Recording direct to disk from a Firewire equipped camcorder

There are mini-disk products that you can connect directly to your Firewire equipped camcorder to record direct to disk. But then tend to range in price from about $600 to $1800 depending on used vs new, capacity and vendor.

An alternative is to record direct to your notebook computer.

If you have a Macbook or Macbook Pro, a very easy way to record direct to disk is to connect the Firewire output of your camcorder to the notebook computer and then run iMovie and import from the camera.

The camera should be in its “camera” mode but does not need to be recording to tape. Whatever the camera sees will be recorded direct to disk.

This works with my Canon HV30 in HD mode and I’ve done it using both iMovie 8 and the older iMovie HD (version 6) connected to a Macbook.

On Windows, there are several software utilities available that will enable you to do the same thing. While I am typing this on a Windows desktop, I do not have a Windows notebook on which to test this out!

The main advantage to doing this is to overcome the occasional tape dropout problem that tends to plague HDV format.By recording direct to your notebook computer disk, who cares about tape dropouts! (Caution – you may want to use a longer Firewire cable to keep the notebook away from your camera mic, especially if the fan kicks on to keep the CPU cool. Not all cameras have sufficient drive signal to use a longer cable, though. So be sure to test out your configuration first!)

On SD recordings, a video dropout typically lost a single 1/30th of a second frame. If you even noticed, you could always copy an adjacent frame and no one would notice.

With HDV you can lose up to 1/2 second per dropout – and I guarantee, everyone will notice!

Two other steps to avoiding dropouts are to clean your video heads in the camera every 5 to 10 hours of recording – I use a Canon cleaning tape for about 10 seconds but I’m told most any cleaning tape is fine. The other important step is tape quality – I used to use TDK tape all the time on my SD camera with excellent results – but the SD tapes always had dropouts when recording HDV on standard TDK tape.

I switched to Panasonic AMQ (HDVM63AMQ) tapes and have now recorded probably 75 hours with excellent results on that tape. I buy mine from They have consistently quick order fulfillment and decent prices. If you are used to buying standard miniDV tapes at the local discount storeĀ  you’ll find that high quality tapes for HDV are more expensive – currently $5.25 in a minimum order of 10 units.

There are other brands that cost both more or less than these but I’m sticking with what has worked well for me. Hopefully this note provides some idea for you to try if you are plagued by video dropouts!

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