Tape Durability & Maximum Number of Passes


Well-known member
After looking through some old tape stock in my modest archive library comprised of source, work and finished product mix tapes in various formats such as, 8mm ME, mini & full DV / DVC Pro, 3/4" U-matic SP and Beta SP collected over the last 25 yrs, the memories started coming back along with really appreciating how tough those things were back then.

In my early days and brief time in news, I remember seeing worn out, marked up tape shells with layers of old labels that looked so bad it was hard to believe ‎that their inner tape ribbon could still hold information with so many passes, load-ins, ejections, FF, RW, pre-roll cues, jogs and shuttles along with being tossed around in and out of hot, cold, dry and wet environments.
If you can recall, what are the worst tape shell & ribbon conditions, brands and formats, you saw or were made to work with along with the maximum number of passes you were able to get out of a single tape before experiencing dropout, a jammed ratchet or broken tape?

Also, what ‎did you consider the best ENG /EFP tape format and brand for field use or mastering?


Well-known member
The best Betacam format I worked with was SX. As long as you took care of the tapes (stored them in their boxes instead of loose, where they could pick up dust and dirt) they'd last forever.

When I retired my last DN9-WS in 2014, I was still occasionally using tapes that I had originally been issued in 1999. Fifteen years is an eternity in the life of a field tape.

The only tapes I ever had to throw out were some of the original batch that I didn't store properly when we first switched from analog Betacam.


Well-known member
For studio work digibeta was a workhorse. SP was great too, but digi really took things to the next level. Those machines were pretty much the standard for studio and sports around here. I think SX was more popular with news, but I never did much with it myself.

In one facility I worked at, we would re-use tapes constantly. Tapes would get re-used at least 2x a week due to volume. On sports trucks too, we'd come in and black tapes and then use them again on a daily basis.

3/4 was okay for it's time, but not very durable or user friendly. I was never a fan of DVcam or DVCPro, although for the field they were great due to size.

1" was great for facilities too. When properly maintained they put out out great video for decades. And there's something about threading up those big machines and cutting reels down.

I'm not really certain about max number of passes though, as we never kept track. If a tape started to produce errors we threw it out.