication your equipment is using, then pick a brand and stick with it until you decide to change recording mediums.

    Another concern is that when choosing the correct DV tape, decide how high quality you want the video to be and whether or not you may be recording on it more than once. If you need a higher quality then you might want to look at the slightly more expensive “Pro” tapes, which feature a higher signal to noise ratio to help cut down on visual interference. Sony and Panasonic both make two pro grades that are affordable to the average home digital video producer. The DV tape choice is just one aspect of preparation in your project. All things must be considered, including the types of tapes your camera needs, what brand the tapes are, and what quality is desired. It is important to make educated and appropriate choices about all aspects of production, from the location and schedule all the way down to what format you will be recording on. Tape choice should always be on the forefront of every home producers mind.