So Mr. Jobs, chief executive of Apple, called to tell me how wrong I was.
“You’re not going to edit those tapes,” I remember him telling me. “You don’t have the time.”
I was offended. How dare he be so direct, so presumptuous — and so right?
“When were you planning to edit all those tapes?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe when I retire.”
“You know what? By the time you retire,” he said, “there won’t be a camcorder left that can play them. Ten years from now there won’t be a camera left that can play them.”
He told me that the electronics companies had already stopped developing tape camcorders. In eliminating the FireWire jack from Macs, Apple was just reflecting the new reality.
Since that phone call, a lot has happened. Apple restored the FireWire jack to the next generation of MacBook Pro laptops, a concession to the public outcry (though Apple’s two lower-powered models are still FireWire-free). And sure enough, one by one, the camcorder companies eliminated tape camcorders from their lineups. Today, for example, Canon sells only a single tape model — which has been essentially unchanged for three years. Apparently, tapeless camcorders are the future.
But I’d always had three beefs with tapeless. First, the video quality wasn’t as good as tape. Second, once the camcorder’s hard drive filled up, you were dead in the water. You couldn’t record anything more until you got home from your vacation and emptied the video onto your computer.
Finally, you no longer had cassettes as a handy backup; you had to store your videos on a hard drive and hope that nothing went wrong with it.
But here’s what else has happened since November 2008: the quality of some tapeless camcorders now matches tape. (I’ll be reviewing them soon.) You don’t have to worry about filling up your camcorder anymore, because dirt-cheap memory cards take the place of cassettes. And hard-drive prices have dropped so much that hard-drive video storage (at about $1.20 an hour of video) costs even less than tape ($4 an hour). In fact, even two hard drives — a master and a backup — costs less than tape.
So last summer, reluctantly, I bought a 1-terabyte drive and began transferring all my MiniDV tapes onto the computer, one at a time. Little by little, my intern and I worked through the huge stack of original tapes (140, to be precise).
Each one-hour tape takes one hour to transfer, but you can do other things in the meantime, either on the computer or around the house, pausing every now and then to change tapes.
I had decided to use Final Cut Pro; since that app is for pros, I figured the quality of the transferred video would be pristine.
But one day in late summer, when we had transferred 85 hours of tapes, I was inspecting the transferred video when I received a horrible shock: there were no date stamps.
Every MiniDV camcorder invisibly imprints the date and time on every frame of video. For home movies, it’s indispensable. You can’t see it on your TV, but it’s available to see in just about every video editing program on earth.
Except Final Cut. Final Cut ignores this information — doesn’t import it with the video. (Apple asserts that professional TV and film editors don’t need to know when something was shot. But I’ll bet they’d like it if they had it.)
I finally decided that there was no solution but to start all over again — this time, using iMovie. Yes, iMovie, the simple video app that comes on every Mac. It may not be Final Cut, but it does store the video at full quality (in the same DV format the camcorder uses) — and it does preserve the date and time information.