Why I made a home movie on our 20 year old tape camcorder

I’ve always been fascinated and enthralled by cameras. Growing up I’d always have my own little digital camera to hand, to snap photos of my dog and whatever school trip occurred that year.

In 2008, I discovered our old family camcorder. It was bought in 2000, so my parents could take videos of me as a baby. The result was around 5 tapes filled with precious family moments, which otherwise would have been forgotten in time’s unwavering march forwards.

What struck me most about these tapes is how they felt – the aesthetic was entirely unique, and although the quality by 2008 standards was poor, it was the content of the videos that lifted them up and pushed aside the noise and artefacts that come hand-in-hand with tape playback.

In 2020, I wouldn’t choose to view these memories in any other format. I’d take the noisy, low quality tape-recordings over 4k video any day. I know that’s probably because I’ve come to associate those memories with that format of video – I don’t know it any other way – but one must remember that although great leaps have been made in the advancement of video recording technology, it is ultimately the content of said video that is of primary importance. The quality is of little value when considering treasured memories. When you have but a few recordings of your family 20 years ago, you are simply grateful for the chance to view them. Any theoretical increase in quality is an absurd thought – the question is entirely rhetorical, because there is no answer; no, there’s none needed. You can’t travel back to hand yourself a better camera to increase the quality in the here-and-now, therefore the question is an empty one.

So, in 2008, I bought some new tapes from the store (which you can’t do now, in 2020), and made a new home movie of christmas morning. This was a common theme in the movies of old, so it seemed fitting to begin with this.

In 2009, we got our dog, Ruby, and I recorded hours upon hours of her as a puppy onto tape, with the very same camcorder. I could have used a digital camera to record in HD, but instead I carried on the tradition of using the camera.

This meant that a lot of memories from that decade were in the same format. I think this helps with the nostalgia element, as it removes the distraction of technological progress, allowing complete focus on the content.

Also, I think that the quality doesn’t matter because memory, like tape, is a degradable format. With time it is corrupted by repeated playback, and is imperfect even when newly recorded – even a new memory contains many faults, not unlike the noise and scanning errors of played-back tape.

Moving on, in 2020, I decided to dig out the camera again, and thankfully, it still works as well as it did when it was bought 2 decades ago. When it was purchased, the twin towers were still standing, Facebook hadn’t been created and 3/4 Beatles were still alive.

To obtain some Hi8 tape, I had to buy it from people on eBay, as stores no longer stock it, as it’s no longer produced (I don’t think).

I got my hands on 1 used tape, and 2 sealed ones. They all last 90 minutes.

I have just finished recording the entirety of the used tape, over the course of 2 months. During that time I recorded our house, work that my family was doing around the house, and lots of footage of my now much older dog.

Recording onto tape is a very unique experience. The different situations videoed are mushed together in one long, continuous 90 minute movie. This, in my opinion, promotes the user to record the more mundane daily-happenings, unlike if recording on a phone or modern camera, where each video is viewed separately and can therefore be scrutinised outside of the context of the other videos, and removed at will, if wanted.

The result of this is many high quality videos recorded onto a phone, but they are all of significant events, only.

Now this is still brilliant. These are the memories we want to preserve. But what must not be forgotten (or rather, what must now be learnt) is that in years time, every crack in time’s window for you to peer through is valuable beyond description.

Of course the birthdays, holidays, and graduations are important. But human life is more than just 5 significant days a year. Human life is characterised; made truly great, by experiencing the mundane. The every-day stuff. The stuff that doesn’t warrant a second glance or moment of contemplation when in the present, but when transformed into the distant past, is worth more than it’s weight in gold.

This brings me back to my point. In filling this 90 minute tape, I was thinking not just of what is interesting now, but what will be precious in 10, 20, 30 years time. Not the birthdays, but how our old home felt, how we laughed over dinner, the current state of familial relationships, what we often said to each other, what family life felt like in 2020. These are the important things, when considering what to record for the future. And that’s why I’m using a 20 year old camcorder that records onto a tape.

I must note that I am in fact digitising the tapes, and have done so for years. This is because although the imperfections such as noise make the videos what they are, the tape will degrade more and more over time, to the point where it will no longer be playable, let alone viewable. So I’m preserving how the tape looks here and now, to overcome the unfortunate risk of recording memories onto a physical medium.

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