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Getting DV footage onto a current Mac

kvbarkley
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Around the turn of the century, there were many camcorders that recorded with a format called Digital Video. (DV for short). This was one of the first all-digital formats for home video recording and was an outgrowth of the consumer analog video recording market.

Because USB was not suitable for streaming video at that time, DV cameras had FireWire outputs. Since Apple helped develop the technology (It also became an IEEE standard: IEEE 1394), most Macs at the time had FireWire ports allowing for easy importing of DV. iMovie came along to make non-linear editing available. It was first released in October 1999.

Technology has changed much in the last 20 or so years, and Firewire ports are no longer de rigueur on Macs (and were never common on PC’s), so importing tapes from old DV camcorders is getting more difficult, and you had better hurry and do it since the hardware (and software!) is evaporating quickly.

First off, the easiest way is to simply punt and send your tapes to a service like LegacyBox. For a fee, they will transfer your tape to either DVD (another vanishing standard!) or a file that you can download or receive via USB stick. Check around, there might also be a local service that can do this. When I transferred some 8mm movies to DV tapes in the early 2000’s, I found a local service in Hollywood that did a good job. To allow for editing, make sure to get the returned movies in the least compressed format they can provide,. (AppleProRes or standard DV files, if possible)

But if you really want total control, you need to get Firewire to your Mac.

One option – which seems to be popular on the Final Cut Apple Community – is to get an old Mac that has a native FireWire port.

If you don’t have an older Mac, you will need a FireWire Adapter. There may be some non-Apple FireWire adapters out there – OWC made a Thunderbolt dock with a FireWire port – but they are few. Do NOT get a USB to FireWire adapter. Those might work for FireWire disk drives (I don’t really know), but they almost certainly will not work to stream DV.

For the Apple solution, first you need a Mac with a Thunderbolt 1 or 2 (the little square port) or a TB 3 port. It must be Thunderbolt, NOT just USB with a USB-C connector. (Thunderbolt 3 uses the same connector as USB-C, so it can be confusing.)

Now the hard part. You also need to get the Apple FireWire to Thunderbolt 1/2 adapter [Model A1463; Part Number MD464ZM/A or MD464LL/A]. These appear to be discontinued, so they are in short supply. If you have TB1/2 on your computer, you are good to go, just plug the adapter into your Mac. If you have TB3, you will need Apple’s TB1/2 to TB3 adapter [Model A1790; Part Number MMEL2AM/A or MMEL2ZM/A]. (These, at least, seem to still be available.)

Once you have a FireWire port on your Mac, you need to connect your camcorder. Most camcorders use the 4 pin FireWire connector, so you will need a FW800 9 pin connector to FW400 4 pin connector cable. If you have another FW 400 peripheral – such as a disk drive – you may be able to daisy chain that to use the more common FireWire 400 connector to the 4-pin connector.

Before you can import, you may need to activate legacy device support if you are using Sonoma or later:

https://support.apple.com/en-us/108387

Now that the camcorder is connected, you can use iMovie or Final Cut to import the DV footage. (Note that Adobe has removed DV import functionality from Premiere and their other video-related apps.)

If you really can’t get direct import of DV to work – and as you can see there are a lot of links in the chain between the camera and a final movie on the Mac – you can get a capture card. There are several options, such as El Gato Video Capture or Vidbox, that can take the analog video output from your camcorder and capture it into a file. However, quality may suffer compared to a direct DV import. Use S-Video if available. One thing to note is that these generally save to a highly compressed MP4 format that does not lend itself to further editing.

After it is imported and edited – at the very least you should put a title at the beginning with some basic who, what & where information (Your grandchildren will thank you!) – you can save it as you see fit. A good export format would be H.264 in mp4. Apple Photos or AppleTV app are two choices for applications that can help you organize your movies.

 

TL;DR

If you want to import DV directly onto your current Mac, do it sooner rather than later, since the hardware and software are getting thin on the ground.

If you don’t have a FireWire port on your Mac, you can use the Apple adapters.

It may be easier to just let someone else do it.

2 REPLIES 2

rs-eos
Elite
Elite

Nice writeup!

Thankfully, many years ago while I still had a Mac Pro with built-in Firewire, I imported all the must-have footage.

Years later, I found an additional tape or two that would have been OK to import, but definitely not a must-have.  That is something I could not get to work at all with an iMac Pro at the time.

Agreed that it may be easier (or perhaps the only choice) to use a service.

--
Ricky

Camera: EOS 5D IV, EF 50mm f/1.2L, EF 135mm f/2L
Lighting: Profoto Lights & Modifiers

kvbarkley
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Thanks, and before someone asks, I have no idea how to get it onto a PC.

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