How to Upload Videos From an Old Camcorder to a PC

There's no need to lose your favorite memories

Shooting video on camcorders has been a great way to preserve precious memories, and many have copied them to VHS and DVD so the videos can be watched on TV and/or passed out to family and friends. However, with the demise of VCRs and DVD recorders, the most practical way to preserve videos going forward is to upload (transfer) your old camcorder videos to a PC.

A man holding a camcorder towards himself and his family.
ImagesBazaar / Getty Images

Depending on the type of camcorder, the connections it has and supporting software a PC has determines how videos can be uploaded and saved.

Commonly Used Camcorder Recording Media

Here is a review of recording media a camcorder may use.

AV Output Connections You Might Find on a Camcorder

Your old camcorder might have one of two different types of AV output connections you can use to connect it to a computer.

Analog (RCA Composite, S-Video)

Camcorder Analog Video/Audio Connections

Digital (USB and/or DV aka iLink/Firewire/IEEE1394)

Camcorder DV and USB Connections

Analog and Digital Camcorders That Use Tape

If you have a camcorder that uses tape, whether analog or digital, to upload the video to your PC, you need to play the tape in your camcorder or a compatible player and connect that device to your PC, taking the following two things into consideration:

  1. Your PC needs to have analog (composite) or DV (iLink) video connections to accept the signal. 
  2. When transferring video recorded on tape, all uploading is done real-time. This means if your tape is one hour long, it will take one hour to upload from a camcorder or player to a PC. 

If your camcorder records in a digital format and provides the DV (firewire, iLink, IEEE1394) digital connection for transferring audio and video a PC, your PC needs to have that type of connection for direct upload. If not, and you are unable to use the camcorder's alternate analog video connections, you will have to install a firewire card in your PC such as the one shown below.

Firewire Card for PC and Firewire Cables

Some MiniDV camcorders also use an SD or another type of memory card for taking still images. A USB port may be provided for downloading memory card still images, but the video may still need to be transferred by iLink (DV) or analog video connections. Check your camcorder user guide for details.

Camcorders That Use MiniDVD Discs

If the camcorder records on MiniDVD discs, it may have a USB port (mini or micro USB connection), but some may not. If it has a USB port, you can connect the camcorder to a PC using a standard or mini/micro-to-standard USB cable.

USB to miniUSB and microUSB
Cables to Go

If the camcorder doesn't have a USB port you may have the option of using standard AV connections.

However, if your PC has a DVD drive with the ability to accept MiniDVD discs, you can place the disc directly into the PC's DVD drive and transfer your video to the PC's hard drive without using a camcorder or player.

Camcorders That Use a Hard Drive or Memory Cards

If your camcorder uses a hard drive or memory card to record video and stills check to see if the PC has a firewire or USB port, or another option for memory cards, the appropriate built-in card reader. If not, purchase a card reader with the correct slots that can connect to a PC's USB port. 

Startech USB Card Reader Example

Unlike uploading from camcorders that record on tape, transferring video from a hard drive or memory card can be done much faster than in real-time. The transfer time depends on the transfer speed capability of the memory card, the USB port, and the PC's RAM and hard drive speed.

What To Do When Your PC Doesn't Have The Right Connections

If your PC doesn't have the required connections for your camcorder (most PCs don't have analog video inputs) then you will need to use an external Video Capture Device.

Using an External Video Capture Device

If you can't connect your camcorder to your PC directly using analog, firewire (iLink), or USB connections, here are the steps for connecting your camcorder to a PC using external video capture device, provided your camcorder also has analog AV outputs. 

  1. Connect the analog AV outputs of the camcorder to the AV inputs on the video capture device. 

    Elgato Analog to USB Video Capture Device
  2. Connect the USB output of the video capture device to a USB port on your PC.

    If your PC has both USB 2.0 and 3.0 connections note which version of USB the video capture device is optimized for. If the video capture device has USB 3.0, it will support a faster video upload speed when connected to a PC's USB 3.0 port.

  3. Turn on the camcorder to the Playback, VCR, or VTR mode and make sure the PC is on.

    Make sure the tape or disc is at the beginning of the footage that you want to transfer.

  4. Open the video capture or video editing software you want to use.

     Most external video capture devices come with their own capturing and editing software such as the example shown below. Depending on the software, it may allow you to cut out unwanted sections, add titles, chapters, background music, etc.

    Elgato Video Capture Software – Get Started
  5. Go through any software prompts reminding you to connect the video and audio (if desired) from your camcorder or video playback device.

    Elgato Video Capture Software – Connect Video
  6. Select Import or Start Recording on your capture software and press PLAY on the camcorder. 

    Elgato Video Capture Software – Record

    Uploading video through an analog-to-digital video capture device will be done in real time.

  7. Note any other editing instructions you would like to take advantage of.

    Elgato Video Capture Software – Trim
  8. Finish your upload and any editing and follow any additional prompts for saving or copying your video to your PC's DVD drive, memory card, or sharing method.

    Elgato Video Capture Software – Finish

Additional Considerations for Video-to-PC Uploading

  • The quality of the upload depends on how much RAM you have on your PC and the speed of the processor and hard drive.

Note both the minimum and recommended system requirements indicated by the software. If your PC only meets the minimum requirements, it may not be enough for smooth video transfer.

  • When converting analog video to digital files, the file sizes are large, which not only takes up a lot of hard drive space, but your upload might stall, or you may randomly lose some video frames during the process. This results in skips when played back from the hard drive or from the DVD that the hard drive transfers the video too.
  • Once your video is uploaded to your PC, you need software to view or edit it. You can opt to use video editing software that may come with the camcorder or a capture device (such as shown our steps illustrated above), but you may have other choices. Windows 10 PCs include a generic video editor that is compatible with several video file formats but there are many other possibilities. Check out some free video editing software options.
Windows Video Editor – Import Select

Why Capture Video From a Camcorder to a PC

With alternatives dwindling, the best way to preserve old camcorder videos, exclusive of having it done professionally, is enlisting the aid of your PC. 

Once videos are transferred to a PC, make sure to include them on your routine hard drive backups. 

Another benefit of uploading camcorder videos to a PC is that you can edit them, save the edited version(s) and then copy them onto DVD to share with family and friends.

If your PC is part of a home network that includes a smart TV and/or select media streamers, the PC (with additional software) can also be seen as a media server. This enables you to watch the videos on TV (make sure your PC is on so it can be recognized).