Field recordists, your camera’s LP mode is not for you

If you are a field researcher or recordist capturing video and audio for your research, you may still be working with tape based media that offers a Long Play (LP) mode that claims to increase the amount of content you can record on a single tape. Sounds irresistible  I know, the prospect of carrying fewer tapes or getting that many more hours of source for the tapes you do carry. But I urge you to resist the temptation of these lines of reasoning and stick with the SP mode of your camera.

‘Why?’, you demand, and rightly so since it seems like a lot to give up for no discernible benefit. But that is because there is another dimension to your field work not touched upon in this reasoning. Namely durability. What good to you are all those extra hours of recording if when you return to your office you find that the tapes are not playable? What would you think if I told you that there are no professional VTR’s that include an LP mode? This is because no manufacturer thinks for a minute that they could produce a deck that would reliably play an LP tape.

Here is the thing, the way they accomplish extending the running time of the tape is to pack the data  on the tape more densely; by slowing the tape down. This greater data density increases the likelihood of dropouts, both in the audio and video. It also increases tracking errors which is why it is not uncommon for an LP mode recorded tape to only be playable in the camera that the recording was made with.

So the question is, how important is your data? LP mode was made for people screwing around on their vacations who need extra recording time. If they lose that video, it probably isn’t the end of the world. But if you are relying on the material you record to support your research, or to become a primary resource in someone else’s research, or to preserve cultural heritage, then LP mode is a ticking time-bomb waiting to wipe away your good work.

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