MiniDV vs. Digital8

What's the difference between these two old camcorder formats?

Although most people use a smartphone or digital camera to record videos, there are a lot of tapes for traditional camcorders in circulation. Two of the oldest digital camcorder formats are MiniDV and Digital8. We've compiled a comparison of these two technologies for those who still have old videotapes lying around.

MiniDV vs Digital8
MiniDV
  • Uses MiniDV (6mm) tape as the recording media.

  • Record up to 90 minutes on a tape in LP mode.

  • 500-line video resolution capability.

  • 640x480 still-picture resolution.

Digital8
  • Uses HI8, 8mm, or Digital8 tape as the recording media.

  • Record one hour on each tape.

  • 500-line video resolution capability.

  • 640x480 still-picture resolution.

In the late 1990s, the first digital camcorder format arrived on the consumer scene in the form of MiniDV. Manufacturers such as JVC, Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, and Canon brought models to the market along with other existing formats available at the time, such as VHS, VHS-C, 8mm, and Hi8.

In 1999, Sony introduced another digital camcorder format to the market: Digital8 (D8). MiniDV and Digital8 formats share some common qualities. For example, both use the same compression and decompression standards as well as PCM audio recording. Both formats are also compatible with desktop video editing software.

MiniDV Pros and Cons

Advantages
  • Smaller than Digital8 camcorders.

  • Manufactured by many reputable companies.

  • Greater flexibility for video duplication.

Disadvantages
  • Not compatible with older camcorder formats.

  • Different models offer different features.

MiniDV was supported by major manufacturers, including Canon, JVC, Panasonic, Sharp, and Sony. Consequently, there's an abundance of MiniDV models, from tiny units not much larger than a pack of cigarettes to the large semi-pro 3CCD types used in independent film production. The pro versions of MiniDV, referred to as DVcam and DVCpro, were standards that were used for commercial and broadcast video applications around the world.

Digital8 Pros and Cons

Advantages
  • Same body design as HI8 and 8mm camcorders.

  • Digital and analog video in/out capability.

  • Backward compatibility with older formats.

Disadvantages
  • Manufactured by only one company.

  • Fewer variations available.

If you owned a Hi8 or 8mm camcorder, upgrading to Digital8 was a logical upgrade since Digital8 camcorders play analog 8mm and Hi8 tapes. Digital8 camcorders offer analog video in/out capability, which enables the operator to make a digital video copy from any analog video source that has an RCA or S-video output. Although some MiniDV camcorders also have this ability, the feature wasn't available for entry-level models.

MiniDV was an industry standard that had a track record by the time Sony introduced Digital8. As a result, with Sony being the only backer of Digital8, the format fell by the wayside, especially as the cost of MiniDV camcorders declined.

Playing and Converting MiniDV and D8 Tapes

You cannot play MiniDV or Digital8 tapes in a regular VCR, even with a VHS adapter, nor can you play Digital8 recorded videos on an analog 8mm or Hi8 camcorder. To play these tapes, you need a working MiniDV or Digital8 camcorder, or you need a special VCR.

If your MiniDV or Digital8 camcorder no longer works, you may be able to find some used models on sites such as Amazon or eBay. If your MiniDV or Digital8 camcorder works, use it to transfer the recordings to DVD using either a DVD recorder or a PC, as long as the PC or laptop has an IEEE 1394 (Firewire/i-Link) connector. If that's not an option, use an analog-to-USB video converter or a professional video duplication service.