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Petter Englund

External recording film camera video-tap

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Hello there,

Looking for a solution for recording my 16mm video-tap from an Aaton XTR Prod onto a SD-card.
The XTR prod has an Aaton VideoSync Assist up and running.

I'd figure I need:
1.) an Analog -> Digital converter
2.) an external recorder

Found this converter from Blackmagic: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/…/Blackmagic_Design_CONVMAAS_M…

Is that it, or can I get away with something cheaper? Links/ product names?

Regarding an external recorder, I just want it very simple to use and small. Prores on a SD card is really all I need (just a PAL signal). Nothing fancy.

Will a Ninja Star get the job done? Anyone using something else of recommendation?

Somehow I want a monitor attached to the set up with real-time video-tap. Perhaps it's a better idea to find a monitor that does external recording as well? I'm the owner of a SmallHD 502 which I really like, but unfortunately it can't record...


Secondary question -

Since I'm new to shooting on film, I'm not experienced at all with using it on set.

What quality is the video-tap PAL signal I get out of the Video Assist in terms of color etc. -- ?
Can I pull focus on the video signal / use it to fine tune whatever lighting I have in a scene -- or is it more of just a compositional tool?
If I had a monitor that could put on a LUT, would that make any sense or would I just be wasting my time?

Thank you in advance! All answers / personal preferences are welcome!

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Those video taps generally send out a pretty low quality SD video signal. On my 416 to make it work with a Teradek, I bought a cheap Component to HDMI box, USB powered with a small brick battery, that we scale the signal up for steadicam and director. You could easily then use something like an Atomos to record your footage.


It's not good enough to focus with, or really to judge lighting, typically.

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The other option is to record on tape. Sony made a great little monitor/deck combo in both DV and Digital 8. This way there is no reason for any conversion, keep everything composite on set. The conversion process from analog to digital is a mess, it also takes up a lot of electricity, requiring a special power system on the XTR. You can also run audio into the recorder so you can have both bits together for "real" playback on set.


I still have my entire DV kit for capturing on set, but the stupid monitor blew up a few years ago. This also means you can use lower-end LCD monitors on set, instead of digital one's, which are kinda pricy.


As Kenny points out, the video tap is only really good for framing and reference. Until the 416, taps kinda looked like crap and none of them have any bearing on "color" of the shot.


The XTR battery system can power other 12v sources. I have D taps all over my camera thanks to Abel Cine and I've run many devices off the Aaton battery no problem, though it does drain them quicker. I've also used Anton Bauer battery systems on the Aaton, hanging them from the follow focus rails. With the modern lithium batteries, it doesn't add much weight if you're on a tripod or steadicam.

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Don't be fooled Tyler, the 416 video tap is also pretty low quality and hardly usable if you're shooting in bright settings. But the conversion isn't that tricky, I use a $40 box I bought at an electronics store (I actually have a handful of them). The DV clamshells are nice but a little impractical for our age. I usually go into an Odyssey. Being in the HD world opens you up to a lot of great modern accessories, and the ability to work with many steadicam op's sleds. Also most rental houses don't really have the older stuff anymore.

Edited by Kenny Suleimanagich

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The LTR/XTR taps are FAR worse quality then the 416 tap. They're analog cameras, the 416 is a digital camera. You really have to calibrate the tap properly, I've never had a single problem with the 416 tap in bright situations. It works flawlessly.


The $40 box is composite to HDMI I assume, which adds quite a bit of noise and delay to the signal. I have a few of those boxes in storage because they're garbage.


There are HUGE benefits to running an all-analog system cost wise. The DV clamshells work flawlessly because they're practically free and you can re-use the tapes over and over again since nobody is trying to edit with the material. Yes it's true, you'll need old school analog composite monitors, but they are a dime a dozen. People literally throw them away and they work great for composing shots, which all the tap is good for anyway.


Anyway, MY suggestion is don't bother going digital because I've been forced to do it several times and it sucks. I personally would never deal with all that crap hanging around my rig.

