MiniDV – The miracle down-convert and archiving format!

MiniDV is the most under-rated and maligned standard definition video format!

Many people think of miniDV as a low-grade, consumer “home movie” format, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  MiniDV is the most ubiquitous standard format out there.  If you’re not shooting high-def in your home camcorder, you’re shooting MiniDV. Most people shooting MiniDV aren’t professionals and know little about proper lighting, exposure, stabilization, pleasing camera angles, etc. So consequently, most MiniDV footage looks terrible.  Also, the cheapo lenses on the front of your average home camcorder exacerbate the problem.

But the actual technology of MiniDV is quite remarkable. Not only can it easily import into any computer via Firewire, but when properly mastered, the footage can knock your socks off. It’s the old “Garbage in equals garbage out” adage.

Here at BetaSp To we have transferred some really stiking footage to MiniDV. For example, we had a high-end music video that was shot on 35mm film by one of the greatest DP’s (director of photography) out there. The video was editing, color-corrected and mastered to a pristine Digibeta tape. The digibeta master looked absolutely phenomenal.

A few months later, the client wanted to create a demo reel for their company using the video. They had Final Cut Pro in their office but they didn’t have a digibeta deck. I suggested they just transfer all the footage to MiniDV and then import it directly via firewire into their computer. The client was resistant, due to the amateur reputation of MiniDV.

So I told them that transferring to MiniDV from Digibeta is done entirely as 1’s and 0’s, completely digital.  It’s also a really robust and CHEAP archiving format that looks fantastic.

The clients wanted to see a test. So we transferred the Digital Betacam to MiniDV. Then we all sat in dark room with a large Sony standard definition television and played the MiniDV and Digibeta tapes in a blind test 5 times. After 5 viewings in random order, we took a vote and asked people to guess which tape was which.  Low and behold, nobody in the room came up with the same guess consistently. In other words, in a blind test, nobody could tell the difference between MiniDV and Digital Betacam.

Digital Betacam is far superior to MiniDV in it’s technical specs and it Digibeta is a much better choice for the first digital master in the chain of post production. But ultimately, if the audience can’t tell the difference in later processes or editing, then why spend the money to stay in the digibeta format?

Further more, if you are submitting a film to a festival that accepts MiniDV, then everyone is going to be watching MiniDV anyway.

We often run into people with resolutionitis. It’s a disease that makes filmmakers think they must have the absolute highest resolution and quality no matter what. But they forget that content is king. Films on YouTube can have tens of millions of views, even though the video quality looks terrible. Remember the “Blair Witch Project?” That film was shot on crappy Hi-8 video and it still grossed tens of millions! Content is king.

MiniDV is cheap, easy to import via firewire, and makes a great archive tape (that doesn’t take up a lot of shelf space). And since almost every standard def camcorder out there is a MiniDV camcorder, it couldn’t be easier to find one to borrow to import your footage for editing in Final Cut Pro or Avid.