Brian writes, “How do I know when my digital video camera needs maintenance. What kinds of maintenance can I do myself? Or do I need a professional to service my camcorder?”
In general, leave any serious maintenance issues to a trained professional. For one thing, having an authorized repair outfit do the maintenance will keep you from invalidating the warranty on your digital video camera, while also avoiding the risk of doing permanent damage. The one simple thing you can do yourself to help extend the life of your video camera is to use a head cleaning cassette, coupled with some good storage and usage habits.
As a rule of thumb, doing a simple head cleaning with a MiniDV cleaning cassette once every three months is likely often enough. The cleaning cassettes are available at most electronics stores or you can find them with a quick search for MiniDV cleaning cassette at your favorite online shopping site.
Once you have a cleaning cassette, the steps for cleaning are fairly straightforward. Insert the cleaning cassette, press play record, let the tape run for about 10 seconds. This gets any gunk off the heads in your video camera, while not overworking the heads with the abrasive nature of the cleaning cassette.
If you have one of those newer touch-screen viewfinders, it’s a good idea to keep a supply of monitor cleaning cloths around to get the greasy fingerprints off the screen. If you don’t keep the LCD screen clean, the protective coating will wear off over time.
The only other thing you should clean yourself is the lens. This is easily done with a combination of a can of compressed air, one of those non-abrasive brushes you find at camera stores and when necessary, a non-abrasive cloth.
Keeping Your Camera Clean Between Cleanings
There are a number of things you can do to help extend the life of your camera and reduce maintenance headaches in the future. The biggest one is avoiding switching between wet and dry lubricant tapes. Sony tapes use a wet lubricant. Every other tape manufacturer on the market uses a dry lubricant for tapes. If you switch from wet to dry lubricant tapes, you risk gunking up your tape heads when the residue from the two types of lubrication combine inside your camera.
If you opt to switch tape brands, you should definitely clean your camcorder heads before making the switch.
Proper storage of your camcorder is also a good preventive step in keeping your camcorder working smoothly. Keep your camcorder in low humidity, in a dust-free environment. Storing your camera in a camera bag is a good way to accomplish the dust-prevention.