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Joe Saadeh

VHS recording with digital cameras

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Hello Everyone,

I am currently in pre-production for a music video. We will be filming it on the Arri Alexa.
The director would like to achieve the effect of VHS. I know this could be done in post production but i had this idea.

; i dont know if it works.
So i would want to film everything on camera and keep the raw footage for later but i was thinking maybe if its possible to Rec OUT from Alexa to a VHS Recorder ?!
Anyone tried it before ??
Thanks a lot and i'm very open to hear any suggestions on how we would able to achieve the look on set .

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Well, an old VHS camcorder wouldn't have had a 24P 35mm sensor, let alone 14 stops of dynamic range!


Yes, you could record the HD-SDI out to a VHS recorder if you first put it through a HD-to-SD downconverter to get 60i NTSC or 50i PAL (you didn't say what country you are in). I don't think the Alexa itself can send out a downconverted SD signal but I could be wrong. You'd also need an adaptor of some sort to convert BNC to whatever the VHS player uses (RCA or the cable input).


But is the point to emulate the look of a 35mm movie released on VHS tape? Or to emulate the look of smaller-sensor, standard-def, interlaced-scan video cameras from the 1980's?


You may have to duplicate the VHS tape onto VHS tape a few times to really get those crappy artifacts to build up before bumping it back up.


Also keep in mind that SD is 4x3 so the downconverted HD signal will be squeezed (anamorphic 16x9).

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You could try connect the Alexa into a CRT TV and hook up a VCR recorder and record the Alexa footage to tape - only problem then is to re-digitise it.


Funnily enough I am also in pre-production on a music-video where we too wish to create a VHS asthetic, however we are going to actaully shoot on an old Panasonic (M7) - now we're just trying to figure the best way of digitising the footage and upscaling it to HD. Have come across Black Magic's Video Recorder which encodes toH.264 - anyone aware of any other alternatives or ideas?

Edited by Niall Conroy

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Canopus makes boxes which can/could take an RCA input (or Svideo) and convert it to DV firewire signal which a program like FCP can see as a non controllable deck-- then you could capture now and figure out a way to uprez it.

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would it be easier to just output all the raw material later to the VHS before editing, so you can experiment more with the final results and don't have to deal with separate recorder on set?


also could do this step to the final cut of the video (in post house before/after color correction, before mastering) .



Was the purpose of the on-set VHS to be able to play back and simulate the results on set?


If you output the Alexa sdi to the sdi-->hdmi converter and then the hdmi to the hdmi-->composite rca converter, then you could simulate at least the crosstalk and color artifacts of the vhs image in your monitors (maybe even the noise if you use long enough unshielded cable :D )


vhs recorders usually have at least an analog SCART connector, you can use SCART to HDMI converter and an hdmi recorder (PIX, Hyperdeck, etc.) to digitize the tapes for editing.

For on-set recording, it could be easiest to use SDI--->HDMI together with HDMI--->SCART -adapters to get the Alexa image to the VHS recorder, if the VHS does not have hdmi input :)

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My experience is that while the Alexa image can be jostled around in post to emulate classic film looks, it's much more elusive to duplicate the look of analog and particular tube-camera video.


As a result, I've collected a few 80's era cameras and we've used these quite a bit on the series I shoot (Key & Peele, on Comedy Central) when we are looking to emulate that particular look.


For this one we used a Magnavox home video camera circa 85 (1/2 Saticon tube) that conveniently had a breakout cable with power and composite video so I am able to connect it to an external solid state recorder (I have a couple of old Nnovia DV recorders similar to the Firestore that I fortunately didn't sell before they became obsolete). From previous work the director had sample clips of VHS artifacts like the rainbow shimmy you'd get an edit point and he layed those in here and there. The footage was upscaled in Smoke and cut in with the rest of our Alexa footage.



For these we used JVC-KY1900's (three 2/3 Saticon tubes) again fed out to solid state recorders.









While the look right out of the box is fantastic, it was only appropriate to complement it with the most appropriate (aka worst) lighting and camera moves we could muster, which was tremendous fun.


If anyone is interested, I have two each of the Magnavox and JVC cameras available for rental.

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I know this is obvious but to achieve a VHS effect you can always shoot on a VHS camera. Will save a huge amount of time in post.


The only 'downside' is that you have to make a decision on location.


But looking at it another way, a decision has to be made at some point anyway - and whether it's made back in the studio or on location doesn't change the fact that a decision is required. I'd suggest the decision made on location can have it's own kind of weight - it's own kind of logic that can work just as well, if not more so, than a decision made in the apparent comfort of the post house. Indeed, are decisions made in post really all that comfortable anyway? The client couch might be comfortable on the bottom - the ambient lighting of the studio soothing, the coffee not bad, but the time otherwise ticking away can make all of that completely irrelevant.


There is nothing quite like making a locked in bold and authorative decision on location.



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