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I haven't found a recorder with a built in monitor that does composite to an SD recorder.


I was recently borrowing an Arricam LT from a friend and he doesn't have batteries, just AC adaptors. I'm like what good is that! I need a camera to be an entire package, not a bunch of ancillary things combined together to create a camera. That's why I dislike all the wiring and cabling of a modern setup. Wireless video adds a whole other can of worms and for a 16mm shoot, you might as well be shooting 35mm by the time you add all the crap. I had to setup my LTR for wireless video/focus control not long ago and that whole kit alone weighed as much as the camera did with film! As I tell young filmmakers who want to work with film, looking through the viewfinder is the only way to shoot with film. Where it's nice to have instant replay, you really don't know what you've got until it's been processed and transferred.

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Thanks for the answers!

I think it's kind of cool to take the best benefits from film and digital and combine them together.


Since the video taps nowadays still seem to be of pretty bad quality as you are mentioning, only capturing a signal with a CCS sensor and PAL/NTSC resolution - aren't there custom built cameras with a tap more in line with what the digital cameras nowadays are featuring (like a CMOS sensor?).


Or is that something that will come in the coming years... or perhaps never?

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It will probably never happen beyond custom solutions or one-offs. Even the HD Arricam taps are pretty bespoke, and I've never known a private owner's camera to have it. There have been discussions here about Satsuki Murashige's Moviecam Compact video tap, and the possibility to upgrade it. I think with the old style in which cameras had a port for a CCD camera, you could retrofit a modern SDI digital surveillance camera, assuming you could machine a mount that has accurate FFD and can deliver power to the unit.

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I think it wouldn't be too difficult to take a Go Pro and make a tap out of it. The case would need to be split of course and different lenses used for different cameras, but it's very possible for not much money. It's just development cost and of course if anyone cares/needs an HD tap.

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Unfortunately practical low-cost video tap recording systems are rather thin on the ground these days.

"Back in the day", that is up until the early 21st century, you could easily get VHS and Video-8 monitor recorder combos for not too much money, but that market is now long gone. Rental companies used to make serious money modifying them for film set use (underscan, 4-pin cannon power etc). When I was at Panavision Sydney, we would routinely quote 16mm production packages where the video tap and recorder cost considerably more than the film camera (less lenses) itself!


Video tap recorders were only ever intended to allow directors and other interested parties to get an idea of what was actually recorded and how well it was framed, they were never intended for assessing focus or general image quality. Colour taps were good for spotting inconsistencies in lighting colour balance; otherwise they were often a damned nuisance when ad clients were on the set. They often panicked because they thought that the tap colour was what the final result was going to look like!


Nowadays most TV is now digital, and recording is done by simply saving the incoming digital data stream onto a USB drive or a hard drive built into a PVR. The nearest thing you can get to a standalone analog recorder is to use a USB Analog video capture dongle with a laptop. However, I've never seen one of those with recorder software that works anything like a VHS or Video-8 Deck.

I was actually fooling around with some "endoscope" cameras that plug into my phone. They do pretty easy recording and playback, but I'm not sure how it would go as a video tap.


The company I now work for have for some time been trying to source a cheap digital TV modulator that would allow you to record onto a digital set top box or a TV with built-in USB recording. The best we can do so far is this one, which at US$169 is still too pricey for our application:



We can get a better bulk price, but it's still not better enough.

(By the way, the site's description is FUBAR; it calls it a "Satellite signal finder"...)
Also, they quote in US$, but that device definitely won't work in the US; you need an ATSC modulator for that!


A few years back the TV market was being flooded with 24" full HD sets that used a power supply "Dongle" instead of direct AC power. Consumers didn't like them overmuch, but most of them would work fine from both 12V and 24V camera batteries so they were popular on film sets. We're trying to source some of those for the R/V market, and if we could get a cheap Digital modulator, that would make an excellent 21st century replacement for the old video tap setup, particularly one that accepts both analog video and HDMI input like the one above.

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