How important is tape choice when filming in DV or HDV?

There are expensive DV and HDV tapes and there are cheap ones. Does it make a difference?
Is it worth the risk to buy them in bulk at Costco?
Here are my own suggestions on how to make the right choice.

I guess the question you have to ask when buying cheap tapes is “how much am I going to be affected by a random tape dropout or screw-up?”If the answer is that losing a few frames at any point is no big deal (either because the subject is not that critical, or because you have plenty backup options to retake, or coverage from other cameras) then fine – go and buy some cheapo bulk tapes, though I personally stick to at least Sony Premium ones – the cheapest Sony ones as they are not that expensive now and it just seems intuitively right to use Sony tapes with Sony cameras.

If the answer is that losing even one frame is a disaster (because it’s a one-off non-repeatable event which ONLY this tape is filming and people are expecting/paying for perfection) then time to get the credit card out and pay up for proper HDV tapes – it’s like insurance. You pay up even though you NEVER want to have to rely on it.

Even with cheaper tapes there are things you can do to help minimise the risk. The four biggies in my view are:

1. fast forward and rewind new tapes before use. Note I DON’T mean blacking and coding the tape – that’s old skool and no longer needed or desired. (just wears out tape a little more)
I mean put in the new tape out of the packet, fast forward all the way through and rewind all the wayback. This settles in the tape in the housing and to your camera transport (or something!!).

2. Try to ONLY ever record onto tapes once. I really mean that. NEVER re-use tapes if you can help it. Use it to record, use it to ingest for editing then that’s it. On the shelf. The tapes are so cheap that this isn’t so extravagant as you think.

3. Never put your final edited clip back on the same tape as your source footage. If the tape gets jammed, or eaten or stood-on (or stolen!) etc. you can always re-capture from the source tape, or you can re-edit from the final version if necessary. If both are on the same one, you are screwed…to use the technical term.

4. Try not to mix tape types. This is a little bit more superstitition than actual fact, but there’s some evidence to suggest that running different tapes through a transport can cause problems over time.

I have mostly followed these rules, and used Sony Premium tapes pretty much exclusively, and have had good
luck with no significant dropouts etc. over several hundred tapes (DV of course, not HDV).

UPDATE: as I am now filming in HDV, I have experimented with different HDV tape stock.

Maybe I am lucky but I’ve used about 60 Sony Premium tapes for HDV now and not noticed a single drop-out.


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