Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Years of Family Video

We bought our first video camera when our oldest child was born. We paid over $1,000 for the thing, which had a black-and-white viewfinder. The device, which was fantastically compact for its day, used smaller Hi8 tapes. Some tapes held as much as two hours of film.

The births of our first three children and many moments from the early years of their lives were captured on tape. Drooling, rolling over, crawling, laughing, crying, jumping, running, climbing, playing, talking, and the like filled hours of tape. Eventually school programs and soccer filled tapes as well. Our children were (and are) beautiful — to us, at least.

In those early years, I sat and painstakingly copied the video segments we wanted to keep onto VHS tapes. Back in those days, the only editing tools I had were the pause button on the camera and the pause button on the VHS recorder. The home movies I produced were pretty rudimentary.

To top it off, I’m frankly not a very good videographer. I don’t take the time to take the kinds of interesting shots that our second oldest has become proficient at capturing. Maybe some of that is simply due to being a parent that constantly has to be focused on multiple things at once: the camera, the kid in the viewfinder, the kid in my arms that is trying to grab the camera, the kid to the side that is about to step into the mud, etc.

A while after our third child was born our video camera started acting up. We had bought extended batteries, but it started intermittently just shutting off or refusing to work. As my wife’s fourth pregnancy advanced, we became concerned that the camera would fail while trying to film the birth. So we were soon shopping for a new video camera.

We ended up with a digital camera that used MiniDV tapes. It was far smaller than our previous camera and took far better shots, yet it cost only $600. It had both a traditional (color) viewfinder as well as a small fold-out video screen. The camera performed admirably for the births of our fourth and fifth children. It successfully captured many hours of tape for a number of years.

Not long after our fourth child was born, we got a new computer that included video hookups and video editing software. This setup was great for our digital camera. I soon began making DVD home movies. While I was able to add titles and effects, my videography talents improved little. Over the space of a few years, little by little, I also went back and made DVD movies from our older analog camera’s tapes as well.

About three years ago our MiniDV camera started acting up, inserting hiccups and jumpy breaks during recording. No amount of cleaning and servicing seemed to help. Then I read where this particular model was notorious for that kind of problem. The best remedy, it was suggested, was a new camera. So once again we found ourselves shopping for a new video camera.

This time we ended up with an even more compact digital model that has a 30 GB hard drive. It lacks the traditional viewfinder found on our previous cameras, but its fold-out video screen is far superior. We spent about $300 for the device. (They now have high definition models for about the same price.)

Although I was initially concerned about the lack of permanent source media — and we did lose some important Christmas morning clips one year due to my stupidity — the camera has performed admirably. Copying clips to the computer is as simple as hooking up a USB cable and then dragging and dropping the clips. The clips are large enough that I do not retain the originals once I have used them to make a DVD movie.

I now have more video editing options than ever, yet I tend to use few of these when developing my home movies. The amount of time covered by a given DVD varies depending on how much video we capture over time. Sometimes a DVD will cover a year or more. Sometimes it covers only a weeklong vacation. I note that since the newest camera is so simple to use, we take more video with it. We have built up 25 family movie DVDs so far. We have given a complete set to my parents and my in-laws, at least in part for the purpose of having an off-site backup of the disks.

Since I have watched audio and video storage media change significantly over my lifetime, I assume that the default video storage medium will soon change again. The DVD format will likely go the way of the VHS tape before too long. It is not yet clear where that evolutionary path is headed. Maybe someday I will be storing my 25+ home movie volumes on some remote server that offers the service for free.

Why do I continue to capture video and make home movies? I feel compelled to document my family’s development. My older children seldom watch the movies. My youngest child watches all of the disks over and over. Not only does this remind her of events in her own life, she learns what her siblings were like before she was ever born.

Although the older kids do not watch our home movies often, I assume that I will one day have grandchildren. I hope that they take an opportunity to peruse these videos. Not only will they be able to see that grandma and grandpa were once vibrant younger adults, they will be able to watch their daddy or mommy grow up right before their eyes. At some point each of our lives, the lives of our predecessors intrigue us. I hope that our family’s home movies help satisfy those interests someday.

